Archive for the Writing Category

To Niew Zilland

Posted in Books, Travelling, Writing on July 31, 2012 by ladyredjess

A few weeks back I made my first visit to Brisbane’s international airport.  Although I was only going across the ditch to New Zealand, I was pretty darn excited because, I realised, it was the first time I’d been out of the country in three years.  Such is the reality of being a povo writer: travel is limited.

This was my fourth visit to NZ, the latest being 10 years ago when H and I backpacked from Auckland to Christchurch, struggling en route up Mt Tongariro (or rather, I struggled, being very unfit at that stage) with a swag of people, including a couple dressed in exactly the same outfit of pale trousers, shirt and hat.  We had waited for the bus to the mountain in a café with yellow tabletops decorated with ski boots with a candles stuck in them, while a song by Mel C played on the radio.  Later, I met my first misogynist in a hostel in Westport (which was otherwise very nice), bought a fabulous handbag woven from packing tape, got attacked by a tui and whacked it with said handbag, and helped H push grandma’s car through a street in Akaroa because he couldn’t work out how to get it into reverse.

We are half Kiwi, as Mum hails from Christchurch, so each visit finishes in that city with a stay with Gran.  This time I flew into Wellington for the annual conference of the Association of the Study of Australian Literature, the first time it had been held overseas.  However, to my chagrin, the plane was delayed for four hours, so I finished reading my novel and had to buy another, and then I missed the opening talk by Martin Edmond.

Martin is a writer of non-fiction, poetry, screenplays, biographies and blogs.  I used to read his blog about being a taxi driver while I sat on the desk at UCL Library, in between checking out books to students.  My father had been a taxi driver of an old black Woolsley in Sydney before he met my mother and took her back to the farm (with the car which, unregistered, loaded with dust and with faulty seatbelts, was used to drive sedately through paddocks or to visit our aunts and uncles on the property), and I discerned in both him and Martin the same rapport with people of all walks of life.  My father tried to teach me this affinity, but sadly I picked up his latent snobbery instead.

The next day at the conference (at which I finally arrived after walking into another conference altogether, full of lawyers) I introduced myself to Martin, and found that he recognised me from my blog, and there came that peculiar but enchanting moment of meeting someone who knows a substantial part of your history before you’ve barely opened your mouth.  He was a lovely person, and later emailed me his talk, which detailed an intricate network of artistic, literary and mercantile relationships spanning the Tasman.

The conference itself was wonderful, especially for someone who isn’t affiliated with an institution but still craves academic stimulation.  I met fellow scholars on Rosa Praed, caught up with someone I hadn’t seen since my Honours year at Wollongong, gave a paper on Georgiana Molloy and her children’s graves, learnt about the representations of islands and homesteads in Australian literature, listened to a sophisticated ecocritical reading of That Deadman Dance and Carpentaria by Jane Gleeson-White (who has also blogged on the conference extensively herehere and here) and, at the dinner, sat next to Richard Hill, of the Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit, and found what I could hear very interesting, but sadly this wasn’t much as he had a beard and a low voice.

At the same time, the conference was a little unsettling, as I was a writer of fiction circulating among people whose job it was to pull fictional texts apart.  Surely, I thought more than once, writers don’t put all this stuff into their work?  And then I mused to my father later, on the phone, why on earth people dissected texts and artworks like this, and wondered if literary critics could see something in texts that writers themselves can’t see – a part of their subconscious, perhaps, and the way they interact with culture.  As always, I remain torn by the critical and the creative, and wish there was some way of balancing them.

Wellington, despite its drizzle, was a pretty city, and I wish I’d had longer to explore its bars and cafes (in one of which, French and red, I sat to read and collect myself before moving on to the conference dinner).  I had looked at Katherine Mansfield’s house on the previous trip with H, but I would have liked to have seen some gardens, especially after hearing Sarah Jane Barnett’s wonderful poem on the precariousness of gardening on Wellington’s steep slopes. On the other hand, the brief stay was probably just as well, as the boutiques were gorgeous and I am currently destitute.  I did walk into one shoe shop, and successfully walked out without extracting my credit card, which was no mean feat.

