Monthly Archives: November 2014

The next wave (part 2): WA women writers to look out for

picisto-20141127082720-542876Welcome to part 2 of this four-part series featuring emerging Western Australian women writers with manuscripts ready—or almost ready—to submit to agents and publishers. In this post my guests are Amanda Gardiner and Emily Paull.

Photo on 2014-08-05 at 15.49 #3_2Amanda Gardiner

If a wide range of life experiences gives a writer great source material, Amanda already has a store that should last her forever. ‘I have been an au pair, a FIFO at a gold mine, a shelf stacker, and a lecturer, tutor and researcher at university.  I have worn tiny shorts and a too-small t-shirt and served food and drinks to rich people on a luxury yacht. I have been an apprentice painter and decorator and an actor. I have edited a journal and a book. I house-sat for three and a half years and moved over 30 times. I have sold antique jewellery, presented my research at conferences, organised symposia, and worked in admin, as an interviewer and oral historian, a production assistant in a film company, a caterer, a mystery shopper and a waitress. I am not sure that my varied employment history will help future job applications…’

She also has a collector’s eye for the unique and a writer’s alertness to the uncanny: ‘I recently visited the new markets that are filling the old Myer space in Fremantle and saw a beautiful pair of crystal and silver perfume bottles. As I knew that I must not, under any circumstances, purchase them, I carried them over to the saleswoman to ask if she could tell me their story. She did not know much, other than they were turn of the last century and wasn’t the engraving wonderful? I resolutely returned the bottles to their shelf, but as I walked away I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to have a closer look at the engraving. I held them up near the window and as the metal glinted in the light I realised the bottles were elaborately monogrammed with the letters “AG”. So now I own two very practical cut crystal perfume bottles that had my initials etched into them over a hundred years ago.’

Amanda’s short fiction has been published in an anthology by the 2013 Peter Cowan Advanced Writers’ cohort, and she has published various academic articles. Here is how Amanda describes her manuscript—working title Unearthing Mary Summerland: ‘On the 4th of September 1832, the body of a newborn baby boy was found washed up on the shore at the port town of Fremantle, Western Australia. As the result of an inquest into the child’s suspicious death, a 20-year-old unmarried domestic servant named Mary Summerland was accused of murdering him. Unearthing Mary Summerland is a work of literary fiction that blends history and imagination to explore what may have happened to Mary and her son.’

And here is a brief extract from the novel:

Despite the cold, the smell is very strong. It unfurls from the remains on the table to push rotten meat into Susannah Summerland’s face. Susannah begins to take thin breaths through her mouth, sealing off the end of each inhalation with the pink press of tongue to palate before exhaling through her nose. The other people in the room, the three men and Mary, do not speak, and Susannah continues breathing in this way, listening to the ocean moving back and forth across the rocks at the cliff-base of Bather’s Bay, until the Rev. looks up from his chair and asks again,

‘Do you recognise the child?’

Susannah is standing. Rev. Wittenoom and Mary’s master Mr. Leake are seated across from her, on the other side of the table. To her left the doctor Harrison guards the inner doorway. To her right her daughter sits waiting on a low stool. The dead baby lies in the centre of all of them.

emily paull with giant teacupEmily Paull

If you asked a room full of writers what their dream job would be—if they weren’t writing, of course—there’s sure to be a few who would say ‘working in a bookshop’. Emily has one of those enviable day jobs. ‘I’m very lucky to work as an independent bookseller, for two reasons,’ she says. ‘The first is that I have an outlet for doing my bit to advance the profile of Western Australian writing, which is a passion of mine. The second is that every day when I come to work, I am confronted by visual reminders of why I am doing what I am doing. Every day I see, read and talk about great books, and I am reminded of where I want to go in life, and why it’s worth all the hard work.’

When she’s not collecting books, Emily is collecting ‘coffee and tea mugs, and the assorted paraphernalia that goes with them.’ But writing occupies much of the rest of her time. Emily was regularly published in the Murdoch University magazine METIOR 2009–11, and in 2010 had her own fiction column, ‘Life with the dull parts taken out’.

Her stories have been published on Murdoch University’s website as part of the creative arts showcase, and she has been published in Trove. In 2011 she won the Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award (under 20s category), and she is about to begin a Young Writer in Residence program at the KSP Writers Centre—something she describes as ‘probably the coolest opportunity writing has given me’.

