The little mag that could


It’s been a pretty exciting month or so for me in my role as the Editor in Chief at SQ Mag.

SQ Mag has been a labour of love for me and its original conceptualiser, Gerry Huntman, Chief of IFWG Publishing Australia. We started it as a six monthly hard copy edition in 2010 and brought it online 2012.

We run it for the love of new fiction and the thrill of being able to say yes to great fiction. (I should add that saying no sucks, and if you ever receive one from me, know that I send the email with some sadness.)

So it has been great to receive some recognition for the work and what we’ve been striving towards, which is an ezine full of diverse voices and stories from all over the globe.

Firstly, a story I loved the minute it crossed my computer screen, Treading the Brittle Shell by Rhoads Brazos, from our special edition in 2014 was picked up for Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror Volume 7. For those who know me and are not of the speculative fiction world, Ellen Datlow’s a bit of a big deal (understatement, understatement). She’s a giant, particularly in the editorial worlds of fantasy and horror. That she liked worked that immediately spoke to me is a great boost for my editorial ego.

Secondly, nominations were released for the Australian Shadows Awards, Australia’s premier horror fiction award from the Australian Horror Writer’s Association. We were nominated in the edited works category for out Australiana Special Edition, along side stiff competition from Cohesion Press’ SNAFU collection, edited by G.N. Braun and A.J. Spedding, and Suspended in Dusk, edited by Simon Dewar. I’ve seen some great reviews for both these collections and I wasn’t sure we had a chance.

In those same nominations, a creepy horror story by the name of Bones from Michelle Jager was also nominated (from the same edition). Another great story–there was several that edition–that we published. It was exciting times.

Our Australiana edition was a hat tip to our strong and thriving speculative fiction coming out of Australia and our origin. We were so proud of every little bit, and it has been so great to see that people responded to it as well.

The hat trick of the month was to end up winning the category of Best Edited Work. Being in Canada, I woke to the numerous messages of congratulations and wishes from friends and the speculative fiction community. I am endlessly discovering what a close-knit and supportive community the Aussie spec-fic group is, and I am privileged to be a part of it.

I’m also incredibly grateful to be recognised by the consummate professionals at the Australian Horror Writers Association, and to the readers, who thought enough of the ezine to nominate and vote for us.

I love the accolades but they need to be shared with these wonderful people:

  • Gerry Huntman, a great boss and partner in this venture first and foremost, without whom the ezine would not run
  • The talented fiction contributors, especially those from the edition: Angela Rega, Alan Baxter, Mitchell Edgeworth, Kaaron Warren, Rhoads Brazos, Sean Williams, Stacey Larner and Michelle Jager
  • Tehani Wessely and G.N. Braun who contributed thoughtful outlooks on the current state of Australian speculative fiction
  • Jeffery Doherty, author and illustrator extroadinaire who designed the striking cover
  • Our faithful and talented reviewers, Mysti Parker and Damien Smith

In a little side note, while they may not have contributed to this edition, my SQ submissions readers changed my life, so thanks for 2014 sanity goes to: Paula Boer, Gareth Edwards, and Louise Zedda-Sampson.

Post-it note poetry

In February, when I was struggling to edit SQ Mag and get over one nasty cold virus that lingered on, I might not have worked much on my novel (sadly, after such a promising January), but it inspired me to work on some short poetry.

Post-it Note Poetry began in my circles with my writing friend (and mentor) Jodi Cleghorn, who along with Adam Byatt, began a February Post-it Note Poetry month a few years ago (you can read the details of the idea here on Jodi’s blog).

It was nice to have a few special darts of inspiration, and I’ve collected them here as a little testament to my month. You can see some others from Twitter by searching the hashtag #PostitNotePoetry. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy my couple of collected poems.

I wanted to speak to Creation a little bit. This one is a testament to all the creators, particularly the knitters and crocheters, who create for others and who put a little bit of love into each and every piece (piece of trivia: the stitches in the background are from the blanket I am knitting for my dear friend’s little girl).

