Our Imagined Selves…

Most people who know me also know that I don’t get on with summer. Which is why I spent most of January somewhere a bit cooler…

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Ah, take me back…

But there’s one thing I do love about Perth summer—Perth Festival Writers Week! If you’re here next week, culminating in the weekend of 23–24 February, you’re in for a treat.

Curator William Yeoman, in his second festival—‘Our Imagined Selves’—has put together a fabulous program, with visiting guests Ben Okri, Anna Funder, Monica McInerney, David Malouf, Markus Zusak, Trent Dalton, Esi Edugyan, Fiona Wright, Jane Caro, Benjamin Law, Chloe Hooper, Hugh Mackay, Kristina Olsson, Carly Findlay, Angela Meyer and many others. Local writers are out in force, too, including Alice Nelson, S.A. Jones, Dervla McTiernan, Susan Midalia, David Whish-Wilson, Meg McKinlay, Steve Hawke, A.J. Betts and Carrie Cox.

I’m thrilled to be chairing a session with award-winning UK author Amy Sackville, who will be talking about her wonderful new novel, Painter to the King. And my fellow panellist in the ‘(Re)Writing History’ session is UK historical novelist Andrew Miller, whose latest, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, I didn’t want to put down.

I’m also going to be trying very hard not to fangirl Gail Jones at the Sunday morning breakfast, ‘Ars Longa Vita Brevis’, during which she, Amy Sackville and I will be talking about our most recent works, all of them about art and artists.

My Saturday afternoon workshop ‘Writing Fiction: Getting Started’ is designed for those just starting out—or thinking about it—and covers basics like inspiration and creativity, and an introduction to the craft aspects of writing fiction.

Every year I warn myself not to go crazy in the bookshop, but I already have two four must-haves on my list, and I suspect that’s just the beginning!

Please come and say hello if you see me around, and I hope you have a wonderful festival.

 

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2, 2 and 2: Marcella Polain talks about Driving into the Sun

It’s a late start to 2019 on looking up/looking down, but as I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of travelling throughout January, my working year has only just begun.

And what a wonderful way to begin the year’s blogging, with a guest post from one of Western Australia’s most accomplished writers…

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Marcella Polain
Driving into the Sun
(Fremantle Press)
LITERARY FICTION

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I worked with Marcella for several years at Edith Cowan University, where she played a prominent role in developing the Writing program and has taught and mentored hundreds of emerging writers. Marcella is one of those enormously talented writers who can turn her creative mind to almost any genre: she is well known throughout Australia as an award-winning poet (winner of the Anne Elder Prize and shortlisted for many major awards), has a background in theatre and screen writing, and has published widely as an essayist (longlisted for the Calibre Prize). Her debut novel, The Edge of the World, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Marcella was born in Singapore and arrived in Perth as an immigrant, at the age of two, with her Armenian mother and Irish father.

Having eagerly awaited Marcella’s second novel for many years, I am thrilled to be able to feature it here.

The blurb reads:

For Orla, living in the suburbs in 1968 on the cusp of adolescence, her father is a great shining light, whose warm and powerful presence fills her world.

But in the aftermath of his sudden death, Orla, her mother and her sister are left in a no-man’s-land, a place where the rights and protections of the nuclear family suddenly and mysteriously no longer apply, and where the path between girl and woman must be navigated alone.

And here is Marcella…

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2 things that inspired Driving into the Sun

I can’t read Nabokov’s Lolita. I know you’re probably thinking that I should try harder [I would never presume to do that, Marcella!], that many writers are of the view it’s one of the best novels ever written. Well, I’ve tried several times and I just can’t. To me, reading about Humbert is unbearable. Children and women are taken in by people like him, have to shape their lives around them—living contingently, and sometimes not living at all. When I try to read it, I just keep thinking, ‘But what about the girl? What about her story?’

A fleeting conversation at a café on the Swan River (around the turn of the last century, when I was beginning my first novel, The Edge of the World). Some women writers, a little older than me, were saying how safe Perth was when they were teenagers. I was taken aback because that’s not my memory of it at all. The Perth of my youth had an underbelly, clearly visible to me. I could tell that class had something to do with this difference of view (and Australians don’t like talking about class), but it really got me thinking that there must be a lot of people like me, for whom the past is not a safer, happier place in which they could move about freely. And I thought: well, those stories—the underbelly stories—are just as legitimate as any other. I’m also not entirely convinced that wealthier suburbs were much safer and happier in the 60s. They still had men returned from war who drank too much, and women whose lives were curtailed. They had serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke, as well.

2 places that inspired Driving into the Sun

Is monstrosity a place? It’s a state of being, culturally prescribed, and, in that way, a place occupied by some. I’m interested in the way culture creates its monsters—not just by mistreating people and so shaping their behaviour into the aberrant, but also by prescribing ideas of what monsters are—how they look, where they reside, how they behave. We believe these cultural delusions, and so we run from those who fit the stereotype (maybe unkempt and dishevelled) into the arms of the well-groomed one who can appear safe but isn’t.