Emily’s manuscript—working title Between the Sleepers—is a historical romance intended for adult/young adult readers: ‘The story begins in 1937 when Winston Keller, a member of the working class with a secret talent for sketching, meets the daughter of Perth’s newest business tycoon at a family dinner. The dinner is supposed to be a chance for Robert Willis and George Keller to reconnect after many years estranged, although Robert only seems interested in rubbing his wealth in his old friend’s face. But there is an unexpected consequence—Winston and Sarah Willis fall in love. Their relationship forces Winston into a world of jazz music, adultery and, ultimately, war.’

Here is a taste of Between the Sleepers:

Winston raced up the hill towards his home, towards the rows of semi-detached red tenements with fruit trees drooping in the yards. His part of Fremantle always smelled like cut grass and eucalyptus, as well as the marshy smell of the docks. Some of the houses had dark green picket fences, peeling from the heat and the salt and the wind. Others simply faced on to the road. Lawns were littered with clues to the lives of their owners: a set of lawn chairs with old crocheted lap-blankets folded on top, a tricycle parked by the front steps, uncollected West Australian newspapers piled by the welcome mat. Winston pedalled hard to crest the top of the hill.

By the time he’d coasted down the other side of the incline, he was out of breath. His tyres scraped in the sand as he backpedalled and swung on to Fothergill Street. It had just begun to get dark, and the street was still full of people. Three small children were chasing a yellow dog up and down the laneways and Winston swerved to avoid them…

Website: The Incredible Rambling Elimy

You can also read
Part 1: Rashida Murphy and Kristen Levitzke

Coming up
Part 3: Karen Overman and Kim Coull
Part 4: Michelle Michau-Crawford and Louise Allan

 

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The next wave (part 1): WA women writers to look out for

picisto-20141127082720-542876Western Australian women writers have produced some exciting and successful novels in 2014. New releases have included Annabel Smith’s much-anticipated interactive novel, The Ark; Deb Fitzpatrick’s first novel for adults (after three highly successful junior and young adult books), The Break; Dawn Barker’s second novel, Let Her Go; Felicity Young’s third in the Dr Dody McCleland series, The Scent of Murder; Kate McCaffrey’s new young adult novel, Crashing Down; and superlative new novels from two of my long-time favourites, Simone Lazaroo with Lost River and Joan London with The Golden Age. And if we ‘own’ Brooke Davis as Western Australian, as we tend to do, then there’s also the publishing phenomenon that is Lost & Found.

I’m looking forward to what 2015 will bring—and beyond that. There’s so much creative energy among writers on the western edge—some of it being nurtured in university writing programs, some finding inspiration and support through writers centres, some brewing entirely independently. This four-part series features eight WA women who are part of that creative flurry. All of them have a manuscript ready, or nearly ready, to submit to agents and publishers, and I hope we’ll be hearing a lot more from them in the future.

In this first post, it’s my pleasure to welcome Rashida Murphy and Kristen Levitzke to looking up/looking down.

DSC00729Rashida Murphy

Rashida has two Masters degrees and is finishing a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University. She was born in India and has lived in Australia for more than half her life: ‘Still can’t speak Strine, though. I blame that on a colonial (Catholic) education where I was encouraged to round my vowels and sound like an Indian version of Jane Austen.’ She can, however, speak, read and write in three languages!

Her cultural heritage also provides her with writing material: ‘I have a weird and wonderful family whose antics I shamelessly borrow to create my fictional characters. If they didn’t want me to write about them, they shouldn’t have given me all those books to read when I was little.’

Rashida’s short fiction and poetry has been published in anthologies and journals, and I was delighted to select one of her stories for the issue of Westerly to be released this week. She was a prizewinner in the Northern Literary Awards 2014 and the Laura Literary Awards 1998, and this year was invited to spend time at the University of Himachal Pradesh in India, courtesy of a grant from Edith Cowan University.

Rashida’s manuscript is a work of literary fiction with the working title The Historian’s Daughter. She describes it as ‘a novel about the decisions we make when we are afraid and the repercussions of those decisions. The action of the novel takes place in three countries: the narrator’s childhood in India, a brief foray into revolutionary Iran and an attempt at a new life in Perth. The novel is about immigrant belonging and loss but it’s also about the lives of women and girls caught up in situations they cannot control.’

Here is a taste:

Why had my English grandfather chosen this desolate cantonment as his final home? Captain Roper, whose impressive moustache topped an unsmiling mouth in the photograph on his bookshelf, had not been a sensible man, according to his son the Historian, my father. Maybe Captain Roper became attached to the place he had sent so many of his men, those pale English boys unused to the steaming multitudes of India. A large asylum for violent insane lunatics subject to maniacal paroxysms of fury was built for British soldiers here; so they could recover from the heat and the madness before going back to England.

