Hexenhaus by Nikki McWatters

Friday, December 2, 2016

A powerful novel about three young women caught in the hysteria of their own times.

In 1628, Veronica and her brother flee for their lives into the German woods after their father is burned at the stake.

At the dawn of the eighteenth century, Scottish maid Katherine is lured into political dissent after her parents are butchered for their beliefs.

In present-day Australia, Paisley navigates her way through the burning torches of small-town gossip after her mother’s new-age shop comes under scrutiny.

While I'm not a big reader of historical fiction, Hexenhaus intrigued me. Hysteria! Witchcraft! Three interconnected stories! It's dark and compelling, and once I started reading, I had trouble putting it down. Knowing its basis in real events made this novel especially disturbing - Veronica, Katherine and some of their family members and other characters are based on real historical figures, and the horrifying 'hexenhaus' (a witch prison, where Veronica's parents are killed in the novel) is based on a place in Bamberg where witch trials were conducted and about a thousand people died. It's awful.

The strongest parts of Hexenhaus are Veronica's and Katherine's stories; the historical fiction seems well-researched, reads easily, and has a strong sense of time and place. While Paisley was a likeable protagonist and her town felt well-drawn, I never quite bought her story; the townspeople's horror about witchcraft isn't something I could imagine in present-day Australia. If their loathing of Paisley's mother was instead motivated by some other social difference (cultural or socioeconomic, perhaps) or financial goal (like some other businessperson wanting the prime real estate of the new-age shop), then it would have been easier to understand. I still enjoyed Paisley's story, but it didn't gel quite as well as the other two. Veronica was my favourite character, and I found her story the most compelling, though Katherine's voice was engaging.

I love the narrative through-line that connects Veronica's, Katherine's and Paisley's stories, and felt that the three worked well together. I think this novel will appeal most to readers of historical fiction. And it is straight-up historical fiction - those put to trial as witches are mostly politically inconvenient, or killed for the economic gain of the witch finder, as it was in reality. No witchcraft here. It merges the historical well with the contemporary, though I would've been more intrigued to read Paisley's story had it been set at a different point in Australian history - perhaps during the early 20th century, when a fear of witches in a rural town might be more realistic. Paisley's story adds a certain lightness - while Veronica's and Katherine's stories are full of death and suffering and tragedy and injustice, ultimately there is hope, through Paisley (it'll make sense when you read the novel). This is a bit of a spoiler alert, but if you're worried Hexenhaus ends too tragically for you to want to read it, rest assured the ending is uplifting. For at least one character.

Hexenhaus is a dark but enjoyable novel which really shines in the historical sections. Well worth a read if you're particularly interested in witch trials, and a nuanced exploration of mass hysteria.

Hexenhaus on the publisher's website.

My new YA novel: NIGHT SWIMMING!

Friday, November 25, 2016

I am so excited to tell you that my new YA novel, NIGHT SWIMMING, is being published by Text Publishing on April 3 2017!

I loved writing this novel, and I love so many of the characters in this novel - the awkward and adorable Kirby, and her hilarious best friend, Clancy, and their glamorous love interest, Iris - and I am so excited for other people to read it and I hope they love them as much as I do. It's weird and it's funny and it's silly but hopefully it's also got a lot of heart.

Here's what it's about!

Steph Bowe is back. Night Swimming is a love story with a twist, and a whole lot of heart.

Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star.

Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne?

But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…

You can find out more about it on my publisher's website. You'll be hearing a whole lot more about it over the next few months in the lead up to publication!

Everything Is Changed by Nova Weetman

Monday, November 21, 2016


If only we could all go back to the way it was before…

Jake and Alex. Best mates. One terrible mistake. Two lives that will never be the same.

Told in reverse, this powerful and gritty novel moves through the wreckage of a broken friendship, back to the moment when everything changed.

I love a story told out of chronological order, and once I found out Everything Is Changed was told in reverse, I was really curious to see how that was executed. What's awesome about Everything Is Changed is that, even though it's told backwards, it somehow seems totally natural and effortless. Which surely it wasn't; this would be a complicated novel to write. Enough information is divulged to keep the reader engaged, but suspense is still maintained throughout.


Something I really love about Nova Weetman's work (particularly her previous YA novel, Frankie and Joely) is that while there are romantic storylines, they tend to be subplots; really, these are novels about the complexities of friendship. While Frankie and Joely ultimately ends with the central characters resolving their issues and strengthening their friendship, Everything Is Changed ends with Jake and Alex apart, their friendship well and truly over. That's not a spoiler because it happens at the start. While there is a slight moral message, it's really more about the friendship between the characters breaking down (and their respective personal crises as a result of what happens) than about either of the boys learning a lesson.

I think one weakness of back-the-front storytelling is that certain details are repeated in order to orient the reader in time; for example, if this story were told traditionally, we would not have to be told about characters who we have already met at an earlier (later) point. Am I confusing you? I'm confusing me, too. Basically, there's a little repetition so that we don't get confused. The protagonist and his dad play golf with Tony and his dad; at a later point (earlier in time) we're told the protagonist's dad admires Tony's dad. We already know that, from when they played golf, which hasn't happened yet. Make sense?

