Thursday, 5 November 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ November 2015

I had trouble starting the latest Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction...

 – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – mainly because it seemed too dense – too many details but I did come to revel in this fine book. The author took ten years to finally finish this so take the time to enjoy it. There are two contrasting stories: one about a blind girl whose father works in the Museum of Natural History in Paris where he is in charge of all the keys, and another about a boy and his sister living in an orphanage attached to the mining community in Essen. Their stories finally meet in the small town of St. Malo which was almost totally destroyed by Allied bombing at the end of the Second World War. Marie-Laure has unwittingly become the keeper of a precious stone hunted by the Nazi treasure seekers, while Werner has become a fabled fixer of radios, uneasily serving his Nazi commanders.

Many people at home enjoy the afternoons on ABC Radio listening to Richard Glover’s cheerful approach to life, as well as his columns in the newspapers. He has written a thoughtful and amusing memoir called Flesh Wounds in which he recalls his life growing up with an uncaring mother who is also deceiving every one about her own identity. Quite remarkable really that he has turned out such a well-adjusted, cheerful and amusing person. Many thanks go to his loved wife, scriptwriter and author Debra Oswald. Dare I say “this is a nice book”?

I did enjoy The Waiting Room by Melbourne writer Leah Kaminsky. This is mostly set in Israel where the main character is both a mother and a doctor. Her uneasiness in living daily with the threat of some sort of attack is multiplied by her anxiety for her small son. Her days are also interrupted by the voice of her dead mother, once a holocaust survivor, and now giving her daughter regular advice. Will she remain in Israel with her loved Sabra husband or will she return to Melbourne?

Famous Irish writer John Banville has a new novel out called The Blue Guitar. His books are always finely written and this time you could call the work a “stream of consciousness”. Oliver, the narrator and main character was once a successful artist but now has returned to the small town which was his childhood home. He confesses to a secret delight in stealing small things but stealing his friend’s wife is not so small! The novel covers just one year, the current year in Oliver’s life, told as he writes on a large jotter in the kitchen.

Are you enjoying the television detective series called Vera? I am. The stories come from some of the novels written by Anne Cleeves. I recently read, and enjoyed, the latest in the Vera series, which is called The Moth Catcher. These stories are all set around Newcastle in County Durham and I was happy to note there was not much blood and gore! A friend tells me that the stories Anne Cleeves has written which are set in the Shetland Isles are especially good so I have ordered the first two in the series – Raven Black and White Nights. They are being reissued just now, no doubt as a result of the success of the Vera TV series. I noticed that The Moth Catcher is dedicated to “Brenda with Thanks” so I assume this to be Brenda Blythen who plays Vera on TV. My friend tells me that it is worth reading the Shetland series in correct order as things happen in the lives of the characters.

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 18 September 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ September 2015

Some months ago I read a proof copy of Stuart Kells' Penguin and the Lane Brothers which I found totally absorbing.

When I enthused about this book to friends I was amazed how many people said "Who's Sir Allen Lane?" Sacrilege! I'm sure not many customers at Abbey's would have said that! This new counter history of Penguin Books is very much for people interested in the book trade as well as books. I can put my family in this box. When we lived in London, Ron Abbey started the first Penguin Only bookshop in Charing Cross Road, for Colletts, the well-known bookshop up the road. We opened, and closed, four separate Penguin Bookshops in Sydney, and of course knew or knew of most of the characters in this alarming story. In England, Penguin is very much an icon – more so than in America or Australia.

Sir Allen Lane is always regarded as the founder of Penguin – the revolutionary idea of publishing good books at a cheap price and there are many stories about his activities, but Penguin was really founded by Allen and his two brothers (with some other stalwart helpers of course). Their Uncle John, who was a Director of The Bodley Head, a famous imprint, was childless and had suggested Allen, who was then sixteen and named Allen Williams, join the firm as his heir. All members of the family changed their name to Lane. There was an unfortunate outcome here.

When Uncle John died he left his shares in The Bodley Head to Allen but left considerable cash to brothers Richard and John. It was Allen's bad luck that in the near future The Bodley Head went bust so his shares weren't worth much. He never quite got over this and it would go a long way to justifying his scandalous treatment of Richard when the shares in Penguin went on the stock exchange. It was just at the time when Penguin had successfully published D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover so Penguin's name was on everyone's lips. People queued around the block to buy Penguin shares when they were first issued. Allen had persuaded his brother to sell his shares back to himself before the float, this being "the best way" to handle it. He paid Richard 8 shillings yet on the stock exchange they reached a great deal more.

