#LiteraryCritters for wildlife conservation

In a new epic #literarycritters project, I’m getting behind the launch of a forthcoming book, Animals Make Us Human, edited by Leah Kaminsky & Meg Keneally, to be published next month by Penguin. Animals Make Us Human features the work of a stunning array of writers and photographers; and proceeds from the sale of the book will support the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

When I first heard about Animals Make Us Human, my initial response was disappointment that I’d not been invited to contribute. Then I got over myself and wondered how I might be able to use my literary critters to help promote the book in order to help raise funds for wildlife conservation. I contacted Leah and Meg to see what they thought and they were keen; so was the team at Penguin. However, with over 42 creatures featured in the book and only a couple of months before it was due to be launched, I figured I couldn’t do it on my own.

I put a call out through my networks and, after a brief moment of panic thinking no one would come to the party, I soon had another 26 crafters on board, many of them also writers, others editors, librarians and avid readers. As of now, they have committed to making 33 critters–an outstanding result and a testament to the generosity of the arts community (the same generosity we saw manifest in the #authorsforfireys initiative earlier this year).

I’m aiming to make a few critters myself, the first of which (pictured above) is the Glaucus Atlanticus or Blue Nudibranch, a glamorous seas slug that Ashley Hay writes about in Animals Make Us Human, alongside photos by Steve Smith. The pattern (yes, someone had actually made a crochet pattern for a Glaucus Atlanticus) is by Joy Koestner aka The Craft Frog.

I’ve set up an Instagram account (@literarycritters) where you can see more.

Meanwhile, here’s the full blurb on what is a stunning book:

A fundraiser for our wildlife, from land, sea and sky. Proceeds go to the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

A response to the devastating 2019–20 bushfires, Animals Make Us Human both celebrates Australia’s unique wildlife and highlights its vulnerability. Through words and images, writers, photographers and researchers reflect on their connection with animals and nature. They share moments of wonder and revelation from encounters in the natural world: seeing a wild platypus at play, an echidna dawdling across a bush track, or the inexplicable leap of a thresher shark; watching bats take flight at dusk, or birds making a home in the backyard; or following possums, gliders and owls into the dark.

Hopeful, uplifting and deeply moving, this collection is also an urgent call to action, a powerful reminder that we only have one world in which to coexist and thrive with our fellow creatures. By highlighting the beauty and fragility of our unique fauna, Australia’s favourite writers, renowned researchers and acclaimed photographers encourage readers to consider it in a new light.

Featuring: Barbara Allen, Robbie Arnott, Tony Birch, James Bradley, Mark Brandi, Geraldine Brooks, Anne Buist, Melanie Cheng, Claire G. Coleman, Ceridwen Dovey, Chris Flynn, Nayuka Gorrie, Dan Harley, Ashley Hay, Toni Jordan, Leah Kaminsky, Paul Kelly, Meg Keneally, Tom Keneally, Cate Kennedy, David Lindenmayer, Ella Loeffler, Maia Loeffler, Jen Martin, Angela Meyer, Sonia Orchard, Favel Parrett, Marissa Parrott, Bruce Pascoe, Jack Pascoe, Sue Pillans, Nick Porch, Holly Ringland, Euan Ritchie, Antoinette Roe, Kirli Saunders, Graeme Simsion, Tracy Sorensen, Shaun Tan, Lucy Treloar, Karen Viggers, Emma Viskic, John Woinarski, Clare Wright.

And photographers: Tim Bawden, Kristian Bell, Rohan Bilney, Justin Bruhn, Andrew Buckle, Matt Clancy, Amy Coetsee, Craig Coverdale, Angus Emmott, Jayne Jenkins, Vivien Jones, Sue Liu, Michael Livingston, Caleb McElrea, Nick Monaghan, Richard Pillans, Gillian Rayment, Linda Rogan, David Maurice Smith, Steve Smith, Colin Southwell, Georgina Steytler, Wayne Suffield, Heather Sutton, Peter Taylor, William Terry, Patrick Tomkins, Matt Wright.