I wished the asylum was still around—I would send all the aunties there—those dervishes with their dusters and dupattas and constant chatter. They made my eyes water. Mostly I didn’t mind them, filling our house like smoke on a winter’s day. But it would be nice to have the Magician and Gloria to myself. To watch the Magician’s hands as they folded, kneaded, straightened, smoothened, caressed. To breathe in Gloria’s hair and skin and smell honey; her sighs when she thought she was alone. The Historian was another matter. In an ideal world it would be possible to live without the Historian. Meanwhile he remained an integral part of my world, like howling dogs and rumbling trucks and staccato horns. And shiny shoes.

Website: rashidawritenow

1918755_170300368693_5660990_nKristen Levitzke

Kristen teaches students with Specific Language Impairment and says she loves her job: ‘Teaching a child to read is like winning the lotto. I’m as passionate about teaching as I am about writing; sometimes it’s hard to juggle all of the enthusiasm!’

She completed a Bachelor of Arts in English and Fine Arts, which reflects a cross-pollination of creative interests: ‘I had the time I’d paint and draw as often as I write. I’ll make the perfect retiree.’

Kristen was highly commended in the 2013 Margaret River Short Story Competition (also shortlisted in 2014) and the 2013 Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award, and this year was longlisted for the prestigious Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Prize. Her stories have been published in two Margaret River Press anthologies, and she has read and discussed her work at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, Bookcaffe Swanbourne, and Cullens Winery.

Kristen describes her manuscript—working title The Quickening—as ‘a multigenerational family saga with elements of historical fiction that will appeal to readers of Kate Morton and Dawn Barker.’ The story concerns ‘Sarah Mitchell, well-travelled, with an accomplished career and a beautiful home; she is a testament to the modern woman. She has everything she has always desired; everything, except the baby she wants most. Sarah’s marriage is barely holding together and her personal relationships are declining. A family mystery revolving around her great grandmother, Vera, provides a timely distraction for Sarah, and piece by piece she unravels the Bakers’ dark and complicated history. Set in Fremantle and Perth, this is a story about the power and pain of a maternal love.’

Here is a fragment:

It was sad; Evie and I had been close as girls. I often think fondly of long gone days spent in Gran’s backyard, the heady scent of jasmine and freesia. We used to collect the rosehip when the blossoms withered and the petals fell away. The rose fruit was a lovely star with a bulbous bottom and there seemed something extraordinary about the strange little things. So we packaged them in cellophane, bundled together and tied with string for our backyard witches’ shop.

The fruit had magical properties. Some rendered people invisible, others were for flying. Gran gave us glass bottles and jars of varying shapes and sizes and we made all sorts of garden concoctions. The wisteria that crept over the old greenhouse made a leafy cavern where we carefully arranged our enchanted goods on wooden crates. Gran and Grandad, hand in hand, would sit on the back verandah, calling out spells. Grandad’s magic always made us fall about; he had a liking for toilet humour. Toe juice and dog dung, dove feather and bottom wind. I’m quite sure that if I ventured down into Gran’s overgrown yard I would find the residue from years of making magic.

Website here

Coming up
Part 2: Amanda Gardiner and Emily Paull
Part 3: Karen Overman and Kim Coull
Part 4: Michelle Michau-Crawford and Louise Allan

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Interview with ‘Elemental’ author Amanda Curtin

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Quick tutorial: it’s worth its weight in gold

iStock_000018482964XSmallFirst of all, apologies for the title of this post: I’m not trying to make extravagant claims for a very modest quick tutorial. But it does illustrate the point.

A friend who is a retired university professor tells the story that he used to begin each unit with a short lesson on the difference between its and it’s. He’d warn his students to listen carefully because every time they made an its/it’s error in their assignments, he would be deducting a 1% penalty mark. He swears it made a difference—but also said there were always students who had to pay his rather high price.

If you have difficulty with this one, here’s a recap, with a couple of easy guidelines:

its is a possessive, the neutral equivalent of his or her.

If you can’t replace its with his or her (leaving the gender issue aside!), you probably mean it’s.

Mary is publishing her novel. Wally is publishing his memoir. The company is publishing its annual report.

 

it’s is a contraction meaning it is or it has.

If you can’t replace it’s with it is or it has, you probably mean its.

