Suzannah’s Gold by Carol Preston, Even Before Publishing, 2013Book

Book Description
Suzannah Casey was just twelve years old when she was transported to the Australian colony from Ireland. Though devastated by her circumstances, she was grateful to be given an opportunity to start a new life on the Goulburn Plains with ex-convict, George Oakes. However, Suzannah could never have imagined the trauma and loss that lay ahead of her. She must find the faith and courage to overcome abuse, abandonment, religious bigotry and her own yearnings in order to discover what is more precious than gold.
Review by Hazel Barker
Suzannah’s Gold is a smorgasbord of women’s fiction, family saga and historical fiction. The author uses excellent dialogue and vivid characterization. She delves into the main characters’ minds and we get a sense of their deep loyalties or hostilities and hatred.

Mary Anne springs to life with her Irish accent, her flirtatious behaviour, her bigotry and hypocritical ways. Adversity brings out the best in her and the reader sees remarkable character growth.

The protagonist, Suzannah, on the other hand, follows her conscience regardless of the consequences on her own happiness. She is intrinsically good: long-suffering, kind and forgiving, and faces no spiritual struggles. I found her too good to be true even though she was based on the author’s great-great-grandmother.

The book has been well-researched and its 309 pages are crammed with descriptions of drought, fires and floods. The description of the fire sets the scene realistically. It is vivid and quickens the pace. Although faithfully mirroring the early history of Australia, the frequency of births, sicknesses and deaths is repetitious. The number of characters causes confusion.

There are two rape scenes in the story—the first from the point of view of a child-witness. The second rape scene is well-written and depicted in all its horror without being offensive to the reader. Unfortunately, errors in the grammatical use of the word ‘lay’ interrupt the story and diminish the pleasure of reading. Readers should, however, add to their knowledge of Australian history and better understand the sufferings and strength the pioneers experienced.

Suzannah’s Gold with its theme of Christian charity, faith and forgiveness delivers a message with a strong ending:

‘Come to Me you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

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Lane Cove Literary Award Memoir Longlist

Below is the Longlist from more than 500 entries received from all over Australia.

Hazel Barker – Love at first sight (QLD)
Peter Bishop – Tribal Man (NSW)
Jade Black – Moonshine (QLD)
Dave Cauldwell – Astride the Stegosaurus (VIC)
Elaine Fung – George (NSW)
Elisabeth Hanscombe – A trip to the beach (VIC)
Rowena Harding-Smith – Dad negotiates with God (NSW0
Simone MacKinnon – A day in the country (QLD)
Bruce Marshall – A hill by any other name (NSW)
Kerrin O’Sullivan – London calling (VIC)
Joshua Taylor – Winding back time (NSW)
Nicola West – Hysterectomy at 19 (NSW)


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Review of Cicadas In Summer by Sara Delaval

Cicadas In Summer by Sara Delaval Publishing, 2014

Author’s Blurb
In Brisbane, single parent Kate Anderson, 34, drops her two youngsters at school before a routine visit to Lisa, an emergency housing client. A Queenslander, social worker Kate has rebuilt her life after divorce and enjoys her work supporting disadvantaged people. After being first to witness the gory scene following the brutal murder of Lisa and her children, Kate turns to her close-knit family for support. She meets Jack, her brother’s solicitor friend and gratefully accepts his help, as the horrors multiply to engulf her. Suddenly and inexplicably, as she tries to piece the mystery together, Kate becomes the target of a prowler and telephone threats. Determined to find out why this is happening and feeling that the police are missing something, she ignores all warnings of risk to herself. Jack’s assistance becomes increasingly important and although romantic entanglements are out of the question, Kate finds herself strongly attracted to him. Events escalate with another killing and when Kate’s own precious children are kidnapped the stakes reach a new level. With the help of the police the children are rescued. Then when Prue, a work colleague disappears, Kate becomes bait to catch the killer.

