As a booklover, there’s nothing more magical than those solitary moments spent with a novel, enveloped in the embrace of a good story, fascinating characters and beautiful words. And how wonderful are those slow days, when you have all the time in the world to meander around your local bookstore? For readers who also dream of becoming published writers themselves, a literary event or author talk can inspire and delight.
Look beyond the mountains and the waves and you’ll discover that on the Sunshine Coast – whether you’re a reader, a writer or both – there’s much to get your literary juices flowing.
Just ask bookseller Annie Grossman, who has been running Annie’s Books on Peregian for more than a decade. At a time when many bookshops were closing, Annie struck out on her own and she hasn’t looked back. “I find the industry very exciting,” she says. “There are always new voices, and people are reading. My business has grown every year. It’s not a big money business but I keep the wolves from the door.”
No doubt customers are drawn to Annie’s shop because of her infectious passion for the written word, her knowledge of new releases and her thoughtfully curated selection. She loves her work and can’t imagine being anything other than a bookseller. “I stand around talking about what I love every day. I also learn new things every day. People are so passionate about books.
“People ask for recommendations all the time,” she adds. “Then someone else in the shop will chime in and we have a great chat going.”
Her stock is constantly changing, and that keeps things interesting. “It’s very much a hands-on job. I order at least three times a week.” But stroll in on any day and Annie knows exactly what she has on her shelves. “People love the unusual mix. It is like somebody’s own bookshelf,” she says.
“I have the power to influence people,” Annie adds with delight.
While her shop is small, Annie sells all genres. But she has noticed a change in readers’ taste in the past 10 years, most notably a rise in the popularity of Australian literature – “Liane Moriarty and Jane Harper. They have become big names.” She also mentions Trent Dalton and Markus Zusak, two Australian writers who had big releases last year.
“People are giving more weight to Australian writing now. And [people love] Tim Winton, of course. I’ve become friends with Tim – he is the most ordinary man you’ll meet in the nicest possible way. He is so proud of his country, and he’s done works of non-fiction, which are marvellous.”
So what’s on Annie’s reading list at the moment?
“James Lee Burke,” she says, adding that she’s just finished the American crime writer’s 22nd book. She’s also enjoying other American fiction set in the civil war – she says she loves a good cowboy yarn – as well as the work of crime writer and former University of the Sunshine Coast student Candice Fox.
“I also love Greek myths. There are some great novels set in the Greek mythological period out at the moment.”
All this reading has made Annie skilled at advising others on what to buy. “Tell me what you last read and I can direct you,” she says.
While she’s located in a tourist hotspot, most of Annie’s customers are local, and happily it’s not just adults who adore her cosy store. “It’s like I work in a lolly shop,” she says of the children who populate Annie’s Books, many of whom will wonder in from the surrounding cafes and pick up a book, sit down and start reading.
“I’ve always encouraged that,” she says, adding it’s not just the little kids who enjoy a book. She welcomes children of all ages “right from the time they can toddle around on their own”. There are also plenty of teenagers and young adults coming into the shop who know exactly what they want.
In fact, Sunshine Coast kids and teenagers not only love reading but writing too, says Kelly Dunham, the co-ordinator of youth literature festival Voices on the Coast. The event, a collaboration between Immanuel Lutheran College and the University of the Sunshine Coast, has been inspiring and celebrating young writers since 1996. Kelly says the four-day festival, which takes over the university, “was created to expose children and young people to authors and illustrators”.
Every year, Kelly says, about 25 to 35 authors and illustrators take part in talks in front of about 500 students. There are also performances and workshops, which cover topics such as how to pitch to publishers. And it’s not just local young writers who attend. Students come from as far as Maryborough, Nanango and Brisbane. The festival is aimed at all children and young adults from year four to year 12 and about 75 schools visit the festival each year, but “at the same time we are very much open to members of the public”, says Kelly. “From year four to seven or eight, they just love it. The older grades are generally only those students who are dedicated readers and writers.”
Kelly says magic happens when authors meet their fans. “Students and their audience realise they are real people and are committed to making it happen. It is great to see that interaction.
“I’ve had many parents say to me that their child is not a reader and they might have read only one book that year – they still come to meet that one author.”
“It is creating that great connection.”
Far from books falling out of favour due to electronic devices, Kelly says she believes the trend is moving in the opposite direction. “It [reading physical books] is becoming more popular – children love physical books.”
And it is a delight, she says, to see their faces light up when they have connected with a book and then meet the person who created it. “It’s great to listen to their questions as well, as the children are really switched on. They are happy to engage with authors. They are not afraid to ask questions.”
Local youngsters certainly have plenty of writers to look up to, such as The Harper Effect author Taryn Bashford.
The English-born writer started working on The Harper Effect when she was just a teenager. She and her brother were both sporty kids, and the idea of setting a story against the backdrop of competitive tennis popped into Taryn’s head when her brother was playing at Wimbledon.
“My brother was Amélie Mauresmo’s coach,” Taryn says, recalling the time she sat with the teenage tennis player in a pizza shop in Wimbledon. Amélie shared her concerns that the pizza would give her zits and that her skin and not her tennis would be what the press would later focus on. “She was 16,” Taryn says. “She was about to play Wimbledon and it really struck me that she was worried about her zits!”
While Taryn had the makings of a great story, it was years before the story made a splash in the publishing world. Life simply got in the way of her writing. She and her family moved to Australia in 2001 – “the idea was I would then start to write”. But the idea didn’t quite come to fruition. Taryn and her husband Mark set up a recruitment business in Sydney and were busy running that. However, the desire to write still burned in her, and when the family again moved about eight years ago – this time to the Sunshine Coast – Taryn’s dream became a reality.
“We made the sea change in order to facilitate my writing.”
Away from the bustle of a big city Taryn could finally focus on her goal. She started writing full time, attended workshops, conferences and other events, met authors and honed her craft. And she remembered the story she had created as a 14-year-old. Because she was able to fully turn her attention to writing, Taryn pulled out the old manuscript and went to work.
Taryn says she received lots of support for her work, from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the University of the Sunshine Coast (she is working towards her PhD) “and through going to book launches and meeting other authors. They were all so open and wanting to be supportive.” She has been able to join a large community of writers on the Coast and says they have now become “solid friends and supporters”.
She did, however, see a gap in the local literary events calendar, so she’s helping to get Book Feasts off the ground. The event aims to connect booklovers with authors and other creatives. The first event was in November last year and there was also one in February this year. More are scheduled for April, May and September. Taryn says it’s a free event, and all are welcome. “It’s like a book club, but you don’t have to have read the book.”
As a published author, Taryn now has the pleasure of seeing others gain joy from her writing. And she says contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of young people who love reading and writing. “Every time I walk into Annie’s bookshop it is full of people. I was very lucky to give out the year nine reader cup last year in front of a room full of kids who adore reading. The love of books is still there. I was also a judge for the university who ran a comp and the room was full of young teenagers who were writing.”
No doubt the next generation of local wordsmiths will find plenty of willing readers to fall in love with their books.