Monday, 2 May 2016

New Release Spotlight & Review: The Grass Was Always Browner by Sacha Jones

The Grass Was Always Browner
By: Sacha Jones
Releasing May 1, 2016
Finch Publishing

The Grass Was Alway Browner by Sacha Jones is the story of a strong-willed, smart yet often less than sensible, curious and questioning girl growing up as the middle-child of three children. Her parents are old, and old-fashioned, deeply impractical, idealistic and naive, not best suited to negotiating the rough and rugged terrain of suburban Sydney in the 1970s-80s.

Sacha is not only the middle child, but she is stuck in the middle of the muddle and mess of her family’s situation. She sees and suffers more than her siblings do – or so she feels. However, one advantage of her position is that she is sent to study ballet to treat her asthma, and through ballet she finds a way out of her predicament.

Sacha’s determination to escape her humdrum existence and ‘become Russian’ saw her push through and succeed against the odds (wrong-shaped head, wrong feet, overall wrong build) and a father who is strongly against her becoming a ballet dancer. He describes ballet as ‘a frivolous and selfish pursuit, too focused on appearances.’ His own dreams are focused on a desire to save the Third World. However, in their very different ways, Sacha and her father are more alike than either would care to admit.

In becoming a dancing star, Sacha surprises no-one more than her legendary dance teacher – an actual Russian – Mrs P, Tanya Pearson. However, her father was right about ballet.

Although it gives Sacha the escape she desires, there is a heavy price to pay. And when she sets off for London to further her dance career, it is in part because the Australian dance scene betrayed her trust.
Award-winning playwright, poet and novelist Stephanie Johnson says of The Grass Was Always Browner, “Nineteen seventies suburban Sydney comes winningly alive in Sacha’s light-hearted girlhood memoir of boundless optimism, pink milk, tutus, triumph at the Eisteddfod and a horse in the back garden.”

The Grass Was Always Browner is a laugh-out-loud memoir and a cautionary reminder that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.

Link to Follow Tour: HERE

The Grass Was Always Browner by Sacha Jones (Finch Publishing) (994 words)

