Review & Author Interview: The Year It All Ended by Kirsty Murray

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Year It All Ended by Kirsty Murray
Released: 1st September 2014
Published by: Allen and Unwin
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 242
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Goodreads | Bookworld | Booktopia
On Armistice Day 1918 Tiney Flynn turns seventeen and it feels as though her life is just beginning. Her brother and his friends are coming home from the Great War and her sisters are falling in love. But Tiney and her family find that building peace is far more complicated than they could ever have imagined.

Tiney's year will hold a world of new experience, from tragedy to undreamt-of joy, from seances to masked balls and riots in the streets. At the end of a war and the dawn of the jazz age, Tiney Flynn will face her greatest fears and begin a journey that will change her destiny. '

The story of  the sisters' struggles to come to terms with grief, anxiety, and unbearable loss at the same time as trying to forge some kind of realistic future is tough and believable and ultimately heartwarming.
Thank you to Allen and Unwin for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

The Year It All Ended is a fantastic piece of YA historical fiction set in Australia after the conclusion of WWI. While many novels explore the nature of the war itself, in this case Kirsty Murray has taken into account the consequences of life when some soldiers return, and others do not. It seems that even after the short burst of euphoria on Armistice Day 11th November 1918, many who made it back were broken men, and the families who lost their relatives in the war are left to grieve. I loved this book for its honesty in portraying what life must have been like for many Australians affected by the war, with an enthralling plot and well-developed characters.

But who can know anyone now? The war has turned those boys inside out, and the skins they're wearing, they're not the skins they left home in.

Aside from looking into the aftermath of the war, the novel also touches on some other issues of the time. The influenza outbreak which had been across Europe and traveled to Australia had an impact on Tiney's family and others, affecting some of the post-war celebrations. Elements of the Jazz Age come into fruition also play a small role, which in some ways lightened the mood in places. In essence though this story is one of a family trying to move forward after a tragedy, and finding closure for parents to see where their son rests. It is about the relationships between sisters, between potential yet complex love interests and finding peace after one of the biggest conflicts in modern history.

Inside her was a stillness so deep, so profound it was as if she had been hollowed out. She felt like a bell, as if the touch of another human being might set her ringing, a sound so pure and sad that everyone would weep when they heard it.

Martina, or Tiney as she is better known, was a character that stood out. The youngest of her sisters at seventeen years old, she still took it upon herself to look out for each of them, and her parents too. I admired her strength throughout the book, even during the toughest times. This work highlights that 'the women left behind' during the war also had hardships to face, not knowing what was truly happening to their loved ones, or if they would ever see them again. There is some emotional depth to the story while being based on the facts, which adds to its appeal as one which readers could connect to.


The Year It All Ended conveys the sentiment among Australians after WWI and how to pick up the pieces to move forward. This is my second novel by Kirsty Murray and I will definitely be reading more from her in the future.

1. When did you first know that you wanted to become an author?

I feel as though I always knew, right from when I first learned to read, that I wanted to write stories of some kind one day. By the time I was eleven years old, the idea of becoming a writer had taken hold of me completely. I scribbled furiously from when I was in late primary school but it took me a long time to make the transition from being an enthusiastic amateur who rarely finished a story to taking my work very seriously and becoming a professional writer.

2. What are your three must-haves when you're working on a book?

Uninterrupted time, my laptop and plenty of water to drink (it keeps your synapses snapping!).  My handwriting is appalling so I have to work with a keyboard though I am endlessly admiring of people who can write long pieces of work by hand.

3. I've read your novel 'India Dark' and now this one, and both seem to have really rich setting that place the reader right into the time. What sort of research goes into writing historical fiction?

I am a total pedant when it comes to research. It’s also a great joy and an indulgence to spend hours on end in libraries, sifting through primary sources, browsing books and imagining what it was like to live in another time or place. I hate feeling unconfident when I write – I have to know every detail of what I’m writing about; the place, the era, the characters. If I’m not clear about a particular piece of information it can destroy the flow of a scene. So I do masses of research for every aspect of my historical fiction including visiting the settings. I spent many months in India and Southeast Asia researching India Dark. To research The Year it All Ended I spent time in the Barossa Valley, many weeks in Adelaide and I travelled across Europe including visiting the war graves in the Somme and Belgium and then travelling to Berlin. Not every writer of historical fiction goes to quite these lengths but I believe that time spent researching the background of your stories is never wasted, even if the material doesn’t wind up inside the book, knowing as much as you can about the period you are researching strengthens your writing.