This last one is inspired by a poem by the excellent writer and poet, Helen Stubbs (or @superleni), 2015 Ditmar Award winner for best new talent (well deserved!). Helen and I appeared together in Subtropical Suspense, and I highly recommend her story, Blood on the Ice. Needless to say from the poem below, she wrote a short piece and it cut me to the core, and this poem has been wheedling its way out of me since. I wanted to put my little piece in context of her great poem. Because the best thing about art and creation? It inspires others. Thanks for the inspiration Jodi and Helen.

Leaving Time: Mothers and Daughters

leavingtime cover

There’s a lot I share with my mother: her father’s line’s dark colouring, a streak of stubbornness with a yearning to better the world, as well as a love of animals, history and literature. Unsurprisingly perhaps, we also share a love of women’s stories, a touch of the romantic and a deep appreciation of the writers who can weave these elements into a entrapping narrative, one of them being Jodi Picoult.

Leaving Time is Jodi’s latest offering, and what I selected for my mother’s Christmas present. Where could I go wrong–it is the story of mothers and daughters, and the elephants both of them loved (and an animal my mother also loves).

I actually began this reading process with the earlier released novella, Larger than Life, which tells the story of the mother of this story, Alice, researcher and neurobiologist, in the time she was working on her doctorate in Botswana. Alice’s work is on the behavioural aspects of elephant herds, the remarkable memories of matriarchs, and the communal raising and supporting of calves and the herd. This is a snapshot into the life of the scientist, of the empathetic and compassionate woman who rescues an orphaned elephant calf, learning a hard lesson along the way.

Leaving Time brings us Alice’s teenage daughter, Jenna, who has spent her life searching for her mother, missing in the aftermath of death due to an elephant trampling at the Elephant Sanctuary she loved. By chance, Jenna stumbles upon a psychic, Serenity, whose close connection to the spirit world once made her famous for finding missing persons. After a spectacular fall from grace, Serenity had retreated, her connection broken, until Jenna appears on her doorstep.

When turned away, Jenna hunts down the last detective on the case, Vic, an alcoholic private eye chasing cheating spouses, who is still haunted by the case he didn’t fully investigate: the unusual death and Alice’s disappearance.

Despite their quite unorthodox combination, the three manage to make some headway on a case long cold. Lost items appear that belonged to Alice, and as memories begin to return to Jenna, it appears that not all was right in her mother’s world. Did she leave willingly, and what kept her from coming back?

Interspersed in amongst the mystery are snippets of Alice’s observations and memories, cataloguing the stages of grief of mothers, of the herd, and the support structures of elephant families. It ties in with her work on memory from the novella, and each portion brings the reader closer to her return to New England from her work in Africa, to understanding her relationship with Jenna’s father Thomas, and the little community that held the elephant sanctuary together for as long as they could.

Truly, the best part of this novel and its associated novella, were the beautiful characterisations of female elephants in their roles as guides, role models, mothers and leaders. Elephants are truly remarkable creatures; their memories are astoundingly long, seeming to remember what they couldn’t possibly know in terms of long-avoided watering holes and paths. Jodi links the investment of elephants in their calves, 22 months of it and over a decade of rearing, to the deep attachment they have to their babies. And knowing this is all based on real researcher’s observations of wild and captive elephants makes the (true) stories of the elephants all the more harrowing.

The combination of a drunk detective, a moody yet intellectually advanced teen and a psychic isn’t her most original character collection, but their dynamic is a nice one: not too judgemental, or disrespectful. Particularly the thread tying mother and her past to her daughter now is a sweet testament to how lots of love can be an antidote to perhaps not the most responsible parenting.

The narrative sensitively touches on mental illness, and the violence that can sometimes go hand-in-hand with some conditions, but without overly judging either party. There’s several twists and turns as the story progresses, some that I didn’t entirely see until the ending.

People who have enjoyed Jodi Picoult’s previous work will likely enjoy this book. If elephants and their behaviours are of interest, then the depictions of the elephants at the heart of this story will enchant you.

