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Catherynne M Valente

Catherynne M Valente

Episode 33 – Author’s Choice

Catherynne M Valente

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Joining me for this episode’s online chat is one of my favourite authors of weird and wonderful fiction, Catherynne M Valente.

Catherynne is the New York Times bestselling author of forty works of speculative fiction and poetry, including Space Opera, The Refrigerator Monologues, Palimpsest, the Orphan’s Tales series, Deathless, Radiance, and the crowdfunded phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Own Making (and the four books that followed it).

She is the winner of the Andre Norton, Tiptree, Sturgeon, Prix Imaginales, Eugie Foster Memorial, Mythopoeic, Rhysling, Lambda, Locus, Romantic Times’ Critics Choice and Hugo awards. She has been a finalist for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with a small but growing menagerie of beasts, some of which are human.

We talk about her many fabulous books, how she came to write and then crowdfund the first book in The Fairyland series which went on to win the Nebula Award, planting Easter eggs in Space Opera, writing complicated books, the weather and her latest short story which just so happens to be a Star Wars story!

It’s a longer chat than normal, but so much fun 🙂

The pairings:

Little, Big by John Crowley

The epic story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man who travels by foot from the City to a place called Edgewood—not found on any map—to marry Daily Alice Drinkwater, as was prophesied. It is the story of four generations of a singular family, living in a house that is many houses on the magical border of an otherworld. It is a story of fantastic love and heartrending loss; of impossible things and unshakable destinies; and of the great Tale that envelops us all. It is a wonder.

Catherynne chose a classic cocktail from 1688 – Milk Punch – to pair with this eerie and complex story.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

An exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

Man Booker Prize Winner (1990)

Catherynne suggested a 1920s cocktail called The Last Word to pair perfectly with this passionate literary thriller!

 

Smart Ovens For Lonely People by Elizabeth Tan

A collection of offbeat, mind-bending short stories that are a joy to dip in and out of.

A cat-shaped oven tells a depressed woman she doesn’t have to be sorry anymore. A Yourtopia Bespoke Terraria employee becomes paranoid about the mounting coincidences in her life. Four girls gather to celebrate their underwear in ‘Happy Smiling Underwear Girls Party’ and so many more. These are funny, sharp, witty and surreal stories that are somewhat disturbing at heart as they give us a glimpse of a potential future world and what might be…

I was thinking that i’d love something fresh and sharp to drink whilst reading these stories and the wine that comes to mind is an Argentinian wine called Torrontes – it’s nickname is The Liar as it smells sweet but is actually very dry and has an almost salty and lean taste and texture in your mouth. I think it would pair perfectly with this book of inventive and biting stories!

  

 

This episode of Literary Elixirs was recorded via Zoom, please forgive any minor technical glitches!   

Into/Outro music is Mosquito Mojito by Rachel K. Collier. Sourced from Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Licence.        

 

Ellie Marney

Ellie Marney

Episode 32 – Author’s Choice

Ellie Marney

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Joining me for this episode’s online chat is award-winning Young Adult crime author, Ellie Marney. Ellie has been involved in the creation of the national campaign #LoveOzYA to promote and advocate for Australian YA literature, she has contributed to the critically-acclaimed Begin End Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology and she co-runs the popular #LoveOzYAbookclub online.

Ellie’s books include the Circus Hearts series, White Night and the Every trilogy which begins with Every Breath and was her first young adult book published in 2013.

Her latest book is None Shall Sleep which was released in September 2020 and is a dark and chilling read following two teenagers unfortunately familiar with the violence of serial killers who are drawn into an FBI case and become the conduit between the FBI and an incarcerated teenage serial killer, who seems to have insight into the current case.

We chat about writing crime for young adults, the question at the heart of crime fiction, sociopaths and geniuses and how difficult they are to write when they are teenagers!

The pairings:

The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

A girl wakes up on a self-driving bus. She has no memory of how she got there or who she is. Her nametag reads CECILY. The six other people on the bus are just like her: no memories, only nametags. There’s a screen on each seatback that gives them instructions. A series of tests begin, with simulations projected onto the front window of the bus. The passengers must each choose an outcome; majority wins. But as the testing progresses, deadly secrets are revealed, and the stakes get higher and higher. Soon Cecily is no longer just fighting for her freedom – she’s fighting for her life.

Ellie loves this book for its fast-paced storytelling and its mystery meat sandwiches so to pair with it she recommends Peck’s Paste sandwiches and a Long Island Iced Tea cause you’ll need a stiff drink before you’re done!

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus. But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Ellie found this a completely engrossing read, the kind of book you neglect your family over, beautifully written, refreshing, it left a profound impression. She suggests the only appropriate pairing is a platter of delicious feta cheese, dolmades, crusty bread and oil with a delicious chilled wine and I quite agree 🙂

 

The last days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp

This is not a new book, it was published in 2016, but it is one of the creepiest yet funnest books i’ve read – and i’m not someone who likes creepy or scary books all that much! But, because i loved None Shall Sleep, and because it’s October here we go.

Jack Sparks died whilst writing this book. To his fans, Jack was a fearless rebel; to his detractors, he was a talentless hack. Either way, his death came as a shock to everyone. This book, compiled from the files found after his death, reveals the chilling details of Jack’s final hours. So Jack Sparks is a journalist researching the occult for his new book. He’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed. And then there was that video: thirty-six seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account. Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed his death. 

This is a book that really creeps up on you in every sense of that word. Jack is incredibly unlikeable as narrators go – opinionated, egotistical, confrontational – but he also seems to be a little self-aware about this which means you can’t dislike him completely and so are drawn into his story. It’s a different kind of book, very creepy, very funny, even quite wry … until it’s not at all funny and all it is, is eerily quiet and you don’t want to be alone reading it. The main character, Jack, doesn’t believe in the supernatural, at least on the surface, but then we follow along with his story and we discover certain childhood experiences which led to his current profession of unearthing the supernatural. As we go on, we discover the end is actually the beginning – stick with it as it does start rather slowly but then it becomes really creepy and all is made clear by the ending. It’s clever, multi-layered, exploring spirituality, belief, possession, guilt, the after-life.

I found it pretty darn scary and I feel like the best thing to drink with this book would be a strong coffee, followed by a chamomile tea – one to keep you alert, the other to calm the nerves!

 

 

 

This episode of Literary Elixirs was recorded via Zoom, please forgive any minor technical glitches!   

Into/Outro music is Mosquito Mojito by Rachel K. Collier. Sourced from Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Licence.        

 

Bram Presser

Bram Presser

Episode 30 – Author’s Choice

Bram Presser

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This episode I am joined by lapsed lawyer, recovering academic, semi-reformed punk rocker, and now writer and stay-at-home dad, Bram Presser.

Bram’s writing has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Award Winning Australian Writing, The Sleepers Almanac and Higher Arc. His 2017 debut novel, The Book of Dirt, won the 2018 Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction in the US National Jewish Book Awards, the 2018 Voss Literary Prize and three awards in the 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards: the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing and The People’s Choice Award.

 
 We talk about our love of browsing bookstores, Bram’s journey to writing a novel, writing a personal history as fiction and of course, we pair some delicious things to some fabulous books!
 
The pairings:  

The Door by Magda Szabo

A busy young writer struggling to cope with domestic chores, hires a housekeeper recommended by a friend. The housekeeper’s reputation is one built on dependable efficiency, though she is something of an oddity. Stubborn, foul-mouthed and with a flagrant disregard for her employer’s opinions she may even be crazy. She allows no-one to set foot inside her house; she masks herself with a veil and is equally guarded about her personal life. And yet Emerence is revered as much as she is feared. As the story progresses her energy and passion to help becomes clear, extinguishing any doubts arising out of her bizarre behaviour. A stylishly told tale which recounts a strange relationship built up over 20 years between a writer and her housekeeper. After an unpromising and caustic start benign feelings develop and ultimately the writer benefits from what becomes an inseparable relationship. Simultaneously we learn Emerence’s tragic past which is revealed in snapshots throughout the book. 

Bram called this the most beautiful book he has ever read, a modern classic, and a beautiful meditation on dignity and how we imagine people to be. To pair with the interesting and complex character of Emerence he suggests a classic Borscht with sour cream and a traditional Pilsner Urquell. 

The Curfew by Jesse Ball

 William and Molly lead a life of small pleasures, riddles at the kitchen table, and games of string and orange peels. All around them a city rages with war. When the uprising began, William’s wife was taken, leaving him alone with their young daughter. They keep their heads down and try to remain unnoticed as police patrol the streets, enforcing a curfew and arresting citizens. But when an old friend seeks William out, claiming to know what happened to his wife, William must risk everything. He ventures out after dark, and young Molly is left to play, reconstructing his dangerous voyage, his past, and their future.

 Bram called Jesse Ball the most exciting writer out of America right now and highly recommends this totalitarian dystopia with its surrealist and strangely beautiful experimental writing. The perfect pairing for Bram is a Corpse Reviver, made with absinthe, gin, cointreau, lillet and lemon juice … ooooof! It is weird, subtle, warm, sweetly discombobulating with a kick!

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

Three women in their seventies reunite for one last, life-changing weekend in the beach house of their late friend. The four women have a lifelong friendship of the best kind: loving, practical, frank, and steadfast. But when Sylvie dies, the ground shifts dangerously for the remaining three.

They are Jude, a once-famous restaurateur; Wendy, an acclaimed public intellectual; and Adele, a renowned actress now mostly out of work. Struggling to recall exactly why they’ve remained close all these years, the grieving women gather at Sylvie’s old beach house–not for festivities this time, but to clean it out before it is sold. Can they survive together without her? Frustrations build and painful memories press in. Fraying tempers, an elderly dog, unwelcome guests and too much wine collide in a storm that brings long-buried hurts to the surface–and threatens to sweep away their friendship for good.

Justine says: This is a gently written, yet sharp look at relationships, growing old, the secrets we keep from others and the lies that we tell ourselves. I read it in a weekend and whilst the ending bothered me somewhat – because it didn’t tie everything up with a bow – I like that it’s an ending which continues, because these women continue. And the only thing that I could possibly pair with this book would be sparkling wine – given this book is set in NSW, a lovely local Hunter Valley sparkling, sharp and dry just like these women, yet made in the traditional method so with hints of cream and a fullness and body to it and of course it is to be guzzled with gusto amongst friends. 

 

 

This episode of Literary Elixirs was recorded via Zoom, please forgive any minor technical glitches!   

Into/Outro music is Mosquito Mojito by Rachel K. Collier. Sourced from Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Licence.        

 

Christine Gordon

Christine Gordon

Episode 26 – Bookseller’s choice

Christine Gordon

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This episode I am joined by Christine Gordon, Programming Manager of one of Melbourne’s favourite independent bookshops.

Christine has been Programming Manager at Readings for over a decade and considers it the best job in Australia! She was one of the founding members of the Stella Prize, sits on the Readings Foundation board and has been a judge on various literary awards. She is passionate about Australian literature and ensuring that reading continues to allow endless possibilities for everyone.

We discuss Chris’s most delicious moment working at Readings, the origin story of the Stella prize, her top tip for recommending books and of course, we pair some fabulous books with tasty treats!

The pairings:

The Spill by Imbi Neeme

Winner of the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize

In 1982, a car overturns on a remote West Australian road. Nobody is hurt, but the impact is felt for decades.

Nicole and Samantha Cooper both remember the summer day when their mother, Tina, lost control of their car – but not in quite the same way. It is only after Tina’s death, almost four decades later, that the sisters are forced to reckon with the repercussions of the crash. Nicole, after years of aimless drifting, has finally found love, and yet can’t quite commit. And Samantha is hiding something that might just tear apart the life she’s worked so hard to build for herself.