After the conference I caught the ferry to Picton.  The sun came out and the water was dazzling.

Picton, too, sparkled despite the biting breeze, and I had time to find a coffee and watch the locals sitting outside the café in the morning light, before catching the train to Christchurch.  Again, the scenery was spectacular, the train very civilised (unlike the rattler H and I had caught from Greymouth to Christchurch a decade before) and I realised I’d forgotten how pretty and dramatic New Zealand is.

Christchurch, however, was a sad heap of rubble.  Buildings were still being torn down because they were unsafe.  My aunt took us to lunch in the suburbs, which were being utilised by businesses that had lost their buildings in the centre, and said how people were so stressed by the earthquakes and aftershocks that their immunity was low and they kept getting sick.  I felt one tremor while I was there, the night before I flew out.  I had just fallen asleep, and thought my Shake Awake, my vibrating alarm clock (necessary for those who can’t hear alarms) had gone off, but I found it was 11.30pm.  In a painful conversation with the taxi driver the next morning (he had an accent and I hadn’t had enough sleep and it was 5am and he was chirpy as) I discovered it was a quake of 4.5 that had made my bed shake like it was possessed by poltergeist.

My grandmother is 90 in October.  I always remember her birthday because it was the same as Sue Ellen, my Cabbage Patch Kid’s, given to me for Christmas when I was 7 (and which my sister ruined almost instantly by tearing the doll’s nappy).  Grandma likes to fuss, and I detest being fussed over and prefer very much to do my own thing, so after the first day, in which I was limp with exhaustion after so much listening at the conference, I began to get a little frustrated, and tried to subsume said frustration in reading.  I resisted eating in the dining hall with the other biddies (recoiling at the thought of all those deaf people, myself included, trying to have a conversation), but was made to go to morning tea.  I consequently finished four novels, and managed not to get into an argument with Grandma about the Maori’s water rights.

It was delightful to follow the sunrise home from Christchurch on the plane, and I was thoroughly pleased to get back to the warmer climes of Bris Vegas, albeit burdened with several bottles of Marlborough sav blanc, which is pretty much the only wine I drink.  I’m now gearing up for my book publicity.  My website (C/- H), is nearly ready to go and I have half an outfit worked out for my launch.  I am, however, lacking shoes to match.  A new (perfectly justified, naturally) purchase may be in order.


On Endings

Posted in Books, Writing on July 17, 2012 by ladyredjess

Entitlement is done.  My advance copy arrived in the post yesterday morning and it is, quite simply, gorgeous.  The colours are warm, inviting and well-blended, and the character in the foreground, contemplating the homestead, encapsulates Cate and her dilemma perfectly.  My editor, Rachel Scully, and the designer, John Canty, will always have my heartfelt thanks and gratitude for pulling this together so beautifully.

The novel will be released on 22nd August, both in hardcopy and as an e-book, and the launch will be at Avid Reader on 31st August.  I’m trying to decide which frock to wear, but at the moment my cobalt blue Sacha Drake wrap dress is winning out.  Possibly with my red stiletto Karen Millen boots from London.  Or with my pale pink Alannah Hill pumps.  Some consultation with my sister will be required, methinks.

So I am exhilarated, but it has also been quite saddening.  Once we had finished the copy edit and I couldn’t touch the work any longer, I plunged into depression.  The world lost its lustre and it was difficult to feel connected to anything.  One the one hand, there are straightforward reasons for this: for the last three years, nearly every day has been geared towards the production of this book.  I’ve worked part-time in a flexible, if sometimes unstimulating, job, so I have time to write and I’m not drained by stress.  I’ve run in the mornings to wear myself out and sit down and write for the rest of the day; or conversely, swam in the afternoon to unwind after a day of writing.  I haven’t made a habit of drinking, so I can get up and write the next day without being blurred by a hangover (which, incidentally, makes me a delightfully cheap drunk).  Most of my annual leave has been taken up with writing so I’ve barely had a break, and if I did get a break, most of it was stained by feeling guilty for not writing.  The novel and its characters travelled with me for all this time, becoming especially real in the last few months.  Is it any wonder, then, when I contemplated divorce from the world I had created and nurtured, that I dissolved into tears?

