Friday, November 16, 2012

Forty Degrees South Short Story Anthology launch speech

 ‘40 Degrees South’ Short Story Anthology – launch speech by the irrepressible John Hale, winner of the inaugural competition in 2010.

"Firstly, thank you to Chris Champion and to semi-retired Admiral Warren Boyles of the good ship Forty Degrees South for the opportunity to launch yet another fine anthology. And thank you, as always, to Chris and Janet for so often providing this maze of possibilities and wonders.  And congratulations to Kate Esser for her beautifully crafted, poignant and finally exultant winning story, ‘Crossing Water’.

John Hale, 2010 Kate Esser, 2012, Chris Chamption, editor
It so happens that I’ve been to two short story writing workshops recently, which have convinced me of at least one thing: it’s far easier to talk about short stories than it is to actually write them.
And that’s why this latest publication is so important, giving the opportunity, as it does, to known and not-so-known writers to put their works ‘out there’/ in here, whether or not they were included between these covers. As Leigh Swinburne says, with his co-judge Rachel Edwards, “We had to leave out some excellent work”.

Back in the days when kindle meant to awaken desire – as  in ‘Kindle, kindle me’ she cried and he kindled her’, and when an e-reader was a recognised developmental stage of Early Childhood Education;  back when, according to my 1966 left-handed dictionary, George Bernard Shaw – a prolific, some might say prolix, writer (his plays consist mainly of stage directions and long marginal discourses on the few words the actors are allowed to speak) – back then, Shaw, with his tongue in his cheek, defined writers  as “purveyors of amusement for people who have not wit enough to entertain themselves".
But surely, we’re all internal writers, as we tell ourselves, ask, surmise, invent, rationalise, reject and elaborate our own stories and stories of others in our heads.
So I ask myself, what makes a short story succeed as these succeed?  Their narrative styles vary widely from ‘author as god-like omniscient observer’ to a created ‘I’ talking to a created ‘you’, and all frameworks in between.

I’ve come to the probably obvious conclusion (though I hadn’t highlighted it for myself before) that they are all about coping in one way or another – “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, that stuff – coping perhaps to the point of personal catharsis in the lives of the created characters - even, in one story, coping with turning into a fish. 
Speaking personally, some story writing can be cathartic for the writer as well.
Here are some widely ranging ‘coping’ situations from these stories:

*the strength and determination of motherhood to feed and care for her newborn in the face of the implacable and unpredictable forces of nature;
*the determination for selfhood as a painted man struggles out of the prison of his wooden picture frame to return to his first love – the whole story an extended metaphor;
*the need to create a compatible home for oneself in the face of other loyalties;
*the necessity of reconciling unexpected poverty with a lived life of dedication;
*the interplay of one person’s idea of the idyllic being another’s one of  embarrassing futility;
*coping with a mental instability knowing it, at lucid moments, to be a mental aberration;
*a docile and ingratiating wife finding strength and metamorphosis - in a severed onion;
*finding the ability to create through the quiet presence of another;
*allowing life to flow by without recrimination or despair;

This collection is a beautifully woven, sparkling tapestry of human endeavour and foible in ninety pages.  The stories signify and reflect the wondrous  – often quietly wondrous – ways in which we go about tangling and untangling our lives.
And in a sense, the writer is the last person to know.

I remember when the Hobart theatre company Polygon performed the play ‘Wallflowering’ at the Peacock. The female playwright, Peta Murray, came from Sydney to see a performance, and afterwards she said to the two actors, “I didn’t know I wrote that”.
I believe that’s also true of short stories - that meaning is in the reader to discover - personally.

To revert to those short story workshops for a moment, in both was emphasised the importance of the opening line – the bait, the lure, to encourage the reader to say ‘yes, please’.

I expect you’re aware of that old formula for finding out how many pages of a novel you should read before deciding to keep going or not.  ( If you’re under 50 you add your age to 50; if you’re over 50 you subtract your age from one hundred.  (That means I only have to read 16.))
But what about short stories?  For me, reading the first line is very important, particularly if I don’t know what’s going on.  The uncertainty is a great stimulus.

Here’s a pretend first line example:
Given the inclement weather I was somewhat surprised to see His Reverence walking through Salamanca market.
Given the inclement weather I was somewhat surprised to see His Reverence walking through Salamanca market completely naked.

