Welcome to the Best Of The Joys of Binge Reading podcast 2021 – The Top Ten most listened to episodes of the year! I hope you had a happy Christmas and that 2022 will be rather less turbulent than the one we are leaving behind us!
I know I said last year that New Zealand tended to “go to the beach” over this period, but this year it’s a little different because of – dare I mention the word – the pandemic we’ve all been battling our way through. I’m taking a nice restful “Staycation” at home, delaying having any beach time until later in the summer. I’m looking forward to pottering in my garden and thinking and planning for the new season.
One big highlight of this year was posting our 200th episode in mid December with Patti Callahan. Thanks to all our marvellous guests, the show has gone from strength to strength, with top international authors included in our mix of popular fiction for binge reading.
Before we get to the Top Ten – we’ve got a Giveaway draw for January – three E book copies every week on my Three Holiday Novellas Book Bundle – A mix of mystery and Christmas romance set in historic New York, Hawaii and California, Books #4 #6 and #8 in the Of Gold & Blood historic mystery series. Enter the draw on our website, the joys of binge reading.com and be in to one of three copies going to lucky readers every week in January. Offer closes January 31.
Binge Reading on Patreon – We’ll be featuring four new episodes of Getting To Know You — Five Quickfire Questions – one very week in January from featured authors Karen White, Belinda Alexandra, William Kent Krueger and Sara Penner – plus the Behind The Scenes monthly news: exclusive bonus content for Binge Reading on Patreon supporters for the cost of less than a cup of coffee a month. Your support helps pay for the hosting, sound editing and production costs but the researching and organizing the show is all unpaid.
How we made the selection – it’s all about the ones you listened to….
The Top Ten for this year is actually a “Top Eleven” because three authors scored exactly the same number of downloads – would you believe it? And once again, we see a wonderful mix of genres and nationalities – from Australia to the US, from the UK to New Zealand.
From JA Jance’s crime series, to Craig Johnson and William Kent Krueger’s regional mysteries; from Sarah Penner’s standout thriller about a murderous apothecary to Leeanna Morgan and Roselle Lim’s heart-warming and magical romance, from engrossing historicals from Allison Pataki and Karen White’s engrossing historicals to wide-ranging women’s fiction from Di Morrissey, Jan Moran and Belinda Alexandra.
And as I’ve explained in previous years, I’m not picking my favourites because I value every author we have on the show, so as usual, our selection is based on the episodes you chose to listen to – and the number of downloads each one received – so you – our listeners – have picked the list, and the choice is from December 1, 2020 to December, 2021 – so we have time to put it all together for a January release…
Launching the Top Ten Most Popular Binge Reading Shows for 2021
So instead of having just one voice on the show, you’ll be hearing from ten or more. And as usual, if any of these snippets spark your interest and they are a show you missed out on, there will be links in the show notes to make it easy for you to find them and tune in – so there’ll be plenty of new people to keep you going over the break. The show notes for this episode can be found on the Joys of Binge Reading .com, or you can find us on the Binge Reading Facebook page.
This episode will run for the first two weeks of January, and in the second half of the month we’ll run the Best of All Time – the Pick of the First 200 episodes – with a different list/ Only one author appears in both lists, for the marvellous reason that most episodes continue to draw more downloads the longer they are there.
So – launching in to the 2021 Top Ten of your most popular episodes:
Bestselling, much beloved crime fiction author JA Jance, with more than has more than 60 books in three different series, was an all out favorite, and I especially enjoyed her willingness to share frank opinions and experiences – especially talking about the day her first husband hitchhiked home with a serial killer, 20 minutes after he’d committed his last crime, and how, in a roundabout way, it helped to launch her writing career.