Yet no one seemed able to understand my abiding sense of loss, and nor could I completely comprehend it myself.  After all, there are songs, stories and novels aplenty about losing lovers, homelands and friends, but where are the narratives about the loss of a creative life?

I’ve found myself turning, as I so often do, to Margaret Atwood’s wonderful book, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing (Anchor Books, 2003).  In this, Atwood observes that ‘the mere act of writing splits the self into two’ (p. 32), and that there are two selves that make up a writer:

‘the person who exists when no writing is going forward – the one who walks the dog, eats bran for regularity, takes the car in to be washed, and so forth – and that other, more shadowy and altogether more equivocal personage who shares the same body, and who, when no one is looking, takes it over and uses it to commit the actual writing’ (p. 34).

There were times, particularly in the last few days of the copy edit, when my body truly was nothing but this form that ate, slept and pushed a pen across a page so that the story could emerge and live.  It wasn’t me anymore; I was the story itself.

Later in her text Atwood expounds on the role of this ‘shadowy personage’, describing how all writing is motivated ‘by the desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead’ (p. 156).  What she means is that writers write to make something alive – they talk to ghosts, write down their stories, and bring them to life.  Of course, the Underworld can be interpreted as the unconscious, and the self that goes about its daily living does so in order that this unconscious might be able to take a tangible shape.

So Entitlement is not merely three years of work in a beautifully packaged form, it is three years of conversations with an inner self; of carrying forth a childhood, a love for the land on which I was raised and for my brother and family; of finding words to shape a loss so that others can feel it too; of several startling moments when a phrase appears in your head, so suited to the scene at hand, that you are astonished; of daydreams that are wished for and projected into the writing; and of the alchemising of research into something accessible and believable.  When that process is interrupted, and there is no longer a daily conversation with the elements of your psyche that contribute to the work, it seems obvious that you will feel depressed.  And as so few make such a journey or go through this process, it’s difficult to communicate it.  Most people get on with living, rather than using that living to make stories, and to engage with other worlds.  And this, quite frankly, is alienating.

However, I went to the annual ASAL conference in New Zealand last week and was jolted into a new environment (albeit another unsettling, but still stimulating one, where academics pull apart the works you have put together – more of this in another post), and stayed with my gran in Christchurch, and read 6 novels, and generally recovered.  I feel altogether more normal now, although there is still a vague and persistent sense of absence.  I have a mountain of non-fiction writing awaiting me (on which I am, of course, procrastinating) and there is the difficult decision to make not only about shoes, but also on whether to wear a silver belt or a pink flower with a ribbon, with my launch frock.  Clearly, we’re a long way from the underworld.



Posted in Books, Writing on June 30, 2012 by ladyredjess

My novel has gone to the printers!   I am bereft, but will be happy again soon.

Here is what it looks like:



And here is the info on Penguin’s website.  Exciting!

On Affection and Lovers

Posted in Books, Writing on June 25, 2012 by ladyredjess

June has slipped away in a rash of cold days, in which I have struggled to negotiate a post-novel world.  We’ve done the proofreading and acknowledgements, and shortly Entitlement will be printed.  So now I have time to read again, and over the weekend I was held hostage for 14 hours by George RR Martin’s A Feast for Crows, which was just as well as I had a significant champagne hangover and couldn’t be compelled to move from the couch.  Before that, returning to my staple of Australian fiction (and in line with the Australian Women Writers Challenge), I picked up Krissy Kneen’s Affection and Susan Johnson’s new novel, My Hundred Lovers.

