MerrianOW is Sharing the Shallows

I first met @MerrianOW over on Twitter as part of the always amazing Romancelandia book tweep discussion circle many years ago. I have been fortunate enough to meet her in person in Canberra, Sydney and in Melbourne and her thoughtful online conversations are matched equally in person. We share a love for E J Oxenham and her Abbey Girl series and she is expert in finding those hard-to-find retro romances for me. This is her second guest post in my shallows having written about romance genre captivity narratives and Australia many years ago.

MerrianOW photograph@MerrianOW

Occupation: Dreams and hobbies

Can You Describe Yourself? 

I’ve read all my life finding solace and comfort and affirmation and new ways of thinking through my books. The online world of readers is a gift of connection and laughter that is a continuing gift from books. I was an Army Officer for nearly a decade and then a Social Worker, all the time dealing with increasing ill health and disability, including surviving two brushes with cancer. I have spent many years volunteering as a health consumer advocate and working to improve the care of people with chronic illness. I love living in the inner west with all the people out and about to chat to on the bus. I spend my time in op shops looking for things to craft and books to read and vintage clothes to wear. Every day deserves an outfit and a new book and a cuppa with a friend.


What is main reading & time spent reading?

Books, especially indy ebook published romance stories, science fiction and fantasy. I read lots of long form non-fiction online at blogs and I am adventuring into podcast listening. I often find things to read via links on Twitter. There are at least two newspapers a day in the mix too. My reading these days is pretty much all online and I use laptop, tablet, and phone interchangeably. Books from the library tend to be non-fiction. When I’m well I probably read around 6-8 hours a day, unwell it will be a couple of hours only but I read everyday, rain, hail or shine. Continue reading

Kat Mayo is Sharing the Shallows

As I am posting this on the day of my 21st anniversary, I chose to share my shallows with the only person other than my husband with whom I go on date nights – Kat Mayo. Kat Mayo changed my world around. She was my borrower (and now my friend) but like no other. We first met when she was borrowing picture books but we bonded over romance fiction. She pushed me to join the online book conversations in forums, on Twitter, on Goodreads. She pushed me to attend romance readers conventions and she pushed me to write a blog. She calls me a prude as I blanche at some of the conversations I end up having with her, and we plan excellent date nights where we sit talking and talking all night about our favourite books. Despite not yet being on one of her podcasts, she is one of my favourite readerly people. 

Kat Mayo hugging a Fabio cutoutKat Mayo @Bookthingo

Occupation: I could tell you but….you know the rest.

Can you describe yourself:

Kat and Vassiliki met across a room of crowded library shelves, bonded over Thomas the Tank Engine books, and discovered a shared love for Jennifer Crusie’s books. Kat reviews books at Book Thingo, and hosts a podcast exploring romance books and their place in literary culture. She loves to kill fairies.

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

Books, emails, tweets, stuff for the day job, and the Google vortex. At least 60 hours, but if we’re talking about reading purely for pleasure, I’d say around 15 hours a week. It will vary depending on how busy life is. That said, if I happen to pick up a fantabulous book, the world just has to work around my need to read.

Melina Marchetta The Piper's SonWhat or who is your joyful reading (guilty or otherwise) pleasure? 

I rarely feel guilt while reading, and I have too many favourites to answer this properly! My favourite rereads are Melina Marchetta’s young adult books. Her writing just gets into my bones. I have a cherished collection of books by Laura Kinsale, Kelly Hunter and Kathleen O’Reilly. One of the hidden gems on my shelf is an anthology called Out of This World Lover, because it has a funny erotic paranormal romance short story by Shannon Stacey, featuring an intergalactic ambassador who calls an electrician because she thinks they provide sexual services.

Last year, I discovered Wattpad and binged on teen romances — something that traditional publishing is very stingy with.

Oh, and I’ve built a list of books with vomit scenes. It now has so many titles that I’ve branched out to keeping lists that track other bodily fluids mentioned in books.

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer CrusieDo you have a favourite storyline or plot? And do you have one you will not read?

