Tag Archives: Annabel Smith

2, 2 and 2: Annabel Smith talks about The Ark

My fourth guest in the 2, 2 and 2 series, which features writers with new books, is Annabel Smith, and it’s a huge pleasure and very exciting to be showcasing her new novel, The Ark.

Unknown-1

Annabel and I have been sharing work—one way or another—for fifteen years. I edited her first novel, A New Map of the Universe, for UWA Publishing. As part of a writing group with Annabel and Robyn Mundy, I watched the evolution of her second, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot (Fremantle Press), as we read and reviewed chapter by chapter. Similarly, I have seen The Ark grow from its beginnings, and cheered for Annabel when she was the recipient of a two-year Creative Australia Fellowship from the Australia Council, for emerging artists working on interdisciplinary projects, to enable her to develop The Ark as an interactive work.

The Ark is unlike Annabel’s first two books—not only in its digital form but also in its style and genre. It is a work of dystopian speculative fiction, and its story is told in documents (read more about that here). Here is the book’s blurb, and you can also browse the book’s fabulous interactive website:

Wool meets Super Sad True Love Story

The year is 2041. As rapidly dwindling oil supplies wreak havoc worldwide a team of scientists and their families abandon their homes and retreat into a bunker known as The Ark, alongside five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. But The Ark’s sanctuary comes at a price.

When their charismatic leader’s hidden agenda is revealed it becomes impossible to know who to trust. Those locked out of The Ark become increasingly desperate to enter, while those within begin to yearn for escape.

The Ark delves into the fears and concerns raised by the environmental predicament facing the world today, exploring human nature in desperate times. At its heart it asks: can our moral compass ever return to true north after a period in which every decision might be a matter of life and death and the only imperative is survival?

Over to Annabel…

Unknown

Super Sad True Love Story meets Wool

The year is 2041. As rapidly dwindling oil supplies wreak havoc worldwide, a team of scientists and their families abandon their homes and retreat into a bunker known as The Ark, alongside five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. But The Ark’s sanctuary comes at a price. 

When their charismatic leader’s hidden agenda is revealed it becomes impossible to know who to trust. Those locked out of The Ark become increasingly desperate to enter, while those within begin to yearn for escape.

The Ark delves into the fears and concerns raised by the environmental predicament facing the world today, exploring human nature in desperate times. At its heart it asks: can our moral compass ever return to true north after a period in which every decision might be a matter of life and death and the only imperative is survival?

– See more at: http://annabelsmith.com/?page_id=51#sthash.uQG57e6c.dpuf

Super Sad True Love Story meets Wool

The year is 2041. As rapidly dwindling oil supplies wreak havoc worldwide, a team of scientists and their families abandon their homes and retreat into a bunker known as The Ark, alongside five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. But The Ark’s sanctuary comes at a price. 

When their charismatic leader’s hidden agenda is revealed it becomes impossible to know who to trust. Those locked out of The Ark become increasingly desperate to enter, while those within begin to yearn for escape.

The Ark delves into the fears and concerns raised by the environmental predicament facing the world today, exploring human nature in desperate times. At its heart it asks: can our moral compass ever return to true north after a period in which every decision might be a matter of life and death and the only imperative is survival?

– See more at: http://annabelsmith.com/?page_id=51#sthash.uQG57e6c.dpuf

Super Sad True Love Story meets Wool

The year is 2041. As rapidly dwindling oil supplies wreak havoc worldwide, a team of scientists and their families abandon their homes and retreat into a bunker known as The Ark, alongside five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. But The Ark’s sanctuary comes at a price. 

When their charismatic leader’s hidden agenda is revealed it becomes impossible to know who to trust. Those locked out of The Ark become increasingly desperate to enter, while those within begin to yearn for escape.

The Ark delves into the fears and concerns raised by the environmental predicament facing the world today, exploring human nature in desperate times. At its heart it asks: can our moral compass ever return to true north after a period in which every decision might be a matter of life and death and the only imperative is survival?

– See more at: http://annabelsmith.com/?page_id=51#sthash.uQG57e6c.dpu

2 things that inspired The Ark

A few years ago I read Adrian Atkinson’s foreboding essay ‘Cities After Oil’, about the likely collapse of society as we know it, in a period of chaos following post-peak oil. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then, in the ‘environmental lifestyle’ magazine G, I saw a snippet about the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, also known as the Doomsday vault. These two ideas came together in my mind and The Ark was born.