Eventually all three brothers were working at The Bodley Head, living together as young men about town, and very close to each other. In the early days they all contributed in many ways. Allen was, in fact, not much of a reader but an excellent frontman, moving easily in society and always open to suggestions about books or series that should be published. He was more interested in his various lady friends and happy for Richard and John to look after the details. Even Allen Lane's friends admit he was a difficult person and not a very effective CEO but he did have enormous vision and an ego big enough to claim as his own many of the efforts of other people. Penguin and the Lane Brothers is, of course, not published by Penguin. Black Inc are doing this good deed to put the record straight.

This reminds me of the book about Oxford University Press and the making of the giant Oxford English Dictionary. The granddaughter of the famous and revered main editor, Sir James Murray, wrote about this in her book called Caught in the Web of Words. The Press doesn't exactly come out shining in this story. Murray was never properly paid and was left on the outer as he wasn't really an academic, more a self-taught man. Towards the end of his life he was allowed, as a favour, to walk in the academic procession. The book was published by Jonathan Cape Ltd, and was kept in print at Yale University Press where it is today only available as a print-on-demand. You can read another version of this story in Simon Winchester's The Meaning of Everything. After the enormous success of his book The Surgeon of Crowthorne, which is about one of the more eccentric contributors to the OED, it was suggested to him by Oxford University Press, that he might like to write the full story, which he has done in his usual pleasing way.

I was really pleased to see Helen Garner's This House of Grief win the Australian Crime Writers Association prize for NON-FICTION. (read more on the awards)

This sad story of the father who drove his car into a dam and drowned his little boys may seem a difficult choice for readers, but it is in fact a most absorbing story. Helen Garner never fails to offer a profound approach.

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

All Your Friends LIKE This ~ How social networks took over news

Two journos and a geek walk into a bookshop. "What's news?" says the bookseller...

If you need to generate interest in your business, your products or services, or your organisation's ideas, then this is a book you need to read.

All Your Friends LIKE This ~ How social networks took over news - Authors at Abbey's

"But isn't it a book about digital news media?" I hear you ask.

Only on the surface, I reply. That's because the trio of authors came from a news media background. The book however is really for anyone involved in the dispersal of ideas - something which I'm doing right now because I work at Abbey's ~ where ideas grow.

As I write this post, the big news about print news media are the significant lay-offs of journalists across Fairfax's regional printed newspapers. This is because social networks like Facebook and Twitter are becoming the primary delivery channel for news. While older print news outlets are struggling (although targeted niche titles like The Saturday Paper have emerged) the news still happens and newer online media outlets like Buzzfeed and Junkee have drawn the eyeballs.

So what sort of news is being shared? What makes something shareable?

This question captured the attention of the authors of All Your Friends Like This - two journos and a tech-head: Hal Crawford, Andrew Hunter and Domagoj Filipovic, all three having worked at nineMSN at some point. The three decided to build a tracking tool. A web-scraper to gather data from the media website articles, Facebook and Twitter. Filipovic did his thing and The Likeable Engine was born.

Speaking in an interview with Richard Aedy on RN, Filipovic said "When media companies decided to put the LIKE button on all their articles they kind of lost control of the metrics and these things are now publicly available and there for everyone to see". The collation and analysing of this sharing data has given rise to a new industry. "There are companies making complete businesses out of this sort of stuff."

Expanding on how eye-opening the data can be Crawford said "As the information on your audience becomes exposed and you see what your audience is actually doing, everything changes."

In the book they expound their ideas around the four qualities they've determined makes something shareable. To help us keep this in mind, they developed this memorable acronym:

S.E.N.T. - Simple Emotional New Triggered

The story needs to be something that people understand straight away.

Something that tugs at the heart-strings or makes you go Wow!

What works best is the unexpected or the tried 'n' true formula of The Reverse: an example is the classic headline 'Man bites dog!'

If something is before you all the time, it will come to mind more often and then is more likely to be shared. Examples are weather and public transport - things that affect a wide range of people, so they relate more readily to shared articles on the topic.

Once something with a strong blend of the above qualities catches your eye, what is your reason for sharing it?

Crawford, Hunter and Filipovic overlay three motivations behind sharing behaviour:

NEWS-MAKING - this is the traditional idea that 'newshounds' have. It's newsworthy, so share it.

INSPIRING - this is more what we tend to think drives sharing - the sharing of inspirational stories.

