31 August 2022

Review: Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

The impact time has on people, buildings and the environment is a constant theme in my reading, and Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall is based on the true story of a house the author discovered when she purchased an old farm. The house was falling down and neglected, yet a family of twelve children had once been raised and lived within those walls. Sophie Blackall was hooked and loved exploring the items and sorting the objects left behind to piece together their stories.

Together with the fact that this children's picture book includes a 'dollhouse-like interior', I was eager to step inside Blackall's Farmhouse to learn about those who once lived there.

Farmhouse is a tribute to this house and other unnamed and unknown homes and residences which have been abandoned or outlived their purpose and which have eventually been reduced to dust in the name of progress.

Firstly, my favourite thing about this picture book are the end papers. A montage of artwork and photographs of items and materials from the house that inspired the book, it's absolutely captivating. It's like looking at a digital scrapbook of creativity, memories and the passage of time. Look closer and the curtains around the windows are scraps of fabric, look again and you'll notice newspaper clippings, photographs and scraps of wallpaper.

I was spending such a long time admiring the mixed media illustrations that when I turned a page and the text started mid sentence, it was disorienting. The entire story is told without a single full stop and while I found this bothersome, perhaps it wouldn't have been so noticeable if I'd been reading it with a child at the intended pace.

Also, I treasure and look after my books, however the dust jacket on my copy of Farmhouse is looking a little tired around the edges from minimal and careful handling, so I can't imagine how quickly this would begin to look tatty in the eager hands of little readers. (I do wonder about the wisdom of dust jackets for children's picture books, so if you have an opinion on this let me know in the comments section below).

Illustrated by the author herself, Sophie Blackall was born and raised in Australia and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her significant service to children's literature.

I enjoyed the story behind the story and finding out the content in Farmhouse was inspired by those who actually lived there - in the author's note at the back of the book - gave greater meaning to this charming little storybook.

My Rating:

29 August 2022

Review: The It Girl by Ruth Ware

The It Girl by Ruth Ware book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

I absolutely adored the rich setting of The It Girl by Ruth Ware in the fictional campus college of Pelham College at Oxford University. 

Having visited Oxford in 2012 and 2018, I easily fell into the academic student vibe and wished I was among the characters fortunate enough to study there. Put it this way, I was definitely conjuring Dead Poets Society vibes as I was reading.

Our protagonist Hannah Jones is an impressive character and we pick up her story on her first day at Oxford. Later on, we find out more about her humble upbringing:
"I was the only person in my year at school to apply for Oxford. I'm the first person in my family to come here too. In fact, my dad doesn't even have a degree - he's a builder who left education when he was sixteen. I didn't volunteer to feed underprivileged kids in my gap year or spend my summer digging wells - I spent my summer working in a supermarket. As you may have guessed, I don't always feel like I fit in here. But I'm determined to prove I belong." Page 55-56
When Hannah moves into her accommodation on campus in Pelham College, she's surprised to be sharing a common room with April Clarke-Cliveden. April is charismatic, rich, confident, intelligent, beautiful and manipulative. April is the classic 'it girl' with a gaggle of loyal friends, Hannah, Will, Hugh, Ryan and Emily but by the end of the second term, April has been murdered.

The story unfolds in two timeframes, Before and After and both were compelling. At 420 pages in length though, I thought it was probably 50 pages too long. The After section takes place 10 years after the murder and we learn from the blurb that the man convicted of April's murder has died in prison. Hannah is married to Will and expecting their first child when this death occurs which sets off a chain of events.

Both time frames contained an element of mystery and suspense, although the ending was unexpected which is exactly what you want in a domestic thriller from Ruth Ware.

I do wonder though, if I've been spoiled forever after reading and loving my first Ruth Ware novel in The Turn of the Key back in 2019. That book went on to make my Top 5 Books of 2019 list and the ending was so amazing, it made me gasp out loud. Every time I've picked up a Ruth Ware novel since then (see my review for One by One by Ruth Ware) I'm hoping to have a similar mind blowing reading experience. The It Girl fell short of blowing my mind or making me gasp, and it won't be a contender on my Top 5 list for this year, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable 'whodunnit', that's for sure.

