Books & Writing


Consider yourself kidnapped, held hostage, spirited away, your time ransomed.

Welcome to JOE COUNTRY where you are kept captive by a compulsively readable narrative that sweeps in like a rattlesnake and fangs it for over four hundred fabulous pages.

The sixth in the series of so called Slow Horses thrillers, JOE COUNTRY starts ominously with the death of operatives that have so far managed to survive the series. Their identities are kept secret, however, another layer of suspense heaped on by author Mick Herron, that wicked agent of insomnia and page turning acceleration.

The surging confidence in its storytelling swathed in bright shafts of dry wit makes JOE COUNTRY the equal of its predecessors, a sustained and seething thriller that walks both sides of Spook Street on a tightrope of intrigue, espionage and subterfuge.

I could divulge the plot but then you would have to kill me for spoiling the exhilarating thrill of the story, a narrative that capers, strides, bucks and gallops through every provocative page, peppered with acerbic, sometimes appallingly politically incorrect diatribes by the Slow Horses squadron leader, the incongruously named, Jackson Lamb.

Lamb leads to the slaughter any vestige of sensitivity to his employees, his diatribes unfiltered truth serums roughly injected by needle sharp invective.

In JOE COUNTRY, the bread of espionage is leavened with the circuses of violent spectacle, hazard seasoned with humour, real world politik enlivened with a pervasive imagination.

The CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger is an annual award given by the British Crime Writers’ Association for best thriller of the year. It is given to a title that fits the broadest definition of the thriller novel; these can be set in any period and include, but are not limited to, spy fiction and/or action/ adventure stories. Ian Fleming said there was one essential criterion for a good thriller – that “one simply has to turn the pages”; this is one of the main characteristics that the judges will be looking for.

Judges look no further.

JOE COUNTRY by MICK HERRON is published by John Murray.


This is a fascinating ,enthralling book extensively researched and vividly written by renowned dance critic and journalist Valerie Lawson . Lawson uses letters, interviews and personal anecdotes from dancers, directors, impresarios , producers, and critics to bring the history and characters alive . The horrendous drain of one night stands on the exhausting long tours ! The backstage scandals and dramas!

With a forward by David McAllister of the Australian Ballet , and a well laid out table of contents , the book while large and heavy is beautifully illustrated and also includes a terrific bibliography and helpful index at the back .

The preface briefly acknowledges the very early history of ballet in Australia but the book really begins with the tours of the famous Anna Pavlova ( with her signature solo ‘The Dying Swan’) in 1926 and then her 1929 tour, where the Taits and JC Williamsons ( ‘The Firm’ ) first feature and we learn how she influenced a young Robert Helpmann. The merits (or lack of) the ballets presented are discussed. Continue reading DANCING UNDER THE SOUTHERN SKIES BY VALERIE LAWSON


The event is featuring slam veteran and co-founder of Enough Said Poetry Slam in Wollongong Lorin Elizabeth, as well as local writer and regular attendee,Annette Arany.

Poetry slam host Elliot York Cameron founded the event last July as an opportunity for anybody to share their creativity in front of a live and engaged audience – regardless of age, background, ability or skill level.

“The Narellan Slam is entirely necessary. It enriches the community around it in the most genuine way,” says Bilal Hafda, co-organiser of Bankstown PoetrySlam and creative writing teacher.

Bilal featured at the slam in April, and believes, “Elliot has cultivated a space that lets poets, young and old, feel accepted and supported and listened to.”

As the event has grown month-to-month, writers have travelled from every corner of the Sydney surrounds, from Gosford to Wollongong to Bondi to Picton.

Bowral High School’s acting-Deputy Principal, Sam Schroder, first attended last year to watch her son perform. She decided to give it a go herself and quickly found a love for the art form.

“In 15 years of teaching, I’ve always struggled to show teenagers how poetry is relevant to their lives. Then, a year ago, I went to Narellan Poetry Slam, and everything changed.”

Sam went on to compete in the 2018 Australian Poetry Slam and made it all the way to the NSW Final at Customs House, Sydney. “Now my students come along, to perform, to see me perform, to snap for other performers who represent all ages and interests. Poetry slams are where it’s at.”

The event has featured established guest poets such as Australian Poetry Slam National Champions Philip WilcoxArielle Cottingham and Jesse Oliver, plus Filipina poet and teaching artist Eunice Andrada.

Eunice featured at Narellan Poetry Slam in May, and believes the slam, “carves out such a necessary space for representation and community-building … It’s wonderful to continue seeing the ways people are both challenged and nurtured by this space for sharing poetry.”

Eunice received the 2018 Anne Elder Award for her collection Flood Damages (Giramondo Books), available at Harry Hartog Bookseller.

Narellan Poetry Slam is held on the second last Tuesday of each month at Harry Hartog Bookseller in Narellan Town Centre. In addition, there is a monthly capacity-building workshop for poets the Tuesday prior to the slam.

“The Narellan Poetry Slam continues to grow as a valued cultural event in Sydney with contestants travelling from afar to participate. It’s a wonderful community event and Harry Hartog Narellan is proud to host it,” says Harry Hartog Director David Berkelouw.