TEAMING - But this - THIS - is the heart and soul of it. Most of our sharing is really about us saying something about who we are, what we believe and what we want to be identified with. This involves an aspect of judgement - we approve or disapprove.

I would also call this last aspect TRIBING because the motivations behind this kind of sharing run deep to our core personality - a mindset that we retain throughout our lives. Our sharing is often to seek out or reinforce links with similar-minded members of our tribe.

The War on Journalism: Media Moguls, Whistleblowers and the Price of Freedom - Andrew Fowler

The War on Journalism: Media Moguls, Whistleblowers and the Price of Freedom
Andrew Fowler explores how traditional media has struggled to make the transition from print to online.

More reading:

What's Next in Journalism? New-Media Entrepreneurs Tell Their Stories
Margaret Simons (Ed)

The Deserted Newsroom

Gideon Haigh

Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age
Jonah Berger

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck
Dan Heath & Chip Heath

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future
Jonah Sachs

Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World
Naomi S. Baron

And now for something different...

The Dragon's Voice: How Modern Media Found Bhutan

Bunty Avieson

Craig Kirchner

#mediastudies   #media   #digitalnews   #journalism   #facebook   #twitter   #murdoch   #fairfax   #packer

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 28 August 2015

From deep in the web, something this way comes...

Greetings fellow book-fiends.

I have the pleasure of running Abbey’s Bookshop’s Web Services and this is my first foray onto our Blog to offer you an alternate perspective of the ranges of books available, many of which have been brought to my attention by our online customers. It offers a glimpse into the diverse interests that our customers have. Oh, so diverse…

Abbey’s has been a browsing mecca for Sydney’s bibliophiles for almost 50 years, with thousands of titles crammed into our Aladdin’s cave of a location with three specialised shops, all located at 131 York Street. The two floors of titles are just a drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of thousands of titles available through our websites. Many of our customers know that we stock and can source a huge range of Australiana, all sorts of fiction, history or science texts and that we specialise in language books, biographies, international movies on DVD or Blu-Ray or, of course, children’s books, crime, fantasy and science-fiction. They might even know we have sections devoted to travel literature, cooking or gardening, theatre studies or philosophy.

But how many know about books that are available about, say, seminal fringe music scenes or lesser known sub-cultures? Today we'll have a look at just one...

The term has been used as far back as the 16th century for the labelling of a variety of less valuable, fringe ‘types’ of person; notably prostitutes. The use of ‘punk’ evolved through the 20th century, early on as a derogatory term for a homosexual male then reappropriated by successive generations to label the less worthy. Clint Eastwood queried one such soul’s luck in one of 70’s action cinema’s most famous lines but by the end of the decade the term came to its sub-cultural fore via Punk Rock with its wildly brash, in-your-face music and fashions spawning simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic, grabbing the attention and imaginations of the era’s disenfranchised youths and much, much more.

 Lester Bangs
Lester Bangs

Punk Rock was a term used in 1971 by US music fanzine critic David Marsh and then in the UK by Lester Bangs to describe the raucous sounds evolving from 60’s garage bands like the Mysterions, The Troggs and, of course, The Stooges to the raw, middle-finger-to-the-establishment stylings of MC5, The Patti Smith Band or The Rolling Stones seminal Exile on Main Street. Into the 70’s, the stripped-down rock of the garage met with the staged stylings and freshly-fused sounds of the likes of The Velvet Underground, Richard Hell and TelevisionDavid Bowie, Talking Heads or Devo and flitted even further to the fringe with the works of The New York Dolls, or Black Flag while ‘punk rock’ was used to describe bands as diverse as Aerosmith or Bruce Springsteen, the most influential of bands playing at their own, now iconic, venues. Then in 1977, The Ramones, stripped-back like nothing before, established the blueprint of American pop-punk for generations to come.

The Stooges
The Stooges

Punk rock is rooted in simplicity with vocal stylings around the trinity of guitar, bass & drums and there are many resources available to learn to play from the basics to working with 'now classics' tunes.

Punk hit the mainstream too around 1977 as an arty sub-culture with an anti-conservative, political bent. The UK’s The Clash released their first rebellious, self-titled album that year but their righteous anger was trumped by the Sex Pistols who were suddenly everywhere, flirting with mainstream infamy through the chart-stealing success of their raucously accessible debut, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols which the UK’s New Music Express (NME) voted in 1985 as the 13th greatest Album of all time. By 1993 NME voted it the 3rd.

