Book Review: Islands, by Peggy Frew

Such a beautiful, originally-told book. Frew examines how much a child should be allowed to shoulder in the face of tragedy, through the poetic rendering of a Melbourne family’s disintegration in the wake of divorce and the disappearance of the younger of two daughters, 15-year-old Anna.

This review first appeared in Otago Daily Times, 18th May 2019.

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Book Review: The Great Wide Open, by Douglas Kennedy

A damn good go at the Great American Novel. If you enjoyed Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmonds, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, or Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, this book is for you.

This review first appeared in Otago Daily Times, 27 April 2019.

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Reading the Great Wide Open, in the, ahem, great wide open.

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Book Review: Love for Imperfect Things by Haemin Sunim (Penguin Random House, 2019)

The Monk-on-Twitter, and founder of The School For Broken Hearts, relays his sage advice. Love for Imperfect Things will remain on my shelf, in the hope that one day—on just the right day—one of my children will happen upon it, slide it down from the shelf, and find just what they need.

This review first appeared in Otago Daily Times, 27 April 2019.

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When You’ve Been Away From Writing So Long It Feels Impossible To Return

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I had a recent stint of five weeks, knee-deep in a work contract, where I didn’t have (or make) time to work on my book.

And here’s what I discovered: the longer I stayed away, the harder it became to return. It started to feel impossible; that I’d never again be able to open the document and feel as though inside it. That feeling paired with a sense of loss, a heartache for the work. I wanted to write but no longer trusted I still “had it”, or knew what I was trying to say.

This occurred around the same time I was considering giving up cello lessons (I’m a complete beginner—I’ve been learning for 9 months and playing from Suzuki Cello Volume 2). My wonderful teacher sat me down, opened the first page of Volume 1 to the most simple of pieces. She told me to allow myself to return to the physicality of the experience.

‘Feel the cello between your knees,’ she said. ‘Feel the bow hair tugging against the strings. Breathe.’

Slowly, gently, I’ve reaquainted myself with my instrument and have returned to daily practice. It’s taking time to build confidence and technique again, so I’m still working on the simple pieces, finding enjoyment in the process.

The same day of the cello lesson I returned to my desk and, for the first time in five weeks, opened the manuscript. I stared at the words on the first page, then scrolled down and then up the entire document, black words on white pages flashing past. I swallowed, closed my eyes for a second. I couldn’t even remember where I was up to! Breathe, I reminded myself, just breathe.

So, instead of trying to write, I printed off a few chapters, took them to the couch and started reading, getting to know the work again, making pencil marks as I went. Now, a week later, I’m able to write, enjoying the sensation of fingers on keys; feeling my way back to the book, rediscovering what it is I am trying to say.