Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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 I had read about Tasmania in a book for adults, and it shifted everything for me. The place became imbued with more magic, more story and more depth, it allowed me to better understand the community I had grown up in. It didn’t stop me fleeing the island at the age of 18 though, for what I thought would be juicier territories. They were juicy, though I’m glad, that when I crawled home with a broken heart, for what I thought would be a mere pit stop, I stayed.
Christopher Koch is heir to a long line of writers hailing from Tasmania. In fact, the longest in Australia. Henry Savery, a fascinating character transported to Van Diemen’s Land for forgery, wrote the first novel in the federation. Quintus Servinton is a rather stodgy, thinly veiled autobiographic work. The first novel written by a woman in Australia, Mary Grimstone’s Woman’s Love also was penned here. There are 40 000 years of stories that precede them; stories of our first inhabitants, written in stone, in country, in memory and in voice.
Tasmanian writing was not prolific in the early twentieth century, and as the state headed towards an economic downturn and only 50% literacy, a shocking figure that is true still today, many voices became disenfranchised and lost.
Publishers seemed to disappear too, but with the inception of Island magazine in 1979 (formerly The Tasmanian Review), the importance of local story, local content and local publishing became valued again. Island mainly published local work for local readers. Over the next three decades the purview of the magazine changed, but the value of publishing local work meant that a new generation of Tasmanian writers, many of whom are now recognized internationally (think Amanda Lohrey, Richard Flanagan, Peter Conrad, Carmel Bird, James Boyce, Pete Hay) had an outlet for their words and stories.
The arrival of Mona changed so much; including the way we see ourselves. Creatives, who have always existed on this island were all of a sudden in an international spotlight, and for many Tasmanian writers, came the realization that their work sat comfortably alongside its national and international partners.
‘Slush’ is the unfortunate term for unsolicited submissions sent to a publishing house. About five years ago I was wading through slush for Island on a flight home to Hobart on an autumn afternoon. It was a luminous afternoon, one where I could see the late afternoon light illuminating the Hazards. I was nonplussed; some stories were good, some mediocre, many bad. I read a story from a chap in London who had been emailing me for some time. It was so good I grasped the stranger next to me and gushed and blathered about this exceptional story. It was written by Tadgh Muller, of South London, formerly of Tasmania, son of Mrs Muller, who my mother taught with at a local school. That information came later. We began a correspondence and before we knew it, Transportation Press and a collaboration between Tasmanian writers and London writers was beginning, our first publication, Island and Cities, launched to a crowd of hundreds in Tasmania and a new publishing house, with a clear bias towards Tasmanian writing, with international collaborations was born.
Transportation Press published the next international collaboration, The Third Script, with exemplary short stories from Tasmania, alongside work from the UK, and writers from the cradle of civilization, from a literary culture thousands of years old, Iran. We are now placing ourselves firmly in an international space with our first competition, Smoke, a microfiction competition and are planning our third anthology, working with writers from Iran, Tasmania and the world’s biggest market for English language books, India. It’s an incredibly exhilarating space, a slow burn and an opportunity for Tasmanian writing to be shared around the world. It also gives Tasmanian writers the opportunity for creative partnerships around the world. Entries for Smoke close on April 30.
The ability to tell your story is crucial to an awareness of self and of community. To read stories is to foster empathy and understanding, to be entertained, transformed and transported. In a state that is finally, deservingly in the international spotlight, yet also a state with a two tiered economy and the shocking figure of 50% functional literacy, to have our stories told and the written word celebrated for all its glorious power is crucial.

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