Ballet My Way
…Because no one else in my family, least of all Auntie Robin, would have been likely to recommend I do ballet. And indeed when Mum took me along to meet the Russian yes, Russian! – ballet teacher at our local dance school to have my potential for dance assessed, she was highly sceptical too, and quickly took Mum aside to tell her: ‘I am sorry, Mrs Jons, but she is not billt for barllet’, looking my way with a pitying smile, and speaking with a slightly terrifying accent.
Fortunately Mum was able to impress upon this straight- talking Russian, who was none other than ‘Mrs P’, aka Tanya Pearson, formerly Tatiana Jakubenka of Moscow and future recipient of the Order of Australia Medal for services to dance, that it was a matter of life and death that I do ballet. But, Mum insisted, she need not teach me how to dance, merely how to breathe a little easier.
And so it was, on this rather more modest basis, without expectation on either side that I should ever learn to dance, that I was accepted into Tanya Pearsons Northside Ballet Academy early the following year…
Standing backstage, waiting for the adjudicator to ring her bell to announce she was ready for the next dancer, dressed as an absentminded professor, I was not feeling entirely confident. Not my usual relaxed self. The dancers backstage had laughed heartily when they’d seen me dressed in character, in such a non- sneering way that it seemed they thought I had given up, which was a little off-putting. But I couldnt blame them; I didnt exactly feel primed for dancing gold. The adjudicators bell finally rings. My ‘Absentminded Professor is announced by the convenor and I cringe hearing how odd that concept sounds broadcast to a theatre full of ballet dancers, their teachers and parents, not to mention the all-important adjudicator. But there is no turning back now. I brace myself for the music to launch itself without introduction, relieved at least that the dance is not technically demanding.
When the first note sounds I lunge onto the stage en pointe, wobbling my head to the wonky music, stumbling along the diagonal to finish slightly off-centre. The audience chuckle immediately, which is a bit of a surprise and throws me a little. I should have been expecting it, but I wasnt somehow. Ballet eisteddfods are such competitive environments, especially at the senior level, that the last thing you expect from the audience is laughter, even when you’re dressed in a grey wig and stick-on moustache. The laughter makes me want to laugh too, but I know I shouldnt; my moustache might fall off. I do my best to stay in character and maintain a level of composure as I carry on my wonky way and the audiences chuckling turns quickly to full- blown laughter. I am careful not to stare at the adjudicators writ- ing light glowing in the centre of the dark sea that is the audience, normally the focal point of your presentation. I have decided it would not do for an absentminded character to eyeball the adjudicator. Instead I fix my absentminded gaze somewhere off to the side, and bumble on.
The whole theatre is laughing now, even the girls back- stage, who I can see watching me from the mezzanine level where the dressing rooms are, laughing with their mouths wide open. They really must be glad I’ve taken myself out of the running. I have to bite down hard on my tongue to stop from catching the laughter bug, while struggling to hear the music and remember my steps, which are carefully choreographed to look absentminded but are not in fact absent of mind, as it were. When I fall to my knees and crawl under the old desk, knocking over the test tubes on top (not breaking them) and emerge the other side on my knees, with a befuddled look straight to the audience, I really cant hear the music for the laughter. The walls themselves appear to be laughing. Its a wonder they dont crumble and fall down. Nothing would surprise me now.
I am truly dancing deaf, doing my best from memory to shuffle here, stumble there, pausing with a troubled frown, trying to recall my last genius inspiration (tricky), all without clear musical cues, and feeling genuinely befuddled, which probably adds to the humour of the performance. But the audience has got the serious giggles now and cant stop whatever I do. I could probably do a strip tease and they’d carry on laughing. Perhaps thats not a good example. I am just about biting my tongue off trying to keep a straight face, as even the worry about having lost the music is not enough to make my situation seem anything but hilarious.
Somehow I make my way to the end of the dance that is marked, not by the last note of music, but by the applause that erupts over the top of the laughter that doesnt stop. I stop when I hear it and stand to face the audience, trying to stay in character with a genuinely befuddled look on my face. It is customary to curtsey at the end of your dance – if you’re a girl. I just remember in time that today I am not a girl but an old man and should bow instead, which I do with my head at an absentminded angle, which produces more laughter and applause.
Finally, I shuffle off stage into the safety of the wings with some relief, as the laughter and applause continues behind me. ‘That was brilliant!’ the girls backstage say to me, practically pushing me back on stage to take a second bow. I shuffle back on, genuinely dazed, wondering if the world has gone a little bit crazy. Nobody ever takes a second bow in an eisteddfod and your competitors never tell you ‘that was brilliant’…

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Sometimes when I commit to reading an early readers copy, I don't always pay much attention to the blurb and this is one such time. This amusing memoir by Sacha Jones is such a refreshing change of pace from the books I normally read, which sent me on a surprisingly nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Ms Jones writing style is witty as she takes us on a journey during the highs and lows of her childhood in suburban Sydney, Australia. She recalls humorous incidents, backed up with hilarious dialogue along with some not so fun reminders of growing up during the late 60's, 70's and early 80's. As a similar aged Brit, who grew in UK, I wasn't expecting to recall any memories similar to the author's, yet we share some rather surprising coincidences in our lives despite growing up at the opposite side to the world. It was so easy to identify with what she experienced...the emotions of growing up, some heartfelt and some heartbreaking. Also triggers which reawakened dormant memories long buried away...Romper Room, pink Nesquik...!

This is definitely a book you just need to read! I don't want to give too much away and inadvertently reveal spoilers. What I can say is The Grass Was Always Browner is a wonderful reminder of times gone by or a delightful incite about the era for the younger reader whether you live in Australia, UK or beyond.

***arc generously received courtesy of Finch Publishing via Tasty Book Tours***

Sacha Jones has a PhD in Political Theory from the University of Auckland and has variously taught politics, preschool and dancing. She lives with her family on the outskirts of a proper forest (in Auckland, New Zealand) and returns as often as it will have her to the land of fake forests and improbable fruits where she grew up (Frenchs Forest, Sydney).

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