Mother of Pearl to be published by Transit Lounge in 2019

Contract happiness

The joy of signing a publishing contract

I am absolutely delighted to share the news that my new novel, Mother of Pearl, will be published by Transit Lounge in July 2019.

Mother of Pearl was written as part of my PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University, and explores the complex and contentious topic of overseas commercial surrogacy.

Here’s the elevator pitch:

Mother of Pearl tells the story of three women. Mukda is a single mother in provincial Thailand, struggling to make ends meet. Anna is an aid worker, trying to settle back into life in Melbourne after more than a decade in Southeast Asia. Meg, Anna’s sister, holds out hope for a child, despite seven fruitless years of IVF. The three women’s lives become intimately intertwined in the unsettling and extraordinary process of bringing a child into the world across borders of class, culture and nationality.

Here’s what my thesis examiners had to say about the novel:

‘A considered and accomplished piece of work’

‘Characters are deeply imagined and plausible.’

‘The plot is well-handled, with the movements back and forth between Thai and Australian settings and characters, and between time frames, highly effective…

‘As the story develops, readers (at least this reader) are held in thrall, as issues of pregnancy, desired motherhood, and birth are all dealt with in convincing and
empathetic ways.’

And this from Christos Tsiolkas:

What I find remarkable about this novel is how it refuses easy and lazy judgement, how it takes seriously questions of loss, longing, and our human need to connect with each other. The writing is moving and powerful, the story riveting, and the execution both daring and engrossing. It is a book that is both devastating and hopeful. It is a wonderful read.

I’m very grateful to my agent Fiona Inglis at Curtis Brown for helping to find the right publisher, and to Barry Scott and his team at Transit Lounge for their vote of confidence in a book that was a labour of love for me (no pun intended). Barry was charged with administering the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Unpublished Manuscript when I won back in 2004, an award that launched my writing career, with the publication of my first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar (Text, 2006). So it seems fitting that Barry should publish a work that is, as a non-genre novel, a new beginning for me.

I have many other people to thank, but I’ll save that for the acknowledgements section of the novel. In the meantime, I’m simply delighted to share this news.

Posted in Angela Savage, Books, Mother of Pearl | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

Creative Lives: Interview with Sulari Gentill

I had the great pleasure recently of interviewing award-winning Australian writer and my dear friend Sulari Gentill for the Creative Lives series.

Sulari_headshotCreative Lives: The Interview Series is an initiative of the South Asian Diaspora International Researchers’ Network (SADIRN), a global network hosted by Monash University. The series aims to shed light on the ‘magical space’ that is the creative mind of the South Asian diasporic writer, where characters lurk, plots unwind, and critical thinking shimmers.

Sri Lankan born Australian novelist Sulari Gentill is the author of the award-winning Rowland Sinclair series of historical crime fiction, the first of which, A Few Right Thinking Men, published in 2010, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book. The ninth book in the series, All The Tears in China, will be released in January 2019. As SD Gentill, Sulari has also published The Hero Trilogy, a YA fantasy series based on a retelling of ancient Greek myths. In August 2018, she won the Australian Crime Writers Association’s Ned Kelly Award for her standalone novel, Crossing the Lines. I interviewed Sulari the day after the awards night [read her account of the night here]. In this interview, Sulari talks about ‘the deliciousness of writing’, reflecting on her creative choices, the relationship between authors and their characters, and the disturbing parallels between Australia in the 1930s and today.

Angela Savage: Sulari, congratulations on winning the Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel. By my calculations, you are only the third woman, and the first woman of colour to win in this category since the awards began in 1995. For some time, you were the only South Asian diasporic writer working in the crime genre in Australia, and you’re still one of only two that we know of. How do you account for this?

Sulari Gentill: Well, I don’t account for it, to be honest, I’m not sure that I can. I did have a discussion with Malla Nunn, who’s another writer of colour who writes in this genre, about this some time ago and we were talking tongue in cheek about the fact that quite often writers of colour, particularly writers of South Asian origin, are too snobby to write anything but literature.