J.A Jance – Serial killer’s role in helping her find her writer’s voice
As J.A. explains, they both worked on the reservation, and her husband was hitch hiking home because JA was working late and needed the car. Thanks goodness she wasn’t the one hitchhiking
J.A. Jance: I had to stay late after school and my, we were having company that night. So my husband went out and hitchhiked to get home, to be there, to greet our company. And on the reservation, there’s no such thing as mass transit, everybody hitchhiked, including the nuns from Topawa, but it happened that the guy who gave him a ride home that day was a serial killer who murdered people at 20 minutes after two, on the 22nd day of the month.
And he gave my husband a ride home about 45 minutes after forcing in his third victim off the highway at gunpoint. Shooting her, raping her in front of her two small children and leaving her to die. And so we discovered that incident when we were going into town for dinner and we’re stopped at a roadblock. We heard someone talking about a man in a green car, and my husband said ‘a green car… I wonder if that’s the guy who gave me a ride home today?’ and it turned out it was. So we were part of that investigation from the very beginning.
Jenny: On the show, J.A. talks about that incident catapulted her into writing, how the rumor that her first nine books were written by a retired Seattle detective came to arise, and why people tell her reading her books is like eating Fritos. Listen to her full episode for those details!
JA Jance Episode: https://thejoysofbingereading.com/in-the-cross-hairs-j-a-jance/
JA Jance Website: https://www.jajance.com/
Craig Johnson and his beloved Walt Longmire series
Craig Johnson is a Wyoming rancher and a best-selling international author who writes westerns for people who may not normally read westerns – the fabulously popular Walt Longmire mystery series that has also been turned into a top rating six season Netflix show of the same name.
Craig set the Longmire series in a place he knows very well, but as he explains, there are major differences between him and his character.
Craig: The major differences that Walt and I have are that Walt has had a lot of tragedies in his life, the biggest one of course being the death of his wife and that’s had a long-term effect on him. I’ve had a really pretty wonderfully charmed existence.
My very first book that I wrote, The Cold Dish, the very first Walt Longmire book, was picked up by Viking Penguin, a big publisher back in New York. They took it and ran with it. We got on the New York Times bestsellers list, Warner Brothers came knocking and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to make a TV show’ out of the series of books, which I highly questioned, because making a TV show out of the sheriff of the least populated county in the least populated state in America, I didn’t know, I said I’m not sure that would work, but evidently it did.
We’re still on Netflix And, we’re one of the Top 20 in original content television shows even three years or four years after they ceased production of Longmire. So I really don’t have a lot to complain about. My life is pretty charmed, Walt has had a more difficult road to hoe and I think that makes our lives a little bit different.
The secret to writing entertaining fiction – varied life experience
Jenny: Craig explains that before he settled down on his Wyoming ranch and built the house he’d seen the world.
Craig: When I was a young man and thinking about what it was I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to be and where I wanted to go, I traveled a lot and maybe it’s a massive rationalization, for an ill spent youth. But I think what it actually , was my attempts to try and garner as many experiences as I could, to bring to the writing.
Because I think, some of the most boring writers I’ve ever read are the ones that go to these marvelous writing schools, but really don’t have any kind of, life experience, to draw from. And, for me, I was out there trying to get as much life experience as I could pack into about a 10 year period.
Craig Johnson Episode: www.thejoysofbingereading.com/craig-johnson-beloved-walt-longmire/
Craig Johnson Website: http://www.craigallenjohnson.com/
William Kent Krueger – a master storyteller at the top of his game
William Kent Krueger is the acclaimed author of the Cork O’Connor mystery series as well as some highly praised literary novels like Ordinary Grace and its sequel, This Tender Land. He’s credited by many with being a master storyteller, and it’s a description he owns proudly, as he explains when I asked him how he regards the creative act of story telling.
Kent: It’s interesting that you should raise this question because I just finished an essay for Crime Reads, publication, this morning turned it in this morning. I called it The Storyteller’s Promise. I’m often called a writer or more specifically a mystery writer, but the truth is I think of myself primarily as a storyteller. And I think as a storyteller, as I said in the essay, I have an obligation a sacred obligation to speak the truths that are essential to who we are as human beings.