It’s not unusual. [It is not unusual.]

It’s always been this way. [It has always been this way.]

So, to return to that clichéd title with the grandiose claim:

It’s worth its weight in gold means It is worth the weight of it in gold—but you knew that, didn’t you?

Give it a try next time you’re proofreading. And let’s all be thankful that editors don’t apply penalties.

 

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A November photo-reminder…

to look up, and say hello…

DSCN6337

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2, 2 and 2: S.A. Jones talks about Isabelle of the Moon and Stars

IMG_6337-001Today’s 2, 2, and 2 guest is S.A. Jones, whom I know as Serje, and the new book being featured is her second novel, Isabelle of the Moon and Stars (UWA Publishing).

I have been among Serje’s fans since reading her first novel, Red Dress Walking (Allen & Unwin, 2008), and I’ve also enjoyed her essays and reviews in publications like The Guardian, The Age, The Drum, Crikey, Overland and Kill Your Darlings. I had the privilege of reading an impressive early draft of Isabelle of the Moon and Stars and can’t wait to read it in its final form, clothed as it is in one of the most evocative covers I’ve seen for a long time (congratulations to designer Anna Maley-Fadgyas, who also produced the cover of Elemental).

A few interesting facts about the always-interesting Serje:

  • she was born in England and raised on a remote island off the West Australian coast
  • she holds a PhD in History from The University of Western Australia
  • she now lives and works in Melbourne as an executive in the heavy transport industry
  • she was named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence in 2013
  • she is, and I quote, ‘mad-keen on reading, theology, history, trucks and chardonnay’
  • she knows more about Wuthering Heights than anyone I know

And now, to Isabelle of the Moon and Stars. Here is the book blurb:

Ever since ‘the incident’ two years ago, Isabelle has been stuck in a dead-end job, trying desperately to keep it together and ward off ‘The Black Place’.

Her best friend Evan is her safe place. They laugh at each other’s jokes, share the same interests and take the piss out of each other with the ruthless efficiency of long acquaintance. Sex isn’t an issue because Evan has made a bargain with God to keep it in his pants and Isabelle is still recovering from being deserted by her fiancé Karl. Then just as Evan reconsiders his vow, Isabelle contrives a bizarre passion for her boss, Jack.

Everything implodes one suffocatingly hot Australia Day. Escaping the resulting chaos, Isabelle flees to Prague where she must finally confront her fears.

A provocative and funny novel about the dark places, both personal and historical, from one of Australia’s brightest new voices.

Over to Serje…

isabelle_cover

2 things that inspired my book

Isabelle of the Moon and Stars was born out of a very specific set of circumstances. My marriage had collapsed, I had no fixed address and I was in poor health. Writing was a way of maintaining focus and connecting my nascent ‘new’ self with the old one.

I was also inspired by a dissatisfaction with the way mental illness is often portrayed in popular culture. I wanted to see if it was possible to write about anxiety and depression in a way that was realistic, while conforming to the genre demands of the novel. It’s challenging because the reality of the illness—the repetition, the hyper vigilance, the self-absorption—is oppositional to the light and shade and change that make for good narrative.

2 places connected with the book

As a child, my heroine Isabelle developed a compulsive fascination with the city of Prague. I based her obsession on my own childhood experience of Russophilia. I went through a phase where I read only Russian literature, devoured everything I could on Russian history and collected hammer and sickle memorabilia. In fact, my childhood identification with all things Russian is to thank or blame for my nickname. A girlfriend started calling me ‘Serge’ in my early teens, figuring it was a Russian name, and it stuck so comprehensively that I simply adapted the spelling to the Finnish girl’s name ‘Serje’.

I went to Prague in 2008 to conduct my research. Below is a photo of me sitting in front of the memorial to the victims of communism. The memorial consists of a series of humanoid figures that progressively put on flesh and detail as they endure and evolve. That was pretty much how I felt at the time too.

kidsholiday193

2 favourites

One of my favourite associations with this book is the research trip I took to the Czech Republic and Germany in 2008. My sister accompanied me and it was a formative experience for both of us. It confirmed that old cliché that opportunity is the close cousin of crisis.

I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to some dark enjoyment at having invented my own management strategy for the book. As anyone who has spent time in the workforce knows, initiatives for better performance or efficiency or alignment are often as facile as they are absurd. I really hope my strategy—called P3—takes off.

Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is in bookshops now.
You can read more at:
UWA Publishing
S.A. Jones
Interview with William Yeoman, The West Australian

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