I recommend The It Girl by Ruth Ware to crime and thriller readers, campus novel enthusiasts and those with a special place in their heart for Oxford.

My Rating:

24 August 2022

Review: How to Win Friends & Influence People in the Digital Age

How to Win Friends & Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie & Associates audiobook cover

This was dreadful. Originally published in 1936, How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie remains one of the most popular self help books in print and one of the best-selling books of all time. Despite being decades old when I got around to reading it many moons ago, the core principles were still relevant and I continue to be mindful of these lessons years later.

When I saw that Dale Carnegie & Associates published an audiobook with an update for the digital age in How to Win Friends & Influence People in the Digital Age, I thought it might be worth a listen. Perhaps with the advent of social media and online presences, there'd be a lot of new ground to cover, despite being released more than 10 years ago.

Unfortunately not. This was a disappointing listen with nothing earth shatteringly new or even mildly interesting to add to the Carnegie repertoire of human connection. I just retrieved my foxed and yellowed copy of How to Win Friends & Influence People from my bookshelf to compare chapter headings and what do you know, they're very similar. In this audiobook, Part Three, Chapter 2 is called 'Never Say, You're Wrong'. In the original, Part Three, Chapter 3 is 'If You're Wrong, Admit it'. Hmmm.

With the success of the original I guess it's logical for opportunists to want to cash in on the enterprise but I really wish they wouldn't. Even if I'd read this on the day it was released in 2011 I wouldn't have been impressed. Reading it 11 years after publication left me feeling irritated by how the digital references are noticeably dated. How to Win Friends & Influence People in the Digital Age is a book that has dated very quickly without adding much of consequence to the original, so I couldn't recommend this as having any value for readers today.

Read the original and move on.

My Rating:

18 August 2022

Review: Hydra by Adriane Howell

Hydra by Adriane Howell book cover

* Copy courtesy of Transit Lounge *

Hydra by Melbourne based author Adriane Howell is set on the Victorian peninsula in an area I was once quite familiar with. Our main character Anja is an antiques dealer working in the Mid Century Modern Department for Geoffrey Browne Auction House. 

I was intrigued by the goings on in the auction world of antiques and in particular Anja's desire to classify objects based on their emotional responses.

The author had me on page 3 with Anja's description of her work:
"It was a thrill finding an object hidden for generations and unearthing its narrative. Who had dusted it, lounged in it, held on to it with a false sense of duty? And for how many decades had it sat in the one room, absorbing years of cheer and anguish that left stains even the most skilled carpenter couldn't sand away?" Page 3
This period in Anja's life is short lived though as she unexpectedly blows up her career in a gesture that actually made me gasp out loud. This isn't a spoiler, and when I read about it in the blurb I assumed there was going to be a theft or fraud or something of that nature, but no. You'll NEVER guess how she actually ends up losing her job and it's probably my favourite moment of the book.

Moving on, Anja flees the city and uses the last of her mother's inheritance to enter into a 100 year lease on an isolated cottage located in a reserve belonging to the Department of Defence. If you're thinking this peninsula setting sounds a lot like HMAS Cerberus, you'd be right. I actually spent a month living on base during my training as an Officer in the Navy and I really enjoyed the setting as a result. The inclusion of Navy reports interspersed throughout the novel were interesting but did provide additional context.

The author's prose and descriptions of the nature reserve and the wildlife were evocative and occasionally gave me pause:
"The bush was like a rococo relief: scrolling and curvaceous, dramatic and untamed." Page 165
We learn the cottage has been vacant for some time and requires a clean out and makeover; one of my favourite story arcs. I was rooting for Anja to begin to get her life back on track in the new rural surrounding but things don't quite go to plan. Snatches of Anja's backstory are drip fed into the narrative, leaving the reader to decide for themselves if the protagonist is becoming unhinged or not.

Strange things start to happen around the cottage, and on the whole, I didn't like many of Anja's choices and actions. This reminded me of The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins when the protagonist acted against my advice despite my shouting at the page. Don't you hate it when characters refuse to listen?

This debut novel is full of suspense and slowly reels you in. The sheer isolation and slow unravelling of Anja's career and personal life made for a tense and suspenseful read.

