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fiction

Bits and pieces

15 April 2015

Irma Gold signing books at Avid ReaderI haven’t blogged for some time but there’s been lots happening so I thought I’d post a quick newsy update about literary travels, events, a new editorial role, and the publication of a couple of new short stories.

Megumi and the Bear is still getting out and about, with two events in Brisbane earlier this year, including my first chance to visit Avid Reader Bookshop which has the best vibe and the loveliest staff. My reading was in the gorgeous outdoor area with perfectly balmy weather. The kids ate bear cupcakes and drank babycinos from the café, and then sat on a rug for the reading. I just loved watching their little mouths slowly falling open as they listened so intently. It was all just too cute.

Then came a reading at Harry Hartogs, a new independent bookshop in Woden. Canberra has recently seen the closure of two bookshops, Electric Shadows and Smith’s Alternative, leaving us with just two independents. It’s a sad sign of the times because Canberrans are serious literature lovers. I do hope our community can support more than just two independents. I’d love to see a bookshop pop up in New Acton, my favourite place in Canberra because it’s full of so much artistic goodness. One can only hope.

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Launching the Lakeside Literary Lounge with Nigel FeatherstoneBut in good news for local literature I launched the new Lakeside Literary Lounge series at Tuggeranong Arts Centre this month. I’ve lived in this part of town for 17 years now and it’s been a rarity to have a literary event in my own backyard, so to speak. What a novelty it was to jump in my car and drive just five minutes to launch this new Meet the Author series. First up was one of our local literary lights, the wonderful Nigel Featherstone, talking about his cracking third novella, The Beach Volcano. The newly refurbished space was cosy, quirky and intimate. There’s a bar (very important!) and the space encouraged intelligent and thoughtful conversation between the audience and author. It was all bloody marvellous and I can’t wait for the next in the series. There’ll be one event for each season, so if you’re in Canberra do make sure you catch the winter outing on 4 June. I hear Kaaron Warren will be plunging us into places dark and brutal.

IMG_1789 copySpeaking of brutal, last month an artsACT grant took me to Elephant Nature Park (ENP), an elephant sanctuary in Thailand for rescued elephants, to do research for my next picture book. The trip wasn’t brutal, in fact it was hands down one of the most incredible experiences of my life. But before the elephants arrive at the sanctuary they have experienced a lifetime of brutality. If you want to know more, this article provides a very good summary of why we should never ride an elephant, buy an elephant painting or watch an elephant show. I’m now hard at work on my manuscript and so excited about the potential of getting into schools and talking to kids. I took a gazillion photos of those beautiful elephants (you can see a few over at my Facebook page). This is one of me with the six-year-old elephant Faa Mai and Lek, founder of ENP and one of the most remarkable people I’ve had the good fortunate to meet.

no storyFrom works in progress to the publication of finished works, a new short story of mine, called ‘Bus 864F’, is out in the April issue of Mascara Literary Review (have a read here). And I’ve got another new story in Review of Australian Fiction (RAF), called ‘No Story’ (you can read that one here). It’s worth mentioning a bit more about RAF because they’ve developed a brilliant model. They publish two stories every two weeks from wonderful writers like Christos Tsiolkas, Paddy O’Reilly, Frank Moorhouse, Marion Halligan, Alex Miller, James Bradley and the aforementioned Nigel Featherstone, among many others, so I’m honoured to be in their company. One of things I love about RAF is that they have no word limit. Most journals favour stories that sit around the 3000-word mark, but being commissioned to write a story of any length was freeing, and I’m really pleased with what emerged. The other thing I love is that RAF pairs an established writer with an emerging writer. And the former gets to pick the latter. So it was a real pleasure to be able to select Matthia Dempsey as my RAF partner in crime. I’ve known Matthia since I emigrated to Australia at age nine. Back then we climbed blossom trees together and dreamed of being Anne of Green Gables. We had no idea that we’d both end up as writers and editors. And as you’ll see from her story, ‘Saudade’, Matthia is an extremely fine writer. You can read both our stories for less than the price of a cup of coffee here, or, better yet, since ours is the first in a new volume it’s the perfect time to subscribe.