I love friends to lovers, grumpy/tortured heroes, Titian-haired heroines (yes, I do!), childhood sweethearts, brother’s best friend/best friend’s sister. I also love the reverse harem …. In other words, I love romance tropes. 😀

I probably won’t pick up motorcycle club books, or where the h/h are involved in organised crime. I don’t like incest, although I can tolerate it if the writing is very good. I don’t like infidelity and will probably not read a plot with adultery — and if I do, I would almost certainly read it backwards (from the ending, back to the beginning). (Consensual, happy, non-monogamous couples are exempted. I love the tension of a well-written threesome.) I can’t stand Catholic priests as romance heroes; I find this plot worse than adultery. I’m not a fan of the stripper/prostitute heroine — it’s rarely done well, and frankly, Brooke Magnanti set a very high bar for writing in this space.

I love aristocratic ennui, but not any other kind. Spare me the bajillionaire with boredom issues. No one wants to marry a guy like that.

Why do you/don’t you use a public library?

My usual MO is that I use the library religiously until I forget to return books and accrue a fortune in fines, and then I can never go back there again. I’m terrible. That said, now that I’ve been book blogging for a few years, advance copies and Amazon one-click keep me well-stocked with books.

Do you RUI*. If so, what?

I’ll read anytime, anywhere, when I get the opportunity.

Do you have a favourite reading spot?

Not really. I can read anywhere — and I do!

Toilet reading: 

b) Only my own books/phone/tablet/ereader

Romance fiction of the Happily Ever After (not the love tragedy) kind – are you a Lover or a Hater and why?

Lover. Life’s too short to put up with shitty endings.

What would you give up reading for**?

My family. World peace.

Can a romance/crime/super/etc hero be the driver of a hatchback?

Of course. It’s a travesty that there aren’t more hatchback driver heroes in romance. Especially in new adult. How else will you bring home your IKEA furniture?

grown man riding a Thomas the Tank Engine toy

Mal Booth is Sharing the Shallows

Mal Booth and I are LibraryLand colleagues, he is my university librarian and a Twitter friend, too. We have had many twittversations on matters of libraries, information, copyright and open access, fiction and reading, brutalist architecture and of course, politics (he is after all a Twitter friend!). In real life, we have had only a handful of conversations at industry and uni events. We’ll often walk past each other on the street and on campus where with a barely perceptible nod of the head we acknowledge the intersection of our real and virtual interactions.

Mal Booth portrait

Flickr user: MalBooth (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mal Booth

University Librarian 

Can you describe yourself:

Mal is unable to play any musical instruments or dance. He is very keen on true crime podcasts and ever so slightly obsessive compulsive. This goes some way to explain his extensive fountain pen, camera and bicycle collections. He has never played a computer game nor completed a PhD. He speaks only one language and remains a fan of the Hawthorn FC. Mal also claims to be a fan of good design but this cannot be verified by an independent authority. In the early 2010s various rumours circulated that he was working at UTS Library but sadly, these too were unsubstantiated. He doesn’t take selfies. You could try the Google. Continue reading

Sarah Henderson is Sharing the Shallows

For my third guest, I am going with one of my favourite borrowers-turned-friend, Sarah Henderson. As a librarian, I meet many people every day but only a handful of them have become good friends. Many years ago, when I was the team leader at one of the city libraries, my staff would tell me about Sarah the Mills & Boon borrower. Every week they would say “you missed her! She borrowed huge piles again”. Then one day, I was called out to the desk to meet the elusive Sarah. Within minutes we were chatting like we had been friends forever. There is a special connection that a  shared love for Mills & Boon can give you.

Sarah Henderson

Sarah Henderson

Public Servant

Can you describe yourself?

Sarah has returned to the country from the inner west a year ago and is greatly enjoying her environs. Sarah reads romance for the most part although does love a good book on death culture. Last year Sarah read a bunch of ‘classics’ and was bored out of her brain.

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

Books (often via the kindle app). I read upwards of 28 hours a week at the moment.

Victoria Dahl Talk Me DownMarrying Winterborne by Lisa KleypasWhat or who is your joyful reading (guilty or otherwise) pleasure?

My joyful reading picks usually come from the romance genre. Lisa Kleypas, Victoria Dahl, Alisha Rai and Jennifer Ashley are my go to picks right now.

Do you have a favourite storyline or plot? And do you have one you will not read?