DEVO / Talking Heads / Sex Pistols

Late 70’s punk was fundamental to the 80’s evolutions of the New Wave offering a diverse range of artists (if not pop-stars) and through the 90’s Seattle/slacker rock resurgence, peaking with the brief but musical-epoch-defining brilliance of Nirvana. Punk didn’t die or just fade away. Punk aesthetics evolved again into the 21st century, uniquely so with clean-living punks embracing the concept of straight-edgeanti-drug, socially aware, hardcore punks with proponents beyond the music

Above all, Punk is an attitude. A DIY rebellion against prevailing power. And with 40-odd years of music now passed and rediscovered by generation after generation, punk will likely inspire works far into the future.


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ August 2015

Did you enjoy the TV version of Kate Grenville's enormously popular The Secret River about life in the early days of settlement?

If you haven't already read this, I hope you can find the time to do so soon. There is quite a lot more in the book that doesn't show in the TV series, while the play concentrates more on the issue of Aboriginal possession. In the book you can read about the life of William and Sal Thornhill in London before they were transported and their on-going relationship with their children. Two following books complete the life of the family. They are The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill (granddaughter).

Another really good book is Searching for the Secret River, in which Kate recounts all the work she did researching for The Secret River, in London as well as here. Family historians will definitely enjoy this as well as anyone trying to write a novel. It ends up being a fascinating story.

I was especially pleased to read Forever Young, the fifth book in the Glenroy trilogy written by Steven Carroll. Well, it is no longer a trilogy and is soon to be a sextet! The Glenroy series is The Art of the Engine Driver, The Gift of Speed, The Time we have Taken, Spirit of Progress and now Forever Young. These elegantly written books will be a pleasure for you to discover. I am a great fan. It was a good idea to distribute Forever Young together with a free copy of The Art of the Engine Driver, the first of the series, so you will know the three central characters, Vic, Rita and son Michael. Steven Carroll admits this is very autobiographical. The sixth and final volume will involve Vic in his youth so Forever Young is the end of the family story. Carroll aims to reveal the passionate hearts beneath the surface of suburban calm. His writing style for these stories is unusual and addictive, with constant repetition and soothing rhythm.

Carroll recently won the Prime Minister's Literary Award, in addition to his earlier awards as a Miles Franklin Winner and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. He does not use the same style for his other books. There are several stories inspired by poems written by T.S. Eliot, including The Lost Life and A World of Other People.

The Miles Franklin Award was won this year by Sofie Laguna for her second adult novel, The Eye of the SheepNot a good title I think, and I was also not anxious to read yet another story about an autistic boy. However, I was quite overcome when I did read it. It became quite thrilling and heart-breaking. The story is told in the voice of the boy, whose imagination is never at rest, and nor is he. Sofie Laguna has done a marvellous job by exactly capturing this. And the story itself is one encountered by many families – with a little too much alcohol and domestic violence. I thoroughly recommend this excellent novel.

A good novel also on the Miles Franklin Shortlist is Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett, who is better known for her Young Adult and Children's books. Sonya is a totally reliable author. All her books, and there are many, are interesting and good value. Although this book is for adults, it nonetheless features a group of children just beginning to form moral judgements. I really enjoyed this.

Appointment Northwest by successful poet Peter Skrzynecki is a tender memoir about his very first posting as a country school teacher. Straight out of training college he is sent to Joegla, about 50 kilometres out of Armidale, to be sole Teacher-in-Charge of a tiny school with only 14 students. Quite a shock but an opportunity for him to try out his management style. He boards with a local family with whom he makes tight bonds and learns how to negotiate friendships in a small community. More importantly he begins to understand the very close attachment to the landscape which bolsters the locals, and he begins to find his poetic voice. This is a very nice book. Many of you will have read his poetry collection Immigrant Chronicle as it is an HSC required text but I also recommend his autobiography The Sparrow Garden.

Here's a quirky recommendation. Young German doctor, Giulia Enders, has written a very easy to read book called Gut: The Inside story of our body's most under-rated organ. This is all fascinating and is enlivened by line illustrations.

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ July 2015

Military historians will enjoy The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East 1914-1920 by Eugene Rogan.

It includes detailed descriptions of the battles in the desert during the First World War when the Ottoman Empire (or what remained of it) decided to ally with Germany. I skipped most of this. I wanted to know how England and France decided what was to become of the end of the Empire – Syria, Mesopotamia and Palestine. While both England and France trod carefully during the war, for fear of Islamic uprisings in their colonies in India and North Africa, they did have territorial ambitions as well as wanting access to oil. I didn’t really find out. It is in the Middle East more than any other part of the world that legacies of the Great War continue to be felt to this day. Eugene Rogan is a Fellow of St. Antony’s College at Oxford and author of the bestselling The Arabs: A History which charts the route from Ottomanism to Arabism to Islamism.