But much better - here are some opening lines from this treasure-trove:
It’s cold the day the first eggs hatch.
The old man had felt restless of late.
I hurt. I open my bleary eyes to a grey street and lift my cheek from a wet gutter.
The first thing I noticed was how rough his hands were.
I am pale, with long thin hands that swim in the air when I talk.
It was him. She was sure of it. She could hear Led Zeppelin.
My grandmother was born in a horse and cart. (That’s a story I found difficult to read through my tears.)

In all, then, a magnificent choir of voices over the ten stories – “Here I feed on ambrosia, drink nothing but nectar, breathe incense only, and walk on flowers”.
I wish I’d said that – I didn’t – it was the philosopher David Hume 248 years ago speaking of Paris.
But it fits these stories, and I have the greatest pleasure and honour in launching the ‘Forty Degrees South Short Story Anthology’ for 2012.
Thank you."

Forty South runs an annual short story competition. Enter here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tasmanian Literary Prizes - Open For Business

  Entries for the 2013 Tasmanian Literary Prizes opened yesterday and I'm a judge. The prizes have, in Arts Tasmania's words "been reimagined for 2013 to ensure that emerging writers are also celebrated and that literary content in its many different forms is valued," and while the Tasmania Book Prize (best book with Tasmanian content, any genre) and Margaret Scott Prize (best book by a Tasmanian author) remain, the University of Tasmania Prize has taken on the mantle of the emerging.
  This prize was previously awarded for excellent in Tasmanian publishing and while it's true that there is a dearth of Tasmanian books being published by other than a few, I am so glad to see that there is now an opportunity for emerging writers to be publically recognised, awarded and inspired by in this prize.
  The category of 'emerging' is as tricky to define as 'old-growth' but, as a good government body should, there are strict guidelines about what constitutes 'emerging' in this context apply. It corresponds to changes in the definition of emerging at the Australia Council too - and over the next few months I'll comment further about this. There is a lot to discuss about literary prizes. Whoever would have thought!
   It delights me that as I write this on this misty, icy Tasmania morning that in November I'll be in the city of angels, Bangkok to discuss the importance of literary prizes further at the Reaching the World Conference.
   There is so much to talk about when it comes to literary prizes and their importance; their ability to imbue excitement in the normally insular world of literature, research and writing and it draws our attention to all corners of the publishing and reading experience. It provides financial recognition for work that, if published, probably doesn't pay a lot. It affords and encourages discussion about the beauty of the 'book' and it shows that the government supports and encourages Tasmanian writing and writers. It would be remiss not to comment on the newly elected Queensland premier, Campbell Newman's short sighted decision to cut the Queensland Literary Prizes and the incredible response in the community to rebuild these awards.
  I'm looking forward to getting my eyeballs on the entries.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Launch of 'Vulpi' by Kate Gordon

A few weeks ago I launched Kate Gordon's new novel, 'Vulpi,' which follows on from 'Thyla'. They are both set in Tasmania, both tell of shapeshifting-time-morphing creatures and are both YA (young adult) novels. The launch happened in the macabre Female Factory, the prison for convict women and 'nursery' for their children.  I don't read a lot of YA and it is a pleasant surprise when I do. Kate is about to do a little shapeshifting herself (she is veeeerrry pregnant). This is beautiful and exciting news. Here's what I said at the launch;




