Kirsten Krauth: I'll show you mine if you show me yours

Kirsten Krauth
Kirsten Krauth is an Australian blogger, editor and novelist. She is also the curator of Friday Night Fictions, an exciting new monthly online series for debut fiction writers that I follow with interest. Kirsten's own debut novel, reviewed by me below, was released this year, and I was, proudly, at the launch. She has also just launched this new web initiative called I'll show you mine if you show me yours in which authors exchange reviews of each other's work. It's another terrific idea that helps grow the review space online. You can read Kirsten's review of my latest book, Destination Cambodia, here.

In the meantime, let's see what I made of Kirsten's debut novel, the intriguingly-titled just_a_girl

Another reviewer of Kirsten Krauth’s recent novel just_a_girlDanielle over at Alpha Reader – described it as “a tough book...a necessary book. And one that I want to pass on to quite a few people.” This is precisely how I felt after reading it, having been skilfully managed by Krauth as she constantly teases the reader’s emotions, sliding us from anxiety, into fear and out into a kind of defiant memory of adolescence that leaves you with very conflicted feelings about the state of contemporary early adulthood.

The novel’s heroine, Layla, is a sullen and sexually precocious 15 year-old, more woman than child, and struggling to deal with the various roles she feels forced to fill. The author is adept at creating thoroughly believable characters, and I was absorbed in Layla’s own self-destruction, so wilful, so bloody-minded and so reminiscent of my own attitudes at that age. Just_a_girl is no moralistic, eye-winking lecture about the badness of yoof today. It is much more complex, much more subtle and much more real than that. As such I should imagine it will make for confronting reading for parents, and hugely entertaining for young people entering adolescence. Layla is the most flesh-and-blood teenaged character I have encountered in Australian fiction for years.

Layla’s mother is, perhaps because I am an adult reader, the most fascinating and engaging character in the book. A single parent immersed in the life of a Sydney mega-church, her chapters, written in the first person, expose a spiritually confused, emotionally raw woman who aches for the love of God but who is still too wounded from a lack of more conventional affection. She is coming off antidepressants and is more than half in love with her pastor, a Pentecostal smoothie called Bevan who, with his picture-perfect wife, encourages Sydney suburbanites to prosper through praising the Lord. The mother’s entire life becomes filtered through the prism of Riverlay Church’s peculiar worldview, and the celebrity pastor often stands in for Jesus himself in her own peculiar theology.

Kirsten Krauth captures so perfectly the myriad anxieties and bathetic crises of adolescent life, occasionally making me laugh out loud in recognition. When Layla describes her teacher, for example, who, underwhelmed by a lack of student participation, says “Well, it looks like I’m just going to have to pick someone. And I know my name is coming next.”  Part of the charm of the novel is its own lack of pretension and the restraint the author shows in depicting some of the conventional concerns about modern childhood. Yes, Layla does get involved in cybersex, hooking up with older men and on-line bullying. But yes, she also has a kind of regular teenage life in which bigger, more historically conventional, matters loom, like a mother who drives her crazy, a largely absent father, and an overwhelming desire to find a hot boyfriend who loves her back.

Layla, with her casual obscenities and a very acute awareness of her own sexuality, is a perfect teller of stories, and has a capacity for acid social observation that will be familiar to anyone who has encountered the caustically honest tongues of teenagers. Observing that she is the inevitable crazy-magnet on the train, she describes one encounter with perfect economy:

“...he’s got the look. It’s always about energy. Crazies move around a lot. They can’t seem to control their limbs.”

What I loved about just_a_girl was its daring. There is very little cliché in here, and a great deal to challenge lazy pop-cultural assumptions about premature sexualisation and the readiness of young people to deal effectively increasingly social forms of online media. While she is very often powerless and shamed, Layla is also frequently aware of her own incredible power, both psychological and sexual, and the ways she can exploit that to her advantage. The book raises complex and deeply uncomfortable questions about the role of the internet in the development of the sexual identities of 21st century teenagers, and just because you may not like it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. This is a story about the pragmatism, and even the occasional wisdom, of youth, and never lets itself stray into the shock-media’s narratives about what’s going wrong with our children.