On the back page of Sascha Arango’s thriller The Truth and Other Lies, Text Publishing offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t love it. I don’t think you will be applying for a refund as it keeps you guessing all the way through. Anti-hero Henry is a famous author as well as a man with an unsavoury past and lots of secrets. One of those secrets is it is his wife who actually writes the books. Then his editor and lover unfortunately becomes pregnant to him! Misfortune all around. I was thinking it would make a terrific film – and I now notice Sascha Arango is best known as a scriptwriter in his German homeland. Enjoy it.

I suspect many of you will already have the fascinating memoir-cum-handbook written by long-time New Yorker staffer Mary NorrisIt is called Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, (although some co-workers prefer to be called a Word Goddess). I now feel very anxious about the hyphen in the line at the start of this paragraph. So very many difficulties! Who was brave enough to proofread the proofreader’s book? Here is the start of one paragraph: ‘Are we losing the apostrophe? Is it just too much trouble? This little squiggle, so like a comma except it has been hoisted up above the letters instead of hooked below the baseline...’ This is some very serious fun. There is a good chapter on using the pencil which reminds me of another quirky book by James Ward. It is called Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case. If you enjoy poking around in a good stationery store this is for you. It is indeed just about stationery unlike an earlier book called The Pencil by Henry Petroski which was a most elegant and philosophical book about design.

Have you seen Helen Mirren’s latest movie The Woman in GoldPerhaps you would like another story about a Klimt portrait? One which took place right here in Sydney. If so I recommend the memoir by Professor Tim Bonyhady called Good Living Street: The Fortunes of my Viennese Family. At the beginning of the century his family was very involved in the artistic life of Vienna and when they left in 1938 for Australia they brought with them a fabulous private art collection, including a Klimt portrait of his great grandmother, which was housed in a tiny flat in Potts Point.

Amitav Ghosh is a Bengali writer - a historical writer writing from the Asian perspective. His Ibis Trilogy is following Anglo-Asian history in a most meticulous way. The first volume was Sea of Poppies, followed by River of Smoke and now, just arrived, the third and final volume is here – Flood of Fire. His characters are battling their way through Asian history. They are only just up to the end of the end of the first Opium War. Because it has taken so long, and so many pages, (each volume is over 600 pages) Ghosh fears he will never come to the end. You will believe this when you look at the endless bibliography of books, papers and articles which he lists at the end of Flood of Fire.

I first read Ghosh as the author of In An Antique Land, stories written while he lived in an Egyptian village for more than ten years. Then I found The Glass Palace, about Britain in Burma and India, covering the events right up to the Fall of Singapore and after. This is my favourite. It is a cross between family saga and historical novel and is in great favour with Asian readers. When I read the first volume of the Ibis saga I was rather overcome and was most interested in the attention paid to the use of Anglo-Asian words, which were explained as treasures taken from the archives of Neel Rattan Halder. The archives had been smuggled out of China by his grandsons etc. Now, I fear I have been too naive. It seems to me that Neel Rattan Halder is a fictitious character (perhaps Ghosh himself). If you google Ibis Chrestomathy you will find this glossary of fantastic words used in the Ibis trilogy. You will also have become part of an enormous community of people, searching on the Internet, with something to say about Ghosh and the many, many characters in his books.  Read the books and perhaps you will join them? I asked Abbey’s bookseller Lindy Jones to see if there was a glossary in the first volume and she suggested to me that perhaps I needed a Hobson-Jobson. Just so! Hobson-Jobson is the short name for A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive. An absolute treasure for Word Nuts. I have just discovered that there is access to Hobson-Jobson online! You might need access to a special font for some of the words. And, I have also just discovered that chrestomathy is defined as ‘a collection of literary passages used in the study of language’.



Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ May 2015

I’ve just finished #24 in Donna Leon’s famous series of mystery thrillers set in Venice.

I have read every single one and enjoy them immensely. This one is called Falling in Love and features Flavia Petrelli, an opera singer who was a character in Leon's first story, called Death at La Fenice, (the famous, very old, Venetian Opera House). Now, many years later, Flavia is being stalked! By someone with a great deal of money who sends enormous bouquets of yellow roses, and finally, a magnificent, priceless emerald necklace. There is a sense of doom throughout the story, not surprising as the role Flavia is playing is Tosca!

