What Makes A Good Antagonist? – Plus Book Giveaway!

BB14Welcome to our cross-blog, which offers tips on writing. Every month writing mentor Sydney Smith ‘interviews’ author Kathryn Ledson and me on some aspect of the writing craft. We welcome your questions and comments. To celebrate my nomination for the Australian Writer’s Centre Best Australian Blogs 2014 (and also for reaching 30,000 views on my website!) I’m giving away a signed copy each of Wasp Season, Brumby’s Run and Currawong Creek. To go in the draw, leave a comment telling us who is your favourite fictional bad guy! (Aust & NZ residents only)

This month’s question is: What makes a good antagonist?

cross blogAccording to Wikipedia, “An antagonist is a person or group of people who oppose the main character.” But the antagonist can also be non-human. It can be a dragon, a Martian, a volcano, a disease like Parkinson’s; anything that opposes the protagonist.

Sydney:
An antagonist is a broader and more complex idea than a villain. A villain acts for purely selfish reasons and does destructive things with no consideration for the effect they will have on others. A villain is wicked. A villain is unable to change and grow.

An antagonist, on the other hand, is a character who pursues a certain goal in the story. This goal opposes that of the protagonist. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy is Elizabeth’s main antagonist until after the first proposal scene. But it is Mr Wickham who is the villain, and he doesn’t emerge in that light until after Mr Darcy sets Elizabeth straight about what really happened between him and Wickham.

Villains have a role in fiction. Crime novels use villains. A serial killer is a villain. Any character who feels entitled to murder to get what they want is a villain. But then we get into a tricky area, because some crime fiction heroes, like Lucas Davenport in John Sandford’s Prey series, feel entitled to shoot dead the killer he has been pursuing.

Jennifer:
Great antagonists make great stories, don’t they? Thwarting our hero at every turn, keeping the reader turning those pages. A compelling antagonist needs to be built with the same care as any other character. Unfortunately, I often read books where the bad guy is underdeveloped, a cardboard cut-out who is simply evil for evil’s sake. For me, an antagonist needs strong motivation and has to have something at stake, ie: needs to be trying to avoid something or gain something. They must be intelligent and adaptable – worthy adversaries. A compelling antagonist must also be flawed in some way, perhaps having a weakness that readers can relate to and even causes readers to be a little torn at times as to where their sympathies lie. I also love them to have secrets. But of course the most important thing is for the antagonist to stand fairly and squarely in the path of our hero.

the-perfect-storm 2I’m fascinated by the concept of non-human things being antagonists. I’ve just read The Perfect Storm, a creative non-fiction book by Sebastian Junger, where the weather is a spectacular villain. Literary fiction and commercial women’s fiction often don’t have a clear wrong-doer, but even so they must have someone or something opposed to the hero, or else the narrative drive just falls away. You suggested to me, Sydney, that in my book Currawong Creek the troubled four-year-old boy Jack was the antagonist, because his presence and behaviour constantly gets in the way of my hero’s plans. Whatever or whoever your antagonist may be, it’s worth investing plenty of time on them.

Sydney:
I think part of the problem is that writers think antagonists have to be bad people. This is surely connected to the common fallacy that conflict is negative. A good antagonist, like conflict, feeds the narrative. As you say, Jenny, without a strong antagonist, the story falls away. That’s because there isn’t enough for the hero to do! But an antagonist must do more than give the hero something to do. They have to be focused on what they want. They have to be prepared to do ANYTHING to get it. Stories ramp up the tension and suspense as soon as the main players are prepared to do anything to get what they’re after.

Kathryn:
Like Jennifer, I’m especially fascinated by non-human antagonists because for me their elusive non-humanness makes them even more frightening than your average axe-wielding psycho. The scraping sound in the attic. The jungle and its slithering, crawling, scuttling inhabitants. The house whose walls bleed. Christine. But human or not, one thing that gives an antagonist depth of character is his/her/its own goal, and motivation for it. I’ve learned (thank you, Sydney) that it’s vital for the author to keep this in mind and, as Jen says, just as important as the goal and motivation of the protagonist. Your antagonist’s goal and motivation should be so strong that if the story were written from his point of view, we would be barracking for him!

