Category Archives: Writing

Well, scrape me down from the sky…

It’s been nearly three days. You’d think I would have managed to post the news before now. But it took me by surprise, and it’s taken a while to come down to earth.

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Last Friday, at the announcement of the WA Premier’s Book Awards,* I was awarded this year’s Western Australian Writer’s Fellowship. My fellow shortlistees were Lucy Dougan, Caitlin Maling, Rafeif Ismail and Carl Merrison, and it was a privilege to be in the company of these wonderful writers.

Congratulations to all the WA Premier’s Book Awards winners and shortlisted authors:

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Unlike an award given for a published book, a fellowship is not a prize; it’s a contract. It comes with expectations and responsibilities, and I’m so excited about the work ahead. The fellowship will enable me to make substantial progress on the new novel I’m working on, set in Perth and Coolgardie during the 1890s—a story of emigration and racism and extraordinary social change.

My thanks to the WA Government, the State Library of WA and the judging panel for this unparalleled opportunity.

*The event was live-streamed on YouTube (the feed begins at around 6 minutes).

A few photos, courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia…

 

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Susan Midalia, Jo Taylor, Amanda Curtin, Francine Nababan, Jan Nicholls

Premier's Book Awards night Friday 7 August 2020

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Premier's Book Awards night Friday 7 August 2020

Premier's Book Awards night Friday 7 August 2020

Holden Sheppard

Premier's Book Awards night Friday 7 August 2020

Meg McKinlay

Premier's Book Awards night Friday 7 August 2020

Kim Scott

Premier's Book Awards night Friday 7 August 2020

Premier's Book Awards night Friday 7 August 2020

 

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A podcast and some good news…

I was delighted when Will Yeoman, from The West Australian, invited me to talk about Scotland in this episode of ‘The Pod Well Travelled. It was hard to choose one place among the many in Scotland I love, but in the end it had to be Shetland, where part 2 of Elemental is set. You can also listen to discussions about Finland and Arles in this episode.

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And for the good news…

In a year that has been, and continues to be, so difficult and unnerving, it is a singular pleasure to be shortlisted for the WA Writer’s Fellowship, part of the WA Premier’s Book Awards.

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The full shortlists are here. Congratulations and good luck to everyone!

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China sojourn…

Amanda Curtin(photo by WEI Donghua)

Photo courtesy Wei Donghua

I recently took a four-week break from the blog—from all social media, in fact—when I joined the 2019 Sun Yat-sen Writers’ Residency in China. The residency promotes the reading and writing of world literature by providing the space for international writers to engage with Chinese literature, culture and people.

I had the privilege of sharing these four unforgettable weeks with seven other writers—Damien Wilkins, New Zealand; Abigail Parry, United Kingdom; Geoffrey Nutter, United States; Alecia McKenzie, Jamaica; Ignacio Vleming, Spain; Helmuth A. Niederle, Austria; Irene Santori, Italy—as well as the residency creator and director, Professor Dai Fan, her colleagues from Sun Yat-sen University, and three groups of translation students.

During the residency, writers each had a piece of work (mine, the short story ‘Gratitude’, from Inherited) translated into Mandarin, and I found the process of working with student translators Junhai Yang and Yueyie Kong fascinating, rewarding, and occasionally confronting. I learned that some words in English have no literal equivalent in Mandarin, and a common question from the students—Does this mean…?—required stepping back in time, into the genesis of the story, to find ways of explaining overall intention as well as words and sentences. It gave me an appreciation of the collaborative art that translation is—or can be—and of the students’ sensitive, careful work. During the residency, each writer gave a reading of the work translated, with both the English and Mandarin versions projected on screen.

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Aside from providing time to write—and reflect—the residency gave us an outstanding opportunity to experience aspects of Chinese culture and history, life in cities and villages, and some of China’s amazing landscapes. We spent time in Yangshuo (Guanxi Autonomous Region), Gejiu City (Yunnan Province) and the Guangzhou and Zhuhai campuses of Sun Yat-sen University (Guangdong Province), and I gained a sense of just how vast China is on the day we spent eight hours on a high-speed train, covering more than a thousand kilometres.

Here are a few visual highlights.

Yulong riverside, surrounded by karst mountain formations, Yangshuo…

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View from Green Dragon Bridge

Flora…

Mountain Song, Yangshuo…

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Artists and calligraphers, Yangshuo…

 

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Not a very good student!

The coastal city of Zhuhai…

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The art of tea…

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Gejiu City…

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Azheke Village, Yuanyang Prefecture…

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Visits to schools and colleges…

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WA Premier’s shortlists…

Earlier this month, the Western Australian Minister for Culture and the Arts announced the shortlists for the 2019 WA Premier’s Book Awards, and I couldn’t have been more delighted, or surprised, to find myself shortlisted for the inaugural Western Australian Writer’s Fellowship.

