Sarah Todman

Sarah Todman is a contemporary fiction writer who lives in Brisbane. She loves books that deliver a gritty punch of realism. And ones that make her cry. Sarah blogs at sayanythingsare.

Mather-Refuge Official Coverrefuge

noun

A place that provides shelter or protection.

Twelve year-old Nell McLellan’s world is in turmoil. At school she’s suddenly got the attention of the most popular girl in the class but it has alienated her safe and steady best friend Josie; at home her work-obsessed parents appear to be on the verge of divorce.

When Nell is shunted off to North Queensland and the care of her rarely seen Grandfather for the holidays her problems seem magnified. Doesn’t anyone care that she’s struggling?

Well, someone does…some ‘place’ actually: Nell just doesn’t know it yet. Stumbling around the grounds of the local high school in search of the holiday drama class her parents insisted she attend Nell finds herself following a series of curiously worded signs. Feeling lost? one beckons. Follow the stairs, instructs another. Before she knows it Nell has turned the handle on an old wooden door and stepped straight into a world she could never have imagined: Refuge.

This rapidly paced fantasy novel targets middle grade (8-12 year-old) readers and is written in full-colour and high definition. The beguiling cast of characters who inhabit Refuge — a world created as a safe haven for lost souls — take Nell on a twisting, turning journey of self-discovery (and manage to give young readers some sumptuous but ever so subtle historical insights in the process).

There is the Doctor, Refuge’s mad scientist-style creator who hails from early 1700s London; then we have tortured Gideon, an English ‘wharf rat’ from the late 1700s still ruled by his past; there’s shape-shifting 1920s aristocrat Fox, as charming and cunning as his name suggests; the frightening Deuce, straight from America’s Deep South in the 50s; and Janus, probably the most mysterious and hard-to-pinpoint of the bunch (I won’t ruin it for you by revealing too much about her). Each of them pull Nell (and us) deeper into a riddle that seems impossible to solve.  

Stranded in Refuge, our lost girl Nell finds out she has just three days to choose her future: stay in this strange, supposedly ‘safe’ haven forever or return to the life where she felt lost?

Refuge is the debut novel of former scenic artist and teacher A.V. Mather and it is clear she is a writer who is very much at home in the realms of fantasy. Refuge is a world well imagined. The city-scape with its era-hopping evolution feels rich and enchanting — I really enjoyed spending time there.

And Nell’s journey kept me guessing in lots of good ways. However, I did feel her character’s growth, which was realised at the end of the book, could perhaps have been built more incrementally as the story progressed. I love a character with chutzpah and while I know that isn’t who Nell was at the beginning of her journey, there were junctures along the way when I was frustrated by her willingness to be led rather than make her own decisions.

Perhaps this is all part of the author’s plan, though. When I turned the last page of Refuge I was ready to dive into book two…Nell’s adventures don’t feel finished yet. I hope A.V. Mather is planning to send Nell back to Refuge with another book in the series because I see her returning and this time as a very different girl.

Alayna Cole

Alayna Cole is an MCA (Creative Writing) candidate who loves to write stories when she’s not studying.

fink-nightvaleWelcome to Night Vale is a novel based on the incredibly popular podcast of the same name. The podcast is a way for non-residents of the fictional desert community to listen to broadcasts from the Night Vale Community Radio station—a staple in Night Vale households whether they like it or not—as Cecil tells us about the many mysteries that plague the peculiar town.

The novel adaptation of the podcast primarily follows two specific mysteries (while often deviating onto other strange, tangential narrative paths) and contains all of the bizarre absurdities that lovers of the podcast have come to expect. But that’s not to say you need to be a long-time listener of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast to enjoy this book. While those already familiar with the Night Vale community may notice the occasional reference before somebody who is new to this universe, every peculiarity is introduced in a way that provides enough context for all readers to interpret—if not understand—what is going on.

 And not quite understanding is part of the joy of Night Vale.

In this way, I’m sure Welcome to Night Vale is a ‘love it or hate it’ experience. Some people will dislike the unusual narrative style, with a narrator who insists that you imagine something—a teenage boy, for instance—and then tells you that you’re imagining it wrong. The narrative is often derailed by seemingly-irrelevant transcripts of Cecil discussing the traffic or reminding us that librarians are dangerous. Anybody who prefers a narrator who tells a nice, linear story while minding their own business and staying inside their book likely won’t enjoy their adventure through Night Vale.

I only needed to read the foreword of Welcome to Night Vale to know that this novel would quickly become one of my favourites. The book is incredibly clever. Details are revealed and withheld with deliberation and care, leaving the reader with a haunting, lingering mental image of a town that is dissonant when compared to their own, but that is also terrifyingly similar.

I remember being introduced to the principle of ‘Chekhov’s gun’ in a first year creative writing subject at university, and Welcome to Night Vale is the embodiment of that idea. If you’re unfamiliar, this principle suggests that everything included in a story must be relevant to that story, or else should be removed. Even the smallest reference to the strangest thing in Welcome to Night Vale comes up again at one time or another, and the most surprising characters and objects become integral to the overall story. In this way, everything that happens in Night Vale is linked to everything else that happens in Night Vale. Time and space are weird, dude.

