2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge at Underground, by Jemimah Brewster

Here at Underground we’re always looking for ways to support Australian writers, particularly authors from marginalised and underrepresented groups. With that in mind, in 2020 the UW team will be undertaking the Australian Women Writers Challenge. The AWWC was started in 2012 by Elizabeth Lhuede, an Australian writer and reader. From the Challenge’s Background page:

Are male authors more likely to have their books reviewed in influential newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors?

They are according to the VIDA count, an analysis of major book reviewing publications in North America and Europe. Australian publications fare little better, as statistics initially gathered by Bookseller & Publisher and republished in Crikey in March 2012, and later provided via the Stella Count demonstrate. Yet in late 2011, when Tara Moss mentioned this gender imbalance on her blog, a literary reviewer from The Age accused her of “privileged whining”.

I was another who commented on Moss’s blog. I knew that it wasn’t just male readers and reviewers who were guilty of gender bias. An analysis of my own reading had revealed I too read fewer books by women, especially Australian women. Part of the problem, I knew, was one of awareness. When I went to find books at my local library, the weekend staff couldn’t name one living Australian female author. I could hardly blame them. If books by Australian women aren’t being reviewed, how do readers know what they’ve published? How do they know to ask for them at libraries and book shops? How would they know to recommend them to friends?

And thus the Australian Women Writers Challenge was born. Although a lot has changed since 2012, we are still a long way from gender equality in the Australian (and international) publishing and literary scene. The Challenge also has a section for Reading for Diversity, which includes writing by Indigenous authors, Writers with Disability, and Queer and Lesbian Writers. You can also check out their many shelves on Goodreads for AWWC reading inspiration.

We already do a lot of reading and reviewing here, so this year we thought we’d give the Challenge a go by committing as a team to read at least 10 books by Australian women writers, and of those reviewing at least 6 – the Franklin level challenge. The AWWC is run every year, and they do regular round ups of reviews, so even if you don’t participate, you can use the AWWC site for your regular reading inspiration!

Here’s what the team have to say about their goals for the Challenge in 2020:

Jess Gately

This year I’m focusing my reading heavily on science fiction and fantasy, so my AWWC list is comprised of as many SFF authors as I can possibly find. These are just some of the books that I’m hoping to read this year!

Kim Westwood – The Courier’s New Bicycle

In the atmospheric alleyways of Melbourne just around the socio-political corner from now, life’s stressful. A post-pandemic fertility crisis has people scrambling for cures—except the new government has banned all remedies except prayer. At dusk the devout gather in the streets to petition a higher power, while in every corner of the city the illegal trade in hormones flourishes.

Salisbury Forth, cycle courier and Animal Protection Vigilante, has had a lifelong ambivalence to gender labels; but in these times, anyone who can’t easily be picked for either category is a target of Neighbourly Watch and the roving Neighbourhood Values Brigades. Caught up in the euphoria of new love, Sy is less than worried—until a ‘knock & drop’ in the heart of the infamous Red Quarter goes wrong, and a prayer group turns into a lynch mob. Another group viciously attacks a pregnant woman on the street. The tension around town is being amped up, but instigated by whom?

Cat Sparks – Lotus Blue

Seventeen-year-old Star and her sister Nene are orphans, part of a thirteen-wagon caravan of nomadic traders living hard lives travelling the Sand Road. Their route cuts through a particularly dangerous and unforgiving section of the Dead Red Heart, a war-ravaged desert landscape plagued by rogue semi-sentient machinery and other monsters from a bygone age.

But when the caravan witnesses a relic-Angel satellite unexpectedly crash to Earth, a chain of events begins that sends Star on a journey far away from the life she once knew. Shanghaied upon the sandship Dogwatch, she is forced to cross the Obsidian Sea by Quarrel, an ancient Templar supersoldier. Eventually shipwrecked, Star will have no choice but to place her trust in both thieves and priestesses while coming to terms with the grim reality of her past—and the horror of her unfolding destiny—as the terrible secret her sister had been desperate to protect her from begins to unravel.

Marianne de Pierres – Sentients of Orion Book 1: Dark Space

On the arid mining planet of Araldis, Baronessa Mira Fedor finds herself on the run from the authorities, her life in tatters and her future stolen. Araldis itself buckles under the onslaught of a ruthlessly executed invasion.

None of this is coincidence.

The more Mira discovers about her planet’s elite and the forces arrayed against them, the more things seem to point to a single guiding intelligence. Nothing that has happened to her or her world is an accident. But the intrigue is only beginning, as Mira must fight for her very own survival, or embrace the dark space that threatens to consume her.

Alison Goodman – Lady Helen & the Dark Days Club

London, April 1812. Lady Helen Wrexhall is set to make her curtsy to Queen Charlotte and step into polite Regency Society and the marriage mart. Little does Helen know, that step will take her from the glittering ballroom of Almacks and the bright lights of Vauxhall Gardens into a shadowy world of demonic creatures, missing housemaids and deadly power.

Standing between those two worlds is Lord Carlston, a man of dubious reputation and infuriating manners. He believes Helen is destined to protect humanity from an unearthly truth, but all he can offer is danger, savagery and the possibility of madness. Not the kind of destiny suitable for a young lady in her first London Season.

Against a backdrop of whispered secrets in St. James’s Palace, soirees with Lord Byron and morning calls from Beau Brummell, The Dark Days Club is a delightfully dangerous adventure of self- discovery and the dark choices of new found adulthood.

D.L. Richardson – Earth Quarantined

They came from space. They came to save us. 300 years later, Earth is still under alien occupation but we are also at peace. How? We abide by the strict rules imposed by the aliens. In exchange, they let us enjoy carefree lives without poverty and hunger.