Childhood is a place powerfully remembered and embodied; we all carry it with us and within us. And grief is a place—we talk a lot about grief as a journey, so it can certainly be considered terrain we traverse. Think about the impact of each of these places on their own and then consider their intersection. Childhood and grief make a very special place, indeed. It’s an elite world. Only some are chosen. All go unwillingly. And it’s largely invisible. Those who live in it might look just like the rest of us but they’re not.

2 of my favourite things about Driving into the Sun

Driving into the Sun began as a story in which horses were a major focus. I love everything about horses—their smell, their sounds, their breath, their nervousness, twitchiness, drowsiness, disinterest, their power, eyelashes, warmth, their muzzles, hooves, necks, the way their hides ripple when flies land on them, the texture of the hair of their manes, their muscularity, the way they turn their ears to track sound or lay them flat when annoyed. As I write this, I wonder (again) why—of all the creatures in the world—I feel closest to horses. When I look at the list above, I think perhaps I’m a bit like a horse. Or maybe it’s just that I fell in love with Fury when I was five. (Does anyone else remember Fury?) The opening shot is still vivid in me: Fury (of the title) suddenly appearing on a rise, rearing, pawing, whinnying. Even very young, I recognised that power and agitation—that life-force. I thought it the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to write about all this, about horses and what they mean—and I think that is still in Orla as she longs for a horse—but writing also has its own life-force, and the story became about other things, as well.

Fury was wild and the other wildness I love is the Indian Ocean, a gift largely taken for granted where I live. It draws me in the same way it draws many. My first ever home was surrounded by jungle, built right alongside the curve of sand in a protected cove. I don’t remember but I’ve seen photos. I grew up in Perth and loved visits to the beach. In Driving into the Sun, Orla wonders why her family doesn’t seem to know that before the sea breeze arrives is the best time to be at the beach, which is something I did wonder as a kid. Perhaps we have to grow up in a place to embody that kind of weather knowledge. Or perhaps it’s just that it’s hard to get three kids organised quickly enough! Or perhaps it has to matter. Writing any scenes with real or imagined ocean is always infused with the extra pleasure of re-creating a little wildness.

 

Driving into the Sun is a February 2019 release
Find out more at Fremantle Press
Marcella Polain will be talking about her new novel at Perth Writers Week

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looking back/looking forward…

A big thank-you to everyone who has contributed to, or read,
looking up/looking down in 2018.

May the New Year bring you
good health,
good books
and good company!

Amanda x

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Year’s end…

As 2018 draws to a close, I am feeling… well, a few things, really.

First of all, a bit exhausted. It’s been a busy year in which, among other things, I’ve seen a manuscript through to publication (such a neat, glib statement that belies the enormity of the process!), given many talks, conducted a gallery walk (a first for me), taken part in panels, readings and conversations, given four launch speeches, visited book clubs, recorded podcasts, interviewed writers, been interviewed myself, presented workshops, judged a young writers’ competition, mentored a writer, and been nominated for a national award.

I’m grateful to everyone who, in ways large and small, has been part of the wonderful tapestry of 2018—too many to name here, but I know, and see, and appreciate, every one of those threads. Thank you!

On the whole, 2018 has been good to me. But I’m aware that hasn’t been the case for everyone. If you’re one of those people, I hope the coming year is gentler. And whatever it is that has helped you through this one—courage, stubbornness, friends, books, chocolate—may there continue to be an abundance of that.

I am looking forward to meeting 2019. There are exciting book-related events coming up. And a journey to the top of the world. A novel to finish. A reunion with friends. A road trip around a wild coast. And a couple of momentous family events. Who knows what else?

For now, I’m signing off for 2018. Thank you for reading looking up/looking down, for your comments, for your kind messages throughout the year, and…

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2, 2 and 2: Tineke Van der Eecken talks about Traverse

Tineke Van der Eecken
Traverse
(Wild Weeds Press)
MEMOIR

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I first met Tineke Van der Eecken in 2010, when she asked me to take a preliminary look at the fledgling manuscript that would eventually become Traverse. And last month, it gave me great pleasure to launch the book, and to celebrate Tineke’s long creative journey of hard work and perseverance that would, along the way, see the unpublished manuscript shortlisted for the 2016 City of Fremantle T.A.G. Hungerford Award. What I felt were the strengths of the manuscript in its earliest form shine through clearly still: an unusual subject matter, a strong evocation of place, and the warmth and honesty of the narrative voice.

Traverse is not Tineke’s first book; she has also published Cafe d’Afrique, a memoir about her experiences in running a coffee shop in Zambia. And her poetry and non-fiction have been widely published in Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom. Belgian-born, she now lives near Fremantle, Western Australia, and works in conflict resolution. She also makes jewellery inspired by her travels.

Here is the book’s blurb:

Tineke, her husband Dirk and their two children have moved many times to support his career as a geologist. As the family struggle to settle into their new home in England, Dirk is away for months, conducting surveys in Madagascar; while at home, he is mentally absent. When Tineke discovers his infidelity, her life can never be the same.