Fortunately these moments were broken up by a few lighter moments like this:
"If Beth were a Wegner chair she would be a PP250 Valet - practical to a fault. That's why I didn't tell her about the porch poo." Page 83
If you're rushing off to Google the Wegner chair to see what it looks like, you're in good company. I did the same.

Hydra definitely straddles a few genres, and I'm not sure if I would call this literary horror, as there isn't much blood/gore. However, it certainly has a dark undertone and sense of spiralling dread about what's going to happen, putting me in mind of some literary horror novels I've read in the last 12-18 months. The ending wasn't what I was hoping for, but it was in keeping with the genre and true to the character, so there is that.

Nevertheless, Hydra is a solid debut by Melbourne based author Adriane Howell, and I can't wait to see what she writes next. I suspect this is just the beginning of a promising career.

My Rating:

15 August 2022

Framed Giveaway Winner Announced

Thanks to all of those who entered my giveaway last week to win a print copy of Framed by Australian author John M. Green. You all answered correctly, that JJ spied what she believes to be a priceless painting by Van Gogh.

Entries closed at midnight last night and the winner was drawn today. Congratulations to:

Denise Ackers!!

Congratulations Denise! You've won a print copy of Framed by John M. Green valued at $29.99AUD thanks to Pantera Press. You'll receive an email from me shortly, and will have 7 days to provide your Australian postal address. You'll then receive your prize direct from the publisher so I hope you enjoy!

(Kirsten, if you're reading this and wondered why I didn't email you after you 'opted in', the email address you gave was 'yes' so I couldn't contact you).

Carpe Librum!
Carpe Librum image promoting the giveaway for Framed by John M. Green.

14 August 2022

Review: The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt

The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt book cover

* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

Set in Florence, The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt starts in 1479 with the birth of Leonarda Lunetta (Luna) Fusili. Luna is born with a misshapen leg and is immediately rejected by her mother. The eldest daughter of Signore Vincenzio Fusili, Luna is brought up with reading, debate, science and astronomy, usually the preserve of male heirs.

Twenty odd years later and Luna's father is supporting the Medici family in secret after Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici's banishment from the city. Renaissance Florence is beset by fundamentalist preacher Friar Girolamo Savonarola who reminded me a little of the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones. Luna finds herself taken in by him at one of his sermons:
"Luna heard tenderness in his entreaties to the congregation and there was a murmur of agreement from the floor. The people swayed and gasped as one as the preacher grew ever more impassioned. Luna swayed just as the strangers around her did, and there was a warm fealty in doing so." Page 127
When piles of precious books are burned and neighbours thrown out into the street for heresy, a feeling of dread pervades the family. Luna has a passion for learning and longs to continue her studies but her step mother's insistence she be wed or attend a nunnery on account of her leg is thwarting her plans for the future. Luna has received an education usually reserved for boys and she fights the inequality between the sexes, her lack of agency and the ignominy of her disability. Luna is a terrific protagonist and I really felt for her as she strived for what she wanted and fiercely resisted having her future decided for her.

Despite the political tensions and the danger of incurring Savonarola's wrath, there are moments of light dialogue and sensational writing. I particularly liked this phrase:
"Now, wash your hands and find your sister for me. She frolics somewhere outdoors and ignores my calls to come inside. Her antics age me ten moons in a day." Page 57
Ten moons in a day, I think we can all relate to how that must feel!

The Brightest Star is well researched by this Australian author, the Florentine setting felt authentic and I enjoyed the period details. I particularly enjoyed the two references to the period of the evening where the 'second sleep' of the night takes place on pages 77 and 167. Regular Carpe Librum readers will know this is one of my favourite nuggets of history surrounding sleep.

The introduction of Nicolaus Copernicus as a minor character in the second half of the novel was a nice surprise and I enjoyed following Luna as she grew and matured into a young lady.

Reading The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt put me in mind of TV series The Borgias and I'm listening to that soundtrack right now as I compose this review. 

The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt is highly recommended for historical fiction readers and those interested in Renaissance Florence, the power of a classic education, a disabled protagonist and a love of astronomy.

Read a FREE extract here.