And finally, to editing. Although I tend to focus on my writing on this site, I’ve just taken on a new role as Editor at Inkerman & Blunt. It’s a new publisher, led by powerhouse Donna Ward, that is producing very handsome and intelligent books. I’m working on lots of exciting projects, so stay tuned.

tea-and-sugar-christmasAnd I also want to mention Tea and Sugar Christmasby Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen, published by the National Library of Australia, which has just been shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA). This picture book was such a pleasure to edit, and I’m particularly delighted at the recognition it’s receiving because it is the story of a young Indigenous girl, two categories that make sales and marketing teams nervous. ‘Girls’ because, as we are always told, boys don’t want to read female protagonists. And ‘Indigenous’ because, as you may have noticed, picture books have predominantly Anglo-Saxon characters. We need more publishers willing to take the ‘risk’ of publishing culturally diverse characters, so kudos to the National Library for doing just that. And I’m thrilled that it has paid off, with Tea and Sugar Christmas selling strongly and now receiving an ABIA nod. Fingers crossed it comes out the winner!

Well that’s it from me for now! Keep in touch over at Facebook and Twitter.

MAD, LOVELY VISITORS: NEW SHORT FICTION

1 July 2014

5668563In the last couple of years I haven’t had much time for writing short fiction. I’ve been focussing on other writing projects and short stories have mostly been sidelined. As Lorrie Moore says, ‘a story can be like a mad, lovely visitor, with whom you spend a rather exciting weekend’, and I’ve missed that. But recently, in small pockets of space, I’ve been able to reengage with the form. This has led to my stories appearing in three very different publications, all of which I admire for different reasons. So as a way of celebrating my renewed love affair with the short story I thought I’d tell you about them.

First up is a story called ‘The Little Things’ which will be published in Australian Love Stories, an anthology edited by Cate Kennedy. I was most chuffed to have my work selected by Cate, one of Australia’s finest short story writers. I have long admired her work, have devoured everything she has written, and the comments she wrote about my story (coming as they did on the back of two rejection letters for other pieces) meant more to me than she could have known. If that wasn’t enough the publisher, Donna Ward, emailed me to say: ‘It [‘The Little Things’] was the first on the list Cate sent me and has coloured, favourably, my whole experience of the book, and of life, really.’ Is there any more a writer could possibly hope for?

Australian Love Stories is out in October and features writers like Jon Bauer, Tony Birch, Carmel Bird, Lisa Jacobson, and fellow Long Story Shorts author Leah Swann. Its companion volume, Australian Love Poetry, edited by Mark Tredinnick, did extremely well when it was released earlier this year, so I’m thrilled to be keeping such talented company in the short story volume.

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The second story, ‘Travelling Left’, will appear in a new anthology, the Grapple Annual, which is aiming to carve out a niche and reputation much like the Sleepers Almanac. (Lovers of the short form will know how successful Sleepers Publishing’s annual Almanacs have become.) The Grapple Annual is the first publication for Grapple Publishing, a new independent publisher founded by Duncan Felton, who also happens to be one of the Scissors Paper Pen founders, a team that puts on a program of some of the most interesting and dynamic literary events around Canberra.

The Grapple Annual will feature a mix of poetry and fiction, both short and long. It’s often difficult to find a place for longer stories; literary competitions typically require 2-3000 words, and literary journals are similarly inclined. So I was pleased to discover that the Annual was accepting longer pieces because I’d just finished ‘Travelling Left’ (at 5000 words) and was wondering what to do with it. The Annual has a quirky premise—each story represents a date on the calendar and the Annual is aiming to eventually cover every day of the year. I’m glad to be a part of their inaugural line-up because with Felton at the helm I’d lay money the Annual will go gangbusters.