Review by Hazel Barker
Cicadas in Summer is an excellent debut crime fiction set in the Redlands, Queensland. The author tells of a shocking tragedy in an otherwise idyllic suburb. Cicadas in Summer is a dark story with likeable investigators and a bumbling though well-meaning protagonist. It is deftly plotted and fast paced with a blend of mystery and romance, and possesses all the elements of a good crime novel, not forgetting the foreshadowing.
The dénouement packs a punch with a satisfactory ending.
I read Cicadas in Summer as I was intrigued by its title. I haven’t indulged in this genre since my childhood, and often wonder why women love them—not only its cosy, sanitised version, but explicit accounts of murder, rape and torture. This story is more of the former type of mystery. It may not result in nightmares for the reader, but could cause one to keep on reading late into the night.

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Review of Distance by Nene Davies

Distance by Nene Davies Publishing, 2013
Authors’s Blurb
Forty-year-old Welsh mum Isobel Richardson can cope with most things: her husband’s redundancy, a shortage of money, three spirited kids and a demanding old house. She sees the loss of Leo’s job as a chance for new beginnings and her drive and determination propel the family towards a sparkling new life in Australia. Isobel’s mother Helen, however, is devastated. Cold and unsupportive, she rejects Isobel’s invitation to join in the family adventure and throws the guilt card firmly down on the table. When the family lands in Oz and the longed-for dream unfolds, unbearable guilt at leaving a broken Helen behind is compounded by the pain of missing absent son Ben – and all the while Mother Nature is hatching some plans of her own. Has the great Australian dream really eluded her after all?
Review by Hazel Barker
The book, Distance by Nene Davies is the first in a series of women’s contemporary fiction, a genre I don’t usually read, as my preferences lie in historical novels and memoirs.
The author uses her outsider’s perspective as a migrant to illustrate the world around her, placing the reader where the scene is set. She does a solid job with the setting with her lush descriptions of the various surroundings. The story moves along with the occasional domestic scenes, but the pace quickens and builds up with the promise of a brighter future. The sparse, terse prose is lightened with similes, and culminates in a surprising and satisfying climax.
The protagonist’s motivations and feelings drive the story forward. Readers will anticipate reading its sequel, Further.

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Grieve Writing Competition

The Grieve Live Reading held last Friday 29th August in Newcastle, NSW, was a great success. In addition to the shortlist of 23 pieces, we also enjoyed two musical items courtesy of the Hunter Singers and Catherine Mahony who wrote a piece especially for the evening.

I was long-listed for the Australia-wide Grieve Writing Competition, and my short story, June’s Death – an excerpt from my unpublished memoir See No Evil: story of a war child – was published in Grieve: stories and poems for Grief Awareness Month 2014.


The Opening Aria

The Opening Aria

The Readers

The Readers

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June’s Death

The events of that fateful day are seared into my memory. My sister, ten-year-old June, developed a raging fever one night. At seven, I couldn’t understand how ill she was.
The next morning, June sat bolt upright, pulling the blanket off me with her abrupt movement. She muttered strange, garbled words and I sat up too, suddenly afraid. Beads of perspiration stood upon her brow, and she seemed unaware of me. Staring straight ahead with a glassy gaze and unseeing eyes, she kept muttering through parched lips.
I slid out of bed and ran to my mother. ‘June’s looking strange, and I can’t understand her.’
My parents rushed to June and spoke to her. She lay on her back, her eyes darting all over. What was happening to my sister? I’d never witnessed her so helpless and so sick.
Mum fell to her knees at the bedside and stormed heaven with her prayers. She pressed a crucifix to my sister’s lips and kept repeating, ‘Merciful Mother, have mercy on her.’
Mum’s face turned pale. Her lips moved in prayer. Dad remained strangely quiet, watching June who appeared relaxed. We gathered around. Moments later, she gave a few gasps, her head rolled to one side and she who but a mere twenty-four hours ago bounded with fun, life and energy, now lay still and silent.
I froze at the sight of my sister, so young, so active, stretched out on the bed.
Dad placed a small hand mirror against June’s face. His Adam’s apple slid up and down. With a look of anguish, he left the room.
His gloom rolled towards us like a damp fog, and plunged us into despair. Mum shut the door and hastened to June.
My sister stared at us, but the light had gone out of her eyes. After attempting to close her eyes without success, Mum placed a coin on June’s eyelids until they remained closed of their own accord. She kissed her forehead and told us to do the same. Then she fell on her knees beside her.
The hand of grief gripped me, giving a choking, stifling sensation. A lump stuck in my throat. I stole away and threw myself upon my bed, shaking with sobs. A solemn stillness prevailed. The room grew dark, as if a black cloud had passed over the sun.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around, trying to distinguish, through my tears, the figure standing behind me.
‘Don’t cry,’ my brother Bertie whispered. ‘June’s in heaven, you know.’
His words of sympathy only caused me to break into more frenzied sobbing. He did his best to console me, but to no avail. Totally lost, I couldn’t survive without June, my constant companion. At nights, I had shared her blanket, her bed and her bodily warmth.
Days passed. Desolation greeted me from every direction. I curled up in bed like a wounded animal and sought solace in slumber.
Overwhelmed, I lost part of my childhood.


