One. (Vintage Australia, $32.99)
Christos Tsiolkas, author of award-winning The Slap, has described Andrew Hutchinson as “the real deal: a genuine new voice in Australian writing”, but any given afternoon you can find Hutchinson in a booth at Tilleys in Lyneham, writing for a couple of hours before he picks his children up from school.
His primary source of income is writing for a social media marketing website based in the United States and he works from home; the real working life of an up-and-coming author.
And thats what fascinates Hutchinson, real life, real situations, real people.
“If I see a headline that reads this person killed this person, that's not the story,” he says.
“There's far more to it, a sequence of events in each of those peoples lives that have led to that point, thats what interests me.”
His first book Rohypnol was inspired by a spate of drink-spiking incidents in Melbourne.
“I was trying to understand the appeal of that,” he says. “It wasn't just one person here and there, it was groups of people.
“How is it possible that a group of people have got together and done this and no one in that group has gone, Nah, this is not cool … that fascinated me, that group dynamic.”
Rohypnol won the Victorian Premiers award for an unpublished manuscript by an emerging writer.
And now hes followed it up with One, another gritty look at life.
With his heart recently broken and his grip on reality fractured, a man returns home after night shift to find a woman asleep on his driveway. When a bizarre sequence of events unfolds, the man and woman find themselves embarking on a road trip, exploring the limitations of friendship, family – and love.
“Everything I write comes from trying to understand different things,” Hutchinson said.
“This one came about when I was trying to rationalise the crazy things people do in relationships … where that one person becomes so essential to the point where you'll change your life because of that one opinion.
“It fascinates me that many of us feel we need the approval of that one person.”
Originally from Melbourne, Hutchinson enjoys the laidback lifestyle of Canberra.
“Theres less distractions here, theres more time to think, and to write.”
Wild Sea: A history of the Southern Ocean. (New South Books, $32.99)
Quite a few people have said to Joy McCann it seems odd shes written a book about the Southern Ocean when shes based in Canberra, a long way from the sea.
“I grew up in South Australia and I knew the Southern Ocean as my backyard,” she says.
“But I knew very little about it myself. Its quite a mysterious environment, not many people really go there, its very stormy and remote and pretty much inaccessible. I had to find out more.”
McCann is a historian working in the relatively new field of environmental history, an honorary research associate with the Centre of Environmental History at the Australian National University School of History.
“I've worked for many years in the public sector as a public historian, working mainly on land-based projects to do with the cultural heritage of rural communities, the history of particular places and how people form close attachments to places.
“I've always been interested in this idea of sense of place and attachment and how people invest meaning and significance into a place over time.”
When she started her research for the book she realised the Southern Ocean was incredibly rich in stories, from the maritime histories of the northern empires coming south to colonise new lands, to the indigenous peoples of the region who had their own connections, to scientific voyages changing the way we look at the world as a whole.
“I've woven all these different facets of its history into the book in a way that I think people will find quite surprising,” she says.
“Its really about people going on their own journeys of discovery into this unknown and mysterious place.”
She spent most of her time writing in her little office at the ANU, looking out over the campus and imagining she was in the Southern Ocean, she says.
But as she was finishing the book she had the chance to set sail. She spent about three weeks on board the MS Expedition, sailing the Southern Ocean from South America to Antarctica via South Georgia and the South Shetland Islands.
“We were experiencing everything the Southern Ocean has to offer, the storms and the winds, its a difficult environment to spend time in.
“I was lucky to have the comforts of the ship but I was out there on the deck with the Roaring 40s and Furious 50s roaring through. We had the fog and the ice, lots of ice.”
It was the first trip south for the season and a special ice captain from St Petersburg was on board to make sure they got through the sea ice safely.
“You don't actually know what you're going to get until you get down there,” she says.
She remembers setting foot on the beach of South Georgia, surrounded by 400,000 king penguins and elephant seals all in mating mode.
“It was an incredible experience.”
She says she might not have tackled the topic if she hadnt been based in Canberra.