That’s not to say this is a laugh-riot about coming-of-age. The book has justly been compared to Puberty Blues, and for me the most poignant moment came when Layla, through a series of worrisome sexual misadventures, is left feeling ugly and alone, unsure of her body and of the dynamics of adult sexual encounters:

“Was I too tall, too fat, too thin, too smart, too hairy, too sweet, too knowing, too sexy, too talkative, too self-conscious, too angry?
Too fucking alive?”

There is laid bare the real memory of adolescent awakening in which existential angst is imposed upon the fragile and inexplicable body. Anyone reading this passage, female or male, will be jolted by painful memories of their own, similar, internal dialogues at key moments of crisis. The angst is unsubtle, corporeal, and almost laughably simplified. Krauth just gets teenagers.

I’m wary of making this book sound worthy, like some kind of self-conscious exercise in social observation. Above all it is a fantastic read, a well-crafted and brilliantly engaging book which I know any young reader would delight in. It is naughty, irreverent and constantly honest, and Kirsten Krauth keeps the reader engaged through short, pithy, first-person chapters and constant unexpected twists in the story.

Read Shelleyrae Cusbert's review of just_a_girl on Book'd Out here

Walter Mason: Adventures in the Kingdom

I am speaking at the Tom Keneally Centre at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts in the Sydney CBD.

The Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts is a fine old Sydney institution, and if you haven't visited before this is your perfect excuse to see a beautiful old building and one of Sydney's longest-running cultural institutions. Indeed, historian Garry Wotherspoon has just written a history of the School (and is also speaking about it soon).

My talk is a free event, but places are limited, so please call and book soon. Full details:

Due to an emergency situation resulting in the the Police closing Pitt Street, Walter Mason’s talk on the 16/10 was unable to go ahead as planned. We apologise for any inconvenience this situation beyond our control may have caused.

The good news is that Walter’s talk will go ahead at the rescheduled time of Wednesday 23rd of October, 12:30-1:30pm.

Walter Mason: Adventures in the Kingdom of Cambodia
Wednesday, 23 October 2013, 12:30pm – 1:30pm 

Venue: Tom Keneally Centre at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts.

Join travel writer and raconteur Walter Mason as he takes us on an illustrated journey through Cambodia, one of the most fascinating countries in Asia.

From the grounds of crowded Buddhist monasteries, through the mountains of Battambang and into the parlours of shamanesses channelling 900 year old princesses, Walter’s special fascination with the mystical traditions of the Khmer people have given him a unique insight into a coutry more commonly identified with suffering, genocide and the horrors of war.

The tantalising ruins of Angkor Wat are inhabited, not just by poorly-dressed tourists, but also by a spiritual memory and prophetic tradition that dates back centuries.

Cambodia has mystified and enthralled travellers for hundreds of years, but only now are people beginning to discover a country and a people looking forward, and not just backward to its tragic past. Walter will tell some of the stories and show some of the images behind his latest book, Destination Cambodia.

FREE – Bookings are essential.
Bookings:  BOOK on 02 9262 7300 OR

A most adventurous event

A funny thing happened on the way to an author event today....

I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, ready for a fabulous talk at the Tom Keneally Centre at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts. I knew the event was booked out, so I had taken special care to prepare a really knockout talk for the kind people who were coming to hear me.

But when I arrived I saw that the whole block of Pitt St outside the SMSA was cordoned off. There were cranes, fire trucks, policemen and ambulances. And no-one was allowed to get past any of it, though the entrance to the School of Arts was just a few footsteps away.There had been a fire, and things were quite dangerous, apparently.

More and more people began to collect, many of whom I suspected were my own audience. A very elegantly dressed woman looked me up and down and said, "I think I am here to see you..."

Then it all got crazy.

There were cameras and I wound up on Channel 10 News and Radio 2GB.

