The sky was turning petrol blue and the air held notes of spring. Anna George, What Came Before.

MY NEXT AUS WOMEN WRITERS  challenge read this year is Anna George’s contemporary fiction/psychological drama, What Came Before. It’s her first book, arriving on the scene in June this year (2014) and it’s a punchy page turner. Ms George has a delightful way with words and dispatches the story with style and class. I’ve underlined quite a few one liners in the book that lift the text and make it sing.

The sky was turning petrol blue and the air held notes of spring.

Petrol blue? How good is that?

The story revolves around David Forrester and Elle Nolan. When Dave and Elle meet, an instant and dynamic romance begins. They both revel in what Elle describes as the psychological term, Limerence- the euphoria of romantic attraction – and dream of long term plans.

But Elle is a romantic comedy script writer, and she can’t help but dissect their new found love like it’s a chess game. She questions her every feeling and action, mocking herself, to the detriment of their relationship. Dave, haunted by unhealthy baggage, struggles with the normal mechanisms of human interaction resulting in uncomfortable and unhappy exchanges.

As their tumultuous affair unfolds their desire to be in a relationship that heralds an opportunity for them both to become parents has them naively explain away Dave’s increasingly unpredictable and violent behaviour.

I don’t think it gives too much of the story away to say Ms George draws the reader in from the get go with Dave’s surprising confession of  Elle’s murder.  As the title suggests, we are taken on the ride of what came before the murder with an in-depth and sensitive probing of the emotional side of Dave and Elle’s road to disaster. We spend time understanding the slightly delusional Dave as he unfolds his version of the story and we hover delicately in the mind of the murdered Elle who watches over her own murder scene in lovely dream like sequences.

Elle hovers forlornly above her wall-hung dryer. Outside, the night is cooler and deserted. Nothing is moving, not even a possum. Despite the dozen small houses nudging against hers, no one besides Mira and Doris knows her intimate routine. No one else knows to rap and shout. No one else will be looking. But perhaps that’s not so bad. She’s not ready, she realises, to be found — to be publicly dead.

Ms George has worked in the legal profession, the film industry, and is a reviewer for The Age Newspaper. Her knowledge of what makes a good story comes together to kick this book into a superbly delivered page turner.  Readers will feel they are in good hands.

A shorter version of this review appears in The Bendigo Weekly Newspaper

he curses the child that he seems to drag around with him wherever he goes

My favourite bit is the use of the parenthesis.

As he says it, he curses the child that he seems to drag around with him wherever he goes, and who always shoots his gob off at precisely the wrong moment, embarrassing the all-too-fragile construction of this grown-up Michael (watching). Surely she is wondering what on earth she is doing here with a baby face, on the verge of embarrassing tears.

The Time We Have Taken, Steven Carroll pg 42

Fourth estate 2007

“Science fiction was a big help.” Kurt Vonnegut-So it goes.



I was trawling through some old notes looking for a specific quote and came across this one from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. I’m yet to find what I was looking for, but this was pretty good.


Kilgore Trout became Billy’s favorite living author, and science fiction became the only sort of tales he could read.

Rosewater was twice as smart as Billy, but he and Billy were dealing with similar crisis in similar ways. They had both found life meaningless, partly because of what they had seen in war. Rosewater, for instance, had shot a fourteen-year-old fireman, mistaking him for a German soldier. So it goes. And Billy had seen the greatest massacre in European history, which was the fire -bombing at Dresden. So it goes.

So they were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help.

Reading to put your brain in the right state – Steven Carroll, The Time We Have Taken

When I’m working on something, I like to read from any of my favourite books to put my brain in the right frame of mind. You know, slow it down a bit and find a rhythm. I pick up a book and open to any page and read. Today’s read was from Steven Carroll’s The Time We Have Taken pg 132  (Fourth Estate paperback 2007)

You can see the influence from one of Steven Carroll’s favourite authors, Proust, in the long sentences, the rhythm, and the use of the senses.

