I picked this book up at The Moat, a bar/restaurant slightly underneath the Victorian State Library. It has a shelf of books that can be taken by customers on the proviso that at some stage, you put one in yourself – although a further proviso is “No Dan Brown” (seriously it says that on the sign). Anyway I’d heard of Dubosarsky and never read any of her stuff, and the cover was immediately entrancing – look at that purple! and the gold is luminous!
There’s a little bit of Picnic at Hanging Rock around this book, which Dubosarsky herself acknowledges, as well as a lot of inspiration from art – especially that of Charles Blackman, whose paintings and drawings provide the chapter headings. It also, she says, draws on her own memories of being a Sydney schoolgirl.
Eleven little girls have a somewhat peculiar teacher, who takes them out of school down to the nearby gardens, to consider the world and attempt poetry and to listen to a gardener-cum-poet, Morgan. (It’s fair to say that there were a lot of alarm bells for me as a teacher with this book! The 60s were truly a different world…) But something happens – something unexpected and terrible, but probably not what you’re thinking: let me spoil this slightly and say nothing happens to the girls themselves, IT’S OK Tansy can read this if she hasn’t already.
While the ongoing repercussions of the Serious Event colour the entire book, Dubosarsky works other issues in, in the same way that such issues would probably be experienced by your average kid. It opens on the day Ronald Ryan is hanged (the last such event in Australia); the Vietnam War is ongoing. Closer to home, things are not entirely well in the homes of at least one of the girls, although exactly what is going on is never fleshed out; the reader sees glimpses in the way that a casual schoolfriend sees glimpses, only when they’re allowed or by accident.
It’s a very short book – 150 pages of well-spaced type. It’s a delightfully written book, with evocative descriptions of schoolrooms and gardens and slightly creepy creeks. Dubosarsky captures the innocence and bewilderment and childish cunning of children very nicely too; a student would have no trouble seeing themselves in this novel, in the attitudes and expectations of the schoolyard. It’s also potentially a frustrating book. It begins in 1967, with the girls about 10 years old; it covers about a fortnight in their lives, mostly in the schoolroom with occasional forays outside. It then jumps to one afternoon in 1975, with four of the girls sitting their final HSC exam, and a final intriguing addendum to their experience eight years earlier. The story is left ajar – not quite open, not quite closed… I guess this is fitting since the girls themselves are on the cusp of adulthood, so their lives at this point are liminal, balancing between two aspects.
The Golden Day is intriguing, and luminous like its cover; I have no doubt this will stay with me into the future. Especially when considering excursions.
You can buy The Golden Day at Fishpond.
In just a few days, A Trifle Dead will be launched – a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for rather a long time. Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, another voice of Galactic Suburbia and overall awesome author. I decided to throw some questions at her and see what happened…
OMG I hadn’t even thought of a Livia Day autograph. I only have a few days to figure that one out before the launch! Thanks for the head’s up.
I have actually just finished writing an article I was commissioned to do for Writing Queensland about this whole topic so I’ll keep it fairly brief this time: I wanted to differentiate between my crime writing and fantasy writing selves. Livia is after my favourite imperial Roman woman, the one I never managed to name one of my children after (believe me, I considered it!) and Day is from teenage newspaper editor Lynda Day in Press Gang, one of my first fictional heroes.
Given the title, and its setting in and around a cafe (I’ve read the first chapter thanks to Salvage), clearly food is going to play some role in the novel. How important is food, do you think, in setting up a world? I can think of lammas bread from Lord of the Rings, and vaguely remember exotic English teas from ancient kids’ books, but a lot of the time food doesn’t seem to get much of a look in.
Food is a great storytelling device! I do a lot of worldbuilding through social customs in my fantasy writing, and food is key to that – in A Trifle Dead food is certainly relevant to character traits. Almost everything in crime fiction comes down to the psychology of characters, the reason why people do what they do. My protagonist is a professional cook and cafe manager and she uses food in many ways – to heal, to nurture, to manipulate, to bribe, to cement friendships. In the opening chapters she is actually using food as a kind of anti-siege weapon, to rid herself of the over-protective men in her life.
I think part of the reason that culinary themes work so well with crime fiction is because it gives us something comforting to balance out the scary or more confronting themes to do with murder and darker psychologies. I love Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman and the baking she does in those books – and one of my favourite crime series of all time, the Roman historical mysteries about Falco the informer (by Lindsey Davis) uses food as worldbuilding as well as to express character.
Then there’s Agatha Christie, of course, herself an experienced chemist – every bite in those books could potentially kill you!
Why Hobart, aside from it being your home town?
Well you see, it’s my home town… but that doesn’t mean it was the default for these books. I actually found it quite confronting to write something set in my own home town, especially when I was much younger. One of the oddest things about doing that is how your own version of a place you know intimately can clash with other people’s perceptions – I think I’m going to have a much better time selling the idea of Hobart being a fun, arty and cosmopolitan centre than when I first started working on this manuscript years ago, because we’ve had a bit of a media renaissance around here in the last year or two thanks to MONA and other cultural events.
But of course the short answer is that Tabitha grew out of this city – her story couldn’t be told anywhere else.
It certainly has a different skillset – much tighter plotting is required! You can’t just take people off down a meandering path, or let your imagination run completely unfettered. It’s harder in some ways and easier in others – the biggest difference is not actually the genre aspect, but the difference between writing in an imaginary world and the current world. Being able to throw in pop culture or technology references, and so on. I had to think a lot more about the constraints because in all the crime fiction I grew up reading, no one had mobile phones or Twitter or DNA testing, and that sort of thing makes it kind of difficult to get away with a lot of the more traditional crime fiction twists. Sure you can have your character’s mobile phone get broken but that’s cheating…
Do you have further stories in mind for Tabitha Darling?
Oh, yes, I’m contracted for a sequel, Drowned Vanilla. Even more than A Trifle Dead it is about internet culture and creative culture and how these two things interact. The story is about a girl who goes missing from a house that’s full of webcams. But mostly it’s about ice cream. Oh my goodness I know so much about the history of vanilla that I didn’t know before writing this book!
After that, we’ll see – if the readership is there, I will happily continue with Tabitha’s adventures in catering and murder mystery solving – I’m deeply in love with the eccentric ensemble cast she has gathered around her, and any excuse to spend more time with them.
Is there anything else we should know? Like other exciting books?
Just that my early fantasy books are being made available as e-books by Fablecroft – Splashdance Silver is up now on Kindle, Wizard’s Tower and Weightless Books, and the other two Mocklore Chronicles are shortly to follow. The third one was never officially published before so that’s quite exciting to people like yourself who had a fondness for my funny pirate witch explosive magic books…