MonthMarch 2020

First-time authors in running for youth literary awards

Children’s Book Council of Australia 2020 shortlist announced

The Children’s Book Council of Australia is a not-for-profit, volunteer-run organisation whose mission is to promote and advocate for the sharing of quality literature for young people across Australia. It showcases Australian creators and collaborates widely to foster a love of reading.

Barbie speaks with Professor Margot Hillel OAM about the awards
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Valerie Albrecht – Thirty Days

Self-published, 2020

I have taken a different approach to writing about Valerie Albrecht’s beautiful book about grieving. The launch of this book came just before the cancellations and closures of many things due to the COIVD-19 pandemic.

It was to be launched by natural death advocate and artist Vickie Hingston-Jones. Vickie is also President of the Artists Society of Canberra. Sadly, Vickie was unwell on the occasion of the launch, but she has kindly consented to the reproduction of her opening address.

Valerie Albrecht talks to Barbie about Thirty Days
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Natasha Lester – The Paris Secret

Hachette, Australia, 2020

In some ways this book concerns itself with the same central issue as The French Photographer – the efforts of women to be recognised in traditionally male preserves in the mid-20th century.

Natasha Lester also continues her interest in the second World War, its victories and atrocities, writing with intensely sensitive touch on the horrors of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, the work of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) and the French Resistance.

Natasha Lester talks to Barbie about The Paris Secret
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Canberra Artists Action Group

Online at with meetings online at 12:30pm every Wednesday.

Dozens of Canberra-based arts organisations as well as hundreds of performers, artists and other creatives have come together to help support the arts community during the COVID-19 challenge.

The Canberra Arts Action Group, originally formed in late 2016 in response to changes in arts funding in the ACT, has been reactivated. The group is open to all with a stake in the arts and entertainment, including artists, arts workers and member of the community who engage in the Canberra region.

Barbie speaks with spokesperson Michael Sollis about the Canberra Arts Action Group
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Shamini Flint – Inspector Singh investigates A Calamitous Chinese Killing

Piatkus, Great Britain, 2013
Book 6 in the Inspector Singh Investigates series

This brings me to the end of the Inspector Singh series, as I started at the most recent (A Frightfully English Execution) before acquiring the rest of the books and then reading in order.

The story begins with reference to the ethnic divide in Singapore (Chinese, Malay, Indian). As is her wont, Mrs Singh has a view and is not backward at expressing it, condemning cheap Chinese goods and China Girls (‘Up to no good until proven otherwise!’) with equal vehemence. We pass quickly into the ‘dark matter’ of the imprisonment of Chinese intellectuals, the suppression of dissenting views, the disappearance of the discontented and rebellious.

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Shamini Flint – Inspector Singh investigates A Curious Indian Cadaver

Piatkus, Great Britain, 2012
Book 5 in the Inspector Singh Investigates series

Inspector Singh is on medical leave after an incident at the end of the Cambodian investigation, on which I will not elaborate to avoid spoiling your read if you haven’t yet got to it. It is probably due to the boredom of staying at home that he relents and allows Mrs Singh to cajole him into attending a family wedding in Mumbai.

Predictably the social event turns into a disappearance and murder investigation, making it much more fun for the canny inspector. As in all of the books in this series, while we are engrossed in the crime solving, there are many more issues to consider.

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Gunning Arts Festival to go online

17 to 18 April 2020

Gunning Arts Festival committee has decided to postpone the physical Gunning Arts Festival to comply with national precautions to help control the spread of COVID-19. However, recognising the even greater need now for some community building and uplift, the committee has resolved to produce an online Festival this year.

Gunning Arts Festival’s Margarita Georgiadis talks about preparations for the online festival
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Online Crime Writers Festival, 26-29 March 2020

Murder She Wrote – Terror Australis Festival 2020 replay

Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival (TAWRF), based in southern Tasmania, are deeply saddened by the current postponement or cancellation of writers’ festivals.

For the enjoyment and distraction of book lovers everywhere, TAF is offering a free online writers festival – a reprise of the November 2019 festival from the comfort and confinement of your own home.

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F A C E Unframed and online from Belconnen Arts Centre

While Belconnen Arts Centre is closed accordance with the nationwide shutdown of public gathering spaces, its F A C E Unframed exhibition will proceed online.

Delivery deadline for artworks is Friday 27 March. You can still drop your entry off in person with a ‘no contact’ option; simply press the intercom for the front desk when you arrive at the Centre, and BAC will open the doors to allow you access to a drop box, where you can deposit your artwork.