The smell of previous-night’s-beer is unmistakable. And with the whiff of old beer she is simultaneously seeing Vic falling through the front door, stumbling through the house, and that old familiar feeling of wretchedness is upon her once again, and the memory of that wretched madness that swelled her heart to the point of exploding all those years ago is now more than a memory. It’s a smell. And smells make things happen all over again. And she knows she doesn’t want these memories again, but knows they won’t go till the smell does. Then she sees further signs of disruption, even as she’s dwelling on this business of smell and weight and love and why it had to be like that. For she has entered Michael’s old bedroom, which has changed little since he left, and noticed immediately that the bed has been disturbed. Slept in. And with the observation comes an involuntary shiver. A half-hearted attempt has been made to make it, a quilt thrown over the bed almost contemptuously. Brazenly. And as this strangers perfume– which she knows to be a common, cheap scent that young girls these days go for — as this strangers perfume mingles with the sight of the shabbily remade bed, the word ‘tart’ comes to her again. And she is convinced that Michael has not only sneaked back into the house when she was not there like some creature with guilt written all over his face, he has dragged a tart back into their house, her house, with him. And she knows straight away that this is not the act of her Michael, upon whom she rested the weight of the love she was left with (when Vic couldn’t carry it any more), her Michael who had always told her that her dresses were just right when the street sneered. No, it wasn’t him, but some other Michael with a tart in his ear.

Recoils like snails shot with vinegar: Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre



It’s not the first time I’ve quoted Vernon God Little, and since I’m only part way in ( and being a fan of DBC Pierre I’ve also quoted from Lights out in Wonderland ) I don’t think this will be the last time you see me quoting from this book. He really does have a way with words to be envious of.


On mothers. (I am one, I can quote it. ):


Between you and me, it’s like she planted a knife in my back when I was born, and now every fucken noise she makes just gives it a turn. P7


One for the writers:


When the rubbing of her thighs has faded, I crane my nostrils for any vague comfort; a whiff of warm toast, a spearmint breath. But all I whiff, over the sweat and the barbecue sauce, is school – the kind of pulse bullyboys give off when they spot a quiet one, a wordsmith, in a corner. The scent of lumber being cut for a fucken cross. P11


Describing the weather without  putting yourself and readers to sleep can be a challenge, no fear here:


Outside a jungle of clouds has grown over the sun. They kindle a whiff of damp dog that always blows around here before a storm, burping lightening without a sound. Fate clouds. They mean get the fuck out of town, go visit Nana or something, until things quiet down, until the truth seeps out. Get rid of the drugs from home, then take a road trip. P13


One I wish I’d thought of first:


Gurie’s chin recoils like snails shot with vinegar. P26



Jesus Sandals and Anchovette, by Joanna Atherfold Finn





Delicate and sweet writing from the point-of-view of an eight-year-old child, but what is really great about this piece is that it’s written in second person. I haven’t read a second person story before this that isn’t in the form of letter or diary. (If you know of any, comment below I’d love to read it) In this instance it gives the reader a strong sense of being right with the character and somehow helps to put you in the mind of the child. There’s nothing bad to say about this; it’s gorgeous, a must read.

This story is from the Amanda Lohrey Selects series at Spineless Wonders Publishing.

There is so much information about the little girl (and the family) to be gleaned from these few opening sentences.

You look out the back window of the lime-green Galant to the curved struts of the rusting balcony, the top step where you grinned (gap-toothed) for your first-day-of-school photo, the pine tree with its dying centre. Behind the gate is your cubby house with foundations so deep it can’t be moved. Next door, Mr Carter is spraying his cumquat trees. You picture Mrs Carter inside sitting at the kitchen table doing her crossword, and Jesus hanging from his cross, observing her forlornly. She has told you he is all-knowing. You wonder why he doesn’t drop a hint now and then.

The sentences are dripping with descriptions of colour and images,

A row of blue-headed pins protruded from her pillowy lips. Her smooth forehead bobbed as you revolved in tiny increments.

and descriptions that can pull you back right there with the little girl. We know where they are even before it’s made clear.

He leads you through glass doors with his hand clamped around the back of your neck, past nicotine-yellow tables, over kaleidoscope carpet. A row of men are perched on stools, their thick arms bent across blue towels, their hairy legs dangling. Their hair is shrinking into their skulls. They are stunted and swollen like the puffer fish you poke with a stick on the beach.



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