Sunday, 4 December 2016

We sat down for a chat...with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's debut novel, The Smell of Other People's Houses, paints a superbly grounded sense of teenage life in small town 1970s Alaska. We asked her a few questions and she's even shared her favourite fish recipe too!

The Smell of Other People's Houses - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
          We Sat Down: What are some of your favourite smells and why? 

          Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock: One is low bush cranberries growing wild near Fairbanks Alaska. It almost smells like the whole forest is moldy and ripe, which some people really dislike, but if I’m walking on the trails near Fairbanks and smell that peaty foliage ALL of my childhood memories come flooding back.I also love the smell of cardamom, reminding me of time I spent in Kathamandu where it wafted through the air from all the street vendors and the little tea shops. However, smells that bring back the strongest sense of place are usually related to our time spent fishing. Just the other day my daughter ordered green tea at a restaurant in St. Louis and both she and her brother immediately said, “wow, that smells like the inside of our fishing gloves when we hang them up to dry on the boat.” Sadly, I think it tasted like that as well.

A moose
 WSD: What 'wild, untamed childhood' moments, do you personally thank Alaska for?

B-S H: Alaska is just so big and has such a small population that our childhoods were formed by the environment almost as much as by the people we knew. As kids we would ride our bikes until 3am during the summer because it was light all night long. My own kids were running skiffs (small boats) in tiny bays at the age of 5 or 6. We spent a lot of time camping and rafting rivers with our huge extended family.

But mainly we just live more connected to the land. Everything revolves around when the salmon spawn or the first big freeze up in winter. I just like the way we seem to live from season to season in a more cohesive way than in other places I’ve lived.

Salmon fishing with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
WSD: You loved fishing but do you love cooking fish? Do you have a favourite fish recipe?

B-S H: I am such a salmon fanatic that I eat it at least every other day. My favorite recipe is VERY simple because King Salmon is so full of flavor, you really don’t have to do much to it. Basically salted and grilled with lemon and onion and maybe a little dill is all you need to do. The biggest thing is not to over cook it or it will be dry. There are so many omega 3 oils that it’s like eating a stick of butter and who doesn’t love butter? (my mouth is watering just typing this)

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock fishing with her kid
WSD: If you could invite anyone, who would you invite to go fishing with you?

B-S H: I think fishing is definitely not for everyone so it’s really important to be with people who can handle a small space and don’t freak out about being seasick. I can only imagine being out there on the ocean with my kids because we are all acclimated to each other and are very familiar with the pace of the fishing life. I’ve tried to find a good answer to your question but when I asked my kids they said it’s cruel to make people work that hard and be covered with fish blood and have to smell bad for weeks on end. Perhaps they are trying to tell me something? So I guess I’ll say I would take anyone who promised beforehand not to be mad at me if they felt really awful the whole time. 


Thanks so much, Bonnie-Sue, and you all can read more about her here: There are some really interesting and charming bits on her blog, including flowers, whisky bottles and nieces with cool hair.

Our review of The Smell of Other People's Houses here.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

The Smell of Other People's Houses - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Can you picture flowers in a whisky bottle? I can; Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock did and this conjuring permeates the pages of this novel beautifully. It's her debut and my goodness....

From the visceral first pages, I was already in a different time and place, and the novel kept me right there with Ruth, Dora, Dumpling and Alyce in rural 1970s fishing and hunting Alaska. The time and setting were refreshingly different to read about.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses has a charm and poignancy that avoids a sickly nostalgia by moving swiftly (and sometimes matter-of-factly) through a very busily interweaved plot: Catholicism, teen pregnancies, broken families, perfect families, poverty, small town social stratifications, territorial and indigenous politics, and naked boys in convent gardens. It’s all there, and told from a number of diverse teen characters' perspectives.

There is a lot of plot in this novel, but it also lingers in wonderfully and often comically observed social scenes. The Smell of Other People’s Houses captures a wonderful and loving sense of a changing time and place and the characters who live in these pages are a delight.

I adored it.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal.

Publication details: 2016, Faber & Faber, London, paperback

This copy: received for review from the publisher

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Australian fiction highlight

Dust, steam, grit and wonder. I am very much a fan of the Australian children's and YA fiction that is published in the UK. Of the novels we've reviewed on We Sat Down, all of them immediately transport you to to a different place. You can feel the dust, or the steamy rain. You can feel the grit and you can feel the magical and lyrical wonder. The Australian fiction that I love is a whole sensory experience. Here's a recap of the ones We Sat Down has featured:

Most recently, are two from this year's Carnegie nominations:

The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard: Lyrical and distinct voices, poetry, and injured subjects. A little gem.


The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon: Two more marvellous narrators, one in a refugee detention centre and one recovering from her mother's death. An exceptional story.

Going further back, there is: 

Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman: One of the first YA novels I'd read that discusses the complexities of gender identities and assignment. Full of grit and rub.

The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee: Texture, texture, texture. You can feel everything about this story.

Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan: Fantasy short stories; visceral, beautiful and very rumbling. A must-look for those interested in inclusion and diversities. 

Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield: the most mesmerising and shocking psychological thriller I'd read in  while. Beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking. 

And then, of course, there is Lyndon Riggall, the winner of the 9-12 category of Hot Key Young Writer's Prize 2013, the year I was on the judging panel.

We sat down for a chat......with Glenda Millard

Glenda Millard is the author of Australian novel The Stars at Oktober Bend, published in the UK by Old Barn Books. As part of our Carnegie 2017 theme, we asked her a few questions:

Australian Author Glenda Millard
WSD: You say you like going down roads you've never been before (on
your web bio). Did any of these lead you to Oktober Bend?

Glenda Millard: My physical meanderings are motivated by a number of things - curiosity being high on the list. But writing a story is also a journey. Planning isn’t one of my strengths, so taking the initial step, writing the first sentence, not knowing how I’m going to get from there to the end, who I’ll meet along the way, how I’ll discover what’s shaped them and the joys and sorrows we’ll face together before we arrive at journey’s end are to a large extent unformed. So in that sense, I did go down a road I’d never been before and it did lead me to Oktober Bend. But then again, Oktober Bend has always been a place inside me, partly real, partly imagined and so are the people I met along the way.

WSD:  If you were placing unread poems that you hoped would be read,
where would you put them?

GM: On the backs of bus seats, or bathroom doors at doctor’s rooms, in magazine racks at hairdressing salons. Places where people stop and sit for a while - where they have time to think and where I would have a captive audience.

WSD:  Why a 'k' in Oktober?

GM: I remember reading an article about a wonderful artist and illustrator of children’s books whose name is Tricia Oktober. I love Tricia’s paintings, I love that she loves animals and gardens and I loved the look of her surname; the ups-and-downs of it - the surprising spiky bits, the beaky obliques and the smooth round humps and hillocks. Yes.....there is much to appreciate about words, including their music, their meaning and their visual delights.

The Stars at Oktober Bend - Glenda Millard
WSD: A top tip for budding writers?

GM: Read. Read A LOT - and learn to appreciate the writing, not simply the story.

WSD: Cats or dogs person?

GM: Dogs - always, utterly and absolutely.


You can read our review of The Stars at Oktober Bend here.