4. Was there anything particularly challenging about writing 'The Year It All Ended?'

In many ways, The Year it all Ended was the hardest book I’ve ever written. The characters had to endure impossible grief and I had to come to terms with their suffering and feel every nuance of their pain. What made it particularly gruelling is that I knew this was real grief, not something fictional. The Flynn family were loosely based on my grandmother’s family of four sisters whose only brother, also named Louis, died in exactly the same way as Louis Flynn. War exacts a terrible toll on families and at various points in the writing I grew exhausted by all the misery and often found it hard to keep writing. Although the book is about the aftermath of war, I wanted it to be about hope and courage too, not just suffering. I had to work through a lot of difficult material and filter it over and over again until I could wrench some meaning from the terrible challenges that the young women of 1919 had to face.

5. What is your favourite genre to read and why?

I don’t have a favourite genre. I can be quite fickle in my reading. When I find an author that I like, I read as much of their work as I can find. A few years ago, I lost a whole summer to the Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell. Or I might go on a binge of fantasy, speculative fiction or travel writing. When I travel, I try to read as much fiction from the country that I visit as I can lay my hands on. I have a big collection of Indian and Southeast Asian fiction that I’ve built up over the past few years.

My favourite comfort reading when I have insomnia is either poetry or the work of Andrew Lang, the folklorist. His Coloured Fairy Books are delicious. Or if I’m feeling nostalgic, I might indulge in rereading Hesba Brinsmead, E. Nesbit or Astrid Lindgren or other childhood favourites and I’ll pile up old copies of a few of their books beside my bed.

I read a lot of literary fiction and as many new releases in every genre as I can beg, borrow or buy. I’m a member of two bookclubs, one which reads mostly contemporary literary fiction and the other which only discusses YA and children’s literature. I read mountains of nonfiction, especially for research but also for pleasure. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books on neuroplasticity, mindfulness and ESP. I’m not sure where that topic will take me but I’m pretty sure it will work its way into some future book.

6. Tiney is a really interesting protagonist in the novel, but are there any others which you particularly loved writing about?

I loved just about every character in The Year it All Ended. In one of the earlier drafts, I found Tiney’s sisters taking over the whole novel. It could almost have been four books detailing each of the sisters’ stories. But Tiney was always my firm favourite and I trimmed back a lot of the details of Minna, Thea and Nette’s stories so that Tiney could shine.

I liked Ida Alston a lot. She was good fun and every scene she’s in seemed to be lighter for her presence. Frank McCaffrey was based on my grandfather so I had a soft spot for him too. And, of course, Martin Woolf was gorgeous to write about. If you can have a crush on a fictitious character that you’ve invented, I definitely developed a crush on Martin.

7. After this fantastic piece, can you give us a hint on what we can expect from you next?

While I was working on the final stages of The Year it All Ended I edited an anthology of speculative fiction by twenty authors. It was a huge collaborative project that involved working with ten Indian and nine Australian authors (I was the tenth Australian author). 

The book is called Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean and will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in February 2015 so I’m just signing off on the final pages and the cover at the moment.  Isobelle Carmody and I are going to India in November to launch the Indian edition which is being published by a Delhi based publisher called Young Zubaan. You’ll be hearing plenty of news about the Australian edition next year.

In the meantime, I have a number of stories bubbling away on the back burner but it’s hard to tell which one is going to be the next major project. Usually, I’ve started work on a new novel by the time I send the previous one to the printers but both The Year it All Ended  and Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean have been such epic projects, that I think I need to focus on something smaller and more playful for the next book. At the moment, a very crazy story about motorcycling gnomes seems to be making the most demands for my attention but that doesn’t mean anything will come of it. Sometimes, I have to read the riot act to all the characters who are insisting on having their stories told.

Kirsty Murray writes books for children and teenagers. She was born in Melbourne where she first discovered the power of a good story. Kirsty now spends most of her time reading, writing and hanging out in libraries all around the world.

 Kirsty’s works includes ten novels as well as many other books for young people. Her novels have won and been shortlisted for many awards and published internationally. Kirsty writes for young people because they are a universal audience. Not everyone lives a long life but every human being was once a child and the child inside us never disappears.

Every year, Kirsty gives talks about her work and teaches creative writing to thousands of young people in libraries, schools and at literary festivals around the world. Kirsty is a passionate advocate of books for readers of all ages.

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