When I set out to write a story, sure I entertain. I want to make sure that the reader has a good time, but I really try to get at deeper issues. one of the things I do write about is family, because that fascinates me. We have all been part of a family. We’ve created families of our own. There are forces that seek to divide families and that pull them back together.
And as a storyteller, I want to tell the truth. So those kinds of dynamics. Justice is another issue that needs to be explored in an honest way, so I think it’s the storyteller’s obligation to seek out the truths that are common to all humanity and explore them as deeply and as honestly as we can.
William Kent Krueger’s secret ingredient for success
Jenny: And is there one factor more than any other to which he’d attribute his success. His answer was perhaps not what you’d expect from the average writer.
Kent: My wife, who has from the very first believed profoundly in supporting me in this dream I’ve had of being a storyteller. When young writers come to me and they ask me, ‘what’s the best piece of advice you have to offer a young writer,’ it’s this. ‘Marry somebody with a good job.’ My wife is an attorney and so we haven’t had to exist on bread and water at all while I struggled to become a published storyteller.
William Kent Krueger Episode: www.thejoysofbingereading.com/william-kent-krueger-master-storyteller/
William Kent Krueger Website: https://williamkentkrueger.com/
Leeanna Morgan – best selling sweet romance
Leeanna Morgan is a best-selling author of Montana sweet romance, with 55,00 followers on Bookbub, running her highly successful indie publishing enterprise from Wellington, New Zealand. She’s an accomplished business woman as well as one of the nicest people on the planet.
She switched to romance after a top career as a librarian running four branch libraries and nearly 50 staff. What got her kick started into romance?
Leeanna: Of all things, Jenny, it was turning 40. I decided that the last 10 years between 30 and 40 had gone so fast that it felt as if I blinked and missed the whole ten years. I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen in the next 10 years, before I turned 50. So I thought of one thing I wanted to do, to feel as though I’d achieved something in that ten years. I decided to write a book and that’s how it all started.
I wrote one book and I really quite enjoyed it, so then I wrote a second one and I just kept going from there. By the time I turned 50, I had about 20-ish books I’d published. That’s how it started.
The romance of real life – author Leeanna Morgan and husband Tim
Jenny: And Leanna enjoys injecting romance into her own life as well as her books. She explains how the two come to be interwoven:
Jenny: I seem to recall hearing about a trip you and your husband made to the States to renew your wedding vows. Tell us about that.
Leeanna: We had a wonderful time, Jenny. Tim and I were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and we decided to go to Las Vegas and, as part of another small trip we were doing, renew our wedding vows with Elvis. We were serenaded by this amazing man who impersonated Elvis, and we had a big limousine ride. It was fantastic. Our daughter was our flower girl, and our son was our best man and mum was there to walk me down the aisle. It was absolutely wonderful.
Jenny: Fantastic. I think there’s a link back to your first book, isn’t there? Didn’t one of your characters get married at Las Vegas?
Leeanna: She did. Gracie got married at Las Vegas. It was like a full circle of life, a coming around point, and it felt wonderful to do that. When I’d written that scene in Forever Dreams, it was just imagination and, again, doing a bit of research on the internet. But to do that ourselves, it was just magic, it was wonderful. Although her circumstances weren’t quite the same as ours, so it’s quite interesting.
Leeanna Morgan Episode: www.thejoysofbingereading.com/leeanna-morgan-romance-author/
Leeanna Morgan Website: https://www.leeannamorgan.com/
Sarah Penner – A healer turning to dark arts
Sarah Penner was one of those exceptions for Binge Reading – an author with a debut novel that shot to the top of the best seller charts – and the face her episode also finished in the top ten for the year shows the getting her on for a chat was something our audience also really enjoyed. Sarah’s book The Lost Apothecary, a dual time line thriller about a skilled healer who turns her healing gift to dark purposes was one of the most anticipated books of 2021, with everyone from CNN to Oprah giving it favorable mentions.