Jaws 2Let’s look at JAWS as a timely example, where the obvious villain has an apparent goal to eat everyone in that peaceful seaside town, selfishly snatching away and ripping apart whoever dares stick a toe in that water. However, if the story of the terrifying monster shark – let’s call him Bruce – were written from Bruce’s point of view, we’d discover his motivation for that goal. It might be to avenge all the horrible atrocities committed against his family by humans. When he was a tiny sharkling, perhaps he watched his mother being definned and tossed, alive, back into the sea where she spent hours lying on the ocean floor with baby Brucie pleading as she drowned, “Please swim, Mummy!” And she in turn warning him off, “Save yourself, my son!” Perhaps even the Horrible Human that the now fully grown and vengeful Bruce seems hell-bent on devouring is the one who murdered his mother. (Actually, I’m trying to remember the story and something like this might in fact be the case.) Anyway, if Bruce’s story were written well, we’d be standing in the aisles cheering him on! We might even go swimming that summer, knowing Bruce’s friends would be satisfied with their hero’s fine work; that the shark population was now safe from the evil doings of That Terrifying Human.

So you can see that, as a writer, knowing your antagonist’s goal and motivation can really help build its character, even if it’s never openly stated in the writing. But it will surely emerge, and the reader will sense it but possibly not understand why your antagonist is a truly terrifying one.

Sydney:
I totally get where Bruce is coming from. I feel like cheering him on – except that I’m not sure I agree with someone using violence to resolve their conflicts!

Kath has made a good point, though. Whether the non-human antagonist is a shark or a tsunami, anthropomorphising it will allow the reader to identify with it. Whatever the reader may think of this practice, it is effective. Perhaps it also shows the limits of the human imagination that we find it so hard to imagine a being whose psychology is different to our own. Even when we get back to basics – what does this creature need to survive? what does it fear? – we tend to make them human-like in their responses to these needs and dreads. I recall watching District 8, a movie out of South Africa, which uses a colony of aliens to discuss issues of refugees and asylum-seekers (and any marginalised group, really). The film-maker, who also wrote the script, was unable to imagine what it was like to be one of the aliens. His human hero was terrific, but the film fell short when it came to making the alien a riveting and complex character. Which means that the issues the film discussed were let down and undermined by this shortcoming in the movie.

In fact, now I think of it, any one of us can have trouble imagining what it is like to be someone else, human or animal or alien or force of nature, when what is really required of us is to step into the shoes of another being. Surely this is one of the great services fiction offers us all, whether it’s literary or genre: the chance to feel what it’s like to be someone else.

I love anthropomorphising! And Kathryn, you almost made me cry with your image of baby Bruce urging his poor dying, mutilated mother to swim … Readers, don’t forget to tell us your favourite bad guy for your chance to win books! Winners announced 30th March.

Kathryn Ledson is the author of Rough Diamond and Monkey Business (Penguin), part of the Erica Jewell series of romantic adventures. You can visit her website and find her blog at www.kathrynledson.com
Sydney Smith is a writing mentor, teacher and author of short stories, essays, and The Lost Woman, a memoir of survival. She is currently writing The Architecture of Narrative, a book about how to plot and structure fiction. She offers writing tips at www.threekookaburras.com. If you have a question on any aspect of writing, feel free to visit her at The Story Whisperer.

Australia Day Blog Hop And Giveaway

AustraliaDaybloghop2014For this Australia Day Blog Hop post I’d like to celebrate the work of Elyne Mitchell – a quintessentially Australian author, and my earliest and best-loved writing inspiration. My second novel Brumby’s Run was influenced by her work, and being shortlisted for the Elyne Mitchell Rural Writing Award was one of my greatest thrills. The Silver Brumby series is ostensibly for children, but many adults like myself still adore them. These stories are filled with drama, magical prose and a deep, abiding love for the glorious upper Murray region where Elyne lived for most of her life.

‘These mountains … are symbols of high adventure, of an ineffable beauty. My feeling for them has grown and grown, until they possess me and have written themselves into my heart.’       Elyne Mitchell

silver brumby kingdomNobody who has read her books could doubt this for a second. There is something utterly compelling about her writing. It draws you into a vast, wild landscape and loses you there. Here is a short excerpt from Silver Brumby’s Daughter. There are shades of Dylan Thomas in its evocative, lilting prose.