Finally to a sMEANJINtory that has already hit the shelves in Meanjin (vol. 72, no. 1, 2014) called ‘The Company of Birds’. Meanjin is one of my favourite literary journals. I love what it does—the mix of essays, fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, etc—as well as the design and feel of the publication. But it’s more than that. Meanjin was the first major literary journal to publish me. As one of Australia’s oldest and most revered literary journals, I felt I’d hit the jackpot. (I recall there was much celebratory champagne.) Back then Meanjin was publishing themed editions, and my story appeared in ‘Meanjin Does Drugs’. (One to make the parents proud.) Brett Whiteley, who was referenced in my story, ‘Great Pisses of Paris’, featured on the cover. (That story was subsequently included in my collection Two Steps Forward.) This time round Meanjin chose a Katsushika print to accompany ‘The Company of Birds’ without knowing how much I adore his work. Meanjin just gets me!

As for what these three stories are about you’ll have to read them for yourself and make up your own mind. The Meanjin issue is out now in print and also online, so if you fancy a squiz at ‘The Company of Birds’ click here. You’ll have to wait for the other two.

And here’s hoping I get more time this year with some other mad, lovely visitors.

ADELAIDE WRITERS’ WEEK, PART 1

7 March 2014

I have always considered Adelaide Writers’ Week to be the Mecca of Australian literary festivals, and last week I made the pilgrimage for the first time. It didn’t disappoint.

Set in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens under marquees and shade sails, the outdoor setting lends the event a relaxed, convivial feel. Combined with perfect summer weather (I’m told previous years have seen temps in the forties but this year we were blessed with 32 degrees tops) and a stellar line-up of writers, I was in seventh heaven all week-long.

The sessions I found most invigorating were the panels (as opposed to those where an individual author was interviewed about their recent release). By their very nature the panels allowed for a broader discussion of writing, publishing and converging thematic concerns.

I particularly enjoyed Hannah Kent and Elizabeth Gilbert in conversation with Kalinda Ashton. This proved to be an interesting discussion about turning history into fiction. Gilbert talked about the four years of research for The Signature of All Things, saying, ‘You know 20 times more than you reveal.’ She kept boxes and boxes of index cards but said she then needed ‘to have the confidence to forget’. And I loved this analogy: ‘Because I’d prepared so much it was like riding a bike downhill.’

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Kent spoke about knowing when to stop researching and get on with the business of writing: ‘When I realised I didn’t need to refer to my notes I was at the point of saturation…That’s when I knew I had granted myself the license to write fiction.’ Kent’s Burial Rites is a book that warrants the clichéd but entirely true ‘unputdownable’ endorsement, and Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things is now on my ever expanding To Read List.

Kalinda Ashton, Fiona McFarlane & Louise Doughty

I am always fascinated by other writers’ processes and Louise Doughty (who was generally marvellous) spoke most candidly about hers. Doughty explained that she doesn’t write sequentially. Every morning she gets up and writes whatever scene comes to her. ‘It gets to the point that I have a mass of mess,’ she said. ‘It looks not so much like a novel that’s being written, but a novel that’s being regurgitated. At that point I panic…and go and have a little cry.’ However, Doughty explained that she quickly gets over herself and begins spreading everything she’s written across the floor. She plots out what happens sequentially and then puts scenes in order. Once the paper trail is complete, she cuts and pastes on her computer accordingly. Doughty recounted how she arrived at Adelaide airport with her latest novel in her handbag. She had already ordered the sheaf of papers but not made the corresponding changes on her computer. Consequently she was clinging onto her handbag!

I also liked the idea of Fiona McFarlane’s document with its clever title, ‘The Moves’ (interviewer Kalinda Ashton — incidentally, an author whose work I also love — said she might have to appropriate this title, and I may too!). ‘The Moves’ was written entirely in red pen (‘to frighten myself,’ McFarlane said) and outlined every plot point. McFarlane used this document to work through ‘many, many drafts to get it [her novel, The Night Guest] right’.