First up we focussed to a key question – having a female serial killer as your central character is a risky proposition . How do you create a protagonist readers will warm to?
Sarah: You make a good point. When I began writing the story, I knew that I wanted Nella the apothecary to be somewhat morally gray.
The book opens with her in her hidden apothecary shop and it’s very dark and has a sinister feeling, and the reader quickly learns on page one that the apothecary is pulling together a poison. She’s planning to poison someone for the purpose of killing them.
I knew from the very early pages of the book that I was going to have to help the reader understand why she was doing this, and also show a softer side to the apothecary.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic creativity advice turned on the muse
What I aimed to do over the course of the novel is help the reader understand why the apothecary was so vengeful and the emotional wounds she had from her own betrayals in her life. But even more important than that, how she was setting out to help women who had also been betrayed and felt that they had no other resources available to them.
So in a way, the motive behind her for killing is actually somewhat pure and good. I think you quickly see that when Eliza, her 12-year-old customer, arrives at the shop, and we learn why Eliza is purchasing poison from the apothecary.
I hope, at that point, that the reader is able to see the perspective of another victim and how they’re using this the shop of poisons as a last resort. It makes it feel less like murder and more like a way out of a bad situation.
Jenny: Sarah went to an Elizabeth Gilbert creativity workshop, after reading Elizabeth’s book on creativity called Big Magic. Elizabeth, as I’m sure most listeners know is famous for her eat, pray, love book that became such a well-known film, Sarah said The Big magic, and a live workshop she did with Elizabeth in Chicago, was a “game changer” for her. I asked her why.
Sarah: The key premise of Big Magic is about fear and how creative people, whether writers or pianists or painters, or what have you, how you deal with fear. And I think fear is also when I say that I I’m also using that interchangeably with rejection. So that’s every artist. Greatest fear is rejection.
And so the whole book is about how you have to just create while sitting next to fear. And she even pretends that you as an author are in a car, traveling down a road. And fear is like this person sitting in the passenger seat and you really just have to get comfortable with that person sitting next to you for the entirety of your creative life and career.
The lesson in not letting fear of failure stop you trying
And so it was a really enlightening story for me, but what was even more enlightening was that she just happened to be in the city where I was living at the time, which is Wichita, Kansas. Smack dab in the middle of the United States and she was on tour and she, uh, I had the opportunity to go see, listen to her, talk about big magic.
And she asked the audience a rhetorical question, which basically she was asking us to think about our dreams and what sort of things we want to accomplish or pursue that we had not yet taken. Steps towards because of fear. And she said something to the effect of, if I returned one year from now, would you want to be sitting in the same chair, still scared and still having, not taken any steps towards that dream.
And that the answer to that is no. Then you need to take that first step sooner rather than later. And it was just the right question at the right time for me and really resonated with me. And within a couple of weeks, I had enrolled in my first writing class. I had started dabbling with a new story idea.
And, I always think back to that discussion and, just how important and poignant that was for me at the time.
Sarah Penner Episode: www.thejoysofbingereading/sarah-penner-serial-poisoner/
Sarah Penner Website: https://www.sarahpenner.com/
Jan Moran – Heart Warming Women’s Fiction
Jan Moran’s story is one of moving from running a successful beauty care business to USA Today best selling novelist writing heart warming women’s fiction…. Among her recent works is a trio of what she calls her “sensory” novels’ with stories centered around wine, perfume and with The Chocolatier – a dual time line story that moved between 1940s which stars under the Ghiardelli sign in San Francisco, and moves on to Italy and Peru.
Jan explains why she is strongly attracted to stories set in the 40s and 50s…
Jan: I think my mother and my grandmother. I remember their stories of those periods of time. My mother was married in the forties. My father was a pilot based in Newfoundland and used to ferry planes from North America to England via Greenland.
I have a fascination with that period, the fifties, a flashback to the twenties and the forties. Simpler time in many ways, but also, because of the lack of communication, it was often easy to lose track of people. I think that’s often a very good plot twist as well.
