The Enigma Diaries: Hidden History by Lynda A Calder: Emerging Writers’ Festival joins us for 366 Days of Writing

Fourteen-year-old loner “Bland” Cassandra Reid takes refuge from the torments of high school in her cleverly coded diary, filling its pages with secret thoughts and imaginings and a map that recasts a holiday beach as a mystical landscape of mermaids, elves and dragons. When the diary is stolen and its decoding device destroyed, Cassandra is distraught.  Fortunately, the school’s young principal, Mr Maxwell, returns the diary. But he doesn’t explain how he found it, nor the mysterious note Cassandra finds inside. It’s signed ‘A Friend’ – presumably the oddly familiar girl Cassandra saw speaking to Mr Maxwell in the quadrangle. Before she can put all the pieces together, Cassandra is pulled through a shimmering golden portal between two school buildings and finds herself in an alternate world: one with a similar landscape to her own, except it’s the year 2217 AD, Stonehenge is in western Sydney, and Cassandra seems to have a pivotal role in the fate of humanity.

Lynda A Calder’s debut novel for children aged 9-14 is an engaging tale of time travel, history, and the enduring importance of literature. Rich in detail, yet still fast-paced and with plenty of action set-pieces, this entertaining ride should appeal equally to girls and boys. On one level, it’s the story of an adolescent who grows enormously in physical strength and self-confidence. Cassandra must overcome fear and self-doubt as she is drawn into a struggle between the Ruling Class and the Centaurs, completes a quest to find The-Lady-Who-Knows-All, and discovers the sinister intentions of the Nephilim: god-like beings who destroyed civilization and thrust the world into a new Dark Age. (I particularly enjoyed seeing the Sydney Basin imaginatively rendered as part of this future-primitive world.) Yet the novel is richer than that. It explores different theories of time travel and their mind-bending implications, and also mounts a strong case for the primacy of literature as our cultural memory store. A hidden collection of historical texts plays a central role in the story. As Calder and Henry David Thoreau remind us, “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” Not just books of facts and information, but the stories that tell us who we are, who we have been, and who we may yet become. Any book that reminds young readers of that is recommended.

Review by: Steven Reynolds

The NSW Writers’ Centre is publishing a series of reviews of emerging writers, by emerging writers, to coincide with the Emerging Writers Festival, 24th May – 3rd June.

The Emerging Writers’ Festival begins in Melbourne this week and to mark the occasion there will be eleven reviews over the next eleven days – the duration of the festival – where self-published books will be featured.

There was fierce competition to be included in this project – both in terms of interested authors and reviewers! – and there will be a variety of genres being showcased. More than enough to whet the appetites of readers!


Taking our cue from the National Year of Reading 2012, we’re having our very own National Year of Writing 2012, aka 366 Days of Writing.

Send your reviews in to us! We want to hear about great Australian books, be they new or old, fiction, poetry, plays, short stories, memoir – we want the lot! This year is all about promoting Australian books and Australian readers. Reviews should be between 200 and 400 words.

Send reviews to sbarnes(write at)

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