inspiration & influence reading notes

Reading Australian women writers in 2017

February 6, 2017

Working out what to read next is always a challenge. But books by Australian women writers are always on my mind and that’s in no small measure due to the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

It’s the sixth year of the Australian Women Writers Challenge and it has done much to change the face of how Australian women’s writing is seen and celebrated.  The challenge is part of a world-wide movement to raise awareness of excellent writing by women, helping readers to “challenge the subconscious stereotypes that govern our choice of books to read.”

The challenge was started in 2012 by Elizabeth Lhuede in response to gender imbalance in books reviewed, in reading preferences and choices and in award representation. It has created a groundswell of readers, reviewers and bloggers making a conscious choice to read, review, recommend and celebrate books written by Australian women.

Promoting Australian women’s writing

I participate to help promote Australian women’s writing. The challenge overall has resulted in thousands of Australian women writers’ books being read and reviewed. It’s led to increased national and international recognition of the initiative’s achievements, built slowly over time. 

The challenge has made me keep my antenna up about Australian women writers’ successes, awards and commendations. The Australian Women Writers Challenge connects with other movements aiming to raise awareness of writing by women – VIDA Women in Literary ArtsThe Stella Prize and #readwomen on twitter celebrating women’s writing. I’m proud to be a Stella Sparks supporter, this year highlighting the impact of nonfiction writing by women on Australian culture and society.

It’s always so fabulous to see Australian women writers succeeding locally and on the world stage including seeing their stories made into movies. Think ‘The Light Between Oceans’ and ‘The Dressmaker’ in recent times.

My experience with the challenge

It was natural for me to want to engage with this challenge from the start.  I have a great love of Australian women’s writing. My Australian literature bookshelf is about 80% women writers. This passion developed naturally during my university literature studies and has endured. It’s my history and lineage.  They are not the only writers I enjoy, but they are the writers closest to my experience with all the local references, influences and language especially as it relates to women.

I also want to contribute to the legacy of writing by Australian women into the future. The challenge has kept my writing heart alive and is an inspiration as I read. It’s a message too that I am also able to write and create, express my stories and find space for my narratives in whatever form. As my heritage, it’s where I can find linkage, possibilities and a springboard for creating.

What’s in it for participants?

I’ve signed up again in 2017 because it’s now an integral part of my reading choices. I continue to be inspired and excited by Australian women’s writing. There are so many Australian women writers’ works I simply would not have noticed or enjoyed if not for the challenge.

Many of these books were picked up because I was looking for Australian women writers in libraries, bookshops and online. I possibly would not have read ‘The Light Between Oceans’, ‘Poet’s Cottage’, ‘The Longing’ or ‘Claustrophobia’ if not for the challenge. These have become some of my favourite reading experiences over the years.

I have deliberately read across genres and the challenge has contributed to my enjoyment of the beautifully science fiction inspired, ‘When We Have Wings’, the Celtic fantasy world of ‘Sea Hearts’ and the weaving medieval narrative of ‘The Scrivener’s Tale’.

I’ve been more aware and excited when Australian women writers have been nominated, short-listed and won awards for their books. And I’ve sought out the books to see why they were celebrated in their achievements, especially ‘Questions of Travel’, ‘Burial Rites’, ‘Mateship with Birds’, ‘All the Birds, Singing’ and ‘The Natural Way of Things.’

How I’ve participated and what I’ve read over the years

In terms of participation, my reading lists are not enormous – around 6 to 7 books a year. (Some participants would have read this many books already this year – at least!) I’ve engaged with the AWW community via social media, tweeting and blogging and contributing in that way. I’ve made some great online connections with Australian women writers and readers. This has enriched my reading life and extended beyond it.

Last year, my reading attention was elsewhere and my AWW focus was a bit light on, so I am keen to engage more in 2017.  I also hope to do better with the reviewing side this year.

