Thursday, June 16, 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi: The Voice of Hope: conversations with Alan Clements

Since this book was first published, Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed from house arrest and rightfully taken her place in the Burmese parliament.
Alan Clements is one of the first Westerners to ordain as a monk in Burma, under the guidance of Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw. In 1995, after Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1991) and after her release from six years of incarceration, he invited her to tell her story. This is published in The Voice of Hope.

This is an interview I did with Alan, when The Voice of Hope was re-released, a few years ago. It was first broadcast on Edge Radio's Book Show.

Link to the podcast.

Monday, June 13, 2016


Just who is Boney and what made him the protagonist of the (eponymous) international twentieth century bestsellers? Maybe you remember him from the 1970s television series...

All of these questions AND MORE will be answered by simply tuning in to hear the international expert on Arthur Upfield's Boney books,  Tasmania's own......EMMA MALONEY


Zeyar Lynn. Poet, Burma

In 2013 I went to Bangkok, one of my favourite places in the world. It was for the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT) conference and I spoke about literary prizes. That year I was one of the judges of the Tasmanian Literary Prizes, now known as the Tasmanian Premier's Literary Prizes. At the time I was also working at Island magazine with poetry editor, John Kinsella. John had recently published some excellent new poems from Burma, including some from Zeyar Lynn. Island partnered with APWT and Air Asia to bring Zeyar to Bangkok for the conference. 
Zeyar Lynn is widely regarded as the most influential living poet in Burma and his poem Sling Bag appeared in Island 128:Digitalism. Zeyar has written a series of poetry collections and he has translated, among others, Sylvia Plath, WisÅ‚awa Szymborska, Donald Justice, John Ashbery and Charles Bernstein. He has also written a number of volumes on poetics.

The Diemenois. A graphic novel by JW Clennett

Review: The Diemenois, being the correct and true account of the sensational escape, seclusion, and cruel demise of a most infamous man by JW Clennett
The Diemenois is an impeccably drawn, fascinatingly written graphic novel that presents an alternative history of Tasmania in which the West (Ouest) of the state, post invasion, is a French possession. The action begins with an unwell man being taken on a long boat journey. Who is this mysterious man and why is he going to Baudin, the provincial capital (approximately where Smithton lies in this reality) of Van Diemen Ouest. It then roams far and wide and over the last two centuries, and introduces us to many individuals as the story (is it true though?) of the sea traveller, is revealed.
Claudet is the name the mysterious gentleman goes by and it is posited that he may indeed be Napoleon, not dead from liver cancer on St Helena, but whisked away by his supporters and bought to the new colony of Van Diemen Oeust and domiciled in the Maison des Abeilles.
Claudet refuses the offer of help from a local, who intimates knowledge of his true identity, and surrounds himself with those who do not inhabit Baudin. He lives a reclusive existence, leading the town folk to speculate wildly about him. He seems to have many enemies.
Interspersed in the story of Claudet, are a number of other threads; a researcher’s study notes from the 1990s until current times slowly reveal a deepening conviction that Claudet was Napoleon, and we, as readers are privy to this building case.  With the research presented, it becomes possible to believe that Claudet is Napoleon, though most of the academy are his detractors, and he is a self-proclaimed conspiracist.
Some character’s stories, like the researcher’s, are more fully revealed later in this exquisite tome, though there are many cameos. A portrait drawn both literally and figuratively, that I am still carrying with me is of Mumma Tebba. She is revealed to the reader on the night that the massacre, occurs, a turning point in the book. A “highly skilled Voudouisant,” Mumma Tebba is one of the many outsiders that Claudet has surrounded himself with and she chalks her incantations onto the floor of the scullery as the murderers approach her, too.
I wish I could make some kind of comparative reference to the exquisite visual nature of this book, but it is the first long graphic novel I have ever read – and it will not be the last! My concern was always that, as a devoted reader of words I would lose half the story by staying with the letters, not their accompanying imagery. This did not happen. The entire production had me entranced.
JW Clennett has been working on this book for over ten years and it has been published by a small independent publishing house, Hunter Publishers, to their credit. The exquisite drawings, delicate maps of the olden days, replete with new town names, the replication of old newspapers, encyclopedias and photos, alongside research notes and the quirky ‘comic’ style drawings all meld together to form one hell of an entertaining book. It’s dark, it’s intricate and it is a fascinating alternate history with rich story threads shot through. It is un-put-down-able.
This review was first published in the December edition of Warp.
The Diemenois, by JW Clennett
Hunter Publishing
ISBN -  9780980740585

Hannah Kent discusses Burial Rites.

Literary podcast: Hannah Kent discusses her novel Burial Rites, the importance of dreams and Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman beheaded in Iceland and the protagonist of her award winning novel. 