Angela: Well, I did wonder if it reflects a lack of prestige accorded to genre fiction over literary fiction in South Asian diasporic communities.

Sulari: Perhaps, but I don’t know whether people necessarily think in those terms. It did not occur to me, when I started writing that I was choosing to write genre fiction. I was just writing. I can’t imagine people sitting down and thinking, ‘I want to write. What am I going to write? I’m going to write something worthy.’ It seems to me a very artificial construct.

I do wonder whether it’s a feeling of where you will be welcomed. I know we had this discussion recently about the concept of “the other” and I do think that literature, and high literature in particular, whilst it is viewed as worthy, and award worthy, and grant worthy, and something to be aspired to, is also considered as the “other”. It’s not something you necessarily read when you’re tired or in need of comfort. You don’t necessarily read it to feel at home, indeed, quite often it’s the opposite—you read it when you want to be extended, or challenged or made to learn.

When you’re tired and you need comfort or a good laugh you turn to genre, and genre is family. So, perhaps it is that writers of colour in the Western context are more easily accepted into a writing form that is other, that is expected to be exotic and unfamiliar, rather than a writing form that is “family”.

Read the rest of the interview here.

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Where’s Angela?

Around the middle of each year, I put together what I call ‘The Spreadsheet of Doom’ in an effort to organise my calendar of literary and cultural events. This year didn’t look too bad, with only 30 or so commitments between July and November…

Batlow Book FestivalThese included a long weekend at the Batlow Book Festival, ‘Doors to Other Worlds’, (mentioned in a previous post) with my partner in life and crime fiction, Andrew Nette. Andrew and I joined a select group of guests in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains in NSW, including John & Ali Green, Robert Gott, Dan O’Malley and Elise McCune, with Sulari Gentill doubling as guest and host, together with her friend and co-director Sarah. We enjoyed superb hospitality, friendly and engaged audiences, and pleasing book sales — all good reminders of the joys of regional literary festivals.

MWF birds & bees

With Helen Jukes & Will McInnes at Melbourne Writers Festival

Late-July/early August found me at a flurry of wonderful cultural events, from Bell Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (a pretty good production of a wonderful play) to Mama Mia: The Musical (boundless fun, with the audience on its feet, dancing in a shower of glitter) and a concert with Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan (seems we caught him on a good night). The icing on the (birthday) cake was my father taking me to see the Melbourne Theatre Company’s glorious production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. This turned out to be good preparation for my stint at the Melbourne Writers Festival where I interviewed, among others, actor and author William McInnes, who had a role in the play.


MWF book club 1

Fangirling Michelle de Krester & Sarah Krasnostein at MWF

I was fortunate to be invited to chair three events at the Melbourne Writers Festival: a book club with Michelle de Kretser discussing Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower; a second book club with Sarah Krasnostein, discussing Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton; and a panel at the Animal Church called ‘Birds and Bees’, talking with Will McInnes about his novel The Birdwatcher and his stint as host of ABC TV’s Hello Birdy: A Boofhead’s Guide to Birdwatching, and UK author Helen Jukes about her lyrical memoir, A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings. The book club events, a new format for the festival, were highly enjoyable for both hosts and participants, creating an intimate space for the exchange of ideas and opinions over wine and cheese. And the ‘Birds and Bees’ session was a hoot — great buzz in the audience (#sorry #notsorry). I also attended some wonderful festival events as an audience member and danced the night away at the closing party.

In the midst of all that, I gave an author talk at the Coburg Library and had the great pleasure of awarding the Moreland Short Story Writing Competition prizes. I also helped launch the Margaret Egan Young Writers Award in the City of Hume, thanks to founder, Caroline van der Pol, author of Back to Broady. And last week I gave my first ever webinar, an online workshop on writing about place as part of my work for Writers Victoria (available on YouTube).