“Theres this intellectual core of people that have, through conversations and through seminars and conferences and things, really inspired me and helped me to tackle such a huge topic as this, and to also find a way to approach it in a way that is accessible to a general audience.”
A Perfect Marriage. (RedDoor, $26.95.)
Not everything is what it seems behind closed doors. Alison Booth remembers living next door to a family in Sydney and waiting for their regular violent outbursts.
“Living in such close proximity to that weekly eruption of violence in the cramped little terrace house next to ours made me wonder what might have been happening in their home,” she said.
Her book, A Perfect Marriage, explores middle-class domestic violence and what it means for those involved, the women, men and children.
“Thinking about these questions led me to decide one day that I would write a novel about middle-class domestic violence.”
The protagonist, Sally, is a respected scholar in the field of genetics, but it doesnt protect her from being bashed by her handsome husband, nor does it give her the strength to leave.
Booth is a Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Australian National University and an ANU Public Policy Fellow. Her academic interests include cultural influences on economic preferences and the economics of gender.
A Perfect Marriage is her fourth book, the previous Jingera trilogy is about sense of place and how Australians carry that with them.
Born in Melbourne and raised in Sydney, Booth lived in the United Kingdom before moving to Canberra in 2002 to take up the ANU position.
“Canberra is a really terrific place to be a writer,” she says.
“Im very fortunate. Its a great city for people who are writers; its a very intellectually vibrant city.”
with Robyn Skea
True North. (Volcano Mountain Publishing, $29.95)
For four years Roger Rooney would get up at 5am and write before his children woke up and family and work commitments took over. The public servant had a story to tell.
“I had to get up, even on those cold mornings, because this is a story I was passionate about, it was something that struck deep within me,” he said.
True North is a Vietnam War story, “but one of the major things I wanted to do, the audacious hairy goal of this, was to go beyond the military.”
In 1962, Australian Army adviser Lieutenant Jack Burns is deployed as part of “The Team” to the Mekong Delta, the hotspot of the Vietnam War, where he is about to undergo the ultimate test of his conviction. As Burns is honing his craft in the Delta, Tran, a teenage soldier girl with the North Vietnamese Army, makes her way down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and into the Delta, where she must stare down the might of US firepower at the Battle of Ap Bac.
The novel is based partly on true events and Rooney says “it goes beyond a simple political, geo-political and military book”.
A student of military history, Rooney started researching the Vietnam War in high school and then as part of his BA (Hons) International Relations and Strategic Studies from Deakin University. He was a senior researcher in the Australian governments Refugee Review Tribunal, where he sat on the China and South-East Asia desk.
He read more than 50 books as research for the novel, saying Canberra is a great place to write military books.
“I was so lucky, the access Ive got to great historians and writers, advocates and Vietnam veterans here in Canberra really helped,” he said.
“Canberra is the best spot to write a military history book in Australia.”
with Robyn Skea
Eternal Refuge. (Escape Publishing, $4.52 available as e-book only)
Annabelle McInnes spent two years in a youth refuge as a teenager. Her experiences are the foundations that drive her stories and her characters. They fight for their freedoms, have courage in the face of adversity and always aspire for greatness.
Now writing speculative fiction for the digital sphere, her books are a mix of dark and gritty with a romantic twist.
“They are detailed and challenging, shining a light on the darkest parts of our nature,” she says.
The first in the Refuge series, True Refuge, recently hit the best-seller charts on Amazon and iBooks in the romance category. It was followed by Fractured Refuge and now Eternal Refuge.
“The series explores what would happen if society and governments crumbled, taking along with them our best traits, like our altruism and benevolence, compassion. I like to dissect societal norms.”
Eternal Refuge “is a romance, so I do promise a happily ever after, but its very much about people just trying to love each other, and triumph over evil”, she says.
McInnes has a three-year-old son and says her husband, Tim, is her “biggest cheerleader”.
During the two-and-a-half years it took McInnes to write the series, she found Canberras writing community to be “extremely creative and very supportive”.
“Its a great community here in Canberra.”
with Robyn Skea
Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.
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