Please ensure your name and phone number are attached to your artwork.

Information at

You can also mail your entries to:
Belconnen Arts Centre
PO Box 183
Belconnen ACT 2616

Suzanne Barton and Shannon Horsfall – My Unicorn farts Glitter

Hachette, Australia and NZ, 2020

This rather charming little picture book is just what we need right now. Whilst it may seem at first to be just another jump onto the unicorn bandwagon, this book actually comes with an endearing and important message about the importance of sibling love.

There is just enough icky in it to satisfy young readers/listeners. The artwork is simple and colourful – good for reading to a group and in these days of social distancing probably will come up quite well via Zoom or Skype or other such group online meeting places.

After all, we all need someone in our lives who will share the last bite of his or her icecream cone – post-COVID-19 of course.

Felicity Volk – Desire Lines

Hachette, Australia, 2020

This exquisitely crafted work is Felicity Volk’s second novel. At its simplest level it is the story of a long love between two people so necessary to one another that time does not diminish its potency.

However, there is nothing simple about this deeply metaphorical novel which explores, at both a macro and a universal level, truth and lies, justice and injustice, the national conscience, love and loss, shared and divided histories and the matter of place and displacement. Hanging weightily over it all is the question of the survival of the world and its plant species – present in the act of Evie’s delivery of seeds to the international seed vault in Norway.

Barbie speaks to Felicity Volk about Desire Lines
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Pamela Watson – Gibbous Moon over Lagos

Hardie Grant, Australia, 2020  

Pamela Watson’s thirst for adventure was first documented in her account of her solo bicycle trip across Africa in the nineties. In Gibbous Moon over Lagos she writes of her experiences as an entrepreneur setting up both a social enterprise (Ekologika paper making company) and a for-profit business Strategyworks in Lagos, Nigeria, living and working there from 2004 to 2009.

While to some this may seem a foolhardy venture, it is Pamela Watson’s optimism and pluck that shine out of this interesting account of the vicissitudes of working in a fast-growing economy in a huge African city (21.32 million in 2015).

Pamela Watson talks to Barbie about Gibbous Moon Over Lagos

With humour and self-deprecation the author  shares her various successes and challenges – corruption at all levels, staff issues, the difficulties of a long distance  personal relationship, lack of political leadership, lack of interest at diplomatic level from Australia, personal safety, reliability of fuel and power and  navigating cross-cultural attitudinal differences.

This is a detailed account but one which whips along at the pace of life Pamela Watson so enjoyed in Lagos. There are constant problems to be solved and a large cast of characters (names changed and usually a mélange of people from the real world) to get our heads around. We do feel very present in this work as Pamela speaks honestly and openly about her ‘mistakes’. She see the whole experience as an opportunity for learning and growth and as readers we are very much plumping for her as she faces one catastrophe after another whilst maintaining her ethics and faith in the human beings she is working with – even in the face of damning evidence.

It is a philosophical Pamela Watson we see at story’s end. We are conscious too that it is a continuing story for her. Her connection with and love for Africa and the possibilities it holds for the disadvantaged in the population are unscathed by her experiences of disappointment and betrayal. She continues to see people as ‘just people’, everywhere facing the same demons, everywhere showing the same capacity for camaraderie or for duplicity.

The African proverbs with which she starts each chapter are startlingly apposite at a time when her own book tour was cancelled due to COVID-19. I like this one:

However long the night, the dawn will break. (page 151)

And equally in her case:

Where a woman rules, streams run uphill. (page 163)


Sulari Gentill – A Testament of Character

Pantera Press, Australia, 2020

Sulari Gentill’s work is often reviewed as an easy read. Indeed the Rowland Sinclair series are highly readable, compelling works – we can hardly read fast enough to take in the words.

This facility is not easy to achieve. It is a mark of Sulari’s literary prowess that she can spin us through the intricacies of her plots, engage our emotions with her now almost familial main characters and their supporting casts, and subtly instruct us in the fascinating details of the period of history in which the stories sit.

Barbie speaks with Sulari Gentill about A Testament of Character
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New album – The Witness by Dorothy-Jane

The Witness album depicts the true story of a period of intense upheaval in the life of Canberra singer, songwriter and blues-harp player, Dorothy-Jane.

This concept album was born from a defining moment of Dorothy-Jane witnessing her husband molesting a child, through the breakdown of family relationships, finding the strength to take the stand and assist in incarcerating him, to her reaching a place of relative stability and beginning to establish a new normal.

Barbie speaks with Dorothy-Jane about The Witness
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