‘Kunama could feel the darkness coming as though it were something alive, something she could touch, a voice she could hear. Up the darkness crept, whispering from the gullies, the clefts, the gorges. It seemed to slide up the Valentine hills, seep like a tide round the corner into their valley, lap at the horses’ legs, enfold them, whispering, and at last only the sky held light, and the mountains and ridges were dark against it.’

elyne mitchellElyne herself was the archetypal rural woman and a real hero of mine. Apart from being a gifted writer, Elyne was also a wife, mother, station owner, accomplished horsewoman, stockhorse breeder, naturalist and champion skier. She faced and survived many disasters – including the death of one of her children. Elyne wrote twenty-four novels and nine non-fiction books, many of which foreshadowed the rise of the environmental movement. She was a woman far ahead of her time. No wonder Australians everywhere have taken her tales of the high country straight to their hearts.

For a chance to win a copy of my latest novel, Currawong Creek, just leave a comment telling me an Australian book you enjoyed when you were young. Entries close midnight on January 28th. (Aust and NZ entries only) Winners will be announced on Feb 2nd. Click here to visit other Australia Day Blog Hop participants, and for the chance to win more great prizes.

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My Three Wishes – 3 Wishes Blog Blitz

3 wishes blog blitzToday I’m participating in the Three Wishes Blog Blitz, hosted by author Juliet Madison. From 2nd to 6th September you’ll have the chance to win some terrific prizes at all the blogs participating in the blitz, including mine. For a chance to win a signed copy of Currawong Creek, just tell me a wish of your own. Then click over to Juliet’s blog to enter her prize draw, see the list of other blogs taking part and enter their giveaways too. How good is that? And why is it called the Three Wishes Blog Blitz? Juliet’s new romantic comedy release, I Dream of Johnny, is about three wishes, a high-tech genie in a lamp, and one very unfortunate typo that proves magic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

orphan joeysTo fulfil my obligation to the blitz, I’m writing about what I’d want if a genie gave me three wishes. First I’d like to be financially independent enough to turn my boutique dog boarding kennel into a wildlife rehabilitation centre. Much as I adore my canine guests, I often fantasise that the lovely runs and sheds are full of recovering wallabies, wombats and possums instead. I’d love to do the wildlife rehabilitation course and dedicate myself to native animals. There’s nobody in the world that I admire more than our wonderful wildlife carers.

Bicentennial National TrailSecond wish – I’d like to ride the length of the Bicentennial National Trail from north to south.  The trail stretches an extraordinary 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown in tropical far north Queensland to Healesville in Victoria. As it winds along the eastern seaboard, following the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the Eastern Escarpment, it travels through some of Australia’s most remote and spectacular scenery. My son has offered to ride it with me if I can ever organise myself. Would love to hear from anybody out there who has already done it.

honey possumThirdly (and this is a magic genie granting wishes right, so there are no limits) I’d like to buy up large tracts of rare habitat a la Bush Heritage. Wetlands, rain forest and temperate woodlands – the most threatened wooded ecosystem type in Australia. The problem is particularly severe in my home state of Victoria, which has lost 83 per cent of its woodland ecosystems to land  clearance. Combined with drier weather patterns, that loss has led to a dramatic  decline in woodland fauna, with recent research suggesting that  even common birds such as the red wattlebird, spotted pardalote and  rufous whistler are in trouble. I’d love to fence these areas, eliminate foxes and cats, and help restore habitats. What a thrill that would be!

You’ve seen my top wishes. To enter the prize draw, just comment telling me a wish of your own. NZ and Aust only. Competition closes 12pm Friday 6th September. Once you’ve entered my giveaway, visit Juliet’s blog at http://julietmadison.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/3-wishes-blog-blitz-official-post/ & enter her giveaway too, and visit any or all of the other participating blogs to enter more prize draws. You could potentially win a whole heap of prizes! Good luck!