My Rating:

09 August 2022

AViVA Winners Announced

Thanks to all of the Outsiders (AViVA fans) who entered my giveaway last week to win 1 of 2 signed double packs of Self/Less and Relentless by Australian author and artist AViVA. Relentless is out today and it's time to announce the winners.

Entries closed at midnight last night and the winners were drawn today. Congratulations to (drum roll):

LeeW and Dr Aurion!!

Congratulations! You've both won a signed double book pack valued at $39.98AUD thanks to Pan Macmillan. You will receive an email from me shortly, and will have 7 days to provide your postal address and preferred inscription. You'll then receive your prize direct from the publisher so I hope you enjoy! 

For those who missed out, I'm currently running a giveaway for Framed by John M. Green, so feel free to enter if you're in the mood for a 'gripping art heist thriller'.

Carpe Librum!

08 August 2022

Review: Saved by the Siesta by Brice Faraut

Saved by the Siesta - The Great Benefits of a Little Nap by Brice Faraut book cover

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

I'm fascinated by the topic of sleep and never tire of talking about sleep, sleep habits, dreams and the science of sleep. Saved by the Siesta - The Great Benefits of a Little Nap by Brice Faraut and translated by Eric Rosencrantz is a compact read and promises to be an 'expert guide on the art and science of napping', something I haven't explored before.

Faraut is a neuroscientist and spends much of the book establishing the benefits of night time sleep in order to highlight the problems when a patient doesn't attain a full night's rest; or worse, begins to accrue a sleep debt. He also outlines the different sleep needs we have from the cradle to the grave, so the reader's age will be a factor to consider when reading this book.

I enjoyed the reminder about the nasal cycle (learned when reading Breath - The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor):
"One such clock controls the alternation of our nasal cycle and, much to the detriment of the quality of our sleep and for reasons long unknown to us, makes us roll over every 60-90 minutes from one side of our bodies to the other, namely the side with the currently congested nostril." Page 16
I had a head cold this week, and it's these periods when we become more aware of the nasal cycle. I've read before that during sleep our brains cleanse toxic substances away, however I didn't know that
"the space between our billions of brain cells increases by 60 per cent during sleep." Page 43 Apparently our brain is contracted and curled in upon itself when at full capacity, but when we sleep it relaxes and dilates to its full volume, enabling the cerebrospinal fluid to drain the toxic metabolites away from the brain twice as fast. No wonder we can feel groggy when we wake up or stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

The section describing how a lack of sleep causes increased sensitivity to pain rang true for me as someone with a chronic pain condition. The less sleep or rest I have, the worse the pain levels. The author acknowledges that those with chronic pain find it harder to sleep in the first place, which in turn makes their pain more difficult to endure, creating sleep debt and reinforcing a negative spiral. That's where naps come in. According to the author:
"Napping might also turn out to be useful in relieving pain caused by fibromyalgia." Page 132
While this wasn't news to me, it may be enlightening and helpful to readers new to the topic.

The author provides a brief overview of many sleep studies conducted around the world, some of which he was involved in, however much of the content will be too scientific for many readers. Faraut points out the numerous ways in which not getting enough sleep - or working night shift - takes its toll on the body in terms of reaction times, memory, mood and general health to the longer term effects and even cancer.

Faraut then goes on to recommend different nap durations at different times of day that will directly address a patient's concern, e.g. to improve memory performance, have a long nap with 'deep stage-three slow wave sleep to eliminate parasitic information and REM sleep.' However given the variables already presented, the reader almost needs a slide rule, calculator and health questionnaire to figure out precisely how to apply the advice to their unique set of circumstances. When I take a nap, I'm usually recovering or recuperating, not preparing for something, but how normal is this? What about you? Do you nap in advance?

I was interested to learn about the 'correct body positions' for napping but lying on your back or sitting at a reclined angle was deemed best, without mention of side or stomach sleeping which was disappointing. The 'ideal time of day' to nap varies greatly on your existing sleep habits, health status, work practices, sleep patterns and circadian clock. If I am older and rise later than you, then the best time for each of us to take a nap will vary. See what I mean about the slide rule?

