24 May 2022

The Canberra bookshelf: celebrating local literary talent

| Barbie Robinson
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This is not a book about Benedict Cumberbatch book cover

Tabitha Carvan’s This is not a book about Benedict Cumberbatch is a witty memoir and reflection. Image: Supplied.

This month’s selection emphasises for me how much writing talent we have in our region. We have such a variety of people quietly producing treasure – and so many debut works each month.

Tabitha Carvan’s first book This is not a book about Benedict Cumberbatch is a prime example (Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, Australia, 2022).

What can be seen at its simplest level as another book about a woman discovering herself and her joy is in fact a well-researched philosophical treatise on gender and society.


READ ALSO: The Canberra Bookshelf: love, loss and landscape


It’s also highly amusing, even though we are drawn into painful sympathy many times and in many ways, not just with the author but with the numerous women she cites in her writing.

There’s a voyeuristic element to some of this, as indeed there seems to be with the writer’s approach. She is torn between staring in amazement at what is out there in fanfic, for example, and revelling in the choices she has made to unashamedly and whole-heartedly pursue happiness in whatever form it takes. No judgment, please.

It’s a book that pulls the reader along with ease.

Improv Embroidery book cover

Carol Cooke’s Improv Embroidery is also about the meditative nature of the practice. Image: Supplied.

And to prove my point about diversity, let’s take Carol Cooke’s Improv Embroidery (self-published, Australia 2022).

This book promotes the importance of pursuing what are sometimes seen as ‘selfish pleasures’. That is, doing things that may not have an apparent benefit to anyone but oneself.

Carol invites her readers and her in-class students to take up the needle, thread and other bibs and bobs and create beautiful objects using cast-off fabrics.

Her clear instructions and excellent photos lead the reader and potential subversive embroiderer into many projects, all of which may end up in a shoebox or a sampler book.

READ ALSO The Canberra Bookshelf: memoirs, musing and analysis make history

It’s just for the sheer fun of it and bravo, I say.

It’s a world away from dressing table runners embroidered with stock patterns, projects that also have their place; instead, it is the pursuit of one’s own creativity, starting with observation, sketches and scribbles, found text, and whatever takes your fancy.

It’s a delight and goes well beyond the specialist audience of textile artists and novices for whom it was initially intended.

This is a high-quality production. The design by Praxis Creative Canberra is top notch, itself a work of art. The best way to track it down is via Carol Cooke’s website.

When I Grow Up I Will Shine book cover

Casey Bruning’s When I Grow Up I Will Shine is a joyous children’s book. Image: Supplied.

Speaking of self-publication, debut author Casey Bruning is further pudding-proof that a good story and a determined writer will find a way to the published page.

When I Grow up I will Shine (Tellwell, Canada, 2021) is brimming with positive messages about kindness, self-love, care for others and the environment and valuing time with family and friends.

The pictures are by an unnamed Tellwell illustrator and are bright, cheerful and contemporary in feel.

The questions in this text are directed to the young reader or listener and invite consideration of how we can each be our best and happiest selves. Good stuff.

Plume Global Nibbler book cover

Tania McCartney’s Plume Global Nibbler features a curious penguin. Image: Supplied.

Prominent Canberra writer-illustrator Tania McCartney has produced the second of her Plume series Plume Global Nibbler (Hardie Grant, Australia, 2022).

There’s a series of these underway and each installation promises a new adventure for this intelligent and curious penguin hero and his chums.

In this case, it’s about food around the world. The instructive imperative is that trying new foods leads to having new experiences and developing new understandings and connections with our fellows (human or penguin).

As always, the book is fun, bright, packed with discussion details, other language words and the invitation to embrace the wonders of our world.

Taking what we know and expanding it to what we have yet to know is not just a storyline; it’s a philosophy of life. Great to see it so forcefully expressed for young book people.

Charles the Gallery Dog book cover

Charles the Gallery Dog invites children into the hallowed spaces of the art world with a tale of resilience. Image: Supplied.

A cheeky bit of self-promotion for my latest collaboration with now South Coast artist Ian Robertson.

Our book Charles the Gallery Dog was published by For Pity Sake Publishing and released on 1 March.

It’s a story of resilience with a plucky little dachshund as its chief protagonist.

The book’s about that universal thing – you get knocked down, you get up again.

Barbie Robinson is co-founder and a content creator for Living Arts Canberra, a not for profit media outfit supporting arts and community in the Canberra region and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and a 24/7 internet radio station.

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