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Dealing with the unfamiliar in Lockdown #2

Melbourne emerged from a 10-week lockdown designed to ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 infections on 1 June 2020. Life was starting to resemble something akin to normal, when a friend commented over (a socially distant) lunch that she felt like we were walking along a beach, admiring how calm the water was, not realising there was a tsunami on the way. I’ve thought about that comment several times since the second wave of infections hit, sending us back into lockdown again after less than six weeks. And a hard lockdown at that. As of Monday 3 August, we are on Stage 4 restrictions. Limited to travelling in a five kilometre radius of home and only for approved activities, subject to a curfew from 8pm-5.30am, and required to wear a mask whenever we leave the house. As Anna Spargo-Ryan points out, ‘it’s worse this time‘. Her theory: ‘It’s not just that the actual figures are scarier. We used up our energy getting through the first round, had the fixed timeline in our heads and allocated resources accordingly. We didn’t realise (or denied, anyway) we would need to keep some in reserve.’

Like Anna, I believed that if we did the right thing the first time around, we would now be on the other side of this pandemic. In Lockdown #2, I’m finding it harder to hope that doing our best is enough to make a difference. The uncertainty is killing my creativity. For me, to create — at least, to write — means moving away from the familiar to the unfamiliar and not backing away when things get tough. To sit with the discomfort. To reflect. To find a way through. (Kim Wilkins speaks eloquently about this in her TEDx talk, Creativity in the Age of Distraction).

But at this moment, everyday life is unfamiliar. We are isolated in our immediate family unit. Our freedom of movement is drastically curtailed. Small things we took for granted — spending time with friends, going to bars and cafes, walking along a beach, walking anywhere without having to wear a mask — are not permitted, and its hard to see through to a time when they will be possible again. How can I wade into unfamiliar territory in order to write, when unfamiliar territory is where I’m currently living?

Instead, I find comfort in reading, crafting and cooking: small, achievable tasks that allow me to add in some small way to the sum total of happiness in bleak times. Following on from my Literary Birds initiative, I’ve branched out from knitting to crochet, and from birds to beasts, making critters inspired by my reading. Recent pairings include Meg Mundell’s eerily prescient and compelling novel The Trespassers with a young kraken from Genuine Mudpie; and Thuy On’s stunning poetry collection Turbulence with Kate Wood’s gorgeous, koi-like Fancy Goldfish Amigurumi. I have a quite few more pairings in mind, notwithstanding a brief hiatus to knit a beanie for my beloved (inspired by the one worn by Stanley Baker in The Guns of Navarone).

Given at least six weeks in hard lockdown, I might end up with a whole menagerie!

In other news, my Yarra Valley Writers Festival book club session with Brook Powell and Michael Veitch is available to watch here. I greatly enjoyed the chance to talk about my novel Mother of Pearl with both the hosts and participants, and appreciated all the thoughtful questions and comments.

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Some news

libraries-change-livesIt’s mid-winter and Melbourne is in lockdown again due to a second wave of COVID-19 infections, making it an odd time for announcements. But here goes: I have a new job. After nearly three years as CEO of Writers Victoria, I have secured a new role as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria (PLV).

The appointment was made public on Friday 24 July in announcements on both organisations’ social media streams.

Though nearing the end of my contract, I wasn’t in a rush to leave Writers Victoria. But when two friends alerted me to the PLV role, I felt I had to seize the day. I was absolutely thrilled to be offered the job, and I’m grateful to both the friends who helped me update my CV and fine tune my application, and those in the library sector who helped me prepare for the interview.

I joke that I am moving from Writers Victoria to Readers Victoria — although today’s libraries are so much more than repositories of books. They are, to quote my new employer, a ‘primary source of information and 21st century literacies.’ They are also going through a crucial transition: from passive, product-based environments to ones that deliver active, service based experiences that are relevant to the community’s changing information, content and literacy needs. This makes for a fascinating time to be working in this sector.