I like a good second chancer, especially if its hot. I avoid sweet and medical romances.

Why do you/don’t you use a public library?

I do use a public library. My local public library is tiny and its important to make good use of it so that it can continue to operate.

Do you RUI*. If so, what?

I don’t drink so If I’m under the influence it is most likely when I’m deep in my feels. Usually I’ll reread a section of a book I’ve loved or I’ll pick up a sexy mills and boon.

Do you have a favourite reading spot?

Sitting on my bed.

7.  Toilet reading: 
    a) Never do it
    b) Only my own books/phone/tablet/ereader
    c) Anything goes – library books, friends books, cornflake packets.
    d) I refuse to answer this question on the grounds that I may incriminate myself.
    e) Other _________
a) Never do it.

Romance fiction of the Happily Ever After (not the love tragedy) kind – are you a Lover or a Hater and why?

Lover. I don’t like romances without a HEA.

ShelfieWhat would you give up reading for**?

I’m sure there is something I would give it up for but as someone who struggled to learn to read in the first place it’d take a lot to give it up.

Can a romance/crime/super/etc hero be the driver of a hatchback?

Sure, why not? it isn’t convenient for sexy times though so a romance hero might be at a disadvantage.

*Reading Under the Influence

**I like stranded prepositions

Infogenium is Sharing the Shallows

Every week this year, I ask avid reader friends, family and their acquaintances to share their thoughts about their reading.

Who else could be my second guest than Infogenium, long-time friend, colleague, co-writer, romance reader and co-blogger who started Shallowreader with me back in 2010. I then became a megalomaniac and kicked her off the site and yet she still agreed to answer my questions. Ahhhh! Friendship!

Infogenium incognitoInfogenium/@infogenium

Information Manager incognito

Can you describe yourself:

I love reading, family, coffee, fresh bread, modern technology and learning things.

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

Books, twitter, blogs.

What or who is your joyful reading (guilty or otherwise) pleasure?

Mills & Boon “Kitchen Sink” stories. Ie, anything that is completely OTT, I am looking at you Lynne Graham BUT my guilty pleasure is books that are rated DNF in reviews or people have very strong reactions to and not in a positive way  – I willingly buy them to see why people loathed or were so bored by them that they couldn’t/didn’t/wouldn’t finish them.

Do you have a favourite storyline or plot? And do you have one you will not read?

Very liberal in my storylines – as long as they are well written I am happy to try them.

What I won’t read? Horror. It is way too predictable. And fanfiction.

Why do you/don’t you use a public library?

USE – Just love the environment and what the library represents to me,. Somewhere to escape and learn.

NOT USE – Not quick enough with titles.

Do you RUI*. If so, what?

If I do RUI, and I am not admitting to it, but it wouldn’t be actual reading but instead listening to audiobooks, as less strain on the senses and in that situation crime or mysteries.

Do you have a favourite reading spot?

The train or in bed.

Toilet reading: 
    a) Never do it 
    b) Only my own books/phone/tablet/ereader
    c) Anything goes – library books, friends books, cornflake packets.
    d) I refuse to answer this question on the grounds that I may incriminate myself.
    e) Other _________


Romance fiction of the Happily Ever After (not the love tragedy) kind – are you a Lover or a Hater and why?

I like the HEA but don’t mind a well written bittersweet ending or one that suggests a HEA but isn’t a conclusion.

What would you give up reading for**?

Literally nothing unless a life of someone I love is at stake…maybe not even then…

Can a romance/crime/super/etc hero be the driver of a hatchback?
Sorry No. 😉

*Reading Under the Influence
**I like stranded prepositions

John Elliott is Sharing the Shallows

Every week this year, I will be asking avid reader friends, family and their acquaintances to share their thoughts about their reading.

My first guest is my fabulous husband, John Elliott. He of the bare feet, witty repartee and deeply loyal and loving heart.

Yes, dammit! He is THE John Elliott in our house.

John Elliott

University Marketing maestro

Can you describe yourself:

John is the sort of man men want to be and women want to be with. A lover, and a fighter, one of the last true gentlemen. He is a man of wit, humour, mystery and honour. He is officer material. He enjoy’s quiet nights in, raucous nights out, romantic walks along the beach. He also enjoys burning stuff, beer and that weird mouth squirt thing that sometimes happens when you yawn.