Determined to save her twelve-year marriage, she decides to accompany Dirk on his next geological expedition: a 350 kilometre trek through the unrelenting terrain of Madagascar.

Traverse is both a travel memoir that charts Tineke’s difficult and dangerous trek, and a forensic examination of the denouement of a fractured marriage. The landscape of Madagascar—in particular, the powerful Bemarivo River—brings her face-to-face with her own limitations and with demons from her past. By pushing through a physical feat of endurance and examining the emotional truth of her situation, Tineke is finally able to resolve her own and her husband’s future.

 

Over to Tineke…

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2 things that inspired my book

1 Working through painful life experiences is at the centre of my story. It’s nothing new; it’s the tragedy of life. The trick was to turn this negative into a positive, something beautiful and worth sharing. My first book, Cafe d’Afrique, tells the story of a failed business venture in Africa but it’s also about friendship with Zambian people and with Zambia as a country. Traverse is the story of a marriage breakdown, on one hand, and about daring to be vulnerable, on the other.

2 The immediate inspiration for Traverse was the trip itself: trekking 350 kilometres on foot through four climate zones in a remote part of Northern Madagascar, one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world—both ecologically and culturally. During the trek, I would meet the woman my husband had fallen in love with and try to decide if our marriage could be rescued.

2 places connected with my book

1 Northern Madagascar—in particular, the area east of Tsinzarano—following the Bemarivo River towards its source in the mountains, and ending in Ambilobe. In this part of the world, you go from one place to another by walking.

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2 Cotgrave, a small village in the Eastern Midlands in England. It is perched in an undulating landscape and connected to the other villages by ancient footpaths.

2 favourite Madagascan phrases

1 The question ‘Bis lanana?’—‘Where is the path?’—was commonly heard during the expedition. When you trek through an open landscape, you can see the path winding its way across the hills to the next village, ten or twenty kilometres away. It can take all day to reach that destination. There is something marvellous in arriving on foot in a village or town. You can never be anonymous. You know the others on the path, and they know you. The school you pass will have children chanting in French instead of their local language.

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2 Expressed as a statement, ‘Bis lanana’ meant there was always a path, even if it had to be hacked through the forest. I see it as a metaphor for a modern marriage. There is always a path, a way to make things work or to make the best out of what is not working. But paths, like rivers, merge and separate. Our path followed the course of the river all the way to the source. There were many tributaries, unexpectedly creating white water, danger. Our focus, more and more, was on how to manoeuvre these crossings.

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Traverse is available online here and on Amazon, and at select WA bookshops
More about Tineke on her website
Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @tinekecreations

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Researching an artist: a few favourite resources

Research played a major role in the creation of Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, and I learned a lot in the process. I had to. Narrative non-fiction is a new genre for me, and I knew I would need to be working from a strong foundation.

I also had a subject whose long life was lived in many places, and whose career would have to be examined from different perspectives.

Here are some of the resources I found particularly valuable.

Specialist art libraries
During the course of my research, I had the opportunity to visit the library of the Art Gallery of Western Australia; the National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery Library and the Courtauld Institute Library in London; and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The collections of these wonderful institutions include materials such as exhibition catalogues, collections of press cuttings, obscure recordings and publications, regional registers, dictionaries of artists—and probably many other things, but these are the ones I accessed.

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Online archives
What would researchers in Australia do without Trove, the National Library of Australia’s searchable digital collection of Australian newspapers from 1803 to 1955? Thanks to Trove, along with the propensity of local nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century newspapers to report in great detail on just about every event that happened in the colony, I was able to get a sense of Kate’s adolescent years in Perth and Fremantle. Gallica, the online library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was another source I used for locating press articles and reviews, although it is not a comprehensive collection of the national library’s resources.

Pay-for-view databases
I found it a sound investment to pay for a month’s subscription to ancestry.com in order to track genealogical resources relating to Kate and others. Similarly, a month’s subscription to an art auction database gave me access to several decades of auction sales, and to works of Kate’s I had not seen anywhere else.

‘Can you help?’
I placed a paragraph in this weekly column in the West Australian newspaper, asking for information from anyone who had known Kate or held her artwork. Although responses were few, each one of them was a gem—some wonderful anecdotes from a (then) young man who used to deliver art supplies to Kate; an artwork whose whereabouts I had not known of; a photograph of Kate that made me smile; contact from a family member; some details about the buying and selling of a much-loved painting.

Artworks
I’ve saved the best for last. I made a point of viewing as many of Kate’s artworks as I could locate during the course of researching her life, and the experience of seeing them up close was nothing short of thrilling. And I discovered something I had not known before: that the back of a painting—or at least of Kate’s paintings—has its own story to tell, in the form of inscriptions; old labels recording dates, prices, addresses, titles; exhibition history; sketches; even other works. The privilege of viewing these works in galleries, offices, store-rooms, vaults and private homes will stay with me as one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life.

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Skygazing, Paris…

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(More of these on Instagram #kathleenoconnorofparis—but this one is my favourite!)

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