Here’s my reading list so far over the past 5 years of the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge:

Searching for the Secret River: A Writing Memoir – Kate Grenville
Sarah Thornhill – Kate Grenville
When We Have Wings – Claire Corbett
The Light Between Oceans – M L Stedman
Poet’s Cottage – Josephine Pennicott
The Engagement – Chloe Hooper
Disquiet – Julia Leigh

Fishing for Tigers – Emily Maguire
Sea Hearts – Margo Lanagan
Sydney – Delia Falconer
The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton
The Scrivener’s Tale – Fiona McIntosh
The Longing – Candice Bruce

Questions of Travel – Michelle de Kretser
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
Mateship with Birds – Carrie Tiffany
Currawong Manor – Josephine Pennicott
The Fictional Woman – Tara Moss
Claustrophobia – Tracy Ryan
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

The Golden Age – Joan London
The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka – Clare Wright
Three Wishes – Liane Moriarty
A Short History of Richard Kline – Amanda Lohrey
The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty
Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
The Lake House – Kate Morton

One Life – Kate Grenville
The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood

It’s been a rich journey and I encourage you to seek out the voices of women writers that excite and sustain you wherever they may be.

What am I planning to read (and review) in 2017?

My list so far for 2017 includes:

The Good People – Hannah Kent
Indelible Ink – Fiona McGregor
Speaking Out – Tara Moss
The Wife Drought – Annabel Crabb
Resilience – Anne Deveson

This year has a special focus on classics and forgotten Australian women writers. Readers are encouraged to review one or two classics, including books “that might once have been popular but which have now fallen out of favour.”  A classics Bingo card will soon be released to encourage people to read books from various decades.

This post, ‘100 Years of Australian Women’s writing online’, outlines the significant efforts to collate digital archives and documents to support the challenge. Elizabeth Lhuede is compiling a list of digital archives and downloads, finding many more classic and forgotten books online than anticipated. So much richness is to be found there!

To find out more about the challenge:

If you want to know about the background to the challenge, you can read about it hereAnd you can sign up for 2017 hereYou can participate to whatever level you can manage and there’s no ‘failing’, just doing what you can (as I do!).

The AWW reading and writing community is generous, diverse and inspiring. You can connect via the blog, through twitter @AusWomenWriters or hashtag #AWW2017, via the vibrant Facebook community or through Goodreads. There are readers, writers and reviewers from all walks of life reading so diversely and widely. The consolidated reviews are excellent and highlight the work of AWW readers and writers across all genres. 

The pleasures and learning are immense, raising awareness of reading choices and celebrating narratives and works by Australian women. It inspires women to find their voice through reading the voices of others. It’s no light-weight endeavour. These are the voices of creative possibilities and I treasure them.

I look forward to another year of reading books by Australian women writers. I hope you’ll join the challenge and connect with the community to inform your reading choices. And a special thanks to Elizabeth Lhuede for initiating the challenge and continuing the leadership of its evolution in 2017. I, for one, am so appreciative.

Thought pieces:

This Stella Prize podcast ‘Winning Women’ features a conversation between Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Eimear McBride and 2016 Stella Prize winner Charlotte Wood. It’s a riveting and rich discussion on the work of both writers and gender in writing.

Via the Sydney Writers’ Festival Instagram account and Charlotte Wood, last year’s Stella Prize winner, some inspiring words to finish:

Upon receiving the 2016 Stella Prize, #CharlotteWood recited her five reasons to keep #writing, penned when she considered quitting.
1. To make something beautiful. Beauty does not have to mean prettiness, but can emerge from the scope of one’s imagination, the precision of one’s words, the steadiness and honesty of one’s gaze.
2. To make something truthful.
3. To make use of what you have and who you are. Even a limited talent brings an obligation to explore it, develop it, exercise it, be grateful for it.
4. To make, at all. To create is to defy emptiness. It is generous, it affirms. To make is to add to the world, not subtract from it. It enlarges, does not diminish.
5. Because as Iris Murdoch said, paying attention is a moral act. To write truthfully is to honour the luck and the intricate detail of being alive.

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