Books like Leaving Time make me grateful that I was raised in a home full of love, that I could connect with the mother-daughter love in this book and share it with my own mother. From my own standpoint as a writer, I hope that one day, I myself can write a book so well researched, crafted and portrayed as Leaving Time.

January Writing Roundup

January has been a splendid month for me, personal writing wise.

With the impetus of the new year, and the major goal I assigned myself, I started to work on my novel again. Originally titled The Whale Singer, a title I think will have to be scrapped as it doesn’t quite fit in with the story that has evolved, the last month I have been working on it consistently (but not always consecutively). I’m really pleased to announce that that work has resulted in another 2 chapters and that I have now broached the 40,000 words mark.

I will state that while it is a quantity marker, and not what I am wanting to measure overall, it certainly is a marker of how I am progressing with my creative long game. The story is progressing (tick!) and it is a milestone because this is the longest I have ever worked on a piece and the furthest I ever gotten with a piece. The feeling for me is that this is about a third of the way into the three main aspects of the storylines.

It helps that I believe in the heart of this story, and while it may take me a while to finish it, I think I have a good chance of completing it this year.

Submissions are light on for January, so I haven’t been on that roundabout as much this month. Mostly that is because several large markets are closed, but it is also because some of my work needs to refined. I like all the original stories, but with some feedback I’ve received, I know that they could be better.

I attribute some of this productivity also to a project spurred by one of my writing collectives, where there was a move to return to journaling. So far as I can tell, it has been a success for all of us, allowing us to clear our busy minds and giving greater mental clarity and freedom. I have some beautifully Japanese paper covered journals with gorgeous paper to honour  myself and my words.

For anything I’ve written out there, January 1 meant my review for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies was published in SQ Mag. Head on over to check out what I’ve been working on for the past few years. The ezine is great, going from strength to strength and it’s all free!

On a personal note, my two day jobs are now being condensed into only one. I will be leaving one of my positions in the wind down to us leaving Canada in May, which will definitely leave me with more time for writing and a more regular routine. I will be really sad to leave the wonderful team I have been working with (in both places), all the friends I have made and Canada in general, but both Greg and I feel the tug of Australia and home.

So I’m hoping January’s feeling and productivity are an omen for an auspicious year, but whatever happens, I’m going to ride this wave for as long as I can.

Thanks for reading and happy February!

Review of I, Claudius

Seldom do I have books physically thrust at me, as recommendations to be read. “You need to read this.” (Paraphrased; Mark is much more eloquent than this small statement suggests.)

Now, Mark has a much more intricate palate when it comes to fiction than I do, but he’s a great friend and his love of literature was enough to encourage me to give it a go. I still did look a little askance at Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, even though the times of the Roman Empire are of exceptional interest to me.

At first, the dry tone of our narrator, the intricacy of the families and the royal lineage that the author was trying to reconcile for the reader was a bit much. But slowly, he grows on you, this detached and outcast chronicler, until you enjoy his voice and dry observation. And as the narrative progresses, the level of detail and the backstory of the family becomes necessary for understanding the bigger picture.

Claudius hovers at the edge of the action, out of the firing line, documenting from the safety of the sidelines. It’s ringside seats for political intrigue from megalomaniacs devolving into psychotic episodes, rigorously documented by intrepid historian. It’s dynasties and betrayal and death–all of the best parts of a historical novel combined. The intricate knowledge of the family tree and relationships, as well as languages and the settings and outcomes of Roman campaigns, is also suggestive of extensive research on the subject.

Robert Graves has a superb command of voice, creating this unique character, who we understand little to begin, and who with every passing chapter becomes more real and dearer to the reader. It’s a great example of what a writer who allows his character to have a voice and to tell the story in their own way.

I, Claudius is an excellent example of literary fiction done in the correct way–unique voice, distanced from today’s speech, and well-researched. Highly recommended for people who enjoy historic fact with their fiction, and a generally excellent read.

Goals for 2015

When it comes to ushering in the new year, goals are always the hardest part for me. I even had a hard time writing this down. If I do not reach them, it can be disheartening and that affects my work. So I wanted to keep the goals manageable and down to me. But I also want to have some accountability, get over this seat of my pants thing.