I agree with the author in his conclusion that it's more important to get a proper night's sleep in the first place, but as we know, life isn't perfect. I also agree with the author that:
"We need to change our view of sleep and put paid to the misconception that sleeping's a waste of time, opportunities, and money." Page 141
More and more patients experiencing sleep problems and insomnia are glued to their devices, too razzed up to sleep and with a FOMO preventing them from disconnecting or being able to relax and let it all go. I'm a strong proponent of the curative and healing benefits of sleep and appreciate the benefits of a nap first hand. It's often my preferred method of recovery however I wasn't able to learn anything new here to supplement previous reading.

I'll leave you with some closing words from the author:
"What is certain, on the other hand, is that taking a nap every day to offset our sleep debt is a natural and beneficial medication. From morning to mid-afternoon, the variety of possible nap durations, from 10-90 minutes, depending on our availability, age, and needs, makes it a judicious and formidable weapon for reinforcing not only our metabolic, hormonal, immune, somesthetic, and cardiovascular functions, but also our alertness, cognitive performance, memory, mood, empathy, and creativity." Page 144
Saved by the Siesta - The Great Benefits of a Little Nap by Brice Faraut is recommended for readers new to the science of sleep looking to unlock one of the body's most basic yet crucial functions.

My Rating:

05 August 2022

Giveaway: Framed by John M. Green

Framed by John M. Green book cover

* Copy courtesy of Pantera Press *


Australian author John M. Green is no stranger to Carpe Librum. I interviewed John back in 2012 after reading and reviewing The Nowhere Man and Born to Run. I attended the book launch for The Trusted in 2013 and also ran a giveaway when I reviewed The Tao Deception in 2016. Back then, Anne Hutton was the lucky winner, but who will be our winner this time around?

John's latest thriller Framed is out this month and I've teamed up with Pantera Press to run a giveaway to celebrate. Framed is a 'gripping art heist thriller', so enter below for your chance to win a copy. Entries are open to those with an address in AUS and close at midnight AEST Sunday 14 August 2022. Good luck!


When art conservator JJ Jego spots a long-lost masterpiece through the window of a luxury apartment, she’s drawn into a dark web of intrigue, deception and murder.

JJ spies what she believes is a priceless Van Gogh. Except it can’t be … that painting, Six Sunflowers, was destroyed during World War II. She also glimpses what looks like a Rembrandt, one stolen in the infamous 1990 robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston.

JJ sets out on a mission to discover if these works are fakes or genuine. But when she gets in too deep, she is forced to seek help from her estranged father, a Sydney detective.

From the pubs of Belfast to the boardrooms of Monte Carlo and the shores of Sydney Harbour, this gripping art heist thriller exposes a shadowy underworld where JJ crosses paths with a global organised crime empire in her pursuit to solve some of art history’s biggest mysteries.
Carpe Librum giveaway image for Framed by John M. Green


This giveaway has now closed and the winner will be announced soon.

04 August 2022

Review: The Lady Di Look Book by Eloise Moran

The Lady Di Look Book - What Diana Was Trying to Tell Us Through Her Clothes by Eloise Moran book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette Australia *

Princess Diana is one of the most famous women in my living memory and her legacy continues today, more than a quarter of a century after her death. There is a revival in Lady Diana inspired fashion choices and I find it interesting that many of the women following the trend were born after she died in 1997. Perhaps Princess Diana is to this generation what Marilyn Monroe is to me, a captivating icon of a not too distant era. Princess Diana's public and private life were scrutinised in life and continue to be analysed after death and yet a fresh perspective via her wardrobe choices and fashion statements was too appealing to resist.

Eloise Moran is a fashion journalist and her Instagram account @ladydirevengelooks is so successful, we are now lucky enough to view her work in this collection, The Lady Di Look Book - What Diana Was Trying to Tell Us Through Her Clothes.

Beautifully presented in a wonderful hardcover, this collection showcases many styles and fashion choices as Moran documents Diana's life with her accompanying essays. As the author admits, Moran was only 5 years old when Princess Diana died in 1997 and came to look up to her as a fashion icon much later, after experiencing her own breakup. I think there's a lot of theorising and projecting going on by the author - and the rest of the world - when it comes to imagining what Lady Diana was thinking or feeling in these photographs but aren't we all guilty of that? I know I am.