Here’s the media release, which was picked up by Books + Publishing and ArtsHub:

Public Libraries Victoria Announce Inaugural CEO

Dr Angela Savage has been appointed CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.

PLV Chairperson Chris Buckingham said: ‘Dr Savage was recruited after an extensive process that attracted a strong field of candidates. Angela stood out because of her intelligent, values led approach and success as CEO of Writers Victoria and Neighbourhood Houses Victoria.’

Dr Angela Savage’s appointment marks another significant milestone in Public Libraries Victoria’s evolution and growth as the peak body for public libraries in Victoria.

Dr Savage said: ‘I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to champion Victoria’s public libraries in this new role. I look forward to bringing my experience in both the community and arts sectors to support our state’s readers, writers and all whose lives are changed by libraries.’

Mr Buckingham said, we have been on an incredible journey of change as an organisation and are now well positioned to support the sector through what will undoubtedly be a sustained period of disruption.

Mr Buckingham said: ‘We are grateful to Katrina Knox who served the organisation as Executive Officer for two years and played a significant role in positioning PLV as the Peak Body for Public Libraries in Victoria.’

Dr Savage will serve out her three year contract as CEO Writers Victoria and then commence as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria on September 28th.

Mr Buckingham concluded: ‘We are thankful to Writers Victoria for working with us to ensure a smooth transition and look forward to working with them on projects that encourage reading and writing in our community.’

*Ends*

And here is the image description of the above portrait, which was posted on Facebook–much to the amusement of several friends:

Image description: Dr Angela Savage, a fair skinned woman with black plastic rimmed glasses and shoulder length curly, black and grey hair poses for a studio portrait with a black background. Her right hand, with one red resin and one silver ring, is positioned under her chin. She has a large red flower in her hair to match a red earing [sic.] and her red lipstick.

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Coming soon to a Zoom near you

Wednesday 22 July 2020, 6.30-7.30PM, I’m greatly looking forward to talking online about Mother of Pearl as part of the Yarra Valley Writers Festival Book Club. Book club hosts Michael Veitch & YVWF Director Brook Powell invite you to join in a conversation in two parts. First, they have a chat about the book among themselves–you can listen in and send questions and comments via the chat function on zoom; then they invite me in to talk to them a little more about my process, answer questions and join in the conversation. These evenings are inclusive, accessible and about readers indulging in talking books for an hour a month. And it’s free. Details here and you can sign up to be part of the Book Club here.

Recently I was interviewed by Justine the Librarian (aka Justine Hanna) for her wonderful podcast Literary Elixirs, which works like this: ‘Matching books to food and drink! Justine is a librarian who loves good food and drink and can’t stop talking about what book she’s read which would pair perfectly with that delicious cheese, wine, coffee, beer, chocolate … you get the idea! She is on a mission to chat with purveyors of delicious elixirs and suggest some literature which would be a perfect match because books go with pretty much anything!’ In the podcast, I chat with Justine about Mother of Pearl, then talk about what I food I would pair with two books I’ve recently read and loved: Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe (2019), and Swallow the Air by Tara June Winch (2006), both published by UQP. One of my matches is literal, the other lateral! Be warned: once you start listening to Justine’s podcast, you’ll find yourself mentally pairing every book you read with food and/or drink. You can read more and listen to our conversation here.

I feel truly fortunate that despite the cascade of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I still get to participate in this kind of literary activity.

One of my recent online festival sessions is also available to view for free online (click on the title): Tapping the Zeitgeist, part of Willy Lit Fest Vision 2020, was a conversation between me and Alice Robinson, chaired by Kate Mildenhall, about writing ‘issues novels’: why do it, how to make it work, and the value of fiction in exploring contemporary life. As an added incentive, Alice’s wonderful novel, The Glad Shout, has just been longlisted for the 2020 Colin Roderick Literary Award, which is awarded to the best original book, in the judges’ opinion, that is published in Australia in the previous calendar year.