My biggest, and probably the hardest for me: Finish my first novel.  I have a good short game, but this stamina thing is new to me. This is a biggie, but it is an achievement I want to cross off. It means learning to turn off my inner editor, critic and quality control. It comes down to just do!

Secondly, I want to submit more than I did this year. I summed what I did this year up in my end of 2014 post, so I have to submit more than thirteen times. Which means I have to tidy up some of these babies and get them out there. I’d ideally like to get some more stories written and back out there. But getting the ones I’ve written published is my aim.

Thirdly, I’d like to hone my craft, and that comes from goals one and two, plus any additional extras I can lay my hands on. Courses and conferences like the Surrey International Writers Festival. Maybe formal courses but we’ll see how that fits in with other plans for the year.

It’s going to be hard to top last year, as the first year of being published is a special gift, but surely that will only get better when my name is on half a dozen of these babies (starting the year with high hopes, as you can see).

So, keeping it simple. I hope that I can keep up to my end of the bargain. Here’s hoping 2015 is a productive and fruitful writing year for all the writers in my life and a year full of wonderful for all. Bring it on!

2014: A Writing Year

Now that it is officially 2015 here in the northern hemisphere, I feel like I can finally take a look back on this year and see where I’m starting from this year, particularly in terms of my writing. It’s been a big year for me both as a writer and an editor.

IMG_2742-1.JPG2014 had a lot to offer me, and I have to be grateful for its magnanimity. It was the year that I began submitting my work to magazines and anthologies, and there has been a success or two. The year started strongly with my early acceptance into the Subtropical Suspense anthology from Black Beacon Books. I am incredibly proud to have been part of this project; Queensland was my home for a long time and there is much to recommend it. Cameron Trost is also a wonderful editor, and tireless in his endeavours to get these stories out to a wider audience. It’s also been lovely to have so many of my family and friends tell me how much they liked my story, with especially heartwarming praise from my grandfather comparing it stories published in a highly regarded suspense magazine that he enjoyed. This anthology will always hold a special place in my heart as my first publication.

twistyxmas3The Best of Twisty Christmas Tales, from Phantom Feather Press out of New Zealand, were my second success. This children’s publishing press is a powerhouse, and the collective powers of Alicia Ponder, Eileen Mueller and Peter Friend are immense. They marketed for all it was worth, were very inclusive of the authors as well as allowing us all to help, and ran a great crowdfunding campaign, which resulted in a sell out launch and sales doing very well up to Christmas. I heard about this anthology through a new friend, Dan Rabarts (great Kiwi writer to keep an eye out for), and had a couple of ideas, one of which was my Manuka Mischief story. I will review the collection soon, here on the blog, but the team at Phantom Feather Press collected some great writers here, so it is well worth checking out (details here). After I had been accepted, I also discovered Eileen is a cousin of our dear Kiwi friend here in Vancouver, Jacqui. Small world!

So, in 2014 I submitted thirteen times, and was accepted twice, for an acceptance rate of 15%. 36% of those submissions received personalised feedback from the editor, and several of them positive (enjoyed but of the ‘not quite the fit for this collection’ variety). Of those submissions, there are several stories submitted a number of times. My favourite, a short science fiction called Sleepers, has been hit back from some big markets, but I am aiming high. It’s my best work to date, it feels true to me and to my characters, and it’s polished and ready for the right home. I have more places to try to place it in the new year. I have eight completed shorts that are polished to a degree; some that I need to review in my new year.

Sadly, my novel project is a bit like pulling teeth. I’m proud of the largest narrative I’ve ever written, and by Jim, I will finish it, because I need that victory, so that I know I can. It will need lots of work when I finish it, but hey, what novel doesn’t need that. The original title I had in mind doesn’t really work with the novel as it is shaping up, so it will also need to be renamed.

So overall, writing wise, I’m very pleased with what I’ve done. There’s been oodles of words and lots of hard work from me here.

