Tag Archives: Glen Innes

The year of independent reading

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.

Trophy handmade by Richard Moon.

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!

Carol’s commonsense campaign

“There was a majority of men on the council and I really felt that women needed to have a decision-making presence.”

CAROL Sparks describes herself as an unlikely candidate for local government, but a desire for change in her community drove this former nurse into a political career that’s already made history in Glen Innes.

It was while co-ordinating state and federal elections for New England Greens candidate Mercurius Goldstein that Carol got a close-up look at public life.

“I went on the campaign trail and I spoke to lots of people,” she recalls.

“I realised I had a bit of a passion for it, to try and bring climate change to their attention, the problems with our waterways, and the environmental damage that was happening on the Barrier Reef.

“Then the council elections were coming up and I thought well, I could just keep talking to the people.”

Carol’s campaign for the Glen Innes Severn Council (GISC) elections in 2016 was conducted over a fortnight in a very grassroots manner.

“I just stood out on the street and said: ‘Vote me in for council’ and people liked that,” she says.

“There had been campaigning in this region in the past, but it had always been done in the newspaper.

“It was quite exciting and people were enthusiastic towards me. The community was feeling a little bit frustrated, they said we needed a change.”

A major driver for Carol was the under-representation of women in local government.

“There was a majority of men on the council and I really felt that women needed to have a decision-making presence,” she says.

“Dianne Newman was a councillor and she was feeling a bit isolated.

“I campaigned on health, women, water, and potholes. Unfortunately there’s still some potholes around, but we’re working hard on that,” she says.

Raised at Tathra on the far south coast of New South Wales, Carol’s mother’s family were dairy farmers and her painter father a Second World World veteran.

“I left school at fourteen and worked in a grocery store, before starting my nursing training at Bega,” she says.

“I went to the Keppel Islands on holiday and that’s where I met my husband, Badja.

“We sailed around the Whitsundays, got married, and lived in England for eight years where our children were born.”

After moving to the Glen Innes region in 1980, Carol and Badja established a local antiques and collectable business and a second-hand bookshop. The couple’s son Joe now owns The Book Market in central Glen Innes.

When asked about what sparked her political ambitions, Carol admits to having an internal drive that shocks a few people.

“I’m an old woman,’ she says, laughing. “And I wanted to have a change.”

“I was a registered nurse and working in palliative care here in Glen Innes for twenty years.

“There were needs in the community. We’ve got doctors on call, but it’s very different when you have a doctor right there when you present at a hospital.

“Towns in the bush tend to get poor services.”

Trial by fire

Carol served as deputy mayor from 2016 until September, 2018, when a majority of councillors elected her into the mayoral office. Looking back at her first years as a local representative, she describes the experience as a “trial by fire”.

“It still is,” she says.

“We had another lady who was president of Severn Shire Council,” Carol adds, referring to councillor Alice Clifford, who served prior to the amalgamation with Glen Innes Council.

“But we’ve never had a female mayor of the municipal council.

“That’s what women are facing all over the nation, and women are leaving politics in their droves. I suppose that’s writ small here.

“But I’ve tended to be a person who goes against the grain, and it’s been very inspiring to look at Dianne, who is now deputy mayor, and notice the changes that have happened for her whilst I’ve been on council.

“We could do with a couple more women, I reckon, just to balance it up a bit.”

When asked what she imagines her legacy will be, beyond bringing more gender equality, Carol is very clear.

“I think renewable energy, happy kids, more community gardens, and more sustainable businesses,” she says.

“We do have a tendency to be a bit old-fashioned. I’d love to bring the rail trail here, for example, with lots of backpackers coming from overseas,” she adds, referring to a proposal to alter the use of the closed rail corridor that runs from Armidale to Wallangarra.

“Volunteering is also a big thing in Glen Innes. We cannot survive without our volunteers and of course they’re all getting older, so encouraging younger volunteers is something I’ll be looking to do.”

On the issues that divide country towns along political lines, Carol is firm.

“If we care for our waterways and our creeks, we should create biodiversity and plant trees instead of cutting them down,” she says.

“To have healthy waterways is where we find most in common with farmers. They need water too, so we need to look after the environment.