What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

Online news. The first thing I do in the morning, the last thing I do at night. I start a lot of books. All up I would spend about 15 to 20 hours per week reading Continue reading

Romance genre captivity narratives & Australia

Guest Post by Merrian Weymouth


Janet’s series of opinion posts over on Dear Author about historical North American captivity narratives and the antecedents of the romance genre have led me to try and think out what I know about Australian settlement history – a very general laywoman’s view and to wonder what our captivity narratives would be like. These are the three posts with discussion that form the background to this blog post.

“Life During Wartime” on Dear Author .

“Take The Long Way Home” on Dear Author

“Can’t Find My Way Home” on Dear Author

I started writing a comment to Janet’s “Life During Wartime” post but it became very long and Vassiliki kindly volunteered her blog as a place to share my ramblings.

I can describe three forms of captivity for women that arose from the way in which settlement happened here in Australia but I’m not sure we have equivalent Australian captivity narratives unless we count stories such as Henry Lawson’s fiction of the 1890’s “The Drover’s Wife” about a woman who is captive to her husband’s absence, the bush and the snake, and who does not have her own name.

Women Convicts

Male and female convicts arrived on the First Fleet in 1788 and the last convicts to be transported to Australia arrived in Western Australia in 1868. Female convicts made up 20% of the convict population. Nearly all white women who arrived in Australia in the late 18th and early 19th were convicts; that is, they were captives of the government. To grow the colony, women were needed to breed the next generation. This meant that in Britain women received the harsher penalty of transportation for offences. Women, especially those of marrying age were transported mainly for petty theft and property crimes. Their function was to give sexual gratification to the men of the colony and have babies. The government turned female convicts into unpaid sex workers. Crowds of men would meet the arriving ships to pick whom they wanted. Male convicts had the capacity to earn their passage back to Britain after their term had expired. The reality for women, especially once children were born, was that transportation was a life sentence.

Effectively any existing marriages of all female convicts arriving on Australian shores were set aside. Female convicts were initially sent to ‘factories’ and their way out of these harsh holding cells was to be taken as servants (often a euphemism for concubine) or directly into a co-habiting relationship. Men could go and view the women; there are descriptions from the Parramatta Factory of men dropping a handkerchief at the feet of the one they selected. The women had the choice as to whether they picked up the handkerchief but given the limited options they faced, was it really a choice? The female convicts’ agreeing to be one man’s partner obtained some protection for the importunities of the many, although even so they were still considered whores.  This attitude to women in the colony was so prevalent that even free women who settled in Australia before the 1830’s wore the same label. Legal marriage was very difficult to achieve for convicts due to the cost of the licence and the lack of Anglican clergy. If convict women had any bargaining power it was because of the scarcity of women, an issue in Australia throughout the 19th century.

Consequently, settler Australia grew into a very sexist, misogynistic culture with very distinct male and female worlds of opportunity and action. Men had great power over women; this made Australia a land where women waited for the man to claim to them and to change things for them where men despised them for this and even as they were desired as wives and de facto partners, they were seen as corrupting whores. The process of settlement built a greater power imbalance into male/female relationships than already existed in the British culture of the times. Free women migrating as potential wives and mothers were subsumed into this culture.

Women and settlement

This leads to a story I was told by a local man about life on the Atherton Tablelands in the hinterland behind Cairns in Queensland. Roads into much of the interior of Australia are an essentially 20th century invention; movement around Australia until around WW1 was mostly via coastal steamers and latterly railways. The vast distances (today it takes around 19 hours to drive 1704 km from Brisbane to Cairns) meant that regional areas could be incredibly isolated. Men who had taken up land in the Tablelands would go down to Cairns, Brisbane or Townsville to find a wife, woo her and marry her then bring her back to their properties. They would deliberately take a long and convoluted trip from Cairns into the Tablelands so the woman would not be able to find her own way back over the distance of several days journey. The isolation of life in these places was a known cause for women wanting to leave; the problem was solved by making sure she couldn’t leave because she didn’t know the way out.