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Release Day For Currawong Creek & Giveaway

CC 4It’s that time of year again. Time to give my blog over to shameless self-promotion, for Currawong Creek will be officially released this coming Wednesday 26th June. I’m also approaching another very important milestone – 20,000 hits on my blog.

To celebrate, I’m offering two book-pack giveaways. Wasp Season, Brumby’s Run and Currawong Creek all bundled together with a ribbon around them! The launch for Currawong Creek will be held on the 3rd of July at Readings Carlton, 309 Lygon St, Melbourne. 6.00 pm for a 6.30 pm start. You are all welcome, of course! I’m very excited about this book. And not only because for the first time I get to have bestselling author on the cover! Apart from its heartfelt and turbulent romance, Currawong Creek also tackles some topics that lie quite close to my heart. The importance and challenges of foster care, equine therapy for children, and land and water conservation in Australia – looking at coal seam gas mining in particular. I hope my book can spark some interesting debate on these issues.

Thank you 3A big thank you to Belinda Byrne and all the Penguin publishing team, for their generous support and faith in my work. Thanks to my lovely agent, Fran Moore of Curtis Brown Australia. And an even bigger thank you, of course, to my wonderful readers. Without you, none of this would have been possible!

 

Outback Currawong CreekOne more thing. Please don’t confuse my novel with a book of a similar title – Outback Currawong Creek, which is a stylish, coffee-table book filled with beautiful photographs of nude men. Oddly, some of them have an uncanny resemblance to the men in my book …

Penguin is also offering a pre-publication price promotion on my earlier novel, Brumby’s Run. The ebook version is only $4.99 across all sites. So if you haven’t read it, grab yourself a bargain! For your chance to win a three-book prize pack, please leave a comment on this post. I will announce the winners of the draw on Sunday July 14th. Good luck!

Heartfelt and passionate Australian story from the bestselling author of Brumby’s Run.

CC 1 003Currawong Creek is the story of Clare Mitchell, a young Brisbane lawyer who is very caught up in her career. When she becomes the unlikely carer of a little boy, a problem foster child named Jack, her ordered world is turned upside down. In desperation she takes leave of her job and goes with Jack to Currawong Creek, her grandfather’s Clydesdale stud at Merriang in the foothills of the beautiful Bunya Mountains.

Clare arrives to find part of the property leased by a local vet, Tom Lord. Tom is an advocate of equine therapy for children. Jack falls in love with Currawong’s animals, and Clare falls in love with Tom and the life of a country vet. But trouble is coming, in the form of the Pyramid mining company. Trouble that threatens to not only destroy Clare’s new-found happiness, but also the peace and beauty of the land she loves.

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Book Giveaway Winners

Murray 1I’m currently on a research trip for my new novel. I’m on a boat going up the Murray, where internet reception is patchy. This makes blogging tricky, but I’ve found reception at Swan Reach for long enough to make a short post announcing the winners of Aussie Author Month’s book giveaway. The winners of the draw are Mary Preston (Wasp Season) and Theresa Lauf (Brumby’s Run). I’ll email both of you privately in order to get your mailing address. Thank you to all the other commenters. It’s great to see so many people appreciating home-grown Aussie fiction!

Any commenter who missed out can have a signed copy of Wasp Season for $10 or Brumby’s Run for $15 and I will pay the postage. Just drop me an email at jennifer.scoullar@bigpond.com.

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Sunday With Jenn J Mcleod

Today please welcome author Jenn J Mcleod to Pilyara. Jenn quit Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a little café in a small town. She now spends her days running a unique, dog-friendly B&B on her NSW property and writing life-affirming novels about friendship, family and small towns in which country roots run deep. Her debut novel A House For All Seasons, has impressed everybody with its moving story of friendship, family and forgiveness. And now, it’s over to Jenn …

Jenn J McLeod_54A1139 t‘Thanks for having me Jen. I just finished a fun interview for the Sweet Escape website.  It’s a confession really – about how authors fall in love with their fictional characters. As a writer of fiction, I get to play around with features, quirks and characteristics all the time – a bit like a Mr Potato Head (only more attractive!) or maybe a Police Identity-sketch kit (only not so creepy!) As a pantster (the industry term for writing by the seat of one’s pants rather than plotting) I sit at my desk and let the story take me on a journey. Then, along the way, I fall in love with my conflicted characters – the good, the bad and the flawed.