Incidentally, the session with Doughty and McFarlane was a cracker, delving into issues of trust, both within their novels and the reading process itself. Doughty expounded on the idea that we all experience a novel differently, according to our experiences in life and where we are at that particular moment in time. ‘Novels are mirrors in which we see ourselves reflected,’ she said.  Doughty illustrated this point by talking about a male friend’s reaction to Apple Tree Yard. He said that for him the book reinforced that ‘it’s possible to love two people at the same time’. As the only person to take this ‘message’ away from her book, Doughty thought, ‘Should I take him out for a drink and find out what’s going on in his life?’ We take from a novel what suits our narrative about our own lives.

Asphyxia with Martha from The Grimstones

Let’s end this post with a bit of fun (I can’t cram everything in here, so Part 2 and 3 will be along shortly). Hanging out in the tinsel-covered kids’ tent was a blast. Sadly, my children were back in Canberra but I joined the merry chaos regardless. Mem Fox is an absolute pro and immediately got the audience laughing. I thoroughly enjoyed watching her in action (kissing the illustrator’s name on every book she read).

Seeing Andy Griffiths talk I wished Master Seven could have been there. He would have been starry-eyed. And it was really something to see the tent overflowing with boys all there to talk books. Many boys are reluctant readers, but Griffiths makes all the right moves to get them hooked. There was lots of laughter and lots of ‘gross’ stories. My favourite moment: when Griffiths revealed that Jill from theTreehouse books is his wife in real life. A noise along the lines of ‘ewwwww’ rolled through the tent. Apparently this was categorised as ‘gross’ humour!

I also got to meet one of my childrens’ favourite authors, Asphyxia. They have exchanged letters and emails, and Master Seven long ago converted our cubby house into a Grimstones-inspired apothecary. He is still in there most days mixing up new potions, a very real example of the way books can fire the imagination.

Writers’ Week, Part 2 will delve into darker territory, namely the commercial side of the industry and how it is shaping publishing lists.

The art of book trailers

9 May 2012

I love a good book trailer, but I must admit that when I was first introduced to the idea I found the whole concept a little odd. A movie trailer draws on ready-made material but a book trailer has to create something from scratch, converting written words into visual images.

Although book trailers have been around for about a decade, it’s only in the last few years that they’ve really taken off. Now they’re part of many publishers’ marketing strategies, but the good ones are more than a marketing tool — they’re works of art in their own right. I still adore the trailer for my short fiction collection, Two Steps Forward, produced by filmmaker Daniel Cahill, that, for me, falls into that category. It offers a taste of the mood and tone of the book without giving anything away. Daniel also produced The Sound of Silence trailer (a collection of nonfiction stories on miscarriage edited by yours truly) that manages to be both informative and moving (the single heartbeat at the end gets me every time).

The quality of book trailers varies enormously. Some of them are produced by the author without a budget to speak of and are just plain awful. They look cheap and tacky. Or are too long. Or the camera work is amateurish. Or the author pontificates about their book in a yawningly tedious manner. I could go on but you get the point. (I’m going to save you the agony of sharing any of these.)

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At the other end of the spectrum, there are big-budget mini-movies. (Indeed some of them seem designed to interest Hollywood in optioning the book.) These trailers are slick, polished and expensive. In between there’s a range of creative, compelling and well-produced trailers made for smaller sums. Often by the author who has drawn on the talent of their friends to create something innovative and engaging.

So I thought I’d share a few of the best (some made by publishers, some by the authors themselves), starting with my all-time favourite, an eerie, mind-blowingly-good paper animation for Maurice Gee’s Going West, produced by the New Zealand Book Council in 2009.

Next up is the super cool trailer for Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You. And this trailer for John Wray’s Lowboy is just plain funny. Comedian Zach Galifianakis takes on the persona of Wray who in turns plays a journalist interviewing him about the book. Confused? Just watch it.

Closer to home, this is a simple idea executed with style for Cate Kennedy’s recent collection of poetry, A Taste of River Water.

And before you’re all trailered out let’s squeeze in one more of Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (starring Jeffrey Eugenides and James Franco among others). It satirises the publishing industry to great effect and has racked up close to a quarter of a million views. Not bad for a book trailer.

Ultimately all these trailers are trying to achieve the same thing: convince you to go out and buy the book. So do any of these do it for you? And have you ever bought a book after watching a trailer?