Hawke, Rosanne, 2015, The Truth About Peacock Blue, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.
This latest novel for young people written by South Australian author Rosanne Hawke is compelling reading. It is one of those stories you can’t put down, but you know that to go on reading will be confronting, challenging, and even infuriating. I say ‘infuriating’ because many readers will want to jump into the story personally and put right some terrible injustices. The caption under the title on the cover encapsulates the story so well: A powerful story about one girl’s fight for justice in Pakistan.
This story deals with real issues in the real world in the lives of real people today. While it is fiction Hawke has been inspired by the true story of Pakistani woman Asia Bibi who has been accused of blasphemy. She has been in prison for five years and remains there as I write this. I read this novel shortly after finishing the autobiography of I Am Malala – you can read my review here. That was confronting enough, but on the very next morning after reading Hawke’s novel our guest speaker at our church was Bishop Patrick Sookhdeo, founder of the Barnabas Fund. He spoke graphically of the growing crisis in Syria and surrounding countries, as well as issues in Pakistan and elsewhere.
The brother of the protagonist Aster dies due to an illness. She is then thrust into the limelight as the hope of the family. She is enrolled in the high school where her brother was to attend. She is at first excited and keenly looking forward to the opportunity of an education, something denied many girls in Pakistan.
Life quickly turns sour for Aster in her new school. Being a Christian in a predominantly Muslim community has many challenges for her. When one of her teachers takes a strong dislike to her, life becomes very challenging and potentially dangerous. In the midst of the anxiety of exams, Aster is suddenly arrested in front of her fellow students because of something she wrote in her paper. She is accused of blasphemy, a serious crime which leads to the death penalty in Pakistan.
The remainder of the story documents the struggle Aster has to come to terms with life in prison. The conditions are confronting to readers like myself: atrocious, inhumane and downright filthy, not to mention dangerous. Her trial is rescheduled a number of times and her challenges mount daily. Throughout all of this she never loses her faith which shines through the darkness and evil all around. I had to personally face the question: ‘How would I react and cope if faced with similar persecution?’ In my sheltered life here in Australia I have never been confronted by such issues.
Aster’s Australian cousin Maryam takes up the challenge of helping her. She starts an online campaign in the form of a blog and a worldwide petition on behalf of Aster. Hawke has cleverly used fictional quotes from the blog to debate some of the issues surrounding this terrible law of blasphemy. Similar real-life, heart-wrenching campaigns are becoming far too common place today.
Once again Rosanne Hawke has written an emotive, fast moving and insightful novel. The reader gets an in-depth view of life in a repressed country with all the cultural, social and religious nuances at play in the lives of her characters. By the end of the book the reader has a strong sense of the utter hopelessness of her fellow prisoners but also of Aster’s hope under-girded by her strong Christian faith.
- I am Malala
- Kerenza – my review of Rosanne Hawke’s novel (this article has several other links to reviews of her works)
- Shahana – my review of another of Hawke’s novels
South Australian author Rosanne Hawke recently published another fast moving and interesting novel for children. Karenza – a New Australian is the story of a young girl growing up in Cornwall who is suddenly taken by her family in the early 1900s to a strange new land on the other side of the globe – South Australia. The family boards a steamship for Port Adelaide, and after a short sojourn in suburban Adelaide the family sets off out into the bush.
The Mallee region of the eastern parts of South Australia is at that time sparsely populated by new settlers. The Aboriginal people, however, have lived in this area for millennia, but for the Europeans it is strange, foreboding and harsh. Kerenza and her family take some time to adapt to being farmers the new environment, and living is difficult, challenging and often dangerous. How they cope, adopt new ways of living and grow to love this new country is the backbone of this new novel by one of our Australia’s foremost authors.
On a personal note I strongly identified with this story. In fact, I grew up within about 20 kilometres of where this story is set. My own grandparents were early settlers in this area, so I know it well. In fact, I have long had the desire to tell a fictional version of my own family’s story. They migrated from Silesia in Germany (now part of Poland) in the 1840s due to religious persecution, and came to the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Later, in the early 1900s, about the same time as the setting of Rosanne’s book, they moved to the Loxton area. Together with his sons, my nephew still works the family farm.
Hawke, Rosanne, Kerenza: a New Australian, 2015, Omnibus Books, Parkside, South Australia.
- Rosanne Hawke – the author’s website
- Marrying Ameera by Rosanne Hawke – my review of this book
- Through My Eyes: Shahana by Rosanne Hawke – my review of this book
- Taj and the Great Camel Trek by Rosanne Hawke – my review of the book
- Launch of Marrying Ameera by Rosanne Hawke – photos of the launch of this book
Valerie Volk is a leading and much admired poet here in South Australia. Her well deserved reputation is rapidly spreading far beyond our state and will continue to do so after the publication of her latest book. This is her first major venture into prose, though she has had short stories published before.
“Bystanders: echoes of Stories Past” has recently been published in Adelaide by Wakefield Press. It is a captivating collection of short stories based around well-known Bible characters. Volk took those familiar stories and has transformed them into new accounts from a very different perspective, that of the bystander, a witness to the events portrayed in the Bible from some of the minor characters our eyes tend to gloss over when reading the accounts.