Kneen’s memoir, situated in 2008 as she approaches her 40th birthday, dips into a past that, since her childhood, has been charged with sexuality.  From the gorgeous, tactile world she experiences as a child, to her surreptitious explorations of her body in a ‘sexless’ household of ‘five industrious women, and [her] grandfather hiding invisible in his room’ (12), to her tentative interactions with geeks when she moves to the city, to ‘the day-to-day excitement of the next man, and the next’, and the workmates who she lived with who, cognisant of their beauty, were the incarnation of manipulation, through to her breakdown precipitated in part by a fragile self beaten by prescriptions that women should look or act a certain way, this is a work that charts how vivid sex makes you feel, and – given that it can veer from intense intimacy to punishment – how vulnerable.  After an unwanted encounter with a bastard (my adjective) named Brian who ‘told me with each thrust that I was hideous, and with each thrust I believed him’ (242), came a chapter titled ‘Mantra’, beginning with Brian’s list of all the things that were supposedly wrong with the narrator:

‘I am ugly.  I am crass.  I am coarse.  I am unfeminine.  I am too harsh.  I am too honest.  I have no secrets.  I am too obvious.  I am too sexual.  I am too aggressively sexual.  I am like a man.  I am not like a girlfriend.  I am unlovable.  I am ugly.  I am crass’ (245).

This is what our culture does to women who don’t shape themselves to some outdated, persistent version of 1950s sexuality: if we aren’t conventionally pretty, if we love sex too overtly, if we are too smart, too bold, too lacking in submission – we are denigrated until our self consists of nothing at all.  But this chapter, however harrowing its beginning, shoved two fingers up to all those who would have women conform with its repeated assertion: ‘I am I am I am I am I am’.  It was brilliant.

Susan Johnson’s novel is similar to Kneen’s in that it is saturated by the senses and the pleasure derived from them.  In it, one hundred short chapters, each detailing a lover – whether words, men, breasts, adored relatives – add up to a woman’s sensual life.  The writing is a lover in itself, caressing the reader as it details the protagonist’s movements between Paris and Australia, trying to find a place to settle, and the right man to settle with.  Who could not respond to Chapter 84, titled ‘Toes’:

‘There is nothing like it: mudflats at low tide, the slivers of silver water, the ooze between the toes, the adult feet returned to childhood, shoes off, crab holes everywhere and, if you are lucky, a cloud of crabs with their bony, articulated limbs swarming across the ruffled mud’ (225).

You could pick out any page in this novel, and swoon a little.

I enjoyed the structure, which didn’t have a pulsing rush to a climax, but rather eddied around pleasures in a languorous way (and here one could delve into a discussion of Écriture feminine, on the difference between men and women’s writing, but binaries like these worry me a little).  If the novel did have a downfall, it was that it was so beautiful it was unmemorable.  Even the unpleasantness of the ending (which I found a little contrived) didn’t sink a blow because it was rendered with such a controlled, elegant tone.

Meanwhile, I still think about Krissy’s memoir.  Perhaps it was because it was of the humour of a pet ferret named Gruesome, of the marvelous strangeness of a family that made models such as dinosaurs to be displayed in museums, of the acuity of the writer’s observations, and the undertone of melancholy that comes from being different and trying to get to that place that signifies normality and acceptance, but not quite making it.  And yet, I don’t think that’s a bad thing – quite the contrary in fact – because that travelling, and that perception of where one is and where one wants, or doesn’t want to be – is one of the things that makes a good writer.

On ‘Entitlement’

Posted in Family, Rural Australia, Social Justice, Writing on May 28, 2012 by ladyredjess

I had been intending to write this post a little later, when I’d gained some distance from my novel, but given that Saturday was National Sorry Day and today is the centenary of my relative Patrick White’s birthday and ten years to the day I walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge with H and his friends for reconciliation, I thought now would be more opportune.