“We come together though common sense.”

This article first appeared in New England Living magazine.

Aussie tales told with a passion for diversity

“I love to start a conversation, not just about my stories but about Australian stories generally”

AUTHOR Kim Kelly is renowned for diving into the historical details behind her popular novels, and as Glen Innes is soon to discover she loves visiting country towns in pursuit of inspiration.

“I often think I only write novels as an excuse to ferret through piles of ephemera and social trivia,” Kelly said.

“My head is an historical hoarder’s junkyard. I once bailed up a local historian at Gulgong’s Pioneer Museum to interrogate him about early washing machines.”

Kelly’s 2018 title Lady Bird & The Fox is a Victorian-era novel set in the NSW Central West, where she resides.

“I was definitely always going to tell a Gold Rush tale,” she said.

“And as scary as it was to contemplate, I was probably always going to write a sparklingly smart and wonderful Aboriginal heroine.

“I grew up at La Perouse, in Sydney, where the Aboriginal community is vibrant and diverse; the girlfriends I made and the education I received there were an enormous influence on me, and still are. Annie Bird from the novel is in many ways a tribute to those women who have had such an impact on my life.”

As she was gathering inspiration for the book, Kelly came across a newspaper snippet about an Aboriginal bushranger known as Mary Ann Bugg.

“The story sparks began to fly and the voice of Annie Bird emerged – pulling on her knee-high boots and ready to go,” she said.

“But I can’t write an Aboriginal character, can I? That was my first fear. I have no right to take on the voice of someone so culturally and historically different. For a couple of years I wrestled with the question, but Annie just wouldn’t leave me alone.

“She deserved a handsome hero, I supposed – as most of my stories involve some kind of love story, not just romantic love, but partnering, nourishing love, love that leads to all kinds of discoveries.

“Jem Fox is one of my favourite characters so far. Apart from being a very naughty boy and therefore fun to write, in so many ways he represents my own search for my Jewish heritage – and there was a flamboyant rake or two in that lot.”

Kelly describes the search for her Jewish forebears as “a trip like no other” that led to discoveries about the prejudice and difficulties they faced, and the contributions they made to colonial business and industry.

“Those Jews of the gold rush era gave us our first Australian-born governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs, and our most famous soldier, Sir John Monash, both born during those ‘wild west’ days – and, eventually, me!” she said.

Publishing savvy

Kim Kelly is a ghostwriter and book editor with over twenty years’ experience in the Australian publishing industry, yet she still makes time for talking to readers in country libraries.

“The most common reaction I receive at book talks is appreciation that I’m telling Australian tales,” she said.

“Often, there’s interest in my publishing background, too, so I tend to get a few questions about the nuts and bolts of writing and how to get your work out there.”

Kelly is what’s known as a ‘hybrid author’: one who has titles traditionally-published and who also self-publishes.

“All of my novels except for Lady Bird & The Fox and my forthcoming, Sunshine, were originally traditionally-published,” she said.

“My new, independently-published titles and republished backlist are produced by a team I’ve put together myself – editor Alexandra Nahlous, designer Alissa Dinallo, and publisher Joel Naoum.

“It was really important to me that I employ experienced and respected industry professionals if I was going to go out on my own.

“It began as a bit of an experiment, just to see what was possible and what I might learn, and has far exceeded my expectations – not just financially, but in terms of publishing pleasure.”

Despite studying literature and history at Sydney University and the University of New England, it took Kelly a long time to summon the courage to write a novel.

“It wasn’t until I lucked out landing a job at Random House as a book editor that the world of writing possibility opened up for me,” she said.

“Working with so many different authors, from Miles Franklin winners to the big names in romance, taught me so much and dared me to make my secret storytelling dreams a reality.

“Wherever I go, I love to start a conversation, not just about my stories but about Australian stories generally. Sometimes the chat is quite lively, and whenever we go over time, or I hear readers still chatting as they leave, it gives me such a high.

“All of my novels take a moment in Australian social and political history and explore it with that sense of wonder and curiosity, as well as a deep love and gratitude for this amazing country we call home.”

Author Kim Kelly in conversation at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, for the High Country Handmade Showcase, March 3.