My friend Evan Smith was standing in front of the TV at just the right moment

Friends took happy snaps of me at the scene of the disaster, and keen punters suggested we take the whole talk to a nearby cafe.

With travel writer Rosamund Buron and some of my crowd

We didn't, but I did whip out my trusty bag of books and start selling and signing. Nothing keeps an author away from a willing audience.

I met many charming people who had come along to see me from places as far afield as the Blue Mountains! Because we were milling around with nothing to do, I ended up having several fascinating conversations with readers and people interested in Cambodia. One lovely lady told me a beautiful story of how her trip to Vietnam had been enriched by reading my book Destination Saigon and following some of its advice. What a lovely thing for an author to hear!

And there were celebrities! Drifting through the crowd were writers Rosamund Burton and Zena Shapter, along with television personality and curator Joy Hopwood. 

I hung around right to the bitter end, like the trooper that I am. The show must go on! But the emergency services kept the street closed, and so ended my most exciting and bizarre author event yet.
And now for the good news!

My SMSA talk has been re-scheduled and you are invited to attend!

Please note that last time the talk booked out completely, and those who were booked in are all being called and asked if they wanted to come again. But you have a brief window of opportunity to get in - I can promise it will be lots of fun.

Full details:

Join travel writer and raconteur Walter Mason as he takes us on an illustrated journey through Cambodia, one of the most fascinating countries in Asia.
FREE - Please book on 02 9262 7300 or

Vietnam's literary sensation Di Li

Vietnamese author Di Li

For the past fews I have made the acquaintance of Vietnamese writer, blogger and journalist Di Li (Nguyen Dieu Linh), one of the most exciting and outgoing of a new generation of Vietnamese authors writing about modern Vietnam and its place in the world.
Based in Hanoi, Di Li is famous for her journalism about the Vietnamese literary scene and for her own brand of sexy, daring and sometimes paranormal chick lit. Her generosity as a writer and her love of new influences means that she has reached out to many foreign writers visiting Vietnam, and I share her friendship with Australian writers Emily Maguire and Jan Cornall.
I have recently received two very exciting gifts from Di Li. The first is her collection of short stories in English, The Black Diamond.

This is a thoroughly unique book, and one which all visitors to Vietnam should read. The minute you arrive hit the bookshops and seek out a copy, published by The Gioi Publishers, Vietnam's largest. Instead of explaining it to you, I will just let you see the blurb I wrote which, I am delighted to discover, appears on the back of the book:

The second item that thrills me is Di Li's collection of conversations with writers, Chuyen Lang Van.

I was idly leafing through it when I stumbled upon my own plump face, and a full interview with me that DiLi did for one of the Vietnamese magazines.

Vietnamese readers will be very interested in this fascinating collection.

Dinner at James' Bistro in Fairfield

I'd like to invite you all out to Fairfield, which is currently undergoing something of a dining renaissance.
I mean, it's always been home to some cult favourites, places such as Al Dhiaffah Iraqi restaurant, the Filipino eatery on The Crescent and a whole slew of cheap and humble Lao restaurants.
But last year Lao-Australian restaurant entrepreneur Tona Inthavong burst onto the scene with his wife, Sarah, launching the modern Lao-Thai eatery Green Peppercorn which became an instant success and was named by the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food under $30 guide as best new restaurant of 2013. You still have to queue  up to get into the place, and every dish I have ever eaten there has been perfect. It's my favourite place to treat myself.
Now Tona and Sarah have launched a new initiative, the petite but groovy James' Bistro attached to the Crescent Hotel.

Feature wall at James' Bistro, Fairfield

the place is being run by chef Kim, the charming, talented and (it has to be said) disconcertingly handsome young chef who was responsible for the food at the launch of my latest book Destination Cambodia.
Kim served us up the most delicious fish and chips, along with some scrumptious mini sliders which included a new take on the beloved traditional banh mi.