I have read and admired all of Volk’s previously published books and admire her command over the English language and her exceptional gift of writing accessible poetry. It was then with interest I came to this book of prose. I had previously read and enjoyed other prose she has written and I was certainly not disappointed with this new offering.
However (why does there always have to be a ‘however’?) the early stories in this collection read like poetry; the prose almost begs to be read in iambic pentameter. Because I have read a large proportion of her poetry and I have heard her read her poetry in a variety of settings, I constantly heard her distinctive poetical voice in the first few stories. Many passages read with such a strong cadence I almost had to read them aloud. I speculated that these first few stories had been originally written as verse; after all, Volk has written verse novels before. I was so intrigued that I contacted her but she assured me that all the stories were only ever written in prose. Interesting.
The stories all shine a new light strongly on the events we Bible scholars have grown to love. To hear the intriguing and much-loved story of Queen Esther, for example, from the viewpoint of the vanquished Queen Vashti is a revelation. I have often pondered on the cruel twist life served this tragic figure and now I have had to recast my vision of her.
By way of complete contrast is the earthy tale of the soldier who was messenger to King David (story ‘Orders are orders’) during the time the king took Bathsheba as a lover. It is a tragic episode in the life of the great David and we witness the behind the scenes manoeuvrings which culminated in murder. In reading this story we hear the voice of a soldier well versed in the ways of life, men and the military life. Volk’s writing captures his voice to perfection, drawing a truly memorable character and bringing new life to an otherwise well-known narrative.
These are just two of the 15 stories in this wonderful collection. The voices change from one story to the next which makes this such an intriguing and insightful new interpretation of familiar Biblical accounts. As a bonus, the author has included over 20 pages of questions for personal reflection or group discussion.
Disclosure: Valerie studied for her Master of Arts Creative Writing with me a few years ago. We are both members of a writers’ group in Adelaide and I regard her as a wonderful and encouraging friend, mentor and inspiration.
- Valerie Volk – order any of her books from her website
- Wakefield Press – order books from their site
- Review: A promise of Peaches by Valerie Volk
- Review: In Due Season by Valerie Volk
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction — and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn’t mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.”
Reading this quote yesterday brought me up with something of a jolt. Do the words of Anne Lamott refer to me and my creative life? Have I procrastinated about being a writer far too much? Will I squirm on my death bed with far too many regrets about not having written?
I hope not.
In fact, I know I won’t.
Me – the writer
All of my life – even when I was on a side track teaching for 35 years – I considered myself a writer. In fact, I have independent proof that most of my students regarded me as a writer too because I often shared my stories and poems with them. People in my church regard me as a writer, as do some of my family and many of my friends.
As I neared a certain age I began writing more and now eleven years into retirement I write almost full time. It has been a steep learning curve and an intensive few years. Included in those eleven years was time set aside to complete a Masters degree in creative writing which has helped me tremendously. Also in those 11 years I have written hundreds of poems, dozens of short stories and articles and thousands of blog posts here and on my other sites Trevor’s Birding and Trevor’s Travels.
No regrets? Maybe some
So while I will have no regrets about reaching 75 years of age – and I’m getting there far too quickly – there are still some areas of concern. It is true that I have had significant portions of my writing published over the years. On the downside, however, is the vast amount of my writing still left unpublished in any form. It languishes unloved and unread on my hard drive. I wrote about the issues surrounding this on a recent post called My life is a work in progress.
A big juicy creative life
So , while I have written vast numbers of words, and tasted the rewards of limited publication success, I feel that there is so much more to enjoy in this “big juicy creative life”. I press on. I keep writing. I keep submitting. And I keep hoping.
I just do not want to experience a broken heart at the end of my life.
What about my readers? I would love to hear from you, either in the comments via in the contact form.
I have read many books, magazines, blog posts and articles about writing rules and secrets to successful writing. A few years ago I completed my Master of Arts Creative Writing where some of the lecturers gave hints and clues to good writing and “how to” suggestions. All this advice can get a little overwhelming.
Then one comes across classic quotes about writing. I love the one from W. Somerset Maugham:
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”
Then there are numerous lists of “secrets” of success as a writer. I tried doing an internet search on the topic “writing secrets” and the results returned ABOUT 10.4 million references. That is one huge mountain of reading to dig through to find the occasional nugget. It would take a lifetime to read them all. (Actually, about 98 years reading one article every 5 minutes and never sleeping – or doing anything else.)
And when I post this, I imagine that the search engines will record 10,400,001 articles… well, maybe not.
On a brighter note, there is something to be gained from reading a few quotes from well-established, universally successful and respected writers. That is why I continue to read books and articles about writing. The cumulative effect of all that tuition has to help.
Today I came across the following article: 25 Writing Secrets of Famous Authors.
I particularly like the first one which is from Stephen King:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
That is very encouraging, because I have done a great deal of both reading and writing over the years.
Good reading – and Good Writing.