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More holidays in the UK and the Republic of Ireland

We could not keep away long from the land of Colin’s birth. We thought of the beauty of England, of the winding roads and hedgerows with its verdant fields and returned two years later.

I was enchanted with the green planes, buses and letter boxes. I had attended a school run by Irish nuns and loved their sense of humour. The speech of the Irish people I met, reminded me of my days with the missionary sisters.

We’ve always associated St. Patrick’s Day with green clothing, leprechauns and shamrocks. However, we never saw a leprechaun.

In a half-day tour of Dublin we viewed the Book of Kells at Trinity College, visited the crystal factory at Waterford and Kilkenny Castle, staying overnight at Killarney. In Cork we toured Blarney Castle, kissing the Blarney Stone and buying souvenirs from the Woollen Mills. Despite kissing the famous stone, neither of us obtained the gift of the gab, and we remained bashful and quiet as we always were.

‘Famine walls’ and ‘famine houses’, relics of the Potato Famine, were dotted all over Ireland.

The coach drive through the Ring of Kerry reminded us of the Snowy Mountains in Australia. We went on to Limerick, home of Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis. Colin recalled his own poverty during his early days in Portland when his Dad worked for the Cockies and we lived in a shack with hessian bags as walls.

We travelled to Galway Bay and on to Knock, where we stopped at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock.

We returned to Dublin after a week, and flew back to England.

Uncle Clarence looked slightly thinner, but still held himself tall and straight. He picked us up from our hotel and took us to meet my youngest cousin, Matthew, born since our last visit.

Using Nottingham as our base, we travelled to Matlock by rail and walked along the Limestone Trail to Abraham’s Heights. Returning via the Derwent Valley Walk on the Derbyshire Downs, we listened to the chatter of chaffinch. Bluetit and blackbirds regaled us.

While dining at the Magna Carta Hotel, Uncle Clarence, who was usually reserved about his past, spoke to us of his work in China during World War II.

‘When hostilities broke out in 1939, I registered as a conscientious objector and joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, a Quaker organisation. I was based in the city of Kunming, in Yunnan province, near the Burmese border,’ he said.

He was still a pacifist and, although over eighty years old, he and his son, Paul, worked as ministers in the Church of Christ. The epitome of kindness, Clarence was always ready to do good for others. It was a pleasure to meet him each time we returned to England.

With regret, we said goodbye, little knowing he’d pass away in less than a year. Paul wrote, informing us of his death. In his e-mail, he attached the first few pages of Clarence’s unfinished memoir.

When I read it, I said, ‘I must complete his book for him.’

The result is my manuscript, The Chocolate Soldier: story of a conchie.

Our adventures took us to many points of interest in England before we boarded a plane at Heathrow to enjoy a wonderful week touring Italy.