It was a time when women were on the emergence. There was a seismic cultural shift going on. While the men were away at war, the women were working, they were holding the fort. Then afterwards, either through circumstance or choice, many of them continued in the workforce and laid the groundwork for where we are today.
I write about women who were very determined, creative, who are resilient and they’re forging their own path. That’s a common thread you’ll find throughout all my books.
Jan Moran Episode: https://thejoysofbingereading.com/jan-moran-heartwarming-fiction/
Jan Moran Website: www.JanMoran.com
Roselle Lim – Magical Romance and Fabulist Fancies
Roselle Lim’s first fabulist-romcom, called Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, was picked up for TV and it looks like the second, just out, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop, could well find its way to the small screen as well. That’s wonderful success for a writer early in her career, but Roselle put in a dedicated apprenticeship to achieve her “overnight success”. Roselle wrote eight manuscripts before she found a publisher.. so I asked her how did she keep going during that period of frequent rejection…
Roselle: Sheer stubbornness. You can accomplish so much if you’re stubborn enough to think you will eventually get there. That is the one piece of advice – you can call it perseverance, you can call it stubbornness or bullheadedness, but it’s this idea that you will eventually get there if you try hard enough and just keep writing.
Jenny: Both books are rooted with boisterous Asian families, riven with inter-generational obligations, strong affection and a love of food… One senses a strong personal element in this family background…
Roselle: That is a very meddling, loud, extended family, which I would say is loosely based on my family. They love, they love hard, they love big, they will smother you with love, and you know their intentions are that they want the best for you. It’s just what they think is the best for you may not necessarily be the best for you, but you know they are coming at it from a position of love.
Roselle Lim Episode: https://thejoysofbingereading.com/roselle-lim-fabulist-rom-coms/
Roselle Lim Website: https://www.rosellelim.com/
Allison Pataki – History’s Forgotten Women
New York Times best selling author Allison Pataki has made it her specialty to discover the relatively unknown women of history whose lives changed the course of empires, whose names have largely been forgotten.
Women like Désirée Clary, the first love of Napoleon’s life. She might have ended up as Empress if he hadn’t met Josephine, but she went on to found a famous royal house which still exists today.
In The Queen’s Fortune, Allison’s latest book, she tells us the story of this fascinating historical figure.
Jenny: So tell us why Désirée Clay deserves to be remembered.
Allison: You’re exactly right, Désirée Clary was Napoleon’s first love, Napoleon’s first fiancée. She was a naïve young girl and he was an upstart, unknown, penniless Corsican refugee when they had this really torrid love affair during the dark days of the French Revolution. They became engaged and then Napoleon went off to Paris to try to make a name for himself in this new French government.
She occupied a higher rung on society’s ladder at that point, she came from a higher social status, she had more personal wealth, she had better connections.
Napoleon was a virtual unknown at that point, but what happened was Napoleon goes to Paris and finds himself at the center of things as the French Revolution is crumbling. He finds his star on this suddenly very dramatically upward trajectory.
Désirée Clary – Napoleon’s jilted fiancee who founded a royal house
He rises in Parisian society and in Parisian power structures and comes into the path of this beautiful, sophisticated, alluring Parisian socialite named Josephine, who obviously we all know will go on to become Napoleon’s Empress.
Jenny: She gets the last laugh, though, doesn’t she?
Allison: She’s pulled into this Imperial power click and into these unbelievable geopolitical circumstances, and goes on to live this fascinating life.
And ultimately I think, has the last laugh. against the man and woman who broke her heart. and as you said, it goes on to found a dynasty of her own that’s still, but still remains to this day. And so here was a woman who was really situated at the, at the center of history. She not only had a front row seat to some of the most dramatic moments in history, but was actively shaping them.
And yet, as you said, so a few of us know her name and her history is not as well known as these others.
Jenny: On a more personal note, in her own intimate memoir, Beauty in the Broken Places, Allison catalogued her own journey through rough waters when her young doctor husband suffers a traumatic stroke.