There are three things that I know about Kate Gordon:
1 – that she has a quirky elegance in her dress style
2 – that she has deep, loving, meaningful – and reciprocated relationships around her
And
3) that the woman can write.
And as we stand here to celebrate the launch of Kate’s latest book, Vulpi, this is obviously a widely recognised fact – and that all of the hard work and tenacious effort that Kate –and her muse Mephy ‘Danger’ Gordon –who may be a cat, have put into the writing has paid off.
I say ‘may be a cat’ – because having read Thyla, the predecessor to Vulpi – and of course Vulpi – I have entered a secret – and local underground world of shapeshifting and timewarping creatures – Thylas, Sarcos, Vulpis and the well and truly baddies – the Diemens .
'Far out' – the reader might think – a big jump from reality – a whole lot to suspend in terms of disbelief – but the trickery and wit of Kate, her writerly skill has eased me there through the familiar, accurate and harsh rendering of teenage girl existence.
In Thyla we are introduced to Tessa, who arrives at Cascade Falls, an exclusive private girls school located somewhere up the mountain. Tessa has lost her memory – and she has scars seared deep and wide across her back. In Thyla we are also introduced to Cat, who is told in the negative – she is ‘gone’ – Cat is the daughter of local copper, Rachel Connelly – and she had been a student at Cascade Falls until she disappeared on a bushwalk with the school.
Luckily for the reader, Cat is ‘found’ – and revealed to be a thyla herself – a shapeshifter from human to thylacine form – one who shared Tessa’s experience of the female factory many years before– as child inmates before they discovered their true shapeshifting colours.
I learnt a lot from reading these books – and one of those things is that they resided there after the female factory had its curious first incarnation as Lowe’s rum distillery.
  It’s not a simple story told in black and white, subtleties and nuance are present, the characters are fleshed – or furred out –with a sharp yet delicate pen. Vulpi is a wonderful reminder for me- a reader of mainly adult and mainly the  ‘literature’ end of the spectrum, that rich, entertaining and challenging work is found in the broad category ‘YA’ – young adult.
  Kate takes this one step further – into genre YA – oh – and maybe even further genre Tasmanian YA and my goodness she does it well. Yes, we Tasmanians do have a particular penchant for reading about ourselves – our histories, (herstories) – our landscapes and our mythologies – and Vulpi takes us around the state. We travel on four legs, two legs and by boat (deftly borrowed from Kingston beach) by one of our eponymous Vulpis, Archie – who is wonderfully described as having a rather Nigella Lawson tone to his accent – he is the vulpine yet strangely friendly character with whom Cat works ‘very closely.’ And a wonderfully topical inclusion as a fox like creature in the Tasmanian wilderness. Wait until the fox taskforce get their hands on this book!
  This book is a tribute to Kate’s hard work – and deeply enquiring mind. She takes YA one step further – and doesn’t shy from the complicated layers of human – and vulpi, thyla and sarco lives. She affords her characters growth and transformation – and in doing so gently reminds the reader of this in our own lives. This is layered and intelligent fiction and I feel privileged to be launching this. I wish Kate and Leigh – and of course the shapeshifting muse/cat Mephy all the very very best for the future. Kate – I want more of your words.

Kate's website is here
She tweets here


Vulpi 
by Kate Gordon
Random House Australia
9781742752365

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

South From Alaska - an interview with Mike Litzow

I have a penchant for nautica extrema - which, in all likelihood is a made up expression. It essentially translates as 'excellent sailing stories' - so when I saw South From Alaska; Sailing to Australia with a baby for crew - I was pretty impressed.   Then the publicist from New South Books emailed me to advise that the author, Mike wasn't just 'somewhere' in Australia, he was in fact in Hobart with Alisa his wife and their 'baby' Elias, who was ten months old when they left Kodiak in Alaska for Australia. Elias is now five years old - and has been joined by another seafaring baby, Eric, who is one year old.
     The book is great, it has the wonderful multi layered flow that I think a good travel narrative should have; story of the journey itself, story of the inner journey - or what the experience of the travel means to those travelling it - and how it transforms and changes them. It also tells of the places visited - and these storylines meld with ease.
   In our conversation - which first went to air on Edge Radio's Book Show on February 21st, Mike and I discuss some of his and his family's trials and joys, their visit to the mythic Marquesas, a group of islands in the Pacific who lived under ritualised warfare between valleys for centuries and is now shot through with (stereo?)typical Polynesian friendliness. We discussed some of the friendships that can develop in the intensive environment of the boat and I learnt a  wonderfully self explanatory Alaskan expression "end of the roaders," - a lot of whom can be found on sailing boats and in remote regions of the world.  Oh - and we talked about new translations of Tolstoy's War and Peace.And of course we talked about what makes traveling with a child - and traveling with a child on a boat different from traveling alone.
You can listen to the full interview here and read Mike and Alisa's blog Twice in a Lifetime here.

South From Alaska
by Mike Litzow
New South Books
9781742233017

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Regular?