White men abducted Aboriginal women as sexual and working slaves. This was a common practice of stockmen moving large cattle herds over great distances and particularly of Sealers working in Bass Strait who abducted women from Tasmania.

White women living with Aboriginal tribes was so rare as to be regarded as mythical and only potentially occurring when ships were wrecked on the coast, not because of abduction.

Beginning in the 1830’s, the Government assisted the immigration of single women between the ages of eighteen and thirty to work as domestic servants and to become wives. Migration to Australia boomed with the discovery of gold in the 1850’s. The population tripled in the next 20 years bringing migrants from countries outside the British Empire. It was not uncommon for migrant women from Europe to marry fellow countrymen by proxy who had already settled in Australia. They made long journeys alone to a new future with nothing but their hope that they were married to good men. Often not speaking any English, their point of contact with the wider Australian world was dependent on their husbands.

Women and the land

Female captivity in Australian historical terms cannot be considered without thinking about our relationship with the land and the great, absorbing silence of the bush. The dominant myth of 19th century settlement was that of the lost child who wanders into the bush never to be seen again. There are many sad stories of real events. Children traditionally represent the future in stories and poems. So these are stories about the harsh and alien environment and European uncertainties and fears about being swallowed whole by the realities of making a life here. Aboriginal people were never the abductors in real life or in stories, they were the ‘black trackers’ who searched for and hopefully found the missing; able to do so because of their relationship to the land and under the direction of white men leading the search parties and dominating their environment. Many free settlers were remittance men, disgraced in some way or unable to fit into British society so sent to, or escaping to Australia with the intention they vanish into the Terra Nullius; the empty land. The long sea journey to Australia meant that settlers were unlikely to see family or friends ever again e.g. until late in 19th century letters back to Britain could take two years to receive a reply, so the land and its distances itself was the captor.

What’s in a name…?

Female life in early settler Australia was determined by strong systemic, social and cultural imperatives implemented through government policy of the day and shaped by the geography of our silent landscape. A whole category of women whose sexual consent was neither needed nor required were created by government fiat. The actual process of settlement turned women as a group and as individuals into nameless objects. “The convict stain” is the colloquial term for having a family heritage of descent from convicts (1 in 7 Australians has convict blood). It was not until well into the 20th century that the stain was regarded without shame. It seems to me the shame wasn’t in the transportation for crime but in what happened on these shores. Australian women settlers were made nameless and silent and ashamed. Their self-reliance, loyalty to each other, determination and economic successes were hidden away by the general view taken of female convicts and inherent cultural misogyny. In the North American captivity narratives, women and children are named and have some form of individual agency in contrast to the nameless, silenced women of early Australian settlement.

Further questions

In her post “Take The Long Way Home” Janet says: “Romance, beyond its focus on a romantic relationship, is also very much preoccupied with the relationship between the individual and society, between freely chosen love and social obligation, between personal aspirations and social roles.” In the case of the female convicts – personal aspirations are likely to have been reduced to being raped less and their relationships primarily instrumental – what can you do for me and what must I exchange for it? Where is the romance?  Are any meaningful mutual obligations possible between individuals? If the state is your rapist what do you owe the social contract? Convict women and the Aboriginal women who survived these early years of settlement were seen as recalcitrant and always ready to battle authority, they were always other.

How does our Australian settler cultural history and mythology construct and engage with the romance genre? How do the captivity, marriage of convenience and ‘fated mate’ tropes of the romance genre then speak to our historical experience of convict and immigrant women and proxy brides for strangers?

If we accept the modern romance genre as seeded from the history and myth of the North American captivity narratives does this enforce markedly American approaches to thinking, writing and reading the romance genre even when readers and writers come from other cultures?

Some Background:

“The Proposition” film set in the 1880’s

“Lost” painting by Frederick McCubbin

Books about female convicts

“Bush Studies” by Barbara Baynton

“The Drover’s Wife” by Henry Lawson (scroll down to find story)

“The Babies In The Bush” by Henry Lawson (scroll down to find story)

“WHITE WOMAN WITH BLACK TRIBES Believed To Be A Myth“  in Gippsland Times Thursday 7th February 1935

Merrian Weymouth can be emailed at