Finally, a large segue: after a decline in COVID-19 cases and an easing of restrictions on 25 May, my home town of Melbourne has experienced a surge in new infections. We are still fortunate to be experiencing very low numbers overall compared with other countries, but the trend is worrying. Residents in 12 suburban postcodes have gone back into lockdown (my place is only a few blocks from one of these locked down suburbs). Also locked down, as of yesterday and with no notice, are nine, high-rise public housing residencies in inner Melbourne. A fundraising page has been set up by the Victorian trade union movement to support these vulnerable communities. You can donate here. The Victorian union movement will work with community groups, residents and the Victorian Government to ensure every dollar raised goes to residents.

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The Gambler: A tribute to my mother

My beautiful mother Olgamary Savage died on 27 May 2020 at the age of 79.

There is much I want to write about in terms of her life and death. But to even contemplate the big picture feels overwhelming. Instead, I am writing vignettes, including one for a website I love called Stereo Stories.

Stereo Stories ‘is music and memoir, narrative and melody, story and song.’ It invites writers to share memories attached to music. I’ve written about my mother, her love of country music, and what the Kenny Rogers song ‘The Gambler’ (penned by Don Schlitz) taught me about life, death and cancer. I actually started writing this piece two years ago, but found I couldn’t complete it while Mum was still alive. As it happened, she and Kenny died within five weeks of one another.

Follow the link below to read the story.

THE GAMBLER by KENNY ROGERS. Story by Angela Savage

Vale Kenny Rogers, 21/08/1938 – 20/03 2020
Vale Olgamary Savage, 25/02/194127/05/2020

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Literary Birds: A competition

To mark World Wide Knit in Public Day (yes, it’s a real thing), I’m running a little competition that combines my love of reading and writing with my love of knitting, crochet and birds. I’m calling it Literary Birds and here’s how it works.

I’ve knitted two sets of birds inspired by great books by Australian women writers, and my own novel, Mother of Pearl. To win one of the two sets, all you have to do is post a review of Mother of Pearl. It doesn’t have to be a long review (a sentence or two is fine) or a rave review (though feel free to rave if so inclined). You can post to your blog or instagram account, Goodreads, Booktopia, Amazon, or wherever you normally review books. Once you’ve posted your review, tweet the link and tag me on Twitter @angsavage, or tag me on Instagram @angela_savage_author or send the link to me via email angelasavageos(at)gmail.com

Everyone who writes a review gets their name put into a hat. Multiple postings of reviews gets you multiple entries, e.g. post to both Goodreads and Instagram and receive two entries. I will draw two winners at random and mail the birds to you free of charge. Overseas entries welcome. Entries close midnight on Friday 24 July 2020.

Here are the birds and the books that inspired them. Literary Birds Set 1 contains:

Red-tailed black cockatoo: This beautiful parrot features in Melbourne crime writer Aoife Clifford’s wonderful second novel Second Sight. We first meet the bird in a flashback to New Year’s Even 1996, when schoolgirls Amy and Grace — who later disappears — are in the bush at night: ‘A loud mournful scream from overhead made [Amy] jump… ‘That’s a black cockatoo flying over from Main Beach,’ came Grace’s voice. ‘Another one bothered by the bonfire and the crowd.’ Amy switched the torch back on. ‘If there’s a flock of them it means that rain’s coming,’ said Grace.’

Rainbow lorikeet: My novel Mother of Pearl is partly set in Melbourne during the drought of 2008-09; one of the characters, Meg, reflects on the presence of birds that she didn’t see growing up, including rainbow lorikeets, that ‘flocked to the city’s flowering scrub like poor relatives fleeing the countryside.’ In chapter 48, an interaction between a company of rainbow lorikeets and a lone wattle bird serves to shed light on Meg’s emotions as she thinks about the surrogate mother who is carrying her baby.