This year was also a reasonable editing year for me. I’ve continued as the Editor in Chief at the SQ Mag ezine. I have however been very grateful to receive the help of some great slush readers in the latter part of the year. It’s been great working with Paula Boer, Gareth Edwards and Louise Zedda-Sampson. It’s also been wonderful to review alongside author Mysti Parker and Damien Smith. Gerry Huntman has, as always, been a great boss and the behind the scenes guru. It’s been another great year working together, Gerry!

I’ve also completed the Brumbies series with Paula Boer, as part of my ongoing work with IFWG Publishing Australia. I worked with Paula on the last of her series this year: Brumbies in the Outback and the very recently released Brumbies in the Mountains. I’m so pleased to have been a part of this process over the years. We’ve worked together since Paula’s first book came out: The Okapi Promise. Paula’s prose has gotten so tight with these last couple of books that editing has gotten to be so easy! It’s been great to get to work together and I think the quality of her books speaks to the passion we both have for her work. Congratulations to Paula on the completion of your series, and I wish you all the best with the new project that is in the works!

Another wonderful work I helped get out there this year is a debut novel, a science fiction called The Pouakai by David Sperry. David’s a US writer out of Seattle these days, but he’s a pilot and former resident of the Hawaiian Islands, where the novel is set. This took a little while to organise, due to me, but David was so great to work with and his story is extremely imaginative–the aliens in it are really different. He also introduces people to smaller islands in the Pacific, which I always think is great. If you have time, pop on over and have a look at his book on the IFWG page.

On a personal note, there’s been some great connections I’ve made with other writers this year. I’ve been lucky enough to be included in a small online writing group, courtesy of a few writing friends I’ve made in the publishing game. We worked in a 6 stories/pieces in 6 weeks challenge, which I really think was the most productive portion of my year. I’m really honoured to be included amongst the puppies and have made some great friends along the way. It’s wonderful to have a group of people to be your sounding boards, editors and beta readers, commiserators and cheer squad, who you know are all facing the same struggles. Thanks for including me.

I’ve also got a great writing group here in Vancouver. I meet with the girls irregularly about once a month. They are a wonderful and lively bunch. Caitlin has been a great friend, Deana has made me open my mind to get my head around a couple of my faltering stories, and Jen and I have been brainstorming on how to cure the science fiction world of its hesitation about female writers in the genre. Each of these girls has read my work and helped me make it better in some way, and they’ve been great to bring me back up when I have been feeling imposter syndrome. With all my heart, thank you, my friends!

I’m also very grateful to Deana for turning me on to the Surrey International Writers Conference this year. This is very much a craft-centric event, and I felt like I learnt a lot. I wish I had been up to the point where I could have worked on my synopsis with an editor, or had a fellow author read my work and critique it, or even pitched to an agent. It’s a crucial learning process I could have used and I certainly would recommend this to any person who writes and wants to be published.

Particularly, I want to thank all of my friends who read and constructively criticised my work this year. It has helped so much, with both my opportunities and with what I’ve learnt. I do want to add a shout out to my other writer friend Mark Hargrave, whose advice and deconstruction has been solid and so right every time.

Also, thank you to everyone who either bought, reviewed, shared any piece that I’ve worked on online, or given me their honest thoughts. It is so important to hear how you liked my writing, or promoted it. That support keeps me going. You all rock.

Otherwise, the only other big event of this year was my engagement. After four and a half years, Greg decided that he liked me enough to keep me around, and proposed on a mountain top in the Yukon. I am a bit sore at the Aurora Borealis for not being visible so he could go with his original plan of proposing to me under them, but one small satisfaction is you can’t really hear me complaining about cold hands and being obstinate on our proposal video (sneaky Greg).

2014 was hard, but I think it was a learning year for me professionally. I am grateful for my lessons, but I am hoping to have a bit more success in the future without so many tears and tribulations. Bring on 2015, may it be a successful one for us all.


December writing update

My friends, it’s official. I have now been published twice!

Very excited to have seen the photos of a wonderful and successful launch of The Best of Twisty Christmas Tales from Phantom Feather Press. This on the back of a very successful FundMe campaign, where they funded a print run of books. I’m very proud to part of this project, part of whose funds goes to Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand.