Just like a Mr Potato Head can never be George Clooney, made-up people don’t need to be perfect either. As one of my characters says in House for all Seasons, “I’m a flawed person trying to be good”, and I think it’s the ‘do good’ rather than the ‘be perfect’ that makes a person beautiful. So yes, flawed characters make for a more authentic story, and readers relate to authenticity. They expect it from their authors.

My approach to inventing fictional settings for my small town stories also involves a kind of morphing of favourite features. Four small NSW towns influenced the Calingarry Crossing township in House for all Seasons: Sawtell, Bellingen, Bowraville and Ulmarra – only I plonked it just west of the Great Divide.

I admit to loving a small town setting because small towns provide the perfect stage for conflict and drama – mostly because everything seems amplified and more personal in a small town. I also enjoy debunking small town generalisations. For a start, ‘small town’ in no way means small-minded. And there are other perceptions – namely that people in small towns are laid-back, open and friendly (almost cliched). But underneath they can be quite insular, cliquey, wary – especially of newcomers. I think balance is the key.

When it was time to type the words the end on my latest release, House for all Seasons, I struggled to let go. I’d fallen in love with my made-up town and wasn’t ready to leave. So, although I didn’t intend linking novels, next year’s release – The Simmering Season – picks up secondary threads, weaving them into a school reunion story with a difference; one that brings home more than memories for Calingarry Crossing’s publican, Maggie Lindeman.

With some terrific reviews  for House for all Seasons, there is a recurrent comment about both my characters and setting – they are authentic. Authenticity is what my publisher said made her fall in love with House for all Seasons. The secret for me is writing what I know. I moved to a small town, many years ago now, where knowing everyone in town is comforting – until there’s a secret you want to keep! I remember those early days of my tree-change when I moved from Sydney to buy a small cafe in a small country town. Such mixed emotions: excited, terrified—humbled by the wonderful welcome of a very friendly community. It was like coming home. ‘Coming home’ has provided me with an author platform from which to create and promote my small town stories like House for all Seasons: In a country house surrounded by the past, four friends will discover… small towns can keep big secrets.

House for all Seasons Jenn J McLeodHouse for all Seasons is a story about coming home and of country roots that run deep.

In order to claim an unexpected inheritance – the century-old Dandelion House on the outskirts of Calingarry Crossing – four estranged school friends return to their hometown after twenty years and stay a season each to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy.

  • Poppy, a tough, ambitions journo still craving her father’s approval;
  • Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love;
  • Amber, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures;
  • Caitlin, a third generation doctor frustrated by a controlling family and her flat-lining life.

House for all Seasons is a story of unravelling friendships and of ties that will forever bind four women to each other and to the century-old Dandelion house.

There are such fabulous town names in Australia. Not until I started coming up with names (checking them in Google to see if they already existed) did I discover some beauties, like the NSW town called Willow Tree. Isn’t that lovely?

Do you have favourite fiction town names – or perhaps know of some uniquely Australian town names to share?’

Aussie Auhor MonthThanks Jenn, for a fascinating post! I know a lot of people, including me, are looking forward to your next release. Don’t forget that in honour of Aussie Author month I’m giving away two of my books (Brumby’s Run and Wasp Season; see previous post). To go into the draw, just leave a comment saying why you love Aussie stories. Winners announced 30th April.

Aussie Author Month – Rural Fiction (Plus A Giveaway!)

Aussie Auhor Month. 2 pngApril is Aussie Author Month and celebrates the uniqueness and quality of Australian literature. It was started in 2011 by a group of reviewers and readers who wanted something special to celebrate Aussie authors. Genre and style doesn’t matter, it’s about a love of literature and a desire to promote home-grown reading to a wider community. Another important aspect of Aussie Author Month is recognising that literacy in this country isn’t as widespread as it should be, particularly among Indigenous and remote communities. It aims to raise awareness and fundraise for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Indigenous literacy FoundationI’m an Aussie rural author, and am proud to be part of a burgeoning publishing success story – one being led exclusively by women writers. In a challenging time for publishers, Aussie rural lit has defied the trends with sales more than tripling in the past four years. Authors such as Rachael Treasure, Nicole Alexander and Fiona Palmer routinely outsell other local fiction.