Next on the horizon is Dames versus Dicks Great Crime Writing Debate: Who does it better? part of St Kilda Writers Week, on Sunday September 30. On trial is the wit of some of Australia’s finest crime writers. The Dames and The Dicks argue each other’s case for Who does it better?, the question that lies at the criminal heart of the battle of the sexes.

And that covers pages 1 and 2 of The Spreadsheet of Doom. Page 3 coming soon!

What’s on your horizon?



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The Half-Child, re-birthed

Writer Angela Savage Book Cover - The Half-ChildMy second novel The Half-Child is probably my personal favourite of my books, so it’s always a particular source of delight when it rates a mention on the internet and/or in real life. The book was published in 2010, making this particular ‘baby’ an unbelievable eight years old. Despite receiving good reviews at the time and being shortlisted for the 2011 Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction, The Half-Child did not sell as well as my other novels, due largely to the timing: 2010 was the year the book was declared ‘dead’ and, with it, publishing as we know it. Although reports of these deaths turned out to have been greatly exaggerated (to paraphrase a misquoted Mark Twain), a general slump in the sale of books (and rights) in 2010 affected many titles released that year, The Half-Child just one of them.

BatlowBookFest 1

So I was rapt to see The Half-Child mentioned in a recent blog post, Expat Crime Fiction in Bangkok: Recommended Reads, on the Expat Focus website — especially to have it mentioned alongside John Burdett’s Bangkok 8 and Timothy Hallinan’s The Queen of Patpong, two novels I greatly admire. In addition to the Expat Focus site, Margot Kinberg also referred to The Half-Child in a recent post about kinship in crime fiction on her wonderful blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist (I’m always grateful for Margot’s periodic mentions of my novels). And last weekend, I had the great pleasure of being a guest at the Batlow Book Festival, where one of the organisers, award winning author and dear friend Sulari Gentill, paid me the great compliment of describing The Half-Child as one of her favourite books. In public. In front of a crowd. (In the above photo, The Half-Child comprises the roof of a house, part of the brilliant decorations illustrating the Batlow Book Festival theme, ‘Doors to Other Worlds’).

I’m grateful to all involved in re-birthing The Half-Child.


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The cave

Thai cave boys 1

Photo: AFP, VOA News

Like so many around the world, I have been riveted over the past two weeks by the story of the junior soccer team and their coach, trapped deep in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province for nine days, before being reached by rescue teams. At the time of writing, various plans are being mooted to bring the boys back to the surface, which include teaching them to swim and dive, with and without SCUBA tanks. A challenge in itself, but rescuers are also racing against the clock, with fears that impending monsoonal rains will complicate the rescue efforts and prolong the entrapment.

The story unfolds like an implausible thriller — testament to the maxim that truth is stranger than fiction.

Media reports suggest the boys are in sound mind and good spirits, and I am filled with awe and admiration for them. Their coach, Ekaphol Chanthawong, aka ‘Coach Eak’, has been credited with keeping the boys calm and hopeful by teaching them meditation.

Reflecting a wonderful array of Thai nicknames, the 12 boys in the cave are:

Chanin “Tun” Wiboonrungrueng, aged 11
Sompong “Pong” Jaiwong, 13
Duangpetch “Dom” Promthep, 13
Panumas “Mick” Saengdee, 13
Adul “Dul” Sam-on, 14
Mongkol “Mark” Boonpiam, 14
Nattawut “Tle” Takamsai, 14
Prajak “Note” Sutham, 14
Ekkarat “Bill” Wongsookchan, 14
Phiphat “Nic” Photi, 15
Pornchai “Tee” Kamluang, 16
Peerapat “Night” Sompiangjai, 16

Letters from the boys to their parents mention missing family members and food, together with requests for teachers not to give them homework.