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It’s an honour to be in the company of this stellar group of writers. Thanks to the judges for making my year!

Shortlists for the three other awards being presented are as follows:

Emerging Writer

  • Alicia Tuckerman, If I Tell You (novel, YA; Pantera Press)
  • Dervla McTiernan, The Rúin (novel; HarperCollins Publishers)
  • Renée Pettitt-Schipp, The Sky Runs Right Through Us (poetry; UWA Publishing)
  • Gus Henderson, The Wounded Sinner (novel; Magabala Books)
  • Laurie Steed, You Belong Here (novel; Margaret River Press)

Writing for Children

  • Sally Morgan, illust. Craig Smith, Grandpa, Me and Poetry (Scholastic Australia)
  • Mark Greenwood, illust. Andrew McLean, The Happiness Box (Walker Books Australia)
  • Kelly Canby, The Hole Story (Fremantle Press)
  • Barry Marshall & Lorna Hendry, illust. Bernard Caleo), How to Win a Nobel Prize (Piccolo Nero, Schwartz Publishing Pty Ltd)
  • Kirsty Murray, illust. Karen Blair, Puddle Hunters (Allen & Unwin)

Daisy Utemorrah  Award for Unpublished Indigenous Junior and YA Writing

  • Paul Callaghan, ‘Coincidence’
  • Kirli Saunders, ‘Mother Speaks’
  • Karl Merrison & Hakea Hustler, ‘Tracks of the Missing’

Congratulations and good luck to all!

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Thinking time…

I spent most of May at one of my favourite places in the world, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, in County Monaghan, Ireland, among an always-changing, always-inspiring household of writers, visual artists, composers, filmmakers, translators, photographers.

This beautiful place, opened in 1981, was the home of renowned theatre director Tyrone Guthrie, who bequeathed it to the Irish State as a retreat for artists. That act of vision and generosity has since touched the lives of thousands of artists who have become Annaghmakerrig residents for a few days or a few weeks.

For me, it was a productive, regenerative time, with quiet days (and often late nights) of work and reflection framed by glorious early-morning walks and warm, convivial evenings.

Here are a few visual highlights…

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Quick tutorial: the semicolon

iStock_000018482964XSmallIt’s been a while since I posted a quick tutorial, but I was asked recently to explain when and how to use a semicolon. Some writers hate this innocuous little slip of a thing, mostly because they’re not sure what to do with it. Others seem to like the idea of it but use it indiscriminately, hoping they’ll get it right.

Here’s a quick and easy guide.

Holding things together

The semicolon can be used to join two parts of a sentence that are closely linked in meaning and are independent clauses.

For example:

Charlene ate all the chocolates; she should have felt guilty.

Charlene ate all the chocolates and she should have felt guilty are linked in meaning and are independent clauses—that is, each could stand as a separate sentence:

Charlene ate all the chocolates. She should have felt guilty.

Whether you join them with a semicolon or cast them as two separate sentences is a matter of choice and nuance. Joining them perhaps confers a greater sense of judgment on the greedy Charlene!

Note that independent clauses can also be linked with a coordinating conjunction—for example:

Charlene ate all the chocolates and she should have felt guilty.

Charlene at all the chocolates so she should have felt guilty.

Each of these also gives a different nuance to the sentence.

But a comma should not be used to join two independent clauses. The following example, known as a ‘comma splice’, is incorrect:*

Charlene ate all the chocolates, she should have felt guilty.

Pushing things apart

The semicolon can also be used to separate items in a narrative list that contain internal commas.

Take, for example, this list of items:

  • three bags of coconut rough, one weighing 600 grams and the others, 400 grams
  • six bars of dark chocolate, two of them 85% cocoa
  • a silver-embossed, ribbon-tied foil carton of truffles

If this list were to be used in narrative in the usual way—that is, by separating each item with a comma—the sentence would look clumsy and be confusing to read, so semicolons are used instead of commas between the items:

That greedy Charlene ate three bags of coconut rough, one weighing 600 grams and the others, 400 grams; six bars of dark chocolate, two of them 85% cocoa; and a silver-embossed, ribbon-tied foil carton of truffles.

(OK, I confess: Charlene is me.)

I hope that helps!

*This ‘rule’ is often intentionally broken for creative purposes—for example, for rhythm, or to achieve a particular effect.

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Not the paperless office

I’m nearing the end of a project I’ve been working on for several years, and the tracks of my research have colonised the studio. This is only a fraction of it…

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There are other ways to store and gather. Possibly easier. Definitely more environmentally sound. And I use many of those, too. But I’ve come to realise that the core of my research is constructed from paper and post-it notes, photographs and photocopies, books and boxes and manila folders. Well-worn maps. Talismans.

It will be time, soon, to pack it all away, to make space for other things, to de-clutter (a word I don’t particularly like, because what is clutter if not history?).

But not yet.

For now, the proofing begins…

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In praise of the ordinary…

This week’s research reading unearthed a quote from James Joyce that I reacted to strongly in positive and negative ways.