Commissario Brunetti is his usual tactful, perceptive self and we are treated to descriptions of Signorina Elletra's latest fashions and Paola's delicious lunches before the final exciting denouement which takes place onstage at the end of a performance. If you are not an opera buff you may find this a bit slow but it does allow Donna Leon to make use of her musical knowledge. I've also just discovered another book from her which arrived last month. It is called Gondola and is all about the history and the making of this most famous symbol of Venice and with is comes a CD of lovely barcaroles. I must have it!

I became all excited when I saw the books awarded Abbey's Double Reward Points included Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code by that wonderful economics journalist Michael LewisThis was the paperback edition of the book I read in hardback last year. It was the most thrilling book I read all year and worth every penny for the hardback edition. Even if you think you are not interested in the background of the money market you can't fail to be excited by this story or fascinated by the collection of oddballs and eccentrics who take part.

I've been watching the TV series of Wolf Hall at a friend's place as I do not have Foxtel. It has proved to be a serious commitment! It is very dark, literally, as the indoor scenes were filmed using only candlelight. I find myself peering into the darkness and saying “who's that” or “what did he say” (as a lot of whispering goes on). The series also covers the second book in Hilary Mantel's trilogy Bring Up the Bodies, so there is a lot of compression. If you haven't read the books you might be quite at a loss! This explains the sudden return of Wolf Hall to the weekly bestseller list at Abbey's. I had to go home and get out my Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy!

Last month there were several documentaries on TV about descendants of Afghan camel-men, the men who delivered goods from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs as the country opened up. I was reminded of a fascinating book by Hilarie Lindsay, who was one of the members of the Zonta Club of Sydney. Hilarie was the person who invited me to join the club and this is how Abbey's came to run, each year, Meet the Author events where we raised money for the Club's charities and also made an opportunity for people to meet authors. We did this for twenty five years but eventually it didn't seem necessary any more as Australian authors were now generally getting great publicity. Some customers will remember those events. Now we just have a fund-raising evening for the club members.

Amongst her many achievements Hilarie was the President of the Society of Women Writers so she was especially interested when she first read about Winifred Steger, a prolific writer, and they became regular correspondents. Later, in her seventies, Hilarie began a Ph.D. at Sydney University working on a Thesis about Women Writers but the extraordinary life of Winifred Steger took over and after completing her degree Hilarie expanded the thesis into The Washerwoman's Dream: The Extraordinary Life of Winifred Steger 1882-1981. The book was published in 2002 and has been reprinted four times. It is extraordinarily interesting, full of down-to-earth details as well as amazing adventures. Winifred Steger's childhood, in early Queensland, was harsh and unhappy until she ran away from a brutal husband to work as a washerwoman in a country pub. Here she met a kind and handsome Indian Moslem man, Ali, and with him she went to South Australia where they had a camel-string taking goods up to Alice Springs. They had three children and were poor but happy, leading a nomadic life, or living in ghantown - part of Oodnadatta. Sadly Ali died during a visit to India and the Moslem community insisted a husband be found for Winifred. This is where the adventures start!

Suffice to say Winifred accompanied her new husband on the Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, a most dangerous and difficult passage, which is described in detail. Winifred is made of stern stuff and proves a better pilgrim than her husband. While waiting to board the ship in Karachi she physically comes to the rescue of some women being badly treated by the quarantine officer, also a woman. She becomes quite famous and is named Zatoon after a Moslem Woman Warrior. In the desert they encounter the caravan of King Ibn Saud and she is invited to meet him. On the way home to Australia she is invited to stay at the Palace of the Khalifat in Bombay where she meets Ghandi, and is given special authority to report to the Khalifat about Moslem children in Australia. On return to Australia she soon realises this doesn't mean much, but she is invited to speak to the Theosophical Society in Adelaide several times and gains a contract from the Adelaide Register newspaper to send regular accounts of her voyage to Mecca. Winifred had always been writing and now she was in full flight.

Later on she is invited again to India to be the Governess for the children of the King and Queen of Afghanistan – just when they are about to be deposed! This is an amazing episode – she is fitted out with a white linen suit and a pith helmet, plus a gilt-tipped walking stick, so she can walk in the party heading for the villages on the way to Khyber Pass as a representative of the British! So that villagers will welcome them. This is a truly amazing story of an indomitable woman, finding her balance in a Moslem community despite her fierce independent views, and always finding a way to make ends meet.

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers