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OK, just before we start, that's not me in the picture above. I don't spend my life sitting serenely in windows, reading books and watching butterflies. I read either at the dinner table, where my book is at constant risk of tomato sauce splatter, or else in bed with a book on the pillow next to me, half a centimetre from my face because I'm ridiculously shortsighted.
In this post, I'm sharing some of the books I've enjoyed reading over the last year or so. All are fiction, set in the real world, with female lead characters.
If you're keen to read any of these books, the Amazon links are right underneath the book images. Clever, huh?
Bloody Women, The Devil’s Staircase, and Viral - Helen Fitzgerald
I first picked up Viral soon after a trip to the very same holiday destination where major events in the story take place, making the setting all too horridly vivid in my mind. With a plot that moves at breakneck speed, laced with humour as dark and dirty as a Magaluf nightclub, Viral had me hooked and I went straight on to find more books by the same author.
Whether it be to confront a crisis or to escape one, Helen Fitzgerald’s characters love to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice. It’s telling then to find out that the author grew up in Australia, lives in Scotland and also spends a lot of time in Italy. The world feels like a much smaller place once you’ve been to the other side of it, and I think the idea of characters running around the world on a whim would really only spring into the mind of someone who has at some time packed up their life and moved to another country.
In Bloody Women, The Devil’s Staircase, and Viral, not only are the lead characters frequently on the move but their stories are multifaceted, going beyond traditional crime fiction narratives to layer in past experiences and family influences which become integral to present day events.
Bloody Women delves into what should be the unremarkable relationship history of Catriona, who is about to get married and shouldn’t really be thinking about her ex-boyfriends too much. Except the ex-boyfriends all start turning up dead. Catriona is arrested for murder, but that’s only one of her problems.
The Devil’s Staircase paints possibly the bleakest imaginable picture of backpacker life in London, but for 18 year old Bronny it’s more than enough. Bronny’s just running away from the fate she believes is waiting for her back home, preferring instead to shape her own destiny.
Su Oliphant-Brotheridge in Viral is a much less enthusiastic participant in her own overseas misadventures, when what should have been just another night partying in Magaluf ends with Su desperately trying to run away from herself while life as she knows it comes crashing down around her ears.
All three books are packed with characters who are larger than life, yet absolutely believable and full of surprises.
Daisy Jones & The Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones was a child of material privilege, although it was her parent’s distant relationship with their child that led her to wander down Sunset Strip in her early teens and get herself into the groupie scene. Daisy partied because she had nothing much else to do, became a personality with her photo in the social pages, and eventually became a rock star with records at the top of the charts.
Daisy Jones & The Six dives into what it was really like to be a rock star in the seventies. Instead of looking up at the stage, we’re sitting in the green room and the studio, watching the band from inside their own world. Every band has its front person, its star, but this band had two, Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne.
Despite getting equal airtime as a lead singer, even Billy becomes a supporting cast member in a story that is, ultimately, all about Daisy. Predictably, Daisy fails to find lasting happiness in a life that can sometimes seem like it was devoted to hedonism, with a music career thrown in along the way for good measure.
Daisy Jones & The Six is written as a series of interviews with the band, their friends, families and associates, in a style so authentic that it led readers (myself included) to Google the question “Is Daisy Jones a real person?”. The book even includes complete lyrics for the band’s album ‘Aurora’. Millions of people loved the Daisy Jones they saw on stage and in magazines. Did anyone love her in real life?
How To Be Famous - Caitlin Moran
How To Be Famous is the sequel to the hugely successful How To Build A Girl, in which teenage writer Johanna Morrigan reinvented herself as music journalist Dolly Wilde and set off to London, where the streets may not be paved with gold but are most certainly lined with adventures.
In this second instalment, Dolly meets feisty singer Suzanne Banks and together they set out to take down a man who has sleazed his way around London one too many times. In the meantime, Suzanne’s band The Branks rip the music scene a new one with their debut album while Johanna endearingly attempts to write her way into the heart of her unrequited love.
How To Be Famous is a Britpop nostalgia trip, and one clear advantage of the mid-nineties setting is that the narrative need not be hampered by modern technology. Johanna’s career in print media isn’t under threat from online competitors, blog is a curse word yet to be uttered (and I’m fully aware of the irony as I write this in my blog post) and she can’t use her crush’s Instagram feed to track his every move around the globe.
Johanna marches into every exploit with her eyes wide open, yet still grows as a person through her friendship with Suzanne and her encounters with the two leading men of the story, one an archetypal abuser of power and the other a true gentleman disguised in wastrel clothing. I admire Johanna for the decisions she makes, especially her determination to maintain her independence and sense of equality in a relationship where she could easily let these hard won boundaries slide.
For those who aren't quite sure, backpacker hostels in Australia offer budget accommodation, mostly in shared rooms with bunk beds. You might stay for one or two nights, or a whole lot longer.
Some hostels are full of quiet, sensible people, while others are known to be hectic party hostels. The best hostels sit somewhere right in the middle of that scale.
Read on for 10 things that you'll only understand if you've experienced hostel life for yourself... for everyone else there might be some surprises!
1) Sharing a bedroom with strangers
Yes, it’s strange to start with, but everyone is in the same situation. Privacy is virtually non-existent, so everyone respects each others space. Keeping your valuables in a locker is always a good idea, as is wearing some kind of clothing to sleep in, but remember that 99.999% of roommates you’ll encounter are no more a thief or a creep than you are.
2) The unshakeable belief that Fruity Lexia makes you sexier
In fact so does any wine that comes in a 4 litre box, but only, and I repeat only, when consumed within the walls of a backpacker hostel. Being seen drinking goon at parties in the real world will absolutely never, ever get you laid.
3) Getting the bottom bunk
How awesome does it feel when you check into a hostel and find that you’ve scored a bottom bunk with a power point next to it! Top bunks can sometimes feel a bit more private, but going up and down that ladder in the dark soon becomes an absolute pain.
4) Creating an entire meal from stuff left in the free food
It’s true that backpackers never, ever turn down a free feed. But aside from that, the concept of a free food shelf in the hostel kitchen is a little way of paying it forward to each other and reducing food waste. Need some rice or pasta to go with your dinner? Check the free food. Flying home today and don’t want to take your teabags and a jar of Vegemite with you? Leave them on the free food shelf.
5) Writing your name on your food bag
All your food lives in two reusable shopping bags, one on the kitchen shelf and one in the fridge. The chances are your food won’t get nicked, but if your bag’s not clearly labelled with your name, room number and departure date it will be thrown out by staff on fridge cleaning day, or end up on the free food shelf.
6) People having sex in dorms
While all the other beds are occupied. Yes, people do this. Even on top bunks. Most top bunks can handle it, but you won’t know for sure until you’ve tried. As a general rule, the noisier a couple are the less likely it is that they’ve ever met each other before. Think this is absolutely disgusting behaviour and you’d never do it a dorm in a million years? Try spending a year living in hostels and then we’ll talk again.
7) Needing about $10 in coins every week to do your laundry
Even if you do manage to wash your whites separately, girls can be assured that all white bras will end up grey after about six months on the road.
8) Knowing there's never a perfect time to get up
If you get up too early you’ll have to be quiet as a mouse because other people in your room are still sleeping. Same time as everyone else and there'll be a queue for the showers. Sleep in too late and before you’ve even got out of bed to brush your teeth the hostel staff will come waltzing in to change the linen on the empty bunk above you, do the hoovering, and maybe even stop to chat.
9) Going on long distance road trips with a bunch of people you’ve only just met
Back home you wouldn’t dream of having a good laugh with some random strangers at the pub then going on holiday with them a week later. But in the backpacker world, that’s exactly what you do. You might even go all in and buy a car together.
10) Friends disappearing from your life as suddenly as they showed up
You went up the coast sharing tents, beers and maybe even boyfriends, but that’s no guarantee you’ll even see their face on Instagram again once you’ve parted ways. But don’t despair just yet. There’s a really high chance you will form friendships that last a lifetime, you just won’t always know which ones they are until you’re somewhere further down the track.
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(21 March – 19 April)
You’re ruthless, attention seeking and will trample over others to get ahead in the game. Oozing confidence, you strut around through life with the unshakeable belief that you are better than everyone else.
You will win… The Bachelor / Bachelorette
(20 April – 20 May)
You enjoy the finer things in life and you’re prepared to work hard to get them. You like to have everything your own way. If someone doesn’t appreciate your particular choice of music, food or wine, you’ll be judging them. Harshly.
You will win… My Kitchen Rules
(21 May – 20 June)
You can talk. In fact, you can work a room like no one else. Networking comes naturally to you. Combine that with your twin personalities and you can effortlessly show a different side to yourself depending on who’s around. Who cares if you can’t form genuine, long term connections?
You will win… The Apprentice
(21 June – 22 July)
You love cake, but you also love your partner / mum / kids / dog and want to prove that you’re not actually useless. Your little country town will get valuable tourism investment when you bring a TV crew home with you. Just don’t let them put the local bakery out of business.
You will win… The Biggest Loser
(23 July - 22 August)
Always the attention seeker, you’re a natural performer who can sometimes go overboard when putting on a show. You’re confident and ready to take on the world, but you’ll be kind to people along the way. As if that ever got anyone far in life.
You will win… The X-Factor
(23 August – 22 September)
When you like someone you will go out of your way to be kind and caring. You can be picky and critical but you’re equally harsh on yourself, especially when it comes to your appearance. All that time you spend fussing in front of the mirror pays dividends.
You will win… Love Island
(23 September – 22 October)
You’re a charming little social butterfly, showing off just enough to make people notice you, before morphing into whatever character you think they might like you to be. Your co-dependent relationship with your singing coach means you’re now destined to have five beautiful minutes at the top of the iTunes chart.
You will win… The Voice
(23 October – 21 November)
You love mysteries and are on a constant quest for truth. You’re persistent AF, which makes you hard to get rid of once you’ve got your mind set on something. In relationships, are you really as in love as you seem, or do you just refuse to give up?
By still being with your partner ten years later, you will win… Married At First Sight
(22 November – 21 December)
You’re all about kicking goals, no matter how ludicrous your goals might seem to others. You’re a daredevil who can’t sit still. There’s mountains to climb, marathons to run and endurance world records to be beaten. Your dream is to represent your country when extreme ironing becomes a recognised Olympic sport.
You will win… The Amazing Race
(22 Dec – 19 Jan)
It’s hard to see someone as serious as you ever finding a place on reality TV. You’re disciplined, hard-working and bordering on authoritarian. You’ve got a creative side but you don’t have time for anything frivolous. If you get the chance to be a bossy-boots then you’ll truly be in your element.
You will win… The Block
(20 January – 18 February)
You enjoy growing hair. Everywhere. Smells don’t bother you and neither do bugs. Charming, eccentric and caring, you’re the quintessential hippy, fighting for what’s right.
You will win… Survivor
(19 February – 20 March)
You’re the ultimate daydreamer. In fact, you mostly live in your dream world because it’s nicer than the real world. Despite all your hard work, will you ever make it? Does anyone actually care about your dreams?
You will win… So You Think You Can Dance
Image: Poidabro [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Australia eh? It's all sunny and full of animals that can kill you. Spiders too, spiders that can kill you. Well, yes that's all true, but here's some lesser known facts to prepare you for normal life in an Australian city.
1) It gets cold in Australia
Seriously. We have cold winter days here, especially in June and July. Aussies wear coats in winter, just like everyone else. What we don’t have here is central heating, so we just sit at home with no heating whatsoever and huddle up under layers of blankets while we’re watching TV. Some areas of Australia even get snow, enough that there’s a whole region of ski resorts around the Snowy Mountains, just south of Canberra.
2) No-one actually drinks Fosters
All those adverts on TV back home, where blokes in the outback are sitting around swigging cans of Fosters and hanging out with their pet kangaroos? Sorry mate, all just one big marketing con. Australians love a cold beer, but it’ll be a Coopers, James Boag’s, Little Creatures, or any of the legions of other local beers that taste so much better than Fosters.
3) Australia doesn’t have any copper coins
In fact, 1c and 2c coins were withdrawn from circulation back in 1992. It took me weeks to realise this because when I first arrived in Australia there was a copper coin rattling around in my purse, a copper coin which I just assumed was a 1c coin. Nope, it was just a penny that was suddenly a long, long way from home. Pricing in shops is often still down to the cent, but the total value of cash payments is automatically rounded up or down to the nearest 5c.
4) You can’t buy fireworks in Australia
Anywhere. Except for one day a year in the Northern Territory. Only licensed pyrotechnics professionals are allowed to buy and use fireworks. What this does mean is that every big public event, sporting occasion or even just most Saturday evenings in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, will end with a firework display. New Zealand celebrates Bonfire Night on 5th November, but Australia doesn’t.
6) You can’t buy booze in the supermarket
But there is a supermarket devoted to booze. It’s called Dan Murphy’s.
7) Australian English isn’t always very British
In fact, it’s more American at times. Over here we watch movies not films, wear pants not trousers and if you’re in the market for a new home you’ll need to see a real estate agent. Why are they so ‘real’? And another thing I’m pretty sure we’ve inherited from the US - the ad breaks on TV are in all the wrong places. You can’t make a cuppa between one programme (I mean, show) and the next because there’s no break in between!
8) Australian’s love to watch 'the footie’
You’re absolutely right in thinking ‘footie’ must be short for football, but in New South Wales, ‘footie’ means NRL (National Rugby League). In Victoria and Western Australia, ‘footie’ means AFL (Australian Football League), which is the game that you might have heard of as ‘Aussie rules footballs’. Both leagues kick off in March, with grand finals around the end of September. A couple of weeks later the A-League starts, and that’s the football league. Except most people insist on calling it soccer.
9) There’s a huge subculture known as ‘bush doof’ parties
Dance music took a long while to gain popularity in Australia and any music with a repetitive electronic beat was derided as ‘all that doof doof music’. Party people were being judged in the cities so they took the party out to the bush. That means ‘the countryside’, by the way. Nothing to do with pubic hair. ‘Doofing’ is not just about music but also incorporates experimental arts, health and wellbeing, with an ethos of everyone being kind to each other and to the environment.
10) ‘Thongs’ are not a type of underwear
Thongs are flip-flops and they’re not just for the beach. Thongs are standard day-to-day footwear and it’s only really necessary to swap them for something more substantial when you’re in the office or at a wedding. Wearing thongs to the shops, out to lunch, or to any casual social occasion is just plain normal.
I grew up in the UK, where the national home of non-commercial music is late nights on BBC Radio 1. Australia’s nearest equivalent radio station is Triple J, except Triple J is pretty much non-commercial all day long.
I stopped listening to radio when I stopped driving a car, which was more years ago than we need to talk about here. When I did try dipping my toe in again, I quickly learnt that mainstream radio is horrible here, maybe because the presenters are just so damn hyped up and excitable, plus of course it’s all just lowest common denominator pop music. And then there was Triple J, which just never seemed exciting enough. I seemed to catch some kind of slow, miserable song every time I tuned in and I always switched off within seconds.
I stuck with listening to my favourite regular podcasts, mixes and CDs that I’d picked up around the club scene. Eventually a long time passed without me listening to anything much except trance, hard dance and occasionally a bit of fairly mainstream house music.
For years and years, I had no idea what music the rest of the world was listening to.
That was until a few months ago, when I travelled to Tasmania. For those who need a map, Tasmania is the island state at the southernmost point of Australia. I hired a car to drive around this beautiful island for a week. One thing I was sure of before I started my road trip, I was here to escape from my life in Sydney and everything that came with it. My new adventure needed a new soundtrack.
I switched on the radio and started to hear music that suited my mood. A mood where I was very far away from city lights, driving down a country road into the unknown. After a couple of songs the presenter started speaking and I learnt that I was listening to Triple J. My week rolled on, driving through the ever-changing landscape of farmland, coastal towns, rainforest and everything in between, and never once did I think about changing the radio station.
Tasmania was even more amazing than everyone had told me it would be. I continued my travels around Australia. Somewhere along the way, I decided that Spotify might be my friend. I started paying for premium, followed artists I’d learnt about from Triple J and suddenly every day became a new adventure in music.
Yes, I’d been that far out of touch with other music, I’d not even been using Spotify.
Fast forward a couple of months and I found myself in the crowd at Groovin The Moo festival. I could cringe about my poor outfit choice for the occasion, I thought I was going to jump around getting sweaty then sit down in a field somewhere but I was in fact attending WA’s answer to Coachella. I could moan about how old I felt once I realised half the crowd were underage, instead, props to all the WA teens who look years older than you are.
But more important than all that, I got to catch some of my new favourite artists live and continue my voyage of discovery. I’ll be back next year for sure, this time with a bit more style and glitter.
For now, here’s five songs I fell in love with this year, thanks to Triple J. Remember, when I turned that car radio on just a few months ago, I had no idea if I was listening to brand new artists or to global superstars.
Stella Donnelly – Tricks.
Stella Donnelly’s album “Beware of the Dogs” was Triple J’s featured album in my first week of listening to the station. “Tricks” is the song that starts with someone going to dinner and breaking all the plates. Donnelly is unafraid to speak uncomfortable truths, delivering an album of sharply crafted lyrics to make the patriarchy squirm.
Billie Eilish – wish you were gay
How had I not heard of Billie Eilish? At the time of following her on Spotify, I discovered that this unique, sophisticated American artist was 17 years old and the 6th most streamed artist in the world! “wish you were gay” is a little more catchy and a lot less dark than many tracks on Eilish’s debut album “WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO?”, but of course you already knew that because I’m the only person on earth who hadn’t heard of her!
Dean Lewis – 7 Minutes.
“7 Minutes” is just a perfect song to sing inappropriately loud while driving. Dean Lewis is a bloke with a guitar from Sydney, singing nice songs, also up there on the streaming charts at 200th most streamed as of today, and especially popular in Australia. Again, you probably already knew that, although I reckon he’s chasing Ed Sheeran’s fan base rather than Billie Eilish’s.
Jack River – Ballroom
Jack River’s album “Sugar Mountain’ is smooth, timeless and will eternally have a place on my summer driving playlist. Jack River is female by the way, and a strong voice behind the scenes as a co-founder of the “Electric Lady” events, which feature all-female line ups, and as an advocate for equality across the music industry.
G Flip – Drink Too Much
“I wanna get into trouble, I wanna be out ‘til lunch…” Yep, me too, G. G Flip wrote this song about a time when she tried to deal with a break up by getting wrecked way too often, and many of us have absolutely been down that road at least once. G Flip is on a fast ride from Triple J Unearthed to the big time. Pulling a big early afternoon crowd at Groovin The Moo, she had fans singing back every word before she ran to the back of the stage to rock out on her beloved drums at every opportunity.
What does your choice of social media say about you?
You’re a regular person. You’ve got a well-rounded life with a partner, kids, career and an interesting hobby. Your other hobby is oversharing. Anyone who doesn’t care about the next episode in the school hair nits debacle can take solace in scrolling through photos from your recent extreme crocheting weekender.
Oh you were in your school debating society, weren’t you? You with your political insights and slightly pompous opinions? Thank heavens you’re limited to 280 characters every time you want to fart your thoughts out across the internet.
Literally all you can do with this app is post pictures of yourself looking pretty and then wait for your followers to confirm that yes, you look pretty today. There’s no room for discussion or opinion, just an endless cycle of beauty and validation. Your personal brand image dictates your every move. In real life you’re actually quite boring.
Originally used exclusively by those who enjoyed distributing unsolicited genital images, Snapchat’s main purpose now is to share your drunken exploits with everyone who wasn’t at the same pub as you last night. You’ve been embellishing your selfies with stars and cat ears for years, so when Instagram finally introduced all the same filters it was like the Kardashians were trying to keep up with the high street. You're a local girl with a big heart.
Vero launched in 2015. Everyone with a brand to promote joined the network. No-one else ever joined. Vero now supports emerging artists, of the grown up and sophisticated variety, across all creative disciplines. If you’re using Vero, you’re probably rich and talented.
A place for professional people to share their industry insights, thought leadership and work related news. And then there’s you. Reposting inspirational status essays written by a fitness brand influencer, who is actually now in jail for conning her followers into buying miracle healing tea products made entirely from dried up lettuce. You’re everyone’s earnest but embarrassing co-worker, and you always will be.
YouTube video creators can make real income from streaming, so if you’re posting videos and people who aren’t your mates are watching them, congrats! You’re not necessarily talented, but you have hit on a formula that makes people click, subscribe and share. If on the other hand you spend all day sharing your innermost thoughts in the YouTube comments section, you’re most definitely male, on the dole and have a questionable approach to personal hygiene.
You’re doing something in the entertainment business and just want to make very, very sure that you’ve got a presence in every searchable corner of the internet. Or else you’re the stalwart American reality TV and game show contestant Ken Scalir, who is the last known human to be using Myspace as his primary social media platform.
It’s dead. Presumably then so are you.
Nicki Ranger is a freelance writer currently based in Perth, Western Australia.
All text content © Nicola Ranger 2013-2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.
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