To sign up for the slam, or more information, call (02) 4648 2211 or email


Narellan Poetry Slam
Harry Hartog Bookseller
Shop T201-202 Narellan Town Centre
Camden Valley Way, Narellan NSW 2567

Date: Tuesday 23 July, 2019
6:30pm for a 7:00pm start – 9pm

Tickets available here

Featured photo by Jules Centauri


Warning to the Glutton Intolerant: CHARLES FIRTH’S FRACTURED FAIRY TALES is not glutton free, with conspicuous consumption and capitalist exploitation at the fore of Firth’s fables.

Twee to the point of deedledum, CHARLES FIRTH’S FRACTURED FAIRY TALES comes with a caveat emptor on the disclaimer page: The paper in this book is 100% sourced from re-used soiled toilet paper, to better match the quality of the comedy throughout.”

You have been warned.

Firth goes forth with a fifth, making up five tales with nary a fairy in sight. More correctly, in this case, politically correctly, Firth’s five are folk tales, ancestral to Aesop, and, like the ancient, written with political and social criticism.

They’re also a little bit Grimm.

The Boy Who Wanted A Friend is a sober story about cyber space and social media, the fatuous fallacy of “friending” and the mammoth privacy issues of metadata as individuals face the monoliths of government, bureaucracies and multi nationals.

Gold Child and the Bear Family bares the unbelievable fact that females bear the brunt of domestic work and salary disparity.

The One Bad Prince is a Me Too tale that tackles toxic male behaviour.

And both Mr. Archimedes Bath and The Handsome Troll & The Ugly Professor set their sights on climate change.

Illustriously illustrated by Rania Mahmoud, Glitchfool, Chiara Corradet and Sabdo “Oketoon”, CHARLES FIRTH’S FRACTURED FAIRY TALES are, in the words of editor, Cam Smith, “parables so unbelievable, so clearly made up, you’ll be unable to resist believing them.”

Perfect as a politically correct stocking filler in the rampantly retail fuelled, capitalist exploitative fractured festivity of Christmas in July, CHARLES FIRTH’S FRACTURED FAIRY TALES is published by The Chaser Quarterly, printed, bound, gagged and left unconscious on a popular hiking trail by Spotpress.


“Magnificent cunt! How are you doing?”

It’s a term of endearment from a Serbian mercenary to ex MI-Sixer Paul Samson in Henry Porter’s latest spy yarn, WHITE HOT SILENCE, a lingua franca illustrative of Porter’s ear for dialogue in an English as second language Europe.

Timely and terrific, WHITE HOT SILENCE speaks with a white hot eloquence about modern espionage and the masked continuation, evolution and elevation of the Cold War.

The Soviet Union may have dissolved and the Berlin Wall dismantled, but the Russians are still playing geopolitical chess with the West in a game of high stakes and unwilling pawns.

Kicking off with a kidnapping in Calabria, WHITE HOT SILENCE catapults the action into the high seas with ping ponging intrigue on both sides of the Atlantic.

Cyber sourcing intelligence is de rigeur in 21st century espionage, but tried and true traditional trade craft is still employed with agents in place and blunt instrument practice deployed.

WHITE HOT SILENCE is dense in description and extrapolation delivered in sprawling chapters that are sagas in themselves, which makes the action even more explosive when it comes.

Paul Samson is a credible protagonist, former secret servant of Her Majesty now private sector security sleuth, part time restaurateur and heavily in debt gambler.

Abducted aid worker, Anastasia Christakos is an admirable creation, a great gumption and colossal compassion fused into a formidable force of nature.

Gripping in guile and dripping in vile, the central villain of the piece is Kirill, incensed at the loss of the soviet empire, intent on destabilising the west by use of social media and inflammation of racism.

Reading like exciting fact, WHITE HOT SILENCE, grips the reader with a taut, suave, sensual stranglehold from the beginning and never lets go through a capering 438 pages.

WHITE HOT SILENCE by Henry Porter is published by Quercus



This is the story of one of the world’s most iconic images. Martin Bailey explains why Van Gogh painted a series of still lives in Provence. He then explores the subsequent adventures of the seven paintings, and their continuing influence on modern art. Through the Sunflowers, we gain fresh insights into Van Gogh’s life and his path towards fame. Based on original research, the book is packed with discoveries – throwing new light on the legendary artist.

In 1888 Van Gogh left for Provence to settle in Arles. That summer he produced what would become his most iconic  works, a series of four sunflower still lifes, with bouquets of three, six, fourteen and fifteen flowers in simple earthenware pots. The two final pictures, the large bouquets set against turquoise and yellow backgrounds are famous- but the first two, Three Sunflowers and Six Sunflowers can almost be described as the ‘unknown’ Sunflowers. One left Europe for Japan in 1920 and was destroyed during the Second World War. The other has always been hidden away in private collections and was last exhibited, briefly, in 1948. Continue reading THE SUNFLOWERS ARE MINE : THE STORY OF VAN GOGH’S MASTERPIECE


Following on from Sherlock Holmes The Australian Casebook published in 2017 , this is a fast paced ,grippingly written assortment of twelves short stories based on the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, some of which are strange, bizarre and disturbing , blending Homes’ cold factual deductive reasoning and the supernatural and spooky. It is edited by Christopher Sequeira and has a forward by Leslie S Klinger.