KB cave temple 3

Temple cave, Kanchanaburi province, Thailand

The cave in which the boys are trapped is part of a vast complex of karst mountains (defined by Wikipedia as “a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks…[and] characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves”) formed thirty million years ago when the Indian subcontinent collided with mainland Asia. I try to imagine what it would feel like to be trapped for so long underground in those labyrinthine caves. I first encountered caves like this on a visit to Chiang Rai province in 1992, when locals took a Canadian friend and I to visit a temple cave. I’ve since visited mountain caves throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysian Borneo. In my third novel, The Dying Beach, a mountain cave complex in Krabi province allows the antagonist a temporary reprieve from his pursuers.

He walked several metres into darkening shadows, inching forward, anticipating the bump on his forehead where the gap in the rock narrowed. He was vaguely aware of voice in the cavern behind him as he dropped to the floor, crawling on his hands and knees through cool, damp stone.
…No one would dare follow him this far and a few more metres writhing like a snake would bring him to another cavern, where he could catch his breath and wait them all out in the welcome cover of darkness. (2013, pp. 175-6)

I’m conscious that ‘the welcome cover of darkness’ for my fictional character must, in real life, be disturbing, if not terrifying for the trapped boys.

There are many remarkable aspects to this still unfolding story. This morning I read about a group of birds’ nest collectors from Ko Libong, nearly 2,000 kilometres away, who are lending their rock-climbing efforts to the rescue mission, scaling the mountain where the boys are trapped to look for a hole or ‘chimney’ that might provide an alternative escape route. The birds’ nest hunters apparently organised ‘a whip around’ their village to pay for their flights to Chiang Rai after seeing the boys’ plight on the news.

I have great respect for the resilience of the boys and the coach, their families, the Thai Navy SEALS, and all those in Thailand and from around the world who have turned up to help. I hope for the sake of the boys and their families that they will soon re-emerge into the light. Failing that, I hope their resilience can sustain them for as long as it takes for them to be rescued.


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Bad Diaries Salon: First

FIRST-2I was fit to burst with excitement when author Jenny Ackland (Little Gods) recently invited me to be part of a Bad Diaries Salon in Geelong next month.

Bad Diaries Salon was established by Jenny in mid-2017 with a call out on Twitter: were there any writers who still had their old, bad teenage diaries, and would they be prepared to read them live? As noted on The Bad Diaries Salon Facebook page, the response was overwhelming.

(You can read more about the history of Bad Diaries Salon on Jenny’s blog).

The theme of next month’s Bad Diaries Salon is FIRST. I’ll be joining my friends and fellow authors Robert Gott (The Port Fairy Murders), Rosalie Ham (The Dressmaker), Tracy Farr (The Hope Fault), Jock Serong (The Rules of Backyard Cricket), and Leah Kaminsky (The Waiting Room), to read for ten minutes each from our early, unedited works; Jenny Ackland will moderate.

First draftsTo prepare for the FIRST Salon, I have (literally) dusted off the early notes for my three novels. I managed to find some field notes from my visit to Chiang Mai in 1999, which inspired the plot of my first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar. These notes morphed into the first draft of a scene in the book as I wrote them. Spoiler alert: it’s all telling, no showing.

My first draft notebooks contain some truly awful material. I wonder if I will have the guts to read it out loud…

Bad Diaries Salon: FIRST takes place on Wed 11 July at 6.30pm at the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre. Bookings here.


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Write Through the Roof podcast


Podcaster & writer Madeleine d’Este

I’ve been neglecting this blog, not for want of ideas for posts and news to report, but for time. I thought the least I could do is to share a podcast I recorded recently for Write Through the Roof. In Write Through the Roof , writer Madeleine d’Este interviews different types of writers to seek their insights into the question: ‘What’s the one thing that elevated your writing to the next level?’ Write Through the Roof is pitched at writers who want to learn how to improve their craft. To listen to my interview with Madeleine, click here.

In preparation to be interviewed by Madeleine, I listed to a number of her interviews, and particularly enjoyed those with Kaaron Warren, Angela Slatter and Charles Chu. Though none of these writers writes in the same genres as me, I found gems in each of their interviews.

You can subscribe to Write Through The Roof here.