Except we are lying to them. For hundreds of years, we have locked people away in hidden cities, people who will become humanity’s salvation, out of sight of the aliens in defiance of their strict population control laws.

But the aliens are lying to us too. They promised us interstellar travel so we could get off this dying planet, yet they refuse to deliver it.

Kethryn Miller is a high-profile celebrity caught in a web of lies when someone escapes from a hidden city. Revealing the truth will destroy millions of lives. But keeping the secrets will destroy the truth. Whatever path she takes, one thing is certain. The privileged life she once had is over.

Trudi Canavan – The Magician’s Guild

Each year, the magicians of Imardin gather together to purge the city streets of vagrants and miscreants. Masters of the disciplines of magic, they know that no ordinary lowlife can oppose them. But their protective shield is not as imprenetrable as they think. Sonea, angry, frustrated and outraged by the treatment of her family and friends, throws a stone at the shield, putting all her rage behind it. She is amazed when it sails unrestricted through the barrier and knocks a magician unconscious. The Guild’s worst fear has been realised. There is an untrained magician loose in Imardin who must be found before her uncontrolled powers can destroy herself and the city.

Shelley Carter

Sally Hepworth – The Mother-In-Law

I have seen this Aussie thriller make the rounds on both American and Canadian ‘booktube’ channels recently, and I was intrigued by the premise. Suprisingly, I hadn’t heard of Sally Hepworth before, and so I’m looking forward to reading this as well as some of her backlisted titles.

Emily Paull – Well Behaved Women

Emily Paull is a local Perth author that is pretty active in the local writing scene. I first heard of Emily when she interviewed Laurie Steed in regards to his book You Belong Here, and when I found out she had a book coming out I just had to read it! I ended up spending some of my Christmas spending money on this book, and I’m sure I won’t regret it!

Carly Findlay – Say Hello

Carly is a vocal advocate for disability awareness and equality, and she has been on my radar for quite some time. I am always endeavouring to read books that teach me a new perspective on the world, and I feel as though this book will do exactly that. Also, my second hand copy is annotated, which makes me curious to see which aspects stood out to its previous owner!

Sara Foster – You don’t know me

This is another book from an Aussie author I hadn’t heard of until I started immersing myself in the Australian literary scene. Sara Foster is a prolific thriller/mystery author, and anyone who knows my reading tastes would know those are my ultimate buzzwords. I’m looking forward to reading a thriller set in Australia, as we don’t seem to have many of those.

Ali Cobby Eckermann – Ruby Moonlight

This one is on my TBR thanks to Jaclyn at Six Minutes for Me. She spoke about it on her YouTube channel and raved about it, and I immediately added it to my Goodreads list. This is an older title from an Indigenous author, and from what I have read, experiments with form and writing style.

Kate Lomas Glendenning

This year I have decided to mix it up a bit and try to balance my children’s and fiction books. The books I have chosen have either been recommended by close friends or the amazing reviews I have read have encouraged me to place them on my list. These are some of the books by Australian woman authors I plan on reading this year…

Felicity McLean – The Van Apfel Girls are Gone

The title alone grabbed my attention. After I read the blurb, I was hooked. Described by critics as a mix of Picnic at Hanging Rock meets The Virgin Suicides, I knew instantly this book would pull me into its mystery. Based on what I have heard (and the books The Van Apfel Girls are Gone are compared to) this is not a book with a neatly explained ending. I’m sure I will ponder the mystery of the Van Apfel girls long after I complete the book.

Sonya Hartnett – The Ghost’s Child

Hartnett’s book has been described as a modern children’s fairy tale; however, despite its categorically exclusive sounding classification, I believe children and adults alike can enjoy the story. Since it has been described as an Australian fairy tale, it has made its way onto my TBR list! It sounds like it will be a heartbreaker (like The Little Prince) by its lyrical prose and heavy issues of life and love. Sometimes it’s nice to sink into those beautifully written words knowing they will haunt you long after you finish the book.

Marcella Polain – Driving Into the Sun

After reading The Edge of the World in 2019, I knew I needed to kick off the year with Polain’s new book. Set in Perth (yay, for a book set in my hometown!) in 1968, the novel follows Orla as she deals with her father’s sudden death. I love novels told from a child’s perspective because it encourages me to form the links and view the situation from a different perspective. There is something so rare and captivating about a child’s voice in fiction.

Madelaine Dickie – Troppo

Although the book is not primarily set in Perth, it receives a shout out! I have never “dived” into the surfing culture but considering the amazing reviews I’ve heard about Troppo, I realised it is a must-read. Maybe I’ll even learn a few surfing facts that I can show off to friends who deem me a “non-sporty bookworm”.

Jemimah Halbert Brewster

Alison Evans – Euphoria Kids

I read and reviewed Evans’ second novel, Highway Bodies, last year and loved the way she writes so strongly about gender diversity from the perspective of teens. Also, Euphoria Kids was described as a ‘witchy’ book with fairy tale and magic realist elements, and I am all here for that aesthetic!

Brooke Davis – Lost & Found

I was gifted this book back when it was published in 2015, and it’s always been bumped to next year’s TBR in favour of other books. I WILL read it in 2020!

Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

I think I’m the only person I know who hasn’t read this yet, and I’m excited about every aspect of the blurb:

‘[Burial Rites is] the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.’

Dervla McTiernan – The Ruin

The third book in the Cormac Reilly series comes out this year, so I thought I’d start off by reading this first one, which is a thriller murder mystery set in Ireland. I’ve had a strong taste for thrillers since I read Small Spaces a year ago, and I can’t wait to devour this one.

Briohny Doyle – The Island Will Sink

Again, it’s been on my TBR for a while. I love apocalypse stories, especially Australian ones, so this is the year I’ll sink my teeth in Briohny Doyle’s debut cli-fi novel.

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