Apart from that minor gripe, the novel flows well. It's easy to follow, enjoyable and everything being told in reverse gives the events a sort of tragic inevitability while still being engaging. I wanted things to work out differently for the characters, even though they clearly couldn't. I don't like saying that particular novels are for girls or boys based on the gender of the characters - any reader of any gender should be able to enjoy reading about any character of any gender (if the only way a reader can relate to a character is through being the same gender, that's weak writing) - however for readers who want to read about boy characters, Everything Is Changed is terrific. It's about the friendship between two boys going horribly awry, after a terrible thing happens, and it's realistic enough for young readers to feel as if it could happen to them. It's dark, but it's not without hope. An enjoyable and immersive read.

Everything is Changed on the publisher's website.

Words In Deep Blue blog tour: Interview with Cath Crowley

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Cath Crowley as part of her blog tour for her new novel, Words In Deep Blue. It's a beautiful, heart-rending novel, and the blurb summarises it better than I possibly could:

Second-hand bookshops are full of mysteries
This is a love story. 
It's the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets, to words. 
It's the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea. 
Now, she's back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal. She's looking for the future in the books people love, and the words that they leave behind. 
Sometimes you need the poets
Yep. It's gorgeous. It's the sort of novel that leaves you wishing the characters - and the world in which they exist, and particularly the bookshop - were real. I love it even better than Cath Crowley's previous novel, Graffiti Moon, which I love a whole lot. If you love books, and bookshops, and letters, and brilliant, beautiful, romantic, heartbreaking Australian contemporary YA (of course you do!), then you will love this novel.

Before I go off on an endless, rambling explanation of why this book is so lovely, here's the interview - it's so inspiring (for me!) to hear about Cath Crowley's inspirations, process and influences... and I hope it is for you, too!

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Steph: I read Graffiti Moon back in 2010 and it’s one of my favourite YA novels. So I’ve been very much looking forward to Words In Deep Blue since then – and the wait was definitely worth it. What was your writing process for this novel? How did the novel evolve over time?

Cath: Hi Steph, I’m a great fan of your writing, so that’s a great compliment. Thank you.

The novel certainly changed over time. It always had at its centre the story of Rachel and her brother, Cal, and the importance of words. But originally it was set in a mysterious nightclub. It was about three or four drafts before I decided to set it in Howling Books, and that was the point when the plot felt right. Howling Books felt like a character. Graffiti Moon evolved slowly too. I think that’s just my process.

Steph: Words In Deep Blue is full of literary references – did you draw them from your own favourites, or read and select books especially for your characters to love? What are the books that are most important to you?

Cath: I did choose books that were favourites of mine – I made huge lists of novels that I loved, and the lines that I loved in them. The hard part was working out what to leave out. I knew Great Expectations had to go in because Henry’s father loved Dickens, right from the moment he appeared in the page. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell gave Rachel the idea of transmigration. It’s one of my all time favourites, so I knew that would be in the book. And Henry, right from the moment I wrote him loved Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’.

Steph: The bookstore, Howling Books, is almost a character of its own in the novel, and is the sort of place I wish existed in reality. What inspired the bookstore? Have you been a bookseller yourself, or would you like to be a bookseller? If you owned a bookstore, what would you call it?

Cath: I haven’t been a bookseller. I did a bit of research. In fact, I met my future husband while researching (he’s a writer and a bookseller). He gave me a lot of information about the art of bookselling, although I ignored some of it to write the book. Places like Alice’s Bookshop on Rathdowne, The Known World Bookshop in Ballarat inspired me. The people who work there love finding things in second-hand books. If I owned a bookstore I think I would call it Howling Books.

Steph: The novel has two narrators and numerous letters by different writers, and the many voices are all authentic and compelling. How did you go about creating the two distinct voices of the protagonists? Do characters come to you full-formed or require development? (I will admit that Henry is my favourite.)

Cath: Henry’s my favourite too He felt right from the start. Rachel took a long time. I think because I’d never felt that level of sustained grief. She didn’t arrive fully until after my father died, and I realised that there’s no one way to grieve. We all go off on our private roads, and so I stopped worrying if Rachel’s grief felt real.

Steph: The letters included throughout the novel were beautiful and tragic and integral to the story. What inspired you to include letters as part of the narrative? Were there any letters that didn’t make the cut? Are you a letter-writer?

Cath: A lot of letters didn’t make the cut. They were hard to include because the narrative didn’t work when it was written solely as letters and having only some letters had the potential to make the narrative feel disconnected. I took a lot of good advice from my editors on what was needed and what wasn’t. I love the idea that we can say quite personal things in a letter – more private than we might speak – and that handwriting makes those conversations personal. I wanted Rachel to reveal herself on the page, the way people in the Letter Library were revealing themselves.