A handy table of contents is available at the front and at the back there is a biography of all the contributors from around the globe. The cover design is by Luke Spooner and an illustration by Phillip Cornell of the Sydney Passengers is also included. Breaks in the stories are indicated by an image of a Meerschaum pipe.

A common theme is the letter M ( both for Mycroft and Moriarty for example ) but also Holmes’ other possible tenants who were different Doctors to Watson : including a Dr Mabuse.  Much supernatural and philosophical debate arises from the revelations in Curtain Call. Yes, Moriarty is back in various guises. There are time travelling stories (Holmes and Dr Dee of Elizabeth 1’s time ), stories set possibly in different dimensions, and ones for example where Holmes and /or Watson are military people . Holmes also works in one story with Conan Doyle. There is a fascinating story with Holmes and Dr Jeckyll/Mr Hyde. Continue reading SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DOCTOR WAS NOT


Hemingway said there is no companion as loyal as a book and, while his irascibility may have biased him, he could be right in the case of Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City. To pick up this book in the midst of your own solitary introduction to New York City is a great comfort; Laing’s “adventures in the art of being alone” is an ode to urban alienation, casting New York City as its muse and art as antidote.

Laing is honest and candid about what brought her to New York (the promise of a new relationship that had failed before even getting there) and then the oppressive sense of loneliness that deflated her once she arrived. Laing’s descriptions of the mundane, depressing rituals of solitary apartment life in the city and the shameful hunger of loneliness conjure the kind of pleasant surprise one feels at the discovery that, hey, our experiences are not just our own. There is reassurance in universality. Continue reading OLIVIA LAING : THE LONELY CITY : ADVENTURES IN THE ART OF BEING ALONE


Malla Nunn burst onto the literary scene a little over a decade ago with a brace of historical crime novels featuring exotic copper Emmanuel Cooper.

Nunn’s latest novel, WHEN THE GROUND IS HARD, jettisons detective fiction in favour of a flavoursome coming of age story set in a boarding school in Swaziland.

Taking its title from an African proverb, “When the ground is hard, the women dance.”, the novel centres on the struggle of sixteen year old Adele Joubert, a coloured girl sired by a white man, pitted against pitiless prejudice.

The three tiers of racist tribalism are tackled here – the whites, the coloureds and the blacks – against a background of boarding school bitches and the inherent totem pole pecking order that prevails in any peer pressure cooker.

Taken down a peg or two in the Heathers-like hierarchy of the student status system, Adele is forced to forge an unlikely alliance with Lottie Diamond, a Zulu-Jew, fiercely intelligent and a risk taker, although not reckless.

Nunn’s rendering of this friendship from foundation to framework to edifice is the beautiful spine of the story, a vertebrae that supports the supple flesh of events and situation.

Nunn’s understanding of race, class, gender and culture pervade every page in a pleasing, well paced prose.

Her characters are so vividly drawn they are quickly deposited into the reader’s image bank, as is the description of place and depiction of tone.

WHEN THE GROUND IS HARD may not be a police procedural but Nunn still strays into the mystery genre as the narrative snakes its way into the disappearance of a boy on campus and Adele and her new found friend, Lottie, turn sleuth to solve the absence of a heart grown darker – absconded, abducted, or assassinated?

Death, cruelty and pain are the hard ground that we stand on, says the narrator, the ground itself can’t be replaced but it can be changed. Adele and Lottie see that the ground is too hard and they strive to change it.

WHEN THE GROUND IS HARD by Malla Nunn is published by Allen & Unwin


Independent arts publicist GEOFF SIRMAI
explains why social media is not ‘publicity’

How often have I seen it? A theatre producer arrives at the foyer for opening night, visits the box office, checks out the bookings, then goes pale.

Panicked, he or she opens their smart phone, looks at their Facebook page, checks the ‘event’, checks the ‘group’ then looks back at the bookings.

Then they do a very theatrical double-take.

Finally, in tragic tones of Shakespearean dimensions (and shaking their fist at the heavens – or is it the virtual ether above?), they shout “But they all said they were coming on Facebook!”                      Continue reading PRODUCERS PLEASE NOTE : FB IS NOT PR!


Even in today’s advertising and media worlds the housewife mother (and occasionally father) is perfectly groomed, unflappable in a clean, gleaming kitchen with perfectly behaved children.  Like young women who feel inadequate when viewing airbrushed glamazons many mothers feel guilty when the kitchen is in a mess, and the lounge and bedrooms are in disarray, despite the fact that feminists were declaring that the sign of a tidy house is a sign of a wasted mind.

Jessica Rowe’s book confounds the advertising and media norms and proudly admits that she is a crap housewife wearing the appellation as a badge of honour. Like many anti self help books such as How Not To Give A F-K, Continue reading JESSICA ROWE : DIARY OF A CRAP HOUSEWIFE