Galah: Birds and bird noises permeate The Crying Place, Lia Hills’s poignant and powerful debut novel, set on country in Australia’s Western Desert. Lia narrated an early draft of the book using a dictaphone, which picked up and transliterated sounds made by birds, animals, even the wind. And so in chapter 60, ‘Edge edge, taunted a galah from a battered eucalypt. It flew off, a dog’s muzzle monitoring its arc and that of the pink and grey squadron that joined it.’

Both Literary Birds sets contain a Rainbow lorikeet, as featured in Mother of Pearl. In addition, Set 2 also features:

Kookaburra: Carrie Tiffany’s award-winning novel Mateship With Birds opens with an account of several dramatic magpie swooping incidents. But most memorable is the kookaburra family that lives on the diary farm in Cohuna where the story is set. Harry, the farmer, keeps notes on the kookaburra family in the spare column of an old milk ledger: ‘The day starts in their throats. / Dad first, then Mum, / Tiny and Club-Toe. / The four of them in the red gum / by the diary. / As regular as clockwork / they make their request for air.’

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo — bilirr in Wiradjuri language — is one of many birds that feature in Tara June Winch’s award winning novel The Yield. In the Wiradjuri dictionary entries written by Albert Gondiwindi that form one strand of this stunning narrative, he describes the bilirr as ‘a magnificent bird, strong, eagle-wise. Black as a fire pit, the yellow feathers in the tail visible in flight. I saw the yellow-tailed black cockatoo all my life. All the Gondiwindi loved bilirr. Before Prosperous Farm my mummy was living in Tent Town four miles downstream, where she birthed me there on the flat warm sand, below the caw of bilirr.’

Remember, it’s only the birds, not the books, that are up for grabs. But I recommend you get hold of the books, as they are all excellent reads.

Any questions? — Use the comments section below.

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Willy Lit Fest Vision 2020

The Willy Lit Fest has been an annual fixture in the beachside Melbourne suburb of Williamstown since 2003. Not to be undone by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fabulous organisers have pivoted (a key 2020 word) to bring selected events to audiences online through the Willy Lit Fest 2020 Vision program.

Starting tonight Thursday 21 May 2020, I will be part of the first of online program in a session called Tapping the Zeitgest, 7.00-8.00PM via zoom. Here’s the blurb:

The immersive, gratifying window in which we stare when we read stories that deal with our immediate present, cautionary tales and prescient clarion calls. Do not miss three powerful authors delving into the visceral, sinewy depths of the issue novel; why write it, how to make it work, what is the value of fiction in exploring contemporary life? Join Angela Savage, author of Mother of Pearl, and Alice Robinson, author of The Glad Shout; moderated by Kate Mildenhall, author of Skylarking.

I’m particularly excited to appear on this panel alongside Alice Robinson, whose The Glad Shout was one of my favourite reads of 2019, and Kate Mildenhall, whose forthcoming novel, The Mother Fault, I had the honour to puff, and which I’m sure readers will love as much as I did.

The session is sold out, but check out the rest of the program here.

This panel, and its composition, actually came from an idea I pitched to Willy Lit Fest, long before everything was corona-cancelled. I’m delighted that it will go ahead, albeit in a different format. As Brook Powell said of online festivals, ‘No, it’s not the same, but it is of the moment.’

Tapping the zeitgeist, even!

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Yarra Valley Writers Festival

The inaugural Yarra Valley Writers Festival was broadcast online last weekend and, as Festival Director Brook Powell put it so eloquently in her opening remarks, ‘No, it’s not the same, but it is of the moment.’ While I missed not being in the beautiful Yarra Valley, mingling with readers and writers, engaging in lively conversations over local wines, I did get to listen, learn, share ideas, question and reflect. As an added bonus, I got to do this with friends.