Steph: What inspires your work? Who are the writers and artists you admire? And – finally – what advice would you give to writers looking for inspiration and trying to create meaningful work?

Cath: I admire anyone who finishes a book. Writing is hard. But I particularly admire writers who are taking chances, and trying something new. My advice to writers looking for inspiration is to read widely. Read about the process of other writers. I just finished Charlotte Wood’s The Writing Room. It’s brilliant I know I’ll go back to it again and again, and learn something new about writing every time.

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Thank you Cath!

To find out more about Words In Deep Blue, check it out on Pan Macmillan's website. If you're interested in reading the reviews and interviews at other blog tour stops, they're listed below.

Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie

Friday, July 1, 2016

In a dead-end town like Barwen a girl has only got to be a little different to feel like a freak. And Clancy, a typical sixteen-year-old misfit with a moderately dysfunctional family, a genuine interest in Nature Club and a major crush on the local hot girl, is packing a capital F.

As the summer begins, Clancy’s dad is involved in a road smash that kills two local teenagers. While the family is dealing with the reaction of a hostile town, Clancy meets someone who could possibly—at last—become a friend. Not only that, the unattainable Sasha starts to show what may be a romantic interest.

In short, this is the summer when Clancy has to figure out who the hell she is.

(I was lucky enough to help launch Clancy of the Undertow at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane way back in December. I've recommended the novel to many people since I first read it, but never got around to posting a review: so here you go!)

I really enjoyed Clancy of the Undertow, and I was really struck by how authentic the voice of Clancy was. I think especially when you have met writers you can get a real sense of authorial voice intruding on the story, so you've got this sense of the intrusion of the author, which can be good and can be bad. In the case of Clancy of the Undertow, it was just Clancy, which made me suspect that Christopher Currie perhaps went on a trip to rural Queensland and discovered a very well-written, quite sad journal written by a gay teenage girl.

I think it's very tempting in Young Adult fiction when you're focusing on the central teenage characters to disappear the parents, because it's just a lot more convenient. What I loved in Clancy was the involvement and realism and nuance of Clancy's relationships with her parents and her brothers, and how that was developed.

Clancy lives in the dead-end town of Barwen, and both the landscape, the actual physical place, and the atmosphere, the attitudes of the townspeople are beautifully evoked. There's a very rich tradition in Australian fiction of romanticising rural Australia, but in Clancy's case her town is just awful and very insular. At the same time, small-town mentality - particularly among youth - seems incredibly accurately captured.

Clancy's brother Angus is a conspiracy theorist and is obsessed with cryptozoology and finding evidence of the existence of the fabled "Beast of Barwen", which is an aspect of the story that's both intriguing and amusing. (I'm not one for conspiracy theories, though I did genuinely believe in the existence of the Yowie as a child.) The dialogue is genuine, and the female friendship is endearing.

It's a gorgeous novel, and yet another example of excellent Australian YA. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to both teenaged and older readers.

Killing off the Cliché: Female Protagonists in Crime Panel (Brisbane, August 27)!

Friday, June 24, 2016

I am thrilled to appear on a crime writing panel at Old Government House on August 27, a Miss Fisher's Special Event held during the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Costume Exhibition. Here are the details:

Killing off the Cliché: Female Protagonists in Crime Panel
Join some of Queensland’s most exciting home-grown crime authors as they delve into the world of crime writing and how they challenge the stereotypes of the female protagonist. Killing off the cliché is a discussion panel hosted by Penny Holliday, QUT Academic in Creative Writing and Literary Studies, and joined by authors and Sisters in Crime members Mirandi Riwoe, T.J Hamilton, Lea Scott and Steph Bowe. Don’t miss this killer opportunity to take part in a captivating crime writing conversation.

DATE: Saturday 27 August 2016 
TIME: 2pm – 3.30pm

WHERE: The Day Nursery, Old Government House, Brisbane

COST: 
Trust Member $40 
Non-member $45 
(includes light refreshments and admission to the exhibition) 
limit of 36 people

Bookings open June 27. For further details, and to book, visit the Old Government House website.

Too Cool For School YA Author Panel - Dymocks Brisbane, July 6!

Friday, June 17, 2016

UPDATE: This panel has been moved to Wednesday, July 6 at 3pm!

I'm excited to be appearing on a panel at Dymocks Brisbane at 3pm on July 6, alongside some terrific YA writers! Here's the info:

Love reading? Love YA?

Join us these school holidays for our FREE EVENT

#TooCoolForSchool YA Author Panel

Five wonderful authors; Richard Newsome, Christopher Currie, Steph Bowe, Paula Weston and Julie Fison will discuss their books and crafting stories for teens.

This is a FREE event and suitable for teens aged 12 - 17.

There are prizes to be won, book signings and hillarity to be had. Bookings are essential.

For further details, and to book, check out the event on Dymocks Brisbane's Facebook page.
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