Tonight I became a little flustered preparing some lentil soup. I've had it in my head that I would like to post here more regularly - podcasts, interviews and reviews yes! absolutely - but I've been slowly turning in my mind the notion of linking to some of the fantastic essays and short(ish) works that, beyond a retweet or a splash on the transitory facebook timeline I feel I don't pay enough respect to. The fluster arose from the fact that I have been procrastinating writing the first post in what now will come a regular (weekly, mostly) project - because I couldn't decide which piece to link to first. Pfffft. Procrastination?
  Cut to: spicy, spicy soup smell drifing through the house, laptop perched on knees, cat asleep on a copy of (unread at this point) The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and to my left a stubby of Cascade Draught.
  I considered Gillian Mear's eloquent essay 'Fairy Death,' originally published in Heat from The Best Australian Essays 2011 (edited by Ramona Koval, Black Inc), also an article I read about Lord Byron and the birth of celebrity that was published in The Independent - but the one piece that rocked my mildly bruised heart last week was an essay about reading Joan Didion that was published and tweeted by The Rumpus and retweeted by Readings Bookshop - and read by me on the Gagebrook bus I sometimes catch home.
  People often create a spray of white noise around them, an energy of static that inhibits any closeness, any appearance of secret thoughts and feelings, rawness hidden behind hand gestures, chat, or the propensity to gently probe others with questions. I have my own tricks for diverting people away; it is simpler to keep the carapace intact.
   But when I read I discard the shell, there is no need to be protected or closed. It is just me and the text - yeah?  And this is the wisest way I think we can read - raw, open - and awake. Except when you are on the Gagebrook bus - and as I slowly read this incredibly moving essay about a mother and a daughter's shared reading of Joan Didion, penned by the daughter, Abby Mims, I felt exposed and I had to fight back tears. I have sisters and, of course, I have a mother. The relationships that Abby describe aren't the same that I have with my family, but the nuance echoed clearly.
  I've read Joan Didion only intermitently; the occasion essay. One of my best friends, a journalist, talks about how important Didion has been for her writing life. I read the reviews of Didion's most recent book Blue Nights, in which she tells the story of the death of her daughter, Quintana at age 39. The reviews have generally not been good - though the admiration and respect for what she had written before has not dimmed for those who read her, excitedly and diligently. The essay is truthful and sad; an exploration of both Abby's family and Didion's writing.
  The fluster which is so wrong for my newly discovered Sunday evenings, has abated, I'm glad I have commited to more regulary posts - and I truly hope you enjoy the well written, honest-to-raw essay from Abby Mims about Didion 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Joan Didion'.
  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interview with Rosie Dub about 'Flight'

It has been four years between the publication of Rosie Dub's first novel Gathering Storm and her latest, Flight which was launched by the director of the Tasmanian Writers' Centre, Chris Gallagher to an audience of more than 100 people last week in Hobart. Flight tells the story of Fern who we first meet, depressed and in an attic - and then we travel with her as she tumbles down and down into both her psyche and the depths of love - and despair - to the heart of darkness, if you like. More prosaically, we journey with her from the attic in Sydney to the mythic heart of Tasmania's forests.
    I really enjoyed chatting to Rosie live to air on Edge Radio last Tuesday. She has just finished her PhD - of which Flight is a major component. We talked about the importance of story, how they are told to recalibrate and heal. We talked the magical links between shamanism and madness and  Rosie's personal numinous experience  - and how growing up with a fear of life allowed her to  walk hand in hand with her protagonist Fern  as she heals and begins to soar.
You can listen to the whole interview here

Flight
by Rosie Dub
Fourth Estate
9780732294144

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Snow Petrel - to Antarctica in a 34 foot yacht

