Wonderful things happen when you open a bookshop. Ours started as a single set of shelves in one corner of the studio-gallery my husband and I created, The Makers Shed at Glen Innes in the NSW New England region. A year on, we’ve expanded, and we’re about to present our first literary award.
But it didn’t just happen by accident. Our resident High Country Book Club courageously joined us on a reading project with a purpose: to decide the best book in a year’s worth of independently-published reads.
When we started out, Richard and I found ourselves explaining a lot about indie books, but these days we barely mention that these titles have not been backed by a traditional publishing/marketing team. This is mainly because what readers want out of a book is the same thing no matter where it sprang from, and that’s a well-told story.
The club kicked off with a visit from London-based author Patsy Trench, who’d come to chat about her new non-fiction title A Country To Be Reckoned With.
This title is Patsy’s search for her great-great grandfather George Matcham Pitt, one of Australia’s earliest stock and station agents. The journey of discovery sheds an engaging new light on the European heritage of Australia.
We moved onto fiction for our next read. New Zealander Jenni Ogden’s acclaimed debut novel A Drop in the Ocean is set predominantly on an island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It’s the story of an high-achieving American academic who hits rock bottom and decides to relocate to the other side of the world to work at a remote turtle sanctuary. It took me by surprise with its memorable castaways working out their lives on the edge of an ocean wilderness.
The ocean was a major theme of our next title, Nothing But Blue, by American author Diane Meyer Lowman.
The true story of her adventure while working on a German container ship as it sailed from New York to Australia and New Zealand in the late Seventies, this book bravely recreated the perspective of a 19-year-old thrust into several alien environments.
Nothing But Blue and A Drop in the Ocean were published by She Writes Press, one of the world’s biggest joint-venture publishing outfits assisting women to get their manuscripts published.
Australian author Kim Kelly paid us a visit in March to chat about her novel Lady Bird & The Fox and explained how creating the Indigenous protagonist of her book – Annie Bird – also encouraged her to courageously self-publish. After having her first few works published traditionally, Kim sensed her Gold Rush heroine might have languished while waiting for a publisher with enough courage in this #OwnVoices world.
The true story of a beloved dog who endured a spinal stroke was our next read. Nobody Told Me My Legs Don’t Work is a memoir with a difference by American writer Travis C. Yates.
A short but emotional ride, this publication sparked plenty of debate about animal rights and the ethics of domestic animal ownership.
Infants of the Brush by A. M. Watson is an historical fiction that recreates a real-life Eighteenth Century legal case and the gritty, challenging world of the boy chimney sweeps of London.
Amy kindly made us a video outlining the broad research she conducted which underpins the historical accuracy in her novel.
Euan Mitchell’s Feral Tracks brought us all back home with an Australian story about a teenager who leaves homes with a few dollars and some big issues to sort out on the road, as he hitchhikes across the country in search of purpose.
One of Australia’s most enduring self-published titles, this work was a confronting study of manhood in some tough Aussie environments.
English author William Blyghton provided plenty of contrast in his debut novel The House By The Marsh, which is also a study of manhood, but in a very different environment.
A story of grief late in life, this tale of human connection is set in several corners of evocative East Anglia, a county that we discovered was the birthplace of many novels, from works by Patricia Highsmith to Janet Frame.
We stayed in England for our read of Virginia Moffatt’s Echo Hall, a work of historical fiction set across multiple time periods in and around the same imposing home in another remote county of the United Kingdom.
With its ruminations on war and pacifism, Virginia’s intriguing, layered work explores the motivations of several families and their experiences of conflict, both domestic and between nations.
One of our country’s great marriage equality campaigners penned our next read, a very Australian read about human rights.
Shelley Argent’s memoir Just A Mum tells the story of her Brisbane upbringing and explores how this suburban wife and mother became an equality activist in the wake of one son’s coming out, and pushed this necessary social reform all the way to the gripping finale in Australia’s Parliament House.
We ended the year reading The Moor by English author Sam Haysom, a mystery story replete with characters facing enormous moral choices in and around a deceivingly simple wilderness walk.
Another intriguing debut novel, Sam’s book was created during 2015’s NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month), and published through Unbound. This crowdfunding publisher assists writers in bringing their ideas into life in book form, and is also the stable that Echo Hall sprang from.
All High Country Book Club titles are available for purchase from The Makers Shed, and can be posted to readers within Australia. Browse our online bookshop.
Congratulations to all the finalists in 2019… we’ve been thrilled, frightened, inspired, moved, angered, entertained and encouraged to keep reading by your engaging works of fiction and non-fiction.
The winner of the High Country Indie Book Award 2019 will be announced during the High Country Writers Festival on Saturday November 30, from 4 to 6pm at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, NSW, Australia. All welcome!