This book has been described as a 'smart visual psychobiography' and I'm not embarrassed to admit I didn't know what this was. Apparently a psychobiography is a biography that aims to understand an historically significant individual through the use of psychological theory and research. I wonder if The Lady Di Look Book is my first psychobiography. I think it'd be fun to find out so I'll need to go back through my reading list. In the meantime, if you know any you think I might like, please recommend them in the comments section.

If you enjoyed this review, you might also enjoy my review of Our Rainbow Queen - A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colourful Wardrobe by Sali Hughes. It seems I have developed an interest in the fashion of the Royal family and I'd love Eloise Moran - or Sali Hughes for that matter - to produce a book about the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton.

If you're an anglophile, photographer, fashion guru, influencer or history lover (wow, this book appeals to many different audiences) then I highly recommend this.

Thanks to the publisher, you can also Look Inside before deciding to read this for yourself.

My Rating:

01 August 2022

Giveaway & Interview with AViVA

Australian author AViVA


It gives me great pleasure to welcome AViVA to Carpe Librum today! An internationally successful YA author, musician and fellow Australian, AViVA joins me today to celebrate the upcoming release of Relentless on 9 August with a giveaway and Q&A!

Pan Macmillan is providing two signed double packs of Self/Less and Relentless for 2 lucky Carpe Librum winners, enter below.


Thanks for joining us AViVA! Let’s start with an easy question first. Young fan Bridgette loves your music and would like to know if AViVA is your real name?
Yes it is!

Being an internationally successful musician with more than 3 billion global streams of your music at last count, how do you balance the competing demands on your creativity for music and writing?
I find the only way to get everything I need to get done is by having routine, rituals, and structure. I get up early every morning (around six AM) and go to bed early, when I can. On tour it is hard to get to bed early but getting up early is almost essential because that is when I get my best work done, while my brain is fresh and not being filled with all the other tasks of the day.

Can you tell us a little about your YA book Self/less and the new sequel Relentless?
Relentless by AViVA book cover
SELF/LESS is about a girl named Teddy who has grown up in a city where everything is tightly controlled and maintained by the governing body – the Metropolis City Council. She is on the cusp of becoming an adult in the society. She learns some secrets about her families past and discovers some lies from her city. The world she grew up in is devoid of self-expression or creativity and she soon discovers that that isn’t the case for everybody when she discovers the Underground.

In RELENTLESS we continue following on with Teddy as she makes new friends and ends up back in the city, and learns that the cities lies run further and deeper than she could have ever imagined.

Do you need to be in a different environment or headspace to compose and write music or work on a manuscript? Do you immerse yourself in writing and then turn to music, or do you like to do both interchangeably?
I write books very differently to how I write music. When writing melodies and lyrics, I like to go in completely free of mind and with very little ‘pre work’ other than a stimulus word, or an idea of what I want the song to be about. Once I’m in the studio I just go with my intuition and where the song takes me.
When I’m writing books, I like to spend time writing an outline first, it’s impossible to achieve such a large body of work if you don’t know where you’re going. That isn’t to say that I never change what I thought originally, or completely go on a tangent, but before I start writing I like to have an outline so at any point, if I feel lost or overwhelmed, at least I have a ‘map’ that I can check in on — so no excuses to have writers block and ‘not know’ what to do next!

Is there much overlap between the fans of your books and fans of your music?
My fans are very enthusiastic about all my creative works, which is something I am so grateful for. I’m not sure how many fans have read the book, it would be impossible to know, and I don’t know how many new people have found my music through the writing, but the two mediums inform each other, and the world of the story has always been threaded through visually as well as sonically and of course with the themes of self-expression and creativity!!
Self/Less by AViVA book cover

Your community of fans are known as outsiders. When did you start feeling like an outsider and why are books and YA series about outsiders so popular?
I think we all feel like Outsiders at different times in our lives, there are always those occasions when we don’t feel like we fit in. It is a universal experience yet when we're in the thick of it, it feels like no one else might understand. Anything that helps us understand difficult feelings and emotions makes us feel better, seen, understood or even less alone. I have felt those feelings at times throughout my life because often as an artist and creative person you can think differently to other people — you have to, that is what makes artists dreamers, and it is what makes the art possible. So yeah, I think it’s because we all crave being understood, and the idea that other people feel like outsiders too, makes us feel less alone.