Book launch for The Best of Twisty Christmas Tales in the The Children’s Bookshop, Kilburnie, NZ (used with permission of Phantom Feather Press)

What’s even more amazing is that they sold out of their first print run at the launch. By all accounts, it looked jovial, and it was great to see some young faces in the crowd. They’ve since sold out another two print runs. It is a tribute to the dedication and hard work of Alicia Ponder, Peter Friend and Eileen Mueller, who have worked tirelessly to make this book a success.

There were two brief periods where you could get the electronic book briefly on Amazon. I will keep an eye out for you and share it online if it happens again soon. But when it’s so cheap online, why not support some wonderful authors and a good cause?

There’s been some great reviews of the anthology from Graham Beattie (with an oblique reference to my story – yay!), Cedar Sanderson, Angela Oliver, and Lorraine Orman. Each review has praised the collection, and wonderfully, the reviews on

twistyxmas3If you’re interested in a great little Christmas gift complete with stories from some great New Zealander (and Aussie-though I think I might be the only one) authors, please check out the Amazon page where it’s only $3.69 AUD and support a great cause and some excellent writers.

No news on the Subtropical Suspense front, but the book is widely available in bookstores across Brisbane and is relative cheap from the online shop (cheaper than Amazon).

Some of my stories are out in the greater slush piles at the moment. My favourite story, an oldie that I wrote a few years ago and refined, is wracking up the rejections, but I’m aiming high. I hope it will be loved somewhere soon. Hoping to hear a positive from one of the Ticonderoga anthologies. I’m working on a short for an Australian themed anthology that I hope to get into.

Also, I have been trickling words into my novel. I hit two milestones: 100 pages of work with 30, 000 words. I’m hoping in some of the quiet time over Christmas to get some more done.

I’m going to leave with a parting note about reviews. Please remember that the more reviews of a work the better, no matter which platform you choose to review on. It means the collection or book is more likely to come to the attention of readers. So please, as a Christmas gift to all the authors in your life–review, review, review.

Subtropical Suspense Review

SUBTROPICAL-SUSPENSE - front cover - mediumWhen this anthology was in production, I had a short chance to read some of the stories as part of the collective proofing process. Unfortunately, it didn’t give me much time to really enjoy them so I decided I would come back to look at them when I had more time to appreciate the hard work and craft that went into each one.

What I love about the concept of this collection is that it represents Australians and in particular Queenslanders. Queensland is well worth the attention. It’s a state of contrasts: arid outback, lush and steamy rainforest, tropical beaches and mangroves. Its people are a friendly and talkative lot, who, overall, take life a lot less seriously. There’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek rebellion against the older, staider states. My home state needed representation in fiction.

Enter Cameron Trost: author, editor and head of Black Beacon Books, a Brisbane-based publisher. Wanting to see his home state immortalised, he started calling out for submissions of suspense stories set in Brisbane or surrounds. What resulted was a collection of fine works with the flavour of Queensland.

Brisbane surrounds, the glitzy Gold Coast and the suburbs are all represented here. The flavours of a Queensland upbringing are definitely present in the sweltering humidity and the summer storms, the hiding from the sun and heat. Tales largely told for old-fashioned suspense and intrigue, a few of these tales have a supernatural bent.

Several stood out for me, in no particular order. FN Karmatz’s Magnetic North with the indigenous police officer on the train of a perpetrator of a violent crime (though the science missed the mark for me). Missing by Kerry Whalen taps authentically into the fear of every parent: the disappearance of children. Like Me, The River from Duncan Richardson follows a young homeless boy’s journey.

My favourites were from Linda Brucesmith, The Final Cut, which captured a side of Queensland that is still a sadness for me, and Helen Stubb’s tale of young infatuation and the iceskating rink, which evoked the intensity of being a teenager in summery Queensland.

There were a couple of stories that needed some cutting in my opinion, or a perhaps a bit of refining, but all of them definitely captured the feel or location, so their selection for the anthology made sense.