I felt a tug at my heartstrings when we left for Brisbane, Australia. As the aircraft circled over the approach to the city I gave a contented sigh of relief and, looking down at the vast, open spaces, thought of our home—our Arcadia, our piece of heaven


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Holiday in England, Scotland and Wales

dunrobin-castleWarwick CastleWe took the train via the Conway Valley to Snowdon National Park in Wales, alighting at Holyhead. The hills and pine forests with snow-capped mountains in the distance enchanted us. As it snowed heavily, the weather prevented us from hiking up the mountain.
The sun showed its face at Conway Castle and the Peak District, smiling at us as we rambled among the ruined ramparts, climbed the parapets and looked down at the countryside. We’ve always been attracted to ruins, and I recalled the old haunted house in Portland, where Colin played with his childhood mates.
At Edale, the start of the Pennine Way, we set out for a long hike. Chased by a snowstorm, we hurried back after a short walk by the canal. Before departing from the Peak district, we went to Bakewell, home of the famous Bakewell puddings. The aroma of freshly baked cakes lured us into the shop. The delicious cake melted in our mouths.
We dropped in at Eyam where, in 1665, the villagers chose to isolate themselves at home rather than travel and take the plague to surrounding villages. I leaned forward to read about the courage of the people and my pulse raced at the thought of their concern for the safety of others, marvelling at the ancient village, which thrived long before white settlement in Australia and still survives in its original setting.
Warwick Castle at Easter presented the days of yore. Knights, knaves and kitchen maids went about their chores, seemingly oblivious of wide-eyed tourists. A sea of colourful tents lent an air of authenticity to the atmosphere. A procession of knights in armour filed past. A mock battle followed. My heart beat fast to see how people lived during those times.
From Chester, the train passed through wild country on its way to Carlisle. I was enchanted by the beautiful Royal Doulton plates decorated with fairies, which covered the walls of the bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
The train travelled to Haltwhistle, where we took a taxi to Hadrian’s Wall, which had been built by the Romans to keep out the Scots. From the ruins of a Roman garrison, we looked down from the ramparts on to the verdant pastures. Cattle grazed tranquilly. Had the Roman guards had enjoyed the peace and quiet too, or did they have to be always on the alert against the enemy?
Peter Rabbit and other characters came to life at Beatrix Potter’s World in Bowness at the Lakes District. We boarded a double-decker bus and alighted at Ambleside and had a pleasant walk in the village.
Grassmere and Windermere were overflowing with tourists. We rambled in the same pristine places that inspired Wordsworth. The scenery was exquisite, leaving us longing for more.
A scenic rail trip took us past snow-capped mountains to Inverness, where on a tour of Loch Ness, we hoped to catch a glimpse of the elusive monster. We wandered along the banks of the river as far as the Ness Islands.
Passing clear lakes and snowy mountains dotted with pines, we arrived at Kyle of Lochlalsh, but we missed an opportunity to visit Skye, made famous by the Skye Boat song which I’d learned as a child from my music teacher.
From Inverness we travelled to Golspie and hiked on the path by the sea to Dunrobin Castle, home of Lord and Lady Sutherland. Our childhood dreams of fairy tales came alive at our first glimpse of the stronghold perched on the hills. The furnishings were splendid, the gardens charming. Hazel and I wandered around, calling to mind another garden in Adelaide, where we had rambled together, lost to everything else when we fell in love.
We chose to return to Golspie via the woods, then by train back to Inverness, charmed by the hospitality of the Highlanders, the beauty of the land and the fine weather.
Across the border, Nottingham welcomed us with a shower of rain. My cousin Paul was at the station to greet us. Uncle Clarence was waiting for us at Paul’s home. He was thin and tall with snowy, white hair and clear blue eyes suffused with kindness. Our fondness for him grew each time we met. We had a family gathering, getting to know the other cousins June and Geoffrey.
On our previous trip, Clarence had taken us to Orlando Drive where Mum was born. Now he drove us to Sherwood Forest. The great oak, beneath which Robin Hood bled to death, still stood, its large horizontal branches propped up by beams like the crutches of an aged man. The tree is reputed to be over one thousand four hundred years old.
From London we visited Dover Castle, where we entered the secret wartime tunnels and learned how they were used during hostilities.
We spent our last days in London at the Portobello markets and Petticoat Lane. Here Hazel threw up her hands with delight at the sight of the souvenirs. She bought three teapots with Shakespearean themes painted on them, besides other curios.


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