(9781742612829 Pan Macmillan)

Denison Debate - Fantasy, Strategy or Reality. (2013/the olden days)

In early 2013 the Federal Government had recently released its first National Cultural Policy since 1994. I participated in the Denison Debate; The Creative Economy- Fantasy, Strategy or Reality, alongside Professor Julianne Schultz, founding editor of the Griffith Review, Esa Laaksonen, Director of the Alvar Aalto Academy, Finland and David O'Byrne, then Tasmanian Minister for Economic Development. Natasha Cica, currently director of and then heading up the Inglis Clark Centre at Utas curated and facilitated this debate and the others in the series.
I've added my talk below, though the best part, as always, was the discussion. There is a video of all of it somewhere online though I'm unable to find the link (and have emailed the uni and will update when I am able). We may have been archived, which is quite lovely in itself. 
EDIT - the university has come up with the goods. If you would like to watch the debate, you can do so here. 
  Since then support for the arts from all levels of government has morphed, been decimated, been promised, been disappeared and been spent. It has also been re-imagined at a state level as something that supports tourism and jobsngrowth. That link is the Tasmanian government's cultural and creative industries strategy, which has some good stuff in it, but there overwhelming emphasis is on jobs and branding and tourism with nary a mention of creativity. Maybe one or two. There is also significant mention of the Tasmanian Creative Industries Ltd, our new peak body, I understand they have recruited a web designer.
  While MOFO's pulsing and leching its way through town, and to New Norfolk, there are still some that question the existence of a Mona driven renaissance, particularly in some quarters of the arts - and still others who believe that it cannae have been renaissance when it was always happening, just not noticed. Everything has changed though mofos, and nothing ever stays the same.
This is a truly wicked and cocky take on mofo and consequently, my town

(from the olden days)
The Denison Debate - 
Fantasy, Strategy or Reality
To begin with I’d like to acknowledge that the release yesterday of the first National Cultural Policy since 1994 is a game changer. The statement (and I’m paraphrasing) that  “creativity is central to Australia’s economic and social success;  that a creative nation is a productive nation” is not a notion that you often come across in the quagmire of public policy and political announcements.To read the National Cultural Policy (or the executive summary in my case, at least!) makes my heart rest easier – despite and because of the fact that the creative is, in its very essence, difficult to quantify – and to justify its existence at the level of policy inevitably requires quantification. In Tasmania at the moment a group of arts practitioners, public servants and prison employees are working to develop a strategic plan relating to arts in prison. It has the full support and encouragement of the prison’s inaugural change manager, Brian Edwards . Prison may not be a microcosm of our greater community, but it is an excellent case in point to illuminate some of the issues we’re touching on here. The creative economy. An oxymoron?No, it’s not, the world we live in relies on this kind of quantification and for a creative project to ‘succeed’ in a controlled environment such as prison means it needs to be justified in a pecuniary sense. In a society that does not, as a whole, understand, let alone experience the benefits – or the beneficence of creativity it need to be justified in that manner.Encouraging the creative in prison is not a new idea but nor is the notion that the prison experience should be purely puniative.  The 2011 report from the UK Arts Alliance and Arts Council of England, Unlocking Value, the economic benefit of the arts in criminal justice, opens with a poem from a prisoner and ends with appendices and tables that quantify the outcomes of arts in prisons and prove that there is a tangible benefit to the greater community if the creative is practised inside.There are of course those who believe that it is wrong to give prisoners a creative outlet – it is wrong to encourage them to change, transform. They are in prison to be punished, they are there to learn repentance. We know that that model does not lead to reform – and that prisoners who are released from prison having experienced a punishment model of incarceration are, in  most cases, not reformed. There is a lovely example of how the creative can be fiscally wrangled to prove both economic and societal benefits.  It does make me wonder though, about how the creative, the gift of creativity, that gives to both creator and receiver alike, can thrive in a community that requires a value beyond the incredible sensation in your belly, your heart – or wherever and however it is that you individually experience it.Our obvious example is Mona – look at us Tasmania, walking taller since this offering of beautiful, shocking, disturbing and transformative art has been presented to us and the world – and look Tourism Tas, at the increase of visitors to our fine city.But – those sensations – as we receive the gift of creativity - the as yet unquantifiable feelings that arise when we experience the creative speak reams beyond the bottom line. The sensation that occurs to me, for example when I stumble upon a beautiful wordsmith, or that sentence I read in the blink of an eye and carry around with me for days, doesn’t fit into MYOB.Lewis Hyde, in his 1979 book The Gift, subtitled ‘how the creative spirit transforms the world,’ writes of this brilliantly – I urge you all to get your hands on it. I can’t begin to summarise what he says – but he does say this. “there is no technology, no time saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of value exchange, creativity is automatically devalued.”It is a conundrum – and one that keeps giving and giving. So what is it that I am saying?That the creative can’t be valued but it must, that there can be no economy of the creative, yet there is one? To tease it out a bit here’s a tiny case study:Island is Tasmania’s only literary and cultural magazine, a magazine of 34 years standing that publishes poetry, fiction, the Tasmanian papers, essays and more. A magazine that has relied on government funding for many years though that is changing.We receive submissions from all over the world – and we commission works from Taroona to Tokyo and beyond. We publish work that takes our breath away, challenges us and I’m not sure how my co-editor Matt experiences it, but it gives me flutters in my belly and sometimes, brain aches. That is the creative touching my life, I can’t put a dollar figure on that, I can not quantify that experience – but I can tally  the cost of printing, distribution,  the hours we spend writing dry documents like acquitals, applications and pitches to potential advertisers.We pay our contributors, but in this case – the ‘economy’ is beyond the financial – we can’t pay them a dollar amount for all the hours they spend on a line in a poem, for all of their previous writing  experience, but we do pay them money for their art.That work is then picked up at bookshops around the country or arrives in letterboxes around the world– that could be your letter box if you take notice of the flier on your chair – and then it is read by so many, who are touched in the unique way that the creative is experienced in our lives.So – the creative can not be economised, yet we live in a creative economy. The expression of creativity and the experience of the creative transforms us and by dint of our world aligns with economy.We live in the reality of a creative economy. This does not diminish the practice of creativity – but only for as long as it is not driven by the bottom line.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wood Green by Sean Rabin, podcast and review