My delicious mini-sliders at James' Bistro

The place was packed with groovy young locals, and big biceps and tattoos were much in evidence among the clientele.
Desserts here are a real winner, with me enjoying the simly delicious pannacotta crumble and then going on to eat most of Thang's salted caramel creme brulee. I wanted more, more, more!
James' Bistro is well worth checking out.
Read Mr. Noodlies' review here.

James' Bistro

Corner of Smart & Crescent Street
Fairfield, NSW 2165

Monday to Sunday (Lunch) - 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Monday to Sunday (Dinner) - 5:00PM - 10:30 PM

Lunch at Pu'er in Waterloo

I love eating out.
I know you know that, and I know that my curvaceous fiugure bears testimony to the fact :-)
And today I had the most terrific lunch at Pu'er in Waterloo.

The gorgeous chinoise interior at Pu'er

This glam but unpretentious restaurant serves modern Asian cuisine and a full range of Chinese teas, served up by tea-master and owner Siev Gour.
Mr. Noodlies and I had an outrageously indulgent lunch (but never fear, health nuts - we skipped dinner), enjoying such things as Gangnam BBQ Chicken, scallop siu mai and a delicious eggplant cheese gratin that would please any vegetarian. Oh, and a bo kho sandwich inspired  by Siev's Cambodian-Chinese childhood in Southwestern Sydney - damn it was good. We accompanied it all with some of Siev's best tea, a smoky, woody tieguanyin, and a truly delicious iced tea made from jasmine tea, papaya and pineapple. It was absolutely genius, and exquisitely subtle.The desserts were pretty fab as well.

My brownie at Pu'er - exquisitely rich with a scoop of coffee ice cream

I don't know about you, but I find so many of these modern Asian joints sadly lacking in flavour,  but every dish I tried today at Pu'er was absolutely delicious, and I will definitely be back. I can't recommend the place highly enough.
It helps that the proprietor, Mr. Gour, rates pretty highly on the hunk-o-meter, as you can see in this pic:

Walter Mason, Siev Gour and Thang Ngo at Pu'er on Danks


20a Danks Street Waterloo
NSW Australia 2017
P: 02 8399 1331

Closed Mondays & public holidays
Lunch 12pm-3pm
Dinner 6pm-late
Tea & Dumplings all day Sat & Sun

The launch of Felicity Castagna's new Young Adult novel The Incredible Here and Now

My friend and colleague Felicity Castagna contacted me a couple of weeks ago inviting me to the launch of her new Young Adult novel The Incredible Here and Now at Gleebooks. Sadly I had to send my apologies because I would still be in Adelaide teaching at the Life Writing Bootcamp at the SA Writers' Centre. Turns out I was back in time, and so this afternoon I headed in to see my gorgeous friend in her moment of triumph. I h ave been a fan of Felicity's ever since I read her first book, Small Indiscretions, which I reviewed in the Singapore Review of Books.
Felicity is something of a superwoman. As well as producing this beautifully written and startlingly original collection of short fiction set in Sydney's Western suburbs, she has also produced a beautful baby boy and been awarded her doctorate of creative arts. All, it seems, while barely breaking a sweat.
The new book has been published by the wonderfully innovative Giramondo Publishing, and publisher Professor Ivor Indyk (full disclosure - also my academic supervisor) was there offering a few wise words, followed by a fulsome launch speeech by YA author Irini Savvides.

One of Felicity Castagna's images of Western Sydney

Felicity read some short segments from the book, which were all briulliant, as well as showing some of her stark and occasionally meditative images of Western Sydney.

Felicity Castagna launches her new book

In the audience I spotted novelist Gail Jones and Michael Richardson, one of the editors of the soon-to-be-published collection of essays on trauma, Traumatic Effect.
Irini Savvides exposed the breadth of her reading by asking me if I was the person mentioned in American author Doreen Virtue's recent  book on the Virgin Mary, Mary, Queen of Angels. I admitted that it was indeed me, and that the stories I told in its pages were all true. You really should check it out.

Walter Mason has Felicity Castagna sign his copy of her new book

Related Posts with Thumbnails