Overall, this is a fine collection and it was wonderful to see some emerging and established Queensland names in this anthology. Each author’s story was unique and this anthology did what it set out to accomplish: represent a great and unique state so that we might see more narrative that includes it. An aim that I wholeheartedly support, and was glad to be a part of.

10 books that stay with you

There’s a bit of a fun meme running around Facebook at the moment, and I thought I would share the 10 books that have stayed with me and why (in no particular order). I cheated a little bit; there’s a couple of series in there.

I was tagged by fellow authors Jodi Cleghorn and Caitlin McColl, as well as Nicola Brodie, Natalie Ruus and Rogelio Llovit, fellow bookworms and friends.

1. The Time Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
You only have to say scruffy librarian, and you have me. But I think it’s the beautiful interplay between Henry DeTamble and the love of his life, Clare Abershire, no matter her age, that I like best. And the question, do they love because of his visiting her, or because they were destined to fall in love eventually. Imagining that we could naturally travel through time though, piques my interest.

2. The Book Thief, Markus Zusack
It’s about a girl who comes to love books and the written word, and narrated by Death. What’s not to love? Given to me by Carol, my ex’s mother and a teacher, as one of her favourites, and I have loved it.

3. My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult
This was the first Jodi Picoult I read and firmly cemented her as one of my favourite writers. This question of how much a child born to provide for a sick sibling, the ethics and dynamic of a family unit with one sick child; it’s a beautiful novel. I read this when I was studying genetics and ethics, and it was beautifully timed for me, though there are protections in place for children brought into the world for this reason. I so enjoy the investigation of ethics and interpersonal dynamics that Picoult does remarkably well.

4. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Another recommendation by a dear friend, the world and mythos that Gaiman built blew me away. Gaiman’s worlds are so vivid and they get under your skin, even as you wonder if you can relate to the characters.

5. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Elizabeth, I believe, is my favourite heroine of all the books I’ve ever read. She’s so smart and determined, and so ready to think and act outside of societal expectations to her; even if at the end of the book she chooses love.

6. The Pagan Series, by Catherine Jinks
I don’t think that before I read this series that I thought you could write a character with so much vivacity and life that they could leap off the page. But Pagan, the Arab Christian orphan boy, a first person narrator, working with a French aristocratic Templar, and his acerbic wit kill me every time.

7. Dune series, Frank Herbert
Herbert’s rich worlds and characters who survived and went on captured my imagination. I think this was the first science fiction I truly loved, and unlike many others, I adored all 6 original books. I don’t believe I’ve read any of the ones written by Herbert’s son.

8. Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
Anne is what my heart always longed to be; outspoken yet kind and personable; able to bounce back so wonderfully from mistakes. I visited Prince Edward Island last year as a pilgrimage to my girlhood and this very girl.

9. Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta
I’m pretty pleased to have two female Aussie authors on this list. Looking for Alibrandi perfectly captures for me the angst of being a teenager, of figuring out who you are in relation to your family and the world around you, and what waking up to your body and all those hormones is like. It’s about the friendships forged in the caldera of high school and the struggle to face your future. Marchetta captures the social dance and explores this time through the eyes of a self-depreciatingly funny protagonist. Thinking about it, a lot of the reasons I like Looking for Alibrandi are the same as the reasons I liked Catherine Jinks’ Pagan series; a different world and a prickly but endearing main character. I’ve never fallen in love with characters like I did with these two authors and I could read their work over and over, even today. I still cry every time John Barton dies.

10. Wild Swans, Jung Chang
A story of mothers and daughters in times of turbulence and hardship, and how each strove to make their own place in the world. I think I read this during my teenage years when, as most mothers and daughters do, I had times of frustration and it felt like misunderstanding. But inevitably, our lives are woven together and it helped me think of my mother in her own personhood and helped me relate.

There’s a bunch of others that are important to me, that 10 is too small a list for: CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series; Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit; The Solitaire Mystery, Jostein Gardener; The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton; 1984, George Orwell; V for Vendetta, Alan Moore; Sing Me Home, Jodi Picoult.

Love to hear which books stayed with you.