Entitlement is almost done, aside from the proofreading over the next couple of weeks. The last two months have nearly killed me.  My final edit, then the copy edit, went incredibly fast and the weekend before last saw me at my desk for some 30 hours, sending it off to my editor not long before dawn broke.  I didn’t go outside or check the news or any kind of social media, not wanting to break open the world I was writing.  And then, going to sleep, the characters were still interacting in my head and, for a few days afterwards, they were still walking with me to the bus stop.

I had forgotten how much these things sap you.  I haven’t been able to shake this cold and flu that has lingered for a month now.  I’ve lost weight, I’ve barely seen my friends, the pain from an old root canal flared, I haven’t been skating, although I tried to keep swimming, and some of my pet fish have died, either through negligence or because I introduced too many new ones to their tank, although they do have a history of carking it when I am phenomenally stressed.  I did, at least, put on a lovely new blue-and-red Elise frock from Birdsnest and go dancing.  Now, having finally stopped, my body is letting me know how truly bone tired I am, but I’m trying to cobble together some remnants of energy to start socialising again.

However, it was worth it.  The novel feels good which, coming from a perfectionist, means that it probably is.  The writing is polished, the plot is superb, we have a cover which I love, and it will be on the shelves in September.

Entitlement is about Cate McConville and her brother, who went missing 8 years ago.  Their parents want to sell the family property, but Cate is vehement that they can’t.  ‘What if Eliot comes back, and he doesn’t have a home?’ she asks them. An old Aboriginal friend, Mellor, whose country is owned by the McConvilles, offers Cate a solution, but it’s one that nearly tears her apart.

The idea for Entitlement came to me ten years ago when I’d just started writing A Curious Intimacy and was flatting with an historian in Sydney, in a terrace house in Paddington which features in the novel.  She asked me if I had ever considered how my life of privilege had come from the Indigenous people whose land we owned.  I was 23, and the thought had never occurred to me, which was appalling.  However, at that stage my education regarding Aborigines largely consisted of that delivered to me by Mrs Woodley in Year 2, when I had diligently copied down information on hunting tools and glued a picture of a bark humpy into my exercise book.

I started wondering about the Indigenous people who had walked over the property on which I’d grown up, a mixed farm of 5,500 acres, which must have been taken from them not long ago.  I also remembered a black stone my father had found which was smooth and heavy in my hand, and sat in the wooden marble-topped table on our verandah.  Later, when my sister married an Indigenous man and I began doing research for the novel, she pointed out that Native Title could never have been claimed for our property because there was no record of unbroken descent, despite the fact that that tool showed they had obviously lived off that land.  That seemed to me to be wholly unfair.

I can’t remember when I started to learn about the Stolen Generations, though it must have been while at university in Wollongong.  I don’t know why I can’t remember one defining moment, nor why the horror of it didn’t become apparent to me until I read Anna Haebich’s Broken Circles.  I think it was because I never listen to the radio or watch the news as, being deaf, it takes too much effort (and the spelling errors in teletext drive me mad), so if I learn something it’s usually through reading.

Nor can I remember how I arrived at the plot device on which the novel turns and which involves Cate, the protagonist’s brother, which frustrates me because usually my memory is very good.  I chose to write about my relationship with my own brother (although it has been largely fictionalised) because I wanted to write about our childhood and, on the farm, we were rarely ever apart.  To this day, he is my closest friend and seems as much a part of me as I am of myself.  We have the same sense of humour, complement each other and think alike, as evidenced by the fact that one year we gave each other the same Christmas present.  To lose him would mean losing much of myself, and this is tied up with our childhood on the land.

This, then, became the crux of the novel: I wanted to describe what it was like for a white person to lose their identity and their family through the loss of their land, in the hope that readers would then understand what it might be like for an Indigenous person to lose their country.  Of course, this is a very basic premise and, not being Indigenous, I can hardly begin to conceptualise the entirety of such a relationship.  There are many who will argue that I’m presumptuous to even try, given my background, which is similar to that of my forebear Patrick White’s: I come from pastoralists who made their wealth from the dispossession of the Indigenous.