Allison recounts the day.
Allison: My husband, who was a healthy surgeon, lifelong athlete, never smoked, ate annoyingly healthy food, turned to me on the plane and he said, does my right eye look weird? And his right eye looked incredibly weird. The pupil, the black had taken over his entire eye. It was just the right eye and it was very, very, disconcerting.
We were 30. We were expecting our first child and we were taking a trip on an airplane, for what we called our baby moon, our last trip before we gave birth to this baby and life changed.
Beauty in Broken Places – reminding others they are not alone
I threw out the most outlandish thing I could think of, thinking that he, the doctor who sees gunshot wounds, would say, oh no, calm down, you’re overreacting.
I said Dave, are you having a stroke? And he said, I think I might be. Then a few minutes later, he closed his eyes and lost consciousness. At that point, we didn’t know if he would survive. We didn’t know if he would wake up. He was in a coma.
Ultimately what happened is when he did wake up, he woke up in a state of complete amnesia and he couldn’t remember anything, and he certainly couldn’t make memories from day to day. Dave wasn’t there. Dave woke up, but that wasn’t the Dave who had gone to sleep.
That wasn’t my husband, that wasn’t the father of this baby that was coming. and so as a way to sort of process and try to make sense, and also. In the hopes that maybe someday Dave would be with it enough to ask about everything that we were going through. I wrote him letters. I wrote him daily letters, and I never intended for it to turn into anything.
Jenny: The memoir, Dave’s Book of Fanmail, ultimately became Beauty in Broken Places, an account of a journey which has reminded thousands of others going through tough times that they are not alone.
Allison Pataki Episode: www.thejoysofbingereading.com/allison-pataki-world-changing-women/
Allison Pataki Website: https://allisonpataki.com/
Belinda Alexandra – Sweeping international sagas and Aussie Gothic
Belinda Alexandra is one of Australia’s best selling authors, known for her sweeping international historical sagas, but her latest book The Mystery Woman has been labelled Australian Gothic. It’s a small town mystery influenced by classic noir and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
Belinda talks about why she’s made the change.
Belinda: I think there comes a time in every author’s life, especially when we have written quite a few books, when there is that other book inside of us we want to write.
I had been very influenced by classic noir mystery stories. My mother used to gobble those down and I used to watch them with her when I was a child, so I think I always had that desire in me to write something more contained.
It was an opportunity to do that. I think we like to stretch ourselves as authors and to do something a bit different, so I wanted to create a story that was in a more claustrophobic environment in a small Australian town – the sort of thing that you could imagine you would watch on TV, looking through your fingers, with a sense of suspense and an atmosphere about it.
Jenny: Belinda has also written a non fiction book, The Divine Feline. which is extremely popular with the millions of cat lovers out there.
Here’s what she’s got to say about her passion for cats.
The Divine Feline – a book about cats and the women who love them
Belinda: I have loved cats since I was a child. I love all animals, but cats have been the animal that I’ve grown up with and it really occurred to me that there’s that stereotype of the ‘crazy cat lady.’ And I just wanted to challenge that because I think that’s taking away joy from something that gives women a lot of joy.
And I also think the stereotype is an attack on women’s independence because in a way. There’s that horrible story of, if you don’t get married and have children you’re going to end up this bat crazy woman who is going to be living by herself with just her cats. Then you’ll die and no one will know you’ve died and your face will be half eaten away by your ravenous cats.
And it’s this warning about women being independent. And studies have actually shown that women who love cats, far from being hoarders and loaners, are actually quite social. And they’re socially aware their cultured. They tend to be educated. And so I really wanted to break that stereotype.
From Ancient Egypt to the Middle Ages – famous people and their cats
So in The Divine Feline, I go through the history of women and cats from ancient Egypt through the Middle Ages to the present time to show why that strong bond is there and why it’s been denigrated, because in a sense, it’s not just women who love cats, that are attacked by that image. It’s women in general.