Chris suggested room temperature Chardonnay and a frozen ham would pair perfectly with this book … and she thinks the author would agree!

 

State Highway One by Sam Coley

Winner of the 2017 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers

It’s been years since Alex was in New Zealand, and years since he spent any one-on-one time with his twin sister, Amy. When they lose their parents in a shock accident it seems like the perfect time to reconnect as siblings. To reconnect with this country they call ‘home’.
As they journey the length of State Highway One, they will scratch at wounds that have never healed – and Alex will be forced to reckon with what coming home really means.

Room temp again but beer or vodka this time with a burger – no veggies in sight – is Chris’s pairing with this heartbreaking novel.

 

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Luc O’Donnell’s rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc is in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating.

Justine thinks brunch and a peach Bellini would be the perfect pairing for this light, bright, fizzy romp of a tale!

 
 

This episode of Literary Elixirs was recorded via Zoom, please forgive any minor technical glitches!   

Into/Outro music is Mosquito Mojito by Rachel K. Collier. Sourced from Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Licence.        

 

Robert Gott

Robert Gott

Episode 25 – Author’s choice

Robert Gott

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This episode I am joined by historical fiction author Robert Gott.
 
Robert is the author of The Holiday Murders, The Port Fairy Murders and in 2019 The Autumn Murders a series of hard-boiled historical whodunits set in 1940’s Australia. He has also written the William Power series of crime-caper novels also set in 1940s Australia.
We discuss book fatigue, writing an unlikeable character, the uselessness of history and Jane Austen!
 
The pairings:
 
Bertie is embroiled in plot and counterplot in these three glorious Jeeves and Wooster novels. In The Mating Season, Bertie pretends he is his old pal Gussie Fink-Nottle to ensure Gussie’s engagement to the soppy Madeline Bassett comes to no harm. The Code of the Woosters finds Bertie in an even worse mess. His fearsome Aunt Dahlia has blackmailed him into purloining a particularly hideous cow-creamer from the home of Sir Watkyn Bassett. Unfortunately, other parties have their own plans for the unsavoury item, and for Bertie too. In Right Ho, Jeeves, Bertie takes matters in hand when Jeeves suggests Bertie’s friend Gussie Fink-Nottle puts on scarlet tights and a false beard to achieve the object of his desire. As usual, only Jeeves can sort out the ensuing chaos.
 
Robert chose to pair a very, very, very dry martini with this series as it is elegant and graceful whilst being totally unrealistic and removed from reality!
 
Cain’s first novel–the subject of an obscenity trial in Boston, the inspiration for Camus’s The Stranger–is the fever-pitched tale of a drifter who stumbles into a job, into an erotic obsession, and into a murder. Double Indemnity–which followed Postman so quickly, Cain’s readers hardly had a chance to catch their breath–is a tersely narrated story of blind passion, duplicity, and, of course, murder. Mildred Pierce, a work of acute psychological observation and devastating emotional violence, is the tale of a woman with a taste for shiftless men and an unreasoned devotion to her monstrous daughter.
 
Robert enjoys the spare writing and would suggest a bourbon to pair with this author. The only bourbon he had on hand was a honey and ghost pepper bourbon with a sweet heat to go with these grim and somewhat violent stories. 
 
Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix – part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete. This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny – they must sing.
 
Eurovision in space could only be paired with a drink inspired by Eurovision itself!
Justine recommends a Rocket To The Stars, inspired by Eurovision contestant – SLAVKO KALEZIĆ from Montenegro Who sang ‘SPACE’ in 2017.
The cocktail involves watermelon, basil, sugar syrup and gin. It’s super sweet, yet super dry and will leave you mildly confused as to what just happened!

 

  

This episode of Literary Elixirs was recorded via Zoom, please forgive any minor technical glitches!   

Into/Outro music is Mosquito Mojito by Rachel K. Collier. Sourced from Free Music Archive under a Creative Commons Licence.