My great-grandfather F.G. White descended from James White, who had arrived in Australia in 1826 from Somerset as manager of stock for the Australian Agricultural Country.  F.G. White bought ‘Mittabah’ in Exeter, NSW, and a swathe of other properties in NSW and Queensland.  He married Ivy Voss, a Queenslander, who hated the cold and was happier on her property in north west NSW, which she bequeathed to my grandparents, and which my father and his two brothers came to run.  There was an element of snobbery, pride in a blueblood heritage, and of learning to speak ‘properly’ hovering in our family.  ‘Are you from England?’ people would ask me, although my lack of a strong Australian accent has also been as a result of some speech therapy because of my deafness.  Somehow, despite this background – probably because of my paternal grandmother’s more democratic background and my own mother’s levelheadedness – my brother, sister and I have become hardened leftists.  This position manifests in my writing through a constant return to the lives of those who are on the margins: lesbians, Indigenous people, the disabled, refugees and so on, which no doubt also stems from my own marginalisation on account of my deafness.  And, while I am in no way comparing my writing to that of my illustrious forebear, it is true that discussions of his similar background, and of his literary intent and style, are often held in tandem.

In a Sydney Writers’ Festival panel titled ‘Is Patrick White anti-Australian?’, consisting of Gail Jones, Ivor Indyk and Geordie Williamson and chaired by Michael Cathcart of ABC Radio National’s Books and Arts Daily, the now-tedious question of Patrick White’s relevance and the inaccessibility of his work was raised.  My detestation of the term ‘anti-Australian’ must be reserved for another post as this one is already too long, but my impression of the questions delivered to this panel was that White’s background was somehow yoked with the impenetrability of his writing.  He was an irascible man, therefore his texts must be too, an insinuation which all three speakers heartily rejected.  Ivor Indyk referred to White’s identity as a homosexual which ran together with the many references to and compassion for the displaced and foreign in his work; Gail Jones, in her beautiful, delicate phrasing, noted White’s attention to physicality and how this was often rendered affectionately; while Geordie Williamson commented that, ‘To try and draw White into his social utterances and judge him by them is almost to come at it from the wrong angle’.  Gail re-iterated this, noting that White has been co-opted into cultural arguments, and she would like to see a return to his literariness, to the text themselves.

It’s true, Patrick White takes effort, but I have always found him amply rewarding, not least through the richness of his language, to which Ivor referred as ‘baroque’.  Besides, what kind of reader are you if don’t want a text to make you think a little?  There was some mention towards the end of the panel about White’s use of parody, and I was disappointed they hadn’t dwelled on this more, because above all, his writing is stuffed full of humour.  When I began Riders in the Chariot, I burst out laughing at his description of how ‘several barbs of several strands [of blackberry bushes] attached themselves to the folds of [Miss Hare’s] skirt, pulling on it tight, tight, tighter, until she was all spread out behind, part woman, part umbrella’.

Cathcart also mentioned White’s references to Australia as ‘the Great Australian Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions’.  This was taken by the panellists to mean a lack of cultural connection and a lack of spirituality, while I maintain it exists very strongly still in the recent actions of Queensland’s premier in scrapping the Premier’s Literary Awards and pushing this state towards a cultural wasteland.

That aside, how might someone who is ‘born of the conquerors’ (Judith Wright, ‘Two Dreamtimes’ 1973) and who may have, as Brigid Rooney writes of Wright in the marvelous Literary Activists, a similar ‘characteristic fearlessness and principles certainty of view … legible as signs of a born-to-rule patrician outlook’ (UQP, 2009, p. 10) attempt to reconcile their privileged background with the effects of that background, namely the disenfranchisement of ‘the persecuted’ (Wright, ‘Two Dreamtimes’)? I have tried to do this through Entitlement by using empathy.  Regardless of my background, I still have the capacity to feel for those whose children and country were taken from them, and I hope that this novel communicates that to its readers and that they, too, might pause and consider how their lives have been shaped by Indigenous history.  Certainly, it’s a risk that I’ve taken, because I can be accused of speaking for Indigenous people with a white voice, and with a White surname, but I’m not the kind of person who will ever stay silent on issues about which I am passionate.