One reason for the popularity of this genre, is that the heroines are generally tough, independent and capable people. Unlike the characters in a lot of chick-lit, they are not obsessed with shopping and finding a man. But there is another, more important reason. At the heart of this sort of fiction is a passion for the Australian countryside. Speaking personally, while I love to explore the complexities of human relationships, my narratives are always informed by the bush, together with its flora and fauna.

Brumbies In The BushAustralia’s wild landscapes are powerful settings. In cities, many people live lives so far removed from nature, that they rarely even touch the earth. But at what cost? The cost to our declining environment? The cost to our hearts? I think the world is hungry to reconnect with nature, to ground itself. The rural lit genre taps into this vein. When we lose touch with wildness, we lose touch with who we really are.

To celebrate Aussie Author Month I’m giving away a copy each of Brumby’s Run and Wasp Season. Just leave a comment saying what you love about Aussie stories for your chance to win! Winners announced April 30th. Aust & NZ entrants only.

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Book Giveaway Winners!

australiadaybloghopThank you to everybody who participated in last week’s Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop. The winners drawn randomly are Tara Nikelis (Wasp Season) and Jess Fitz (Brumby’s Run).

I was very moved by the many thoughtful comments. It’s great to see so many people care about the plight of our native plants and animals. Any commenter who missed out can have a signed copy of Wasp Season for $10 or Brumby’s Run for $15 and I will pay the postage. Just drop me an email at jennifer.scoullar@bigpond.com.

The Tassie Tiger and Tassie Devil were clear winners in the comment stakes! Obviously these unique marsupial carnivores hold a special place in Aussie hearts. Once again, thanks to everybody who participated in the blog hop. It was a lot of fun!BB2013_Nominee

Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop!

australiadaybloghopTHE ORIGINAL AUSTRALIANS

Welcome to this Australia Day book giveaway blog hop. It’s the brainchild of Shelleyrae and Confessions from Romaholics. The aim is to connect aussie authors and readers. My post today is about the original Australians. I’m not talking about our indigenous people, who share a proud history with this continent dating back at least 50,000 years. No, I’m talking about the flora and fauna that evolved along with our land over millions of years.

Tasmanian TigersIn Australia we have an exceptionally high number of unique species, yet we also have the highest extinction rate in the world. 126 species of plants and animals have vanished in just 200 years. Another 182 species are classified as endangered, and 201 more are threatened. Many are locally extinct, only surviving precariously on offshore islands or in captivity.

Brush tailed BettongThankfully we have moved beyond the worst cruelties of the past. For example, in the early twentieth century, live Brush-tailed Bettongs were sold for ninepence a dozen to be chased and torn apart by greyhounds. Today’s flora and fauna face more modern threats. Habitat loss and feral animals, such as cats, foxes and cane toads, are contributing to a second wave of extinctions.

We all have a part to play in protecting our precious native plants and animals. Why not celebrate our national day by doing something to help these original Australians?

  • BilbyGrow native plants. They provide wildlife with food and shelter.
  • Keep your cat inside, at least at night. Most marsupials are nocturnal and birds are at their most vulnerable at night.
  • De-sex your cats and dogs.
  • Put in a birdbath.
  • Avoid using pesticides in the house and garden. Most are toxic to reptiles and insect eaters.
  • Look out for native animals when driving.
  • tasmanian devilInstall nest boxes in trees for hollow-dwellers.
  • If fishing, do not leave fish hooks, line, sinkers, plastic bags or any other litter behind.
  • Join as a volunteer or member of a wildlife or conservation group.
  • Donate to groups like Bush Heritage Australia and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

I’m giving away two signed books – one copy of Brumby’s Run and one copy of Wasp Season. Just comment on this post, naming an extinct or endangered Australian plant or animal. Entries close at midnight on January 28th. Winners announced Sunday Feb 3rd. Giveaway for Australian residents only.

Click these links back to Book’d Out and Confessions from Romaholics to visit other participants in the Blog Hop and Book Giveaway. A peaceful and happy Australia Day to everybody!

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