Book review: new edition of a popular bird field guide

Simpson and Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia 8th edition

Simpson and Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia 8th edition

Many of my readers here possibly do not know that I am a passionate birder. In fact, I write a very popular birding blog called Trevor’s Birding (click here). It is one of the most popular of its type with many hundreds of daily visitors. Heaps of photos too.

One of the essential tools of every birder (bird watcher) is a reliable field guide. These books illustrate each of the bird species found in a particular country or region. I have about 10 such books covering Australia, south east Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Europe.

In Australia we are blessed with a number of great field guides. With over 500,000 copies sold since the first edition in 1984, the Simpson and Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia has proved to be one of the successful guides. Today sees the publication of a new, fully revised and updated 8th edition.

I’ve written an extensive review of this guide on my birding blog here.

The guide has been published by Penguin Books Australia.

Book Review: “Treasure Hunters” by Allan Baillie

Treasure Hunters

Treasure Hunters

A few weeks ago I finished reading the novel for teenagers called Treasure Hunters written by Australian author Allan Baillie. What an entertaining read it proved to be.

I’d read some of Allan’s books before but I forget which ones. On checking his website I found out how truly prolific his writing career has been. His list of published books is indeed daunting. The list of prizes and awards he has won for his books is truly amazing. Reading his autobiographical notes on his web site is also amazing. He has led a life that can only be described as full-on adventure – including once being arrested on the suspicion of spying!

Treasure Hunters is best described as a thriller. Sure, there is adventure there too, but the narrative carries the reader on up to the exciting climax. Masterful storytelling indeed.

The main character Pat joins his father on a quest to find the world’s richest shipwreck off the coast of an Indonesian island riddled with political and social turmoil. The dangers of diving to great depths adds yet another layer of danger and Baillie casts an exciting net over the action.

I’m not into diving and have very little knowledge in the field, but Baillie weaves in enough information along the way to help even the most ignorant reader understand what is happening, and the dangers faced by the characters.

It is a thrilling read and highly recommended.

It is also worth reading the author’s autobiographical notes on his web page here.


  • Baillie, A 2002, Treasure hunters. Camberwell, Victoria, Penguin Australia.
  • Allan Baillie web-page, accessed 26th June 2010.

Review: Nights in the asylum

Nights in the asylum

Book review: Nights in the asylum by Carol Lefevre

It was suggested by my supervising lecturer that I read this novel. Last week we had the author as the guest speaker at our regular fortnightly seminar. These are usually critiquing sessions where we try to help each other with the novels we are each writing for our Masters of Arts. Carol, a quietly spoken author talked to us for nearly two hours, going into details of how she went about the writing of this and her subsequent novel. I found her discussion on the inspiration of each work to be very interesting, and a  major work can stem from a simple thing such as a photograph. Interestingly, my own idea for my current novel came from a photograph.

The word “asylum” in the title has great significance. All three main characters in the story are seeking a different form of asylum, mirroring the differing meanings of the word. Miri, the main character, is seeking sanctuary from the turmoil of a failed marriage and the death of a teenage daughter. Aziz, on the run after escaping from a detention centre, is seeking political asylum. Suzette and her baby are seeking refuge from an abusive, violent husband. All three are thrown together by circumstances into the same house in an unnamed mining town in outback Australia.

One of the most intriguing elements of this novel is the constantly shifting point of view. Each section or chapter (some are short, others quite long) is headed with a name of one of the characters, mostly the major three (but sometimes even minor characters for a few pages). Each section has the story told from the point of view of the character named in the title of the section. It sounds like a complicated way of writing, but it is wonderfully effective. By dipping into the heads of each character in depth like this we get a much deeper understanding of the particular mental turmoil and physical torments faced by that character. We also gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for how they perceive other characters in the story. A very clever technique and masterfully handled by the author. It is a technique I initially grappled with and rejected when writing my novel. I knew the pitfalls and knew my skills were not equal to the task. (Read more here.)

Another major element of the story worth mentioning here is a device known as the flashback. Many writers love this technique and it can be overused and used poorly. This author has used flashback to great effect, filling in details from the past and helping the reader to more fully understand each character’s strengths and weaknesses.

There are many other wonderful aspects of this novel and I can only touch on some briefly.

  • The powerful mining town mentality of the townspeople comes through strongly.
  • It is worth reading just for the beautiful use of language.
  • The sense of isolation for all three main characters is a brooding presence throughout.
  • A sense of the inevitability of the ending carries the reader along – not wanting it to happen, but resigned to the fact that it must end that way.

Overall, a brilliantly written work, told with compassion and finesse. And it’s an entertaining read as well.


Lefevre, Carol, 2007, Nights in the asylum, Random House Australia, North Sydney

Book review: “Bird by bird” by Anne Lamott



I bought this book some time ago but only recently finished reading it. I had read about it in many other books about writing. Everyone raved about how wonderful the book was and so I thought I’d treat myself.

I must say that, as a book about writing, it disappointed me at first. I guess I was looking for another guide book about writing, giving step by step instructions on how to write a novel, or a short story or whatever. This book is not like that. It is not something one can read from cover to cover and come away knowing everything there is about writing.

Instead, it is the kind of book that creeps in  under your guard, sneaking into your pores and inhabiting your inner writer. The sub-title is very revealing: “Some instructions for writing and life.” Ah, so it’s about more than merely being a writer. Anne Lamott uses a broad brush and paints a wonderful, yet challenging, picture of the writer’s life and how life experiences can and must impact the writing.

I enjoyed reading this entertaining book, but it left me with a suspicious mind. I suspect I’ll get far more out of it on a second and subsequent readings.


  • Lamott, Anne 1995, Bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life. Random House, Anchor Books, New York.

Review: Better than the Witch Doctor

Mary Cundy is an amazing woman. I have never met her, but after reading her book I feel as if I know her very well. I read this book as background research for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing thesis novel and exegesis essay. Although it did not have a direct bearing on my novel it was fascinating reading and it gave me a good feel for the setting of my novel. In fact, she lived for a time right where my novel is set.

In 1957 Mary Cundy, a young social worker in England, obeyed the call of God on her life and travelled to the mountainous country of Nepal. At this time very few outsiders had ever visited the country, let alone work there as a Christian missionary. For the next 33 years she served in remote parts of the country bringing medical help to the local people, even though she had no training in the field.

Scene from our lodge in Monjo, Nepal

Scene from our lodge in Monjo, Nepal

She lived with the people in their villages in very poor and demanding conditions. She quickly started a dispensary, helping over 100 very ill people daily. She graphically describes the daily lives of the village people and the struggles she had coping with their medical needs, physical needs as well as making small inroads into their spiritual needs. As a Christian missionary, however, her work was frequently hampered by officialdom (it was forbidden at the time to proselytise), suspicion (the local witch doctors were very powerful) and mistrust (she was often the first non-Nepali person locals had seen).

This is a very encouraging book. Not only is it a good read, I found it amazing how God can take ordinary people like Mary, put them in impossible situations, and produce extraordinary lives.

As far as I can determine, this book is sadly no longer in print.


  • Cundy, M 1994, Better than the witch doctor, Monarch Publications, Crowborough, East Sussex.

Further reading:

  • My travels in Nepallinks to my travel blog, includes many photos taken in Nepal.
  • Writing a novela series of articles about how I went about writing my novel for children set in Nepal.
Ama Dablam, Nepal

Ama Dablam, Nepal