As I worked my way through the novel, I encountered innumerable sentences that were so interesting or bizarre that I just wanted to read them aloud to someone. I involuntarily became the annoying person who sits next to you at a movie and points out all the clever parts, but without the benefit of you having any knowledge of the surrounding story. I was so excited by this ridiculous adventure that I just had to share it with the people around me.

I enjoyed being told to imagine things. I even enjoyed being told that the things I was imagining were wrong and that I should try again. I liked being given incredible detail about some of the characters, objects, or settings, but almost none about others. Welcome to Night Vale made me think, made me ask questions, and made me marvel and wonder at the world I was travelling through as well as my own.

At first glance, Welcome to Night Vale seems to be completely distant from the places we inhabit. After all, we don’t have teenage boys who can morph into whatever physical form they want, or a pawn shop where we have to perform strange hand-washing rituals before we can pawn our items, or doors that need to be shouted at before they will open. And yet the residents of Night Vale consider these goings-on entirely normal—or, at least, mostly acceptable.

However, on closer inspection, perhaps there are aspects of our lives that we accept, but that would seem just as unusual to an outsider, looking in. Our teenagers may not be able to transform themselves from human form into that of a wolf-spider or a sentient haze at will, but they are asking similar questions about who they are, how they should look, and how to fit in. We may not need to wash our hands while chanting in order to pawn our possessions, but we have many strange rituals and routines of our own. Often Welcome to Night Vale touches on realities that are a little too relatable, like the strange thoughts many of us seem to miraculously have while in the shower, or the distress that sometimes comes when inhabiting the space between waking and dreaming.

Welcome to Night Vale spends a lot of time exploring the lives of the community’s many and varied characters. Some have flaws, most have peculiarities, and all are relatable in one way or another. While the development of the two female protagonists is evident, many of the side-characters seem to progress very little, acting as symbols for greater issues or signposts for the narrative while lacking their own fully-fledged personalities. But in a lot of ways, that’s the point. Characters struggle to understand the routines they find themselves trapped in, to decide whether they enjoy what they do every day, and to remember how they even came to be where they are. In doing so, these side-characters cause the protagonists—and the reader—to ask themselves: am I a fully-fledged character? Do I know how I came to be where I am? Do I like it here?

Welcome to Night Vale is a wonderful journey into absurdity that will make you ask a lot of questions. At first, you will be wondering ‘What are those strange lights in the desert?’ and ‘How can a house be sentient?’ but before long—before you even notice the questions have changed—you will be asking different things, like ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I doing with my life?’

All hail the Glow Cloud.

Jamie Marriage

Jamie Marriage is an internationally published Australian cyberpunk author with a taste for the dangerous and obscene aspects of life. His work ranges from the sarcastic to the satirical. Links to his work can be found at www.JamieMarriage.com.

gibson_trigger-warningTrigger Warning; it’s a phrase that carries with it a freight-train of emotional baggage. A physical manifestation of the term would not be dissimilar to a road-sign, glimpsed in the dark of a stormy night, reading “Treacherous Roads Ahead”. And in this newest collection of short stories by renowned British author, Neil Gaiman, the title is all too apt.

Gaiman’s collection is many things: it’s stories of bite-sized lengths that conjure brief glimpses of other times or worlds; continuations of long held narratives that deserve one last visit; standalone tales of truth and fantasy; and, as the title warns, deep and darker elements.

As a tome,Trigger Warning is a strange yet poignant collection of works by a man who has made it his life to get under the reader’s skin. And while every piece is distinct from every other, somehow, with true Gaiman style, the pieces fit together as one wondrous whole of lyrical poetry, vast sadness, and shy beauty.

The introduction itself is a lengthy and evocative description on the notion of Triggers, of those things that set off long buried fears, and serve as an unspoken agreement that to continue reading is with knowledge that the road you travel is risky, and that you have been warned.

Gaiman goes on to break down the backstory of each piece, describing the trigger that set the author to write each story and poem. These are worth reading either before or after the work itself.

A few of the stories that stand out the most must include The Thing About Cassandra–a twisted tale highlighting the dangers of imagination, and how the things we create can be more real than we could imagine.

A Calendar of Tales is a collection of flash fiction told under the headings of months. No story here is longer than a couple of pages but each has depth and hints at worlds fleetingly glimpsed through windows.

Nothing O’Clock is an episode of Doctor Who that never was to be. A humorous, if dark, incident in which the human race is being wiped from existence by its own greed.

And finally Black Dog, a title that fills those who have gone through depression, or those who have known those who do, with chills. This final tale continues the legacy of Shadow from Gaiman’s earlier novel American Gods. Shadow is waylaid in a quiet English town that is haunted by a dark spectre that is both an illness and a myth.

Trigger Warning is honest with its title; there is much to be cautious about in this book. There are some happy endings, some not so happy, and a few that are bound to induce fear, sadness, or revulsion.

All great literature strives to evoke reaction; Neil Gaiman has just done the gentlemanly thing by being honest about what you are getting yourself into when you turn the page.

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

 

 

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