Sean Rabin was recently in Hobart for the launch of his new book, Wood Green. Here is my interview with him and below, a review of the book. 

Wood Green is a novel with a magnificent twist, a ripper story and some very familiar scenery.
Michael arrives in Hobart to take up a job with an aging, irascible writer, Lucian Clarke who lives up Mt Wellington in the hamlet of Wood Green. Michael has a PhD into the work of this writer, who has lived up the mountain for longer than he can remember, returning home after interludes of dancing the light fantastic of an international literary lifestyle. He has employed Michael to help him remember his affairs, to order his books and life, and assist with the completion of his latest novel.
Michael is a writer himself, and he pursues the writing of his novel, as he is pursued by the girlfriend he abruptly left in Sydney. Rachel tracks him down in Hobart and comes to visit. She is one of the many smaller but still exquisitely drawn characters who plump out this narrative and her sharp Sydney ways draw Michael’s deepening into the experience of living up the mountain, into sharper relief.
There is also Andrew, the proprietor of the quaint and coddled b and b in Battery Point. He is both highly strung and sinister as he bumbles his way around his visitors. We get insight into his thoughts and an eerie analysis of his guests through his neurotic mind. Carl the South African is fleeing an unmentioned white collar crime and his crimes are not known in Wood Green, where he buys the shop, after Maureen and Tim, whose marriage is decaying, finally close the sale. All these are characters who help build this novel to its curious crescendo.
The book has many pathways through the woods, all of them coming back to the same, unexplored path of the lives of Lucian and Michael. It is a book compelling both by the staggered introduction of clues to the story itself, as well as by the rich pickings that Rabin has delivered in terms of a cast of well-drawn, unique and believable secondary characters.
Let go of your expectations for a single narrative, this book is woven of many human lives and has the most exquisite sound track too. Eclectic, diverse albums are introduced throughout the pages, and it is worth seeking the sounds out as you read. It becomes a sensory experience, it deepens the reading experience, which is already rich from characters, as well as from descriptions of place.
This is also a book that provides a commentary to what it means to be a reader and what it means to be a writer. It talks about the desire on the part of the author for immutability, and more pertinently for the reader familiar with the setting, it talks about the “thick syrup of familiarity” when it comes to ‘the real’. It successfully interrogates the beast that is the novel, that is fiction and it also plays most marvelously with the notion of what it means to be a writer.
Wood Green is a successful first novel and it tells a ripper yarn. Readers who know Hobart, who know kunanyi/Mt Wellington are also in for a treat; to read known places in a work of literature always deepens a sense of place.

Variations of this review will be published in The Mercury, June 2016 and Warp, July 2016
(Wood Green by Sean Rabin, Giramondo, 9781925336085)

Bryce Courtenay interview

Quite some time ago* I interviewed best selling Australian author, Bryce Courtenay. Here is the interview.


The Natural Way of Things

Late last year I sat down and chatted with Charlotte Wood about her new novel, The Natural Way of Things. 
This is a dark, compelling and sharp portrait of a contemporary manifestation of misogyny. Listen here

Ten young women are drugged and taken to what seems to be an asylum or a prison, surrounded by a tall, potent electric fence and far away from anything. The women slowly realise they are there for so called ‘trangressions’; such as having an affair with a politician, taking drugs and being raped, group sex with footballers. These events, many of them inspired by contemporary events remind us that the vilification of women is live and well. 

Listen to the full interview here.

Here is a link to an interview I did with Charlotte in 2012 about Animal People.

(Allen and Unwin 9781760111236)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Professor Stephen Reder, international expert in linguistics

Professor Stephen Reder is an international expert in linguistics who visited Tasmania in 2014. In this interview, we chatted about some fascinating aspects of language and communication, including tipping points in literacy, Tasmanian literacy, written language in rural Liberia and literacy as an aggregate of social and economic inclusion.
You can hear the full interview here.
(first broadcast on Edge Radio, late 2014)

Paige Turner November

  Edging towards the end of the year and towards summer, towards Christmas and all it allows us to manifest. Good luck and good sleeps to ...