The Big Issue : Edition 547
BOOKS THEBIGISSUE6–19OCT2017 41 How would you react to a future invasion of Australia, to attempts on the part of seemingly benevolent aliens to colonise not just our planet, but Australia in particular? The Settlers are eager to see a nation at peace, and our savageness restrained. But as families are torn apart, and re-education becomes the norm, is the land really rich enough – or big enough – to house alien and human in harmony? This daring debut from Claire G Coleman – a Noongar woman from the southern coast of Western Australia who was the winner of the 2016 black&write! Fellowship – takes a unique science-fiction approach to what it is to be Australian, and to take a stand against an alien invader. A speculative sci-fi struggle meaningfully grounded in Coleman’s own Indigenous culture, Terra Nullius offers something new – a skilfully constructed pastiche of colonisation, resistance and apocalyptic chaos with parallels that sit unsettlingly close to home. CRAIG BUCHANAN TERRA NULLIUS CLAIRE G COLEMAN You can’t accuse Chris Womersley of traipsing over the same ground. His last novel, Cairo, was about art theft and took place in Melbourne in the 1980s. City of Crows is a gothic historical fiction set in 17th century France, an unenlightened world of superstition and sorcery. When widowed Charlotte Picot’s last surviving son is kidnapped, potentially to be sold into slavery, she is desperate to find him –and thus enters into an uneasy alliance with ex- convict Lesage, a fortune teller of ill-repute. Together they travel to Paris and consort with all manner of ne’er-do-wells. Womersley’s evocative, visceral prose easily conjures up the stink and manic energy of the capital, this city of crows (thus called because carrion birds are everywhere, picking off the refuse). There are magicians who claim to have access to “the secret parts of the world, to its hidden design, the bones beneath the skin”. It’s a novel about dark magic, witchcraft, plague and pestilence, the passing on of secret knowledge and the summoning of malignant spirits. THUY ON Two Steps For ward is a novel about the renewal and clarity found by two middle-aged characters, Zoe and Martin, as they walk the famous Camino pilgrimage from France to Spain. Each chapter alternates between the points of view of Zoe, a Californian woman whose husband recently died unexpectedly, and Martin, a British engineer teaching in France to escape a messy divorce. Zoe begins on a whim in an attempt to grieve her husband’s death; she is unprepared and ill-equipped for the walk, and along the way rediscovers her own independence and resourcefulness. Martin begins the walk to test out a prototype of a luggage cart that he has designed, but along the way realises that he needs to reconnect with his teenage daughter and make peace with his cheating ex-wife – two tasks that are as necessary as they are difficult. Each character undergoes monumental personal growth, pulling them towards their destinies, and at times each other. This book was difficult to put down until the very end. JEMIMAH HALBERT CITY OF CROWS CHRIS WOMERSLEY THUY ON > Books Editor TWO STEPS FORWARD GRAEME SIMSION AND ANNE BUIST PRINT E-BOOK A NEW SERIES of small, smart hardbacks has just been launched called Writers on Writers, in which six Australian authors reflect on authors who have inspired them. So far, two have been released: Alice Pung pays tribute to John Marsden; and Erik Jensen sings out to Kate Jennings. Pung celebrates Marsden’s YA novels because “they made our experiences central” and also points out how he is not afraid to deal with a whole range of contentious issues affecting teenagers. She says in an open letter to him, “Your fiercest critics are probably those that have the luxury of thinking that childhood should be free of anxiety, worry, sadness, illness, stress and grief – emotions that every child feels at one point or another.” Meanwhile Jensen’s more biographical offering intersperses his own interviews with major and minor moments in the life of his chosen author, showing particularly how Jennings’ novel Snake came to be created. Jensen calls his essay “a love letter to her work and to the life that produced it”. Both Pung and Jensen are friends with their respective subjects, so there is an intimacy to their lovingly drawn portraits. The series (other authors are yet to be announced) is a window to the craft of writing as expressed by writers themselves, so expect a high degree of reflection and eloquence.