Screen shot of my online interview with Christos, courtesy of LJM Owen who was watching from Tasmania

In a real treat, a number of bloggers wrote up the sessions, including the two that I chaired. I say this is a treat because I always want to write posts after the festivals I’m part of, but try as I might, I’ve yet to master the art of simultaneously chairing and live blogging (or even tweeting).

Sue at Whispering Gums blogged the session I did with Christos Tsiolkas, The Road to Damascus. She writes, ‘I’ll start by saying it was a lovely conversation, held between two people who obviously know each other well. That’s one of the lovely things about these writers festivals – you get to see the camaraderie that exists between some writers, and discover some of the ways they support each other. In this case, it came out that Savage had read some of Tsiolkas’ drafts and had had discussed them with him. She praised him for the time he takes with his work, for the way he honours his art.’ (Read the whole post here).

The lovely thing about Sue’s response is that Christos and I had decided in advance that there was no point in pretending we didn’t know each other as well as we do and we made this part of the conversation. It turned out that this was a big part of why we were programmed together. Said Brook, ‘There is something wonderful about watching people communicate that have a genuine love for each other. I really wanted the audience to feel and experience that – whilst also being given so much in the actual literal content too. In a time where people are missing connection, some desperately, I felt it was important to share that with them wherever we could.’

There is a particular joy and ease in interviewing people whom you know well as friends as well as writers. For one thing, I think it makes it easier to forget about the technology and delve into the conversation. After interviewing Christos, in a slightly nerve-wracking jump from one Zoom room to another, I chaired a session with my crime writing mates Emma Viskic, Jock Serong and Robert Gott. In addition to talking about their work, we also talked about their 2019 US tour as ambassadors of the genre, together with another dear writer friend, Sulari Gentill. Again, Sue did a terrific write up of the session on her blog, capturing in particular Jock’s response to the question of what defines Australian crime fiction besides the setting: ‘we are bringing indigeneity into our stories, and are exploring Australian identity in terms of how far you can push the Australian character.’

You can read about other festival sessions (several of which I attended) at Whispering Gums, ANZLitLovers, and Resident Judge.

Heartfelt congratulations to Brook Powell, Program Direector Hannie Rayson, and all the team behind this adventurous event. It lifted my spirits to be part of a writers festival during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

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New reviews & interviews

The disappointment of multiple event cancellations due to COVID-19 in an optimal year for promoting my most recent novel Mother of Pearl is tempered somewhat by the reviews that the book continues to attract and the conversations I get to have about both the content and the writing process with readers, both in person and (occasionally) in the media.

The literary journal Antipodes recently posted a thoughtful review of Mother of Pearl, The Near and the Far. ‘The novel’s focus is international surrogacy,’ writes Mark Azzopardi, ‘which Savage seeks to both humanize and complicate.’ In a unique angle, Azzopardi also compares the different ways that Christos Tsiolkas (who kindly provided a blurb for the book) and I write about Southeast Asia. I love being described as ‘a less rebarbative writer compared to Tsiolkas’–especially after I looked up the meaning of ‘rebarbative’. Read the whole review here.

Rana Gaind also posted a positive review of Mother of Pearl online on the Australian Public Service News website here. ‘[Mother of Pearl is] rich in portrayals and emotion and looks at social issues that are opportune,’ Gaind writes. By contrast, Patricia Johnson in her review in Westerly magazine writes that she ‘want[s] to hear the primal scream’ in relation to one character in particular. Still, she also concludes favourably with, ‘[Angela Savage] reveals the situation of both sides of surrogacy in a way that makes the reader alive to its many implications and ways in which it can go wrong, not only medically but in psychological/emotional damage as well… As they say in the classics, it’s complicated. Read it and see.’

Some weeks back, I recorded an interview with Sarah L’Estrange for Radio National’s The Book Show on a topic that’s close to my heart: how to write ethically about cultures that are not your own, both in the context of writing Mother of Pearl and more broadly. The program went to air on 27 April 2020; the podcast is here, and my interview with Sarah starts at the 27:47 min mark. However, I’d highly recommend listening from the start to hear Claire Nichols interview award-winning US sci-fi writer NK Jemisin. Jemisin’s new novel, The City We Became, which imagines New York as a sentient city, sounds amazing and eerily prescient.