On Good Stories

Posted in Books, Writing on May 8, 2012 by ladyredjess

‘What’s the point of living if I can’t write anymore?’ I said to H recently in a small moment of melodrama. I’d been thinking about video piracy and the increasing instances where artists aren’t paid for their work, which means that they can’t afford to create good art or good stories, which means that people’s expectations of quality work diminishes, thereby shrinking the demand and market for such art/stories, and so the cycle continues.

Yes, sometimes I don’t like being in my head either.

However, it’s impossible to be an author these days and not engage in at least some sort of contemplation of e-publishing and its effect on the literary marketplace.  I read and collect things from time to time.  An edition of Australian Author on self-publishing has been floating in the piles of paper surrounding my desk since December last year.  In it, an article by Brian Lawrenson charts his steady success on Amazon after persistent research and marketing of his books.  Both businessman and writer, he worked out how the game worked and played it successfully.  Many writers, however, can’t be bothered with the business side of things (yours truly included) or with the demands on their time taken up when they become wildly successful (I haven’t reached this point yet; hence my handbag collection remains limited), which is why I have an agent with Curtis Brown.

On that note, the managing director of this agency, Fiona Inglis, gave an address in late 2011 on the advent of e-publishing over the last five years.  She opened with stats on the proliferation of books (a conservative estimate of 26,500 per month) and noted the difficulty of those books finding readers.  It was through marketing by the traditional publishers, she maintained, that this was likely to happen; something that was reiterated through a Digital Rights seminar panel I attended a few weeks ago at the State Library.  It was organised by the Australian Society of Authors, who go into battle for authors to make sure they are paid something more than peanuts for their work. For example, the ASA requested a meeting with Campbell Newman after he axed the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards, but he was too busy (no doubt potholing with the $240k he saved) to dust off his hands and have a conversation for ten minutes.

I went to the seminar my own, as is my wont, which meant I met new people, including the prolific Marianne de Pierres and, briefly, Simon Groth, Manager of if:book, both of whom were on the panel.  From my notes scratched onto the back of a bill floating around in my handbag, it appears that, while publishers are not being nimble enough to respond to what is going on, they do have established networks of booksellers and reviewers that make them a more desirable avenue for publication than self-publishing via the likes of Amazon.  De Pierres also noted that publishers produce quality control through the provision of editors and copyeditors, and that each of her books was made better through this professional input (something I can testify to myself, especially at the end of this process when you’re so close to your work that you can’t see how to fix it).

This concern of quality over quantity is one that often manifests.  According to this article in The Atlantic, people are reading more than ever.  However, it isn’t clear if what they are reading is of quality.

Despite these harbringers of gloom, it isn’t all bad, for the advent of e-publishing has given rise to some innovative ventures.

Cue the Review of Australian Fiction.  Captained by the brilliant, twice-doctored, Derren Brown devotee Matthew Lamb and managed by able seaman Phil Crowley (who, with his background in economics, understands fiscal logistics, a weak spot for many a writer, at least certainly for this one), the RAF publishes two short stories every two weeks.  Using a mentoring arrangement, one is written by an established author, and one by an emerging author.  The issues are published via the ebook platform Book.ish, and can be read via anything with a web browser.  Never again might one be stuck in a hotel room with only a Gideons Bible for company (certainly, it’s the RAF to the rescue).