2 places connected with The Ark

Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Global Crop Diversity Trust)

Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Global Crop Diversity Trust)

Since the Svalbard seed vault was the inspiration for my book, I’ll never be able to think about The Ark without picturing Svalbard. Tunnelled into a mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, it can protect its seeds from nuclear war, asteroid strikes and climate change. Even if the power fails, the seeds will be preserved at or below zero by the mountain’s permafrost, and most seeds can survive at this temperature for two or more years.

However, I didn’t want to set my novel at Svalbard, for two reasons. Firstly, direct experience of the facility seemed essential for verisimilitude, but my son was only two years old when I began writing and it wasn’t practical for me to travel to the Arctic Circle. More importantly, I didn’t want my story to be constrained by reality. I decided to create my own seed bank. Research revealed that in the last ice age, there was a small glacier on Mount Kosciusko, and though it no longer has permafrost, this, if I wanted an Australian setting, was as close as I was going to get. Here I ‘built’ the National Arboreal Protection Facility, aka ‘The Ark’.

2 favourite methods of communication in The Ark

The Ark is a novel-in-documents. The story is revealed through blog posts, text messages, emails, memos and a variety of other forms. I really had fun coming up with some of these forms and inventing brand names for the software programs.

One of the document types I got a kick out of creating was a type of email called a Headless Horseman. Allegedly developed by the Yakuza, the program enables people to communicate in secret: The horseman cannot be detected by voyeur systems and can outride all known e-mercenaries.

Perhaps the most fun I had was with the voice recognition software program I invented, called Articulate. Articulate has the capacity to create transcripts of conversations, so it was a way to provide written evidence of some of the conversations (and arguments) which were essential to the novel’s action. Articulate also enables people to write the drafts of speeches, including notes to themselves for their delivery, which read as stage directions. One of the main characters, Aidan, loves to make speeches and has some particularly pompous stage directions in his draft transcripts.

You can follow Annabel on:
her website
Facebook
Twitter
You can buy The Ark here

23 Comments

Filed under 2 2 and 2 (writers + new books)

Writers ask writers: writing in the digital age

Today the Writers Ask Writers group is celebrating twice over. First, a new book from one of our members is being launched today—a very special publication, and one that I have had the great pleasure of reading in successive drafts almost from its genesis.

picisto-20140718044508-509354

Annabel Smith’s The Ark was, as she describes it, ‘born digital’—a novel conceived, written and designed to be read as an interactive digital experience and that takes on the imaginative and ambitious task of inventing systems of communication for a dystopian future. It is also a character-driven novel—the hallmark of all of Annabel’s work—and a study of human behaviour under the extreme pressures of isolation, manipulation and fear. I’m delighted to be featuring Annabel as my next 2, 2 and 2 guest.

The topic of today’s blog, writing in the digital age, is in honour of The Ark on this auspicious occasion, and in celebration of Annabel’s stellar achievement in not only writing a brilliant work of speculative fiction but in mastering, through research and collaboration, the various technologies required to bring it into the world in the way she has.

Congratulations, Annabel!