I dislike the opposition it sets up. Joyce apparently did not accord much respect to journalists, and it’s clear here that he had an elitist view of who and what ‘writers’ were and were not.

Also, it’s a lofty, arrogant piece of ‘advice’—perhaps no surprise that Joyce was giving it to a female writer, Djuna Barnes. It made me wonder about who Joyce’s cosy little of club of ‘writers’ might actually be. I suspect that it would not include too many women.

And yet, and yet…Joyce’s words express something I believe about fiction, although not in the absolute and exclusive way Joyce seems to have intended it. They acknowledge the unremarkable, the quotidian, the minutiae of life as fundamental subjects of fiction.

A writer must never write about the extraordinary. That is for the journalist.

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2016 speeches #3: Battye Library’s 60th anniversary

Here is the last of the 2016 speeches I’m posting here, this one given on the occasion of the Battye Library of Western Australian History’s 60th anniversary…

 

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The staff at the Battye Library saw a lot of me in the first half of 2016. I am writing a work of narrative non-fiction about the artist Kathleen O’Connor, and I spent about four months of this year here, in the reading room, working through collected papers.

One day someone asked me about what I was doing and seemed surprised that I do all my own research. While it’s true that somewhere in the world there do exist those rare and endangered writers who can afford to commission others to put in the hours, I’m not one of them. But what’s more important: even if I were, I would still have been practically living in the reading room this year.

I can’t even imagine how I would brief someone else to do my research. While researching, I am not only gathering what I set out to find; I am also discovering what I could not have imagined was there. I am slowly, incrementally, forming impressions that guide what else I might do. I am making choices. Asking myself questions. I am beginning to make connections between disparate things. For me, the threads of research and creation are sometimes so enmeshed that they can only be disentangled with the benefit of hindsight.

An example: One of the stories in my collection Inherited (UWA Publishing) begins with a young woman, Paige, who becomes obsessed with the watercolour paintings of an artist referred to in the story only as The Famous Politician’s Wife. Western Australian readers may recognise her as Margaret Forrest.

My interest in Forrest began when I edited the late Frank Crowley’s biography of her husband, John Forrest, many years ago. Noting that Margaret Forrest was an artist, I was intrigued by this creative woman of a very different time, and came to the Battye Library to find out more.

In the manuscript collection are original letters written by Forrest. The experience of handling those fragile letters in her handwriting was profound; it was a physical connection to the dead. Those letters, cross-written across the page to conserve paper, told me things about who she was, and helped to contextualise the world in which she lived.

In the stacks were biographical articles that contributed fragments to the pictures I was building in my head. And then I found a piece of ephemera: a catalogue for Forrest’s only exhibition, which reproduced many of her beautiful watercolours. One painting particularly enchanted me: there was something ethereal about it. I was unfamiliar with the botanical specimen, a Byblis gigantea, but after more research, I discovered that the mauve of the flower in Forrest’s painting meant that it was fading, close to dying. It was that small piece of information that, in a circuitous way, created the framing character of my story, Paige, who, like the flower, is fading from life.

Circuitous is the right adjective to describe what I do here. I try to think how I could have made the leaps of imagination that transformed an interest into that story some other way than by being here, hands-on, and I can’t.

All libraries, all archives, are important to creative writers. This year I have also worked in the National Library of Australia in Canberra, and libraries in London, Bath and Paris. I have relished these experiences; I have been inspired by them. But this library means more to me because its purpose is to preserve our heritage, and while I often make creative forays into places and histories unconnected to me, I will always be a writer fascinated by the stories and people of my place.

I have several more projects that I am itching to begin, so the library staff is going to be seeing a lot more of me.

Thank you, Battye Library, and Happy Anniversary.

 

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7 weeks in 20 photos…

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National Art Library, V&A Museum (London)

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George Orwell and Dylan Thomas drank there… (London)

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On top of the world… (Lerwick, Shetland)

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The lovely Jeena McNab, McNab’s Kippers (Lerwick, Shetland)

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and Jeena’s mother, former herring girl Rita McNab

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The youngest reader I’ve ever signed a book for… (Shetland Library, Lerwick)

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and the first ladder I’ve ever signed (Edinburgh Book Shop)

 

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You can find a story anywhere… (Lower Slaughter)

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The Madhatter Bookshop (Burford)

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Bath Records Office

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Toppings & Co., Bath

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The closest I get to a selfie… (Brighton)

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When you look up, there might be wings… (Tours, France)

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or a wingless horse… (Tours)

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or lions… (Pont-Aven)

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Unforgettable… (Chateau Chenonceaux, Loire Valley)

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Forest art, looking down… (Concarneau)

 

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Don’t forget to read the plaques… (Quai Voltaire, Paris)

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and listen to what the birds tell you… (Paris)

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And always, always remember to visit the books… (Paris)

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