Monthly Archives: April 2013

A wee countdown: 1


… and to complete the countdown, here’s a word that’s unlikely to be heard in ‘real’ conversation today. The archival photograph is courtesy of my friends at the Buckie and District Fishing Heritage Centre in Scotland.




large tubs or troughs containing herring ready for gutting

From Elemental:

There was also the screaming of hundreds of gulls circling above the farlins, and calls of Fill up! and Over here!


Elemental will be available tomorrow from good bookshops, online booksellers and direct from UWA Publishing. Thanks for checking in!


Filed under A wee countdown

Book review: Harmless, by Julienne van Loon

9781922089045_HARMLESS_WEBThe novella has been occupying my mind a lot lately, mostly because I am working on one myself. As a form of fiction that sits in an intermediary place between two others—the novel and the short story—a novella has the capacity to draw on the strengths of both and find its own kind of power.

Julienne van Loon achieves exactly that in Harmless.

The cast of characters is small, and all are people hovering beyond the edges of mainstream society. Rattuwat, an elderly Thai hotel worker, has arrived in Perth for the funeral of his only daughter, Sua. Dave, Sua’s partner, is in gaol for a half-hearted, unsuccessful armed robbery. Rattuwat is collected at the airport by Dave’s children: Ant, a young man heading in the same direction as his father, and eight-year-old Amanda, a child who has ‘no respect’. There is no sign of the grandchildren Sua had written to her parents about.

The action in the present takes place over a single day. Rattuwat and Amanda have set out to drive to Acacia Prison to visit Dave. The story begins when the car breaks down and the two of them, at Amanda’s insistence, attempt to walk to the prison. Rattuwat cannot handle the heat and the long walk; Amanda leaves him behind. Both get lost, and Dave’s allotted visiting time comes and goes.

Through this slender but compelling arc of events, Rattuwat, Amanda and Dave are put under great pressure. Each must come to terms with grief and loss; each must decide whether to give up or keep travelling.

But the present is only part of the story. Through brief glimpses of what has brought each character to this day’s events—memories, vignettes—van Loon pieces together a grim, bruising story of human vulnerability. These are novelistic techniques used in miniature, compressed to the every-word-counts imperative of the short story.

The narrative’s centre is the absent character, Sua, and it is her story that I found the most heartbreaking—perhaps because of the understated way the horror of her past is revealed. Perhaps, too, because in spite of this, she represents redemptive love, especially for Amanda.

Amanda is a beautifully realised character—difficult to warm to and at the same time impossible not to feel the greatest anxiety for. As I read, I kept remembering Rattuwat’s observation of the ‘impatient and rude’ child at Sua’s funeral:

… he couldn’t help noticing the constant stream of tears coming from the girl in the red dress. She keened and sniffled, wiping mucus all over the back of her hand. Watching her caused Rattuwat physical pain. In some way he had yet to fully understand, that little girl surely belonged to Sua.

Abandoned in different ways by her birth mother, her father and Sua, Amanda is truly lost. In a scene towards the end of the novella, she is transfixed at the sight of an injured kangaroo on the side of the road:

When the second fit began it went on and on, so that the shuddering became all there was to the world. It echoed Amanda’s shifting pulse. Shutting her eyes, blocking her ears, nothing helped. But she could not move away. She stood and stood.

It is a pivotal moment when the child’s unbearable, inexpressible helplessness is visible to her, embodied in the suffering kangaroo.

The novella’s ending is open, the fates of its characters unresolved. For Amanda, however, I sensed hope in her newly found anger, its suggestion that she will be helpless no more, and in the knowledge that she is ‘travelling with Sua in her heart’.

Ian McEwan (The New Yorker, 29 October 2012) has described the novella as ‘the perfect form of prose fiction’—‘long enough for a reader to inhabit a world or a consciousness and be kept there, short enough to be read in a sitting or two and for the whole structure to be held in mind at first encounter’. Harmless fully exploits this satisfying architecture, and delivers depth and weight that belie its 137 pages.

Harmless is Julienne van Loon’s third book, following on from the Vogel Award–winning novella Road Story in 2005 and the novel Beneath the Bloodwood Tree in 2008.

Harmless by Julienne van Loon (Fremantle Press, 2013)
ISBN 9781922089045

This review counts towards my total for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.awwbadge_2013


Filed under Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

A wee countdown: 2

Nearly there! Today’s quote comes from the fraught world of sibling relationships—a case of foot-in-mouth. The mouth in question belongs to Meggie’s brother.

bonnie clip


good-looking girl

From Elemental:

Don’t ye be foolish, he said, and he seemed to be casting about for some reassuring word. Ye’re no bonnie clip, that’s true, but ye’re a hardworking quine an’ there’s lads who don’t take poorly to a fat face.


If you’ve missed these, just click on the links: having a jamaica, chuckney, jeely pieces, laavie, quine, tammie noriepeenie and bubblyjock.


Filed under A wee countdown

A wee countdown: 3

Would you know a bubblyjock if you met one?





From Elemental:

I sidle in and look from one to the next. Granda, his face as scarlet as the comb on a bubblyjock. Ma, upset but tight-faced. Unty Jinna by the window, keeping a wary watch for anyone passing by.

Have you also mastered having a jamaica, chuckney, jeely pieces, laavie, quine, tammie norie, and peenie?


Filed under A wee countdown

A wee countdown: 4

Today’s snippet from Meggie might come in useful if you’ve had a hard night—or maybe if you’ve eaten too much chocolate (um, not that anyone round here would do that…).





From Elemental:

Wasn’t that I didn’t like my cousins—oh, but that Liza! If she wasn’t whining she was prattling fit to give us all a pain in the peenie.

To catch up on other useful additions to your vocabulary, click on have a jamaica, chuckney, jeely pieces, laavie, quine, and tammie norie.


Filed under A wee countdown

A wee countdown: 5

Today’s little snippet comes from Lerwick, in the Shetlands.

tammie norie


puffin (local term)

Atlantic Puffin

From Elemental:

100_1186_2The cliff face is home to hundreds of puffins, hunkering down among the small mauve flowers—I don’t know their name—that cluster over rocks, sheltering burrows. Ye canna look at a tammie norie without smiling, Magnus Tulloch says, and I think: Aye, they are the strangest little things, birds that look as though they’ve been put together on the Lord’s day off by someone with a sense of humour—a hodgepodge thrown together with the bits left over from other birds, some I’ve only ever seen in The Class Book of the Natural World at school. Fat, stumpy bodies in black and white penguin clothes. The brightly tropic-coloured beaks of toucans. Enormous orange feet, webbed like a duck’s, splaying all ungainly as they come in to land on graceful eagle wings. Who could dream up anything as—what’s the word? Anything as preposterous as a puffin?

Click on the links to catch up with the meaning of having a jamaica, chuckney, jeely pieces, laavie and quine.


Filed under A wee countdown

A wee countdown: 6

Only six days to go until Elemental is in stores, and here’s today’s little language lesson.

quine, quinie


girl, young woman; ‘quinie’ is an affectionate form of the word


From Elemental:

All the way from India, Kitta had told me in a hush of awe. All the quines wear silk in India. Their dresses an’ shawls, the scarves on their heads, even their drawers! And we looked at each other, trying to imagine such extravagance, such indulgence, and thinking what a scandalous, perfect place it must be, this place called India.

For more quick language lessons, click on the links for have a jamaica, chuckney, jeely pieces and laavie.


Filed under A wee countdown