Has the pandemic changed your reading or writing habits in any way?
I am a voracious reader — I like to read a lot and fast, when I’m in a groove I can read a book or two a week, but that changes depending on what I’m working on. If I’m writing a first draft, I try not to read so much because I don’t want to pollute my ideas — I try to get the draft out without reading anything, which is hard because I LOVE TO READ. Once a first draft is done, I go back to my reading schedule which is whatever I like whenever. I will only ever read three books at the same time (if that.) One on paper or my kindle, one audio book and one non-fiction.
Like I said before I get up early and start work early, this means writing or editing (never both at the same time, one or the other depending on deadlines) then business and admin. Once all that’s done I’m free to read (YAY), keep writing/ editing or doing something else creative like sewing and other crafts I enjoy while listening to an audio book. I’m a creature of habits and comfort and keeping this as my general routine (even when away) helps keep me sane and keep my creative well full.

Can you tell us about your other creative pursuits and how you nurture your creativity?
Everything I do is to try and feed my creativity. I read a lot and write my music and books, but I also enjoy a variety of other creative pursuits. I enjoy filling my mind with things that inspire me — it’s a difficult word ‘inspire’ because people often assume that what inspires me will automatically inspire them and that is rarely the case. I look to art, music, nature and from there think about how I’m moved emotionally. Then I pour those feelings into art making in all its forms. I sew clothing, quilts and dolls. I love taking photos and spending time in my garden as much as possible (when I’m at home). I knit and crochet too — my favourite crafts to take when I travel! I go through waves of watching tv or films. When I do watch, it’s only an hour or so a day and that usually bores me after a week or two, so I go back to my art studio and tinker making miniatures, sewing or making mixed media art while I listen to an audio book — that is my favourite way for me to nurture my creativity. Letting my mind wander and just playing!

Do you have a favourite book or series; other than LOTR? I heard you're a big fan of The Lord of the Rings and learned how to speak Elvish. That's so cool!
A Gateway to Sandarin by David Salo book cover
I have forgotten most of what I knew, but when I was fourteen (I think) there was a book on Tolkien’s Sindarin language (A Gateway to Sindarin by David Salo) at my local library and it was ‘reference’ only so I went every day in the school holidays and would pour over it for a couple of hours hand writing notes. This was before phone cameras could easily take photos, or I might have snapped a few pics and not had to go in.
Luckily one of the library ladies noticed I was the same person who had been requesting the book, so she made an exception and let me borrow it for a while.

That was her mistake, because I have a terrible problem where once I take the library book home, it’s nigh impossible for me to get it back (on time … they do get back eventually!) Luckily no one else had requested the book so when it finally got back all was well and my mind was full of inspiration and my heart was full of joy!! Too bad the returning problems didn’t and now I am self-banned from library cards.

That's quite the ban! So, what are you reading at the moment?
I am just about to start The War of Two Queens which is the last in the series From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L Armentrout.

The cover designs for that series are stunning! I understand you enjoy fantasy and science fiction and loved your interview with bestselling author Jay Kristoff. Is there an Australian book or series you believe deserves more attention or you wish was more widely read?
The War of Two Queens by Jennifer L. Armentrout book cover
I LOVE fantasy and science fiction. They and all their sub genres are my favourites but not the only genres to read in.
One author I have been reading and who has inspired me is Isobel Carmody. Her works are so vivid, and I think that she is recognised as one of Australia’s best fantasy authors so maybe it isn’t the right pick for the questions, but I think if you haven’t read any of her works, that should be remedied. The Obernewtyn Chronicles is the series that I think I first read of Isobel’s.

What’s next? Are you working on a book to follow Relentless?
I have written the first draft for the next book in the series, but currently my attention is all on the first draft for a new series I am working on. It’s a secret project with a whole new world, new characters, and new adventures. I’ve shared a little with my Patrons and they’re going to be first to find out the details of what’s next with this secret project!

Sounds fun, anything else you’d like your fans and readers to know?
Only that they can reach me on socials @thisisaviva pretty much everywhere. I’m always talking about what I’m up to, and I love hearing from readers and fans, so tag me!

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