This is also a dirt cheap way of sampling a wide range of contemporary Australian fiction.  Each issue costs $2.99, or, alternatively for subscribers, each volume of 6 issues is $12.99. That means if you give up 1 coffee per month, you can afford to read roughly 250 pages of fresh and engaging writing.  For a writer, it’s also an extremely efficient means of finding out who’s doing what in the industry.  I’ve learnt more about Australian fiction in the last four months than I have probably over the last decade.  That might say more about my laziness with reading (or rather, tendency to default to 19th Century fiction or A Song of Fire and Ice when at a loss for a book) than the dissemination of info about OzLit, but you get the picture.

The most recent issue contains one of the best stories yet, James Bradley’s ‘Visitors’, although I am biased, as I found Bradley’s The Resurrectionist a startling and tightly-drawn marvel, and it’s up there with my favourites (du Maurier’s Rebecca and Ishiguoro’s Never Let Me Go).  In this story, Bradley uses botany and aliens to elegantly render a familiar concept: how someone you know, or thought you knew, can become alien to you.  Using the language of symbiosis (though the invasion of alien botanical life sprouting in the forests), he articulates how any relationship is a risk, and how it always alters you:

‘The ecosystem is changing, they say, new organisms invading the biomes, changing them.  In Guatemala and Burma, trees bear strange fruit, spread alien seeds.  In the ocean, phosphor drifts, its DNA hybridizing with the phytoplankton, creating new life that darts and swims beneath the surface of the waves.  Whether it is good or bad seems impossible to tell, simply that it is happening, that we will not be the same any longer’ (17).

It’s a lovely metaphor, also documenting how, in a relationship, what you create together is always something new.

Other stories I’ve enjoyed have been those by Kalinda Ashton, Susan Johnson, Geoffrey Dean, Marie Munkara, and the most peculiar story written by Meg Vann in which the protagonist had a disorder that was, as far as I could work out, some cross between anorexia and autism; whatever it was, I found it drawn with a creepy delicacy that contrasted with the blunt ending.  Irrespective of what was going on (and I like that I’m confused) I’m never going to be able to think of the State Library of Queensland in the same way again.

Clearly, regardless of the medium, good stories are continuing to be published, which is pretty much the conclusion I came to in my conversation with H.  People want to read good writing, and they will seek it out.  I urge readers to subscribe to the RAF.  At the very least, it’s a reminder that Australian fiction is diverse, entertaining, and worth supporting.

Meanwhile Ewan Morrison, writing in The Guardian at the end of January, employs the ideology of economist Hyman Minsky to postulate that e-publishing is a bubble that will burst.  Not really having much concept of economics aside from how to afford my next frock (ie. starve for a week), I can’t comment on this in any way.  I’m just going to keep on writing, and see what happens.  After all, I’m incapable of doing anything else.


Posted in Writing on April 28, 2012 by ladyredjess

So.  I have joined Twitter.  Which I disparagingly referred to as Twatter before I signed up to see what was going on with the Qld Premier’s Awards fracas and stepped into a crowd of smouldering writers of withering wit, and couldn’t understand why I hadn’t done it before.  Here were my people!  Such clever, funny, witty writers having convos with each other, posting wry merriment and links aplenty to interesting articles, and (cutely) going a bit nuts during qanda.  It was like Facebook but with brains.

It was recommended that I shouldn’t sign up while I was writing because it was distracting.  To a degree, that was useful advice. However, while I spent two lonely weeks glued to my desk doing a rewrite of my novel while all my friends were cavorting on their Easter hols, Twitter saved me from going mad.  There were other writers out there, also stapled to a table, also checking Twitter in their tea breaks!  That made me feel better.

While Stephen Marche charts the ambivalence towards social media in this article, I wholeheartedly endorse it.  But then, I’m deaf and rarely use the phone, so Facebook is how I keep up with my friends.  Likewise, as someone who finds it difficult to network (also because of said deafness), and isn’t properly affiliated with an academic institution though I still inhabit the academic world, Twitter is probably the first time I’ve ever felt connected to a community of thinkers and writers.

Should you be of the feathered kind, or if you’re new to Twitter and would like to take flight with the flock, I can be followed here: @ladyredjess, or click the link at the top right of this page.