But there’s also lots of fun in the book. It’s a compilation of things that cat lovers in general would love. So there’s a history of cats from ancient Egypt. There’s my own personal memoirs of growing up with cats. And there’s all sorts of humor about famous people in their cats and, and advice on cat behavior and, and other tips. and so on.
Belinda Alexandra Episode: https://thejoysofbingereading.com/belinda-alexandra-spell-binding-mystery/
Belinda Alexandra Website: https://www.belinda-alexandra.com/
Di Morrissey – Australia’s favourite storyteller
Di Morrissey is the out and out Queen of Australian popular fiction, with 3.5 million books sold and her latest, 28th novel – Before the Storm – recently debuting at number 1 in Australian fiction.
She’s published one of her page-turners every October for 28 of the last 29 years, but she’s so much more than Australia’s top novelist. She’s a dedicated local newspaper editor and a committed environmentalist who in 2019 was awarded Australia’s top honor, made a Member of the Order of Australia for services to literature, conservation and the environment.
But when she started out she had to battle prejudice about popular fiction first and women authors, second. A critic called her books – outselling literary books in the thousands – as “hair spray on the page.”
Here’s Di talking about the battle of those early years:
Di: I had two things going against me. I was blonde and I’d worked in television. I was a breakfast television host. I have wanted to write books since I was seven. I’ve now had a big career as a journalist, a big career as a diplomat’s wife, living all over the world. I’ve raised a family,
I’ve been in breakfast television. I got that job because I thought you start at 2:00am and you’re on air from seven to nine, and then you go home. But of course, I was there all day and had to go and see movies and interview people at 11 o’clock at night.
A blonde woman in breakfast television? ‘Hair spray on the page’
After eight years I went, you know what? I’m going to be 40 in a couple of years. This is ridiculous. What happened to the dream of the seven-year-old? So, I just quit.
Then in the Press it’s like, oh well, she’s too old for television now, the poor girl is going to try and write a novel. At that point, Australia was and to a certain extent still is, quite literary snobs and serious writers from Patrick White (a Nobel Prize winner – ed note) were not taken very seriously.
My friend Bryce Courtney – we were Mr and Mrs Popular Fiction as Bryce used to call us, and we were never invited to the literary festivals to speak. We did sell ten times or more what a literary writer might sell, so there was another reason to be viewed with some suspicion and envy, I suppose. It can’t be any good if it sells a lot of books. It was very outrageous.
There is a wonderful agent here called Selwa Anthony, still going on. Selwa had some wonderful clients, she looked after Colleen McCullough for example. She started a campaign with my first book of trying to bring down the barriers from popular fiction. The first one I went to was so uncomfortable, I mean, people were frankly downright rude. So I ignored that and said I’m never doing one again.
Breaking through big satisfaction
But after a number of years, I think I was earning my stripes and I did get to go to the very impressive, popular, wonderful, literary festival in Adelaide, and I’m standing on the stage next to Margaret Atwood and Isabel Allende. And I thought, ‘Take that, folks!’
Jenny: In 2019 Di was 2019 you were made a Member of the Order of Australia for significant contributions to literature as a novelist and to conservation and the environment. For listeners outside Australia, give us a very quick resumé of the importance of that honor, and what did it mean to you personally?
Di: I was absolutely gob smacked. It is, I think, Australia’s most prestigious award. There is the AO (the Officer of the Order) and the AM, which is what I have, a Member of the Order of Australia, and then there’s an OAM, Medal of the Order of Australia. It is a recognition. It is apparently a very extreme process to look at your body of work.
It a huge honor and it is given by the Governor General of Australia. It’s a massive award which meant an awful lot to me, because my publisher had said you are never, ever going to win any award because people are snobby and they only give them to literary people, so don’t ever get your hopes up.