With Pitchaya Sudbanthad at AWW, Feb 2020

Meanwhile, with the COVID-19 pandemic all but bringing international and most domestic travel to a standstill, the fabulous folks at TripFiction have started a series called ‘Armchair Travel by Book’ on their blog. The third novel in my Jayne Keeney PI series, The Dying Beach, set in Krabi, was listed in their Armchair Travel by Book – THAILAND post alongside Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad, one of my favourite reads of 2019. I was fortunate to meet (and fangirl) Pitchaya at Adelaide Writers Week in February–back in another time when it was still safe to gather in public with people from all over the world.

‘One of crime fiction’s many virtues is that it allows us to travel to exotic locations from the safety and comfort of the couch or bed,’ writes the Sisters in Crime Australia. In Murder Takes A Holiday, Sue Morgan recommends The Dying Beach as ‘a real page-turner… Very much a dark tale in paradise.’

Speaking of Sisters in Crime, I had great fun being interviewed by Narelle Harris for the Quintette of Questions series on her blog. Read our interview here to find out which actors I would cast in the lead roles in Mother of Pearl, and my favourite literary couple. Answering Narelle’s question about a song that reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in my book (I nominated Tom Waits’s ‘Midnight Lullaby’) reminded me, too, that I made a playlist on Spotify of all the music referenced in the novel. You can listen/download here. Enjoy!

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Yarra Valley Writers Festival online

We’ve been in lockdown due to COVID-19 for over a month now in Australia. My partner and I are working from home. My daughter is doing her high school classes from home (my brother, a teacher, reminds me not to refer to this as ‘home schooling’). My work meetings are all online or by phone, as is my socialising.

I refuse to refer to what’s happening now as ‘the new normal’, however. For me there is nothing ‘normal’ about this time. I think of this as time to be endured, occasionally enjoyed, but not to be embraced. Lockdown, self-isolation, social distancing–these are necessary restrictions to avoid a public health emergency in the short- to medium-term, not a blueprint for living.

With the current period defined by uncertainty, it feels like tempting fate to plan anything at all. But the fearless Yarra Valley Writers Festival programmers have done just that, transforming what was to be a traditional writers’ festival in Healesville into a digital program over Sat 9 and Sun 10 May, teamed with monthly book clubs.

“We were right in the thick of everyone cancelling everything and it just felt like such a bleak landscape and we didn’t want to be just another organisation that said, ‘Oh well, we’ll do it again next year’,” says festival programmer Hannie Rayson. “So we thought, ‘No, damn it, we’re going to do it. We’re going to find another way to make it happen!’ And it’s paying off, it’s exciting.”

The whole program looks fabulous. And while I’m sorry to miss out on visiting the beautiful Yarra Valley I’m delighted to be chairing a couple of online sessions on Sat 9 May:

15:45     Road to Damascus | Christos Tsiolkas & Angela Savage

16:45     If I Tell You I’m Going to Have to Kill You | Robert Gott, Emma Viskic,  Jock Serong & Angela Savage

I’ll also be part of the Yarra Valley Writers Festival Book Club, an interactive and engaging monthly book club, taking place at 6.30pm (Melb AEST) on the last Wednesday of the month, hosted by YVWF Director Brook Powell and Ambassador Michael Veitch and joined by a variety of authors each session.

Wed 27 May       Tony Birch – The White Girl
Wed 24 Jun         Chris Flynn – Mammoth
Wed 29 Jul           Angela Savage – Mother of Pearl

Digital programming can’t replace my most cherished aspects of writers festivals–interacting with readers and networking with writers–but I’m grateful to have any alternative when it comes to shining light on my work and that of writers I admire.

I hope to have some more online events to announce in coming weeks.

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