The journey that Snow Petrel, a 34 foot yacht made deep into the Southern Ocean, all the way to the mythical landmass of Antarctica one Summer makes for a textured, intriguing, exhilarating story. Yes, I admit I have a passion for all things nautical and I love the way how, so often in our everyday speech, we find ourselves out to sea; we set course, we change tack, we don't like the cut of someone's jib, we make things shipshape.
   'Snow Petrel' is riddled with nauticalia - but it also a well constructed travel narrative of an amazing adventure that has a good dollop of both history and geography. The author Jon Tucker, the  "cabin boy," and father of the skipper Ben and other crewmate Matt, narrates the story with a gentle and interested tone. He cuts from his version of a log, to a personal history of 40 years on the water - and a greater historical narrative of 95 years of Antarctic exploration.
   The trip across the Southern Ocean was immaculately researched and planned for - and the story takes us through some of these preparations through fields of ice, the Roaring Forties, Furious Fifties - to I don't even know what the winds that surge through the latitudes of the Sixties are called to the windiest place on earth, Commonwealth Bay, landmass Antactica, Mawson's hut - and all the way back to Southern Tasmania.
 "Just lucky I had two sons who were prepared to take their old man along," says Jon, author, father, sailor, as he recounts some of the story of the trip. These recollections include the most beautiful sights these men have ever seen, colours shining through fields of seemingly unnavigable ice. There are stories of being incarcerated by winds of 80-110 knots, held captive by sea-ice, tales of the introverted stage of an ocean passage when everything contracts, a world devoid of colour outside of white and grey - and empty of sound, outside of Penguin noises and the tones of the yacht. Jon tells of the onboard library as vital, the books as "sanity savers," and he tells of a knock down and the loss of the best bolognaise of the journey.  Listen to the full interview by clicking here. Seriously; please do, it's an amazing story - oh! and read the book too.

Snow Petrel
by Jon Tucker
40 Degrees South
9780980533262

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Charlotte Wood discusses 'Animal People'


Animal People was one of my favourite reads last year - and also an introduction to the writing of Charlotte Wood. It is a mature and insightful book and it is beautifully written I spoke to Charlotte late last year about this book and Stephen, the returned protagonist from her earlier novel The Children. You can listen to the interview here.
The book opens oppresively with Stephen on a sweltering morning, Sydney high summer and a sense of forboding  is apparent from the first page. We learn that today is the day that Stephen is going to break up with his girlfriend, for reasons that seem to be beyond even his own comprehension.
  Stephen is a man who chooses to reject things, in some instances simply to be a contrarian says Charlotte. She admires this in people, those who "step away from the wheel of aspiration or status."  Stephen has no career ambitions, a risky state for contemporary man to inhabit.
  The story is condensed in to a single day in his life- and is laden with detail, it builds  in rich layers as the sticky, humid day progresses. The prism of the day forces the detail to be tightly wrought - indeed, it is observation, paying attention and a knack for getting detail right that Wood talks about here on her post on Damon Young's blog darkly wise, rudely great. She mentions how Iris Murdoch said "that paying attention is in itself a moral act," a notion which resonates for me; a gentle yet insistent chime.
  The animals - and the animal people of the title are a recurring motif. Charlotte discusses this in our interview -"a fear of animals is a fear of chaos, a fear of life."
Animal People
by Charlotte Wood
Allen and Unwin 2010

9781742376851
.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Tastey Recyclibrary

The Inaugural Recyclibary
The Recyclibrary launched on P(ark)ing Day last year in a parking space outside the wonderful Hobart bakery Jackman and McCross. There were shelves packed with books, a date stamped dialled up and ready to go, and Miss Wimple, the head library was accompanied by many of her assistants including Mr (Dr?) Dewey Decimal, Josie, the Aquarian Librarian and myself, Miss Paige Turner.
    You can find more information here and here and here.
   Since the inaugural Recyclibrary, there have been a number of incarnations including a pre Christmas Elizabeth Street Mall appearance where the shelves were stripped bare. Today, fully restocked with a new and innovative catalogue we will be arriving at the Taste of Tasmania at around 1pm to set up to lend and accept returns.

Watch this space as the afternoon progresses to hear (nearly) live vox pops from new and old Recyclibrarian patrons:


First up this afternoon I chatted with Laura who borrowed four books. You can listen to her chat a little bit more about her borrowing choices here

Next up I had a bit of a yarn with Calvin. he was a young chap and he was checking out a copy of the latest Percy Jackson book (by Rick Riordan). He was a very articulate young fellow and you will enjoy listening to him explain his reading choice here.


Next up were Katy and Frazer from the UK via Sydney. We chatted about E books and our desire in the future to lend Ebooks. Listen to the full conversation here
Top - Katy and Frazer from Sydney
Bottom - Young Calvin with the latest in the Percy Jackson series.

A short piece on publishing in Tasmania

A long time ago I picked up a copy of Christopher Koch’s award winning novel The Doubleman from my parent’s shelves. It was the first time...