Wednesday, 28 August 2013

September's must-read: Everything to Live For by Turia Pitt & Libby Harkness

Destined to be a best seller: Everything to Live For
A few months ago, before Burned was even in the bookshops, I was invited to talk at a meeting of freelance writers in Sydney. The meeting took place in Glebe, an area I don't know well, so I was delighted when another writer suggested we travel together.

Her name was Libby Harkness. As we traveled across this beautiful city by car, ferry and bus, we had plenty of time to talk. And talk we did. Libby told me about her life as a ghost writer; about the stories she had told and those yet to come. At the time she'd just finished working on Turia Pitt's story, Everything to Live For. Most people in Australia know Turia, if not by name then through the now iconic images of this former model wearing a mask. Here's her story in a nutshell:
"In September 2011, Turia Pitt, a beautiful 25-year-old mining engineer working her dream job in the far north of Western Australia, entered an ultra-marathon race that would change her life forever. Trapped by a fire in a gorge in the remote Kimberly region, Turia and five other competitors had nowhere to run. Turia escaped with catastrophic burns to 65 per cent of her body. Everything to Live For is the story of one young woman's survival against extraordinary odds, a testament to the human spirit."
Libby explained to me that writing Everything to Live For presented several challenges: "First, as a ghostwriter writing in the first person, I have to capture that person’s voice; but I didn’t know what Turia’s voice was like before she was burnt. The burns altered her mouth and the tight grafted skin on her face plus the black face mask she wore, all  affected the way she spoke. Second, she was still very fragile when I first started interviewing her and tired easily so it was difficult to push for more information; this related to the third difficulty – that she remembered very little after she was burnt and during the long wait for rescue. Then she spent weeks in an induced coma.

“I made a decision to limit her voice to two parts of the book – the four chapters in 'My Life Before' and four chapters in 'My Life After'. The rest of the book I wrote from my research into everything that had happened. I interviewed everyone I could that had been involved: other survivors, family, friends, her surgeons. I even flew over the Kimberley region in a helicopter with the pilot who had performed her heroic rescue and landed in the valley below the escarpment that the survivors had scaled when trying to escape the fire. I felt the outback heat and could only imagine how terrifying it must have been to be there in the face of the raging fire that day.

“By the time the book got to editing stage, Turia was much stronger and was able to add much more to her voice and describe her own feelings during her long rehabilitation. I have written many books but never one like this before. It was a challenging process and... ultimately very rewarding. And Turia loves the book.”

Libby Harkness says writing Turia Pitt's story was challenging but rewarding
The book isn't due to be published until 3rd September but is in the bookshops now and selling fast. Interest in it book has no doubt been fuelled by 60 Minutes; in last week's programme Turia took off her mask and revealed her face to the world.

After 16 surgeries and nearly two years of treatment, her medical bills have topped $2 million. Race organisers, Racing the Planet, have not contributed a cent to these costs and are still promoting marathon events in Asia, Africa and South America for 2014.

Turia's story is a terrible one. Nobody should have to go through the things she has. But if she is brave enough to share it, I think we should be brave enough to read it. What do you think?

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Feel the fear and read it anyway: Bruce McCabe's Skinjob

Skinjob: a must-read for 2013?

I'm finding nothing more tiresome at the moment than coverage of next month's Federal election. So the other morning when my lovely husband brought me a cup of tea and the iPad so I could read the Sydney Morning Herald in bed, I quickly flicked past the front page.

It wasn't long before I happened across the entertainment section where I read about Bruce McCabe, author of new techno-thriller, Skinjob. McCabe has recently been discovered by Christopher Little (J. K. Rowling's former agent) and is poised for literary fame and fortune.

According to the SMH, McCabe's debut novel is one to watch. "Set in Silicon Valley, the futuristic techno-thriller follows a mass murder investigation by an FBI agent with a lie detector. The plot explores the future of technology, religion, politics and sexuality."

Reading the Herald's account of the book, I wasn't sure it would be one for me, but I was impressed by the fact that Little had emailed McCabe to ask if he could represent him.

Fast forward a few hours and I head over to Berkelouw Books in Balgowlah to celebrate National Bookshop Day. There are a few other authors there too, including - to my surprise - McCabe. At first I don't recognise him because he looks like a normal guy - nothing like the moody gun for hire in his publicity shots - but the copy of Skinjob under his arm gives him away and we chat for a while. I discover he's an innovation expert; advising governments and corporates on how technology will shape our futures. In short, I realise that Skinjob may be fiction, but a good deal of it is based on fact.

Bruce McCabe, author of Skinjob: normal guy or gun for hire?

Having spoken to McCabe I decide I must read the book. The first chapter is chilling (you can read it here) and I know I'm in for a hell of a ride. Skinjob is set to be the must-read thriller of 2013. Read it and decide for yourself.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A Girl Called Jack: recipes from the breadline:

Jack Monroe's new cook book: A Girl Called Jack will be published early in 2014

Once upon a time I used to read cook books for pleasure. Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall... I devoured their books and their recipes too. These days my cook books languish on their shelf - like most mums I spend a lot of time thinking about food, shopping for and preparing it, but I haven't bought a new cook book for at least five years. This week though, I'll be making an exception and pre-ordering Jack Monroe's Girl Called Jack from Amazon. In case you haven't heard of her, Jack Monroe is, according to The Guardian, a '25 year old mum, prodigious blogger, austerity cook extraordinaire and breadline veteran.'

Her most famous blog post, Hunger Hurts written a year ago, describes her life at an all-time low - when she was unemployed, hungry and unable to feed her young son:
"This morning, small boy had one of the last Weetabix, mashed with water, with a glass of tap water to wash it down with. ‘Where’s Mummy's breakfast?’ he asks, big blue eyes and two year old concern. I tell him I’m not hungry, but the rumblings of my stomach call me a liar. But these are the things that we do."
Reading Monroe's blog about life in 'austerity Britain' brings tears to your eyes. The silver lining is her grit, determination and culinary creativity. Having determined to feed herself and her child on a budget of just £6 (around AU$10) per week, Monroe shares her 'Below The Line' budget recipes with her readers. Her recipes are a gift - who would complain about eating Brie and Bacon Risotto (26p per portion) or Creamy Salmon Pasta with a Chilli Lemon Kick (27p per portion). I don't think it would be possible to recreate Monroe's recipes quite so cheaply in Australia but they sound so good I'd be willing to give it a try.

A respected and talented blogger, Monroe has a job with her local newspaper now. Her book deal with Penguin is in the bag and things are definitely looking up. Her own life is in the ascendant, but Monroe
hasn't forgotten those who are still living below the line. She's an ambassador for Child Poverty Action Group, writing and raising money for Oxfam, and meeting with British Government advisers to tell them it's unacceptable that half a million people in the UK are relying on food handouts

Twelve months ago, Monroe says she 'was angry about my personal circumstances. Now I’m angry about everyone else’s.'

Most people's reaction on reading about Monroe will be ‘what can I do to help?’ Here's her answer:
"Donate something to your local food bank. Tins, nappies, baby formula, UHT milk, cereals, toiletries, pasta, rice, tinned fruit and vegetables… Volunteer at a children’s centre or a play group – I found the ‘free’ things to do with Small Boy were literally a lifeline to me when I had nothing to do in my day, no money, nothing to look forward to. Visit your local volunteer centre and see how you can help, someone, somewhere. Donate old clothes, shoes and blankets to your local homeless shelter. Don’t step over people in the street – give them the £3 you might have spent on a latte."
And if you have £12.99 to spare, why not buy her book?