Anyway, two years previously I also got the Lloyd O’Neil Prize from the Publishing Association of Australia. Very few women have been presented with that – Ruth Park I think was the last one, so that was a massive honor. I feel I’ve arrived in that I am taken somewhat seriously. I also give talks at the National Library of Australia and it’s very nice to do that, to feel you have something people want to hear.
Di Morrissey Episode: https://thejoysofbingereading.com/di-morrissey-aussie-fiction-queen/
Di Morrissey Website: https://dimorrissey.com.au/
Karen White – mystery, peril and romance on two continents
Karen White writes a mix of historical and contemporary fiction designed to tug on your heart strings. Karen says she likes to write the sort of books she likes to read… books that will make you laugh, make you cry, and if they also make you think, then all the better..
The Last Night in London is a time slip story that moves between the London of the Blitz and the present day, presenting a fascinating snapshot of how fashion came to be one way Londoners showed their contempt for Adolph Hitler. There was an undercurrent of defiance in the nightclub scene, and continuing to look beautiful was a way to respond to Hitler, to show him that they were not going to give in.
Here’s Karen explaining the attitude: I came across a coffee table book that had been written to go along with an exhibition somewhere, one of the art museums in London, and it was called Fashion in an Age of Crisis. It showed all these gorgeous gowns. I was just shocked that this was wartime, but people were still dancing. They had to be more careful about it, but there was also the romance of it – the men in uniform.
It was the thing to go out and be glamorous. It really was an exciting time, and I was mesmerized by both these books, that this glamorous life could continue in such a fraught time, such a dangerous time.
And the red lipstick, because Hitler hated makeup on women. I’d like to think that was part of the British people’s way of saying, go away.
The days when England was ‘Europe’s Last Hope’
All of Europe was looking, looking at England as their last hope. There’s a fabulous book that I read Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson. It is non-fiction, but it was all about how Europe fell, how the, exiled governments were all in London and Winston Churchill was like, okay, so we’re being bombed, just keep calm and carry on.
And you know, the people did that and That meant putting on your red lipstick, it meant curling your hair. It meant, if you can’t get nylons, same in The States, you’re going to draw the line down the back of your legs and you would make do, because you were doing it for the boys basically.
It’s very sexist now, but back then women were not allowed into combat so that was our way of showing Hitler and showing our support for the boys and also doing our part. By ‘our’, I mean females. They played such a large part in the war effort and did their best to look good while doing it.
It might have been sexist, but it worked. Vogue magazine continued to put out magazines throughout the war, even with the paper shortage and everything else, because the government knew that keeping women excited about fashion – they might make their own clothes out of whatever they had to look fashionable, but they knew that keeping up the women’s morale would also help with the war effort because they were looking good for the guys.
Digging beautiful gowns out of a Deep South Grandmother’s trunk
It would also keep the economy going because they would try to buy what they could and then make do, trying to look like these fashion models in Vogue magazine.
Jenny: The story behind The Last Night in London has some great descriptions of 40s fashion – the gowns, the evening bags, the accessories – that the women wore to maintain their spirits, and I asked Karen if she’d known a lot about the fashion of the period when she started out.
Karen: My link to beautiful gowns and fashion was from my grandmother’s trunks in her Mississippi house. My grandmother had five daughters growing up in the fifties in the deep South. If you can even imagine the dresses. My grandmother saved them all with tissue and all these other things, the long gloves and the handbags, the head fashions, everything. My girl cousins and I would just be ecstatic when we’d go visit our grandmother, because she would let us put them on. And it was our little fashion show. So I’ve always had an interest.
Karen White Episode: https://thejoysofbingereading.com/karen-white-hope-in-darkness/
Karen White Website: https://www.karen-white.com/
What’s Next – and a reminder – support us on Binge Reading on Patreon
That’s it for the Best of Binge Reading, 2021, I hope you’ve enjoyed the show.
In two weeks’ time, we’ll be posting the Best Of All Time episodes- the shows that have made the Top Ten out of 200 episodes we’ve now got online, free for anyone to access.
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