YvetteWalker01We’re also celebrating the addition of a new Writers Ask Writers member: Yvette Walker, whose stunning debut novel, Letters to the End of Love, was shortlisted for the Glenda Adams Award for New Writing in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and has recently been shortlisted for the WA Emerging Writers Award in the WA Premier’s Book Awards. Yvette also works at one of our fabulous local indie bookstores, Collins Booksellers Cottesloe. A big welcome to Yvette!

~~~

When I try to imagine what my writing life would be like without the internet for research, the view becomes cloudy. I don’t think I can imagine that.

Online research complements all the other kinds of research I do, and sometimes makes the impossible possible. My studio is full of images and maps I have found online, and I have archive boxes of information I could never have laid my hands on in a non-digital world.

Among the most valuable resources for me as a writer of historical fiction are the newspapers of the time and place I am writing about. When researching colonial Western Australia for The Sinkings, reading newspapers of the 1860s–1880s meant driving in to the Battye Library in Perth, searching subjects via card and microfiche indexes, lacing up microfilm readers and laboriously trawling up and down the columns of blurry broadsheets, continually having to adjust the focus manually. Oh, and also taking extensive notes, because obtaining photocopies of any page I wanted required taking the film to another machine (after queueing for a long time), lacing it up, trying to align the part I wanted to copy, calling for help from busy librarians because invariably I’d get it wrong or the machine wouldn’t be working, and, finally, staring in dismay at an illegible photocopy and realising I’d have to start the process again.

A few years into my research for Elemental, the National Library of Australia’s Trove resource came online. All Australian newspapers from 1803 to 1954 are available via the Trove website, and the database is fully searchable. You can print pages, and there’s even a transcript (electronically translated, and sometimes inaccurate, even comical, in its optical rendering) of the article shown on the screen—in case you don’t want to scroll up and down the columns of the newspaper page.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 4.23.58 PM

The first time I tried Trove, I was almost speechless. Many times since I’ve blessed those far-sighted library and IT visionaries who brought us this truly amazing online source, this well-named trove of history delivered, in a few keystrokes, to our homes and offices.

Digital age? When it comes to research, I’m sold. How about you?

You can read what my writer friends have to say about writing in the digital age via these links:

Annabel Smith
Sara Foster
Natasha Lester
Emma Chapman
Dawn Barker
Yvette Walker

Unknown

20 Comments

Filed under Writers ask writers

Big Mother’s Day book giveaway

17 April 2014: Congratulations to Amanda Barrett, winner of the giveaway and bonus prize!

16 April 2014: Competition CLOSED. Winner announced tomorrow.

15 April 2014: Last day to enter! Competition closes midnight. To enter, remember to (1) sign up for the newsletter, and (2) leave a comment here. Good luck!

This month I’m happy to be teaming up with Writers Ask Writers friends Emma Chapman, Annabel Smith, Sara Foster and Dawn Barker to offer a fabulous Mother’s Day prize of ten books: our most recent releases plus one that each of us has selected as a book we would give to our mothers. So the winner of the competition will receive a copy of the following titles:

picisto-20140325120046-443119

There’s also a bonus prize, if the winner is from Perth: two tickets to see Jennifer Saunders discussing her recently released memoir, Bonkers: My Life in Laughs, at the Octagon Theatre on 28 April 2014, 7.30–8.30pm. (If the winner is not from Perth, the bonus prize will go to the first Perth entrant we draw after that.)

Huge thanks to Beaufort Street Books—one of my favourite bookshops—for sponsoring the giveaway. Jane and her fabulous staff really know books—and really know their customers, too! We’re delighted to have them on board.

BSB_logo_long_black_SMALL

How do you enter? There are a few ways, and the more ways you use, the more chances you’ll have:

  • Sign up for my free email newsletter here, and leave a comment on this post, telling me what book you’d like to give your mother on Mother’s Day. If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, you won’t miss out; just leave your comment and that will count as an entry. *If you want to be in the running for the Jennifer Saunders tickets, make sure you add ‘PS I’m local’ to your comment.
  • Go to Emma’s, Annabel’s, Sara’s and Dawn’s blogs (links at the end of this post) and follow their instructions for entering.

Apologies to our international readers, but this one is open only to Australian residents.

The competition ends midnight on Tuesday 15 April, and we’ll be announcing the winner on Thursday 17th. So if you win, you’ll be well prepared for spoiling your mother, or someone else’s, or just yourself on Mother’s Day!

~~~

My mother is a great reader, and my sister and I are always giving her books, or suggesting titles she might like to borrow from the library. Among several she’s enjoyed recently are Jo Baker’s Longbourne (Pride and Prejudice told from the servants’ point of view), Ian Reid’s That Untravelled World (a novel of early twentieth-century Perth) and Deborah Burrows’s Taking a Chance (a romance set in World War II Perth).

I’ve chosen Simone Lazaroo’s 2010 novel Sustenance as a wonderful Mother’s Day read, for several reasons. But first, let me tell you a little about it.

sustenance_cover_AWSustenance is set in the foothills of Bali, at the Elsewhere Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel for Western tourists. The main character, Perpetua de Mello, daughter of a Malaccan mother and an English father, is the hotel’s cook and an observer of life and of lives—the hotel’s wealthy guests, its Balinese staff, its owners (her ageing father and his dubious American business partner), its village neighbours, and a visiting Australian food critic who has a proposition for her.

The peaceful, idyllic world of the Elsewhere is torn asunder when the hotel is invaded by armed gunmen, its staff and guests taken hostage, and everything underpinning the comfortable complacency of Western tourism is revealed.

And so to my reasons for choosing Sustenance as an ideal Mother’s Day book.

First, the writing. Simone Lazaroo is one of Western Australia’s—indeed, Australia’s—most gifted writers, three times winner of the WA Premier’s Book Award for Fiction, and Sustenance is a beautiful, moving, witty, thought-provoking book.

Second, the food! It is a sensory delight to read the sumptuous descriptions of Perpetua’s meals, and we discover so much about this character through her respect for ingredients and the traditional recipes inherited from her mother.

Third, place. Bali is a destination well loved by so many Australians—including my mother—and this novel both celebrates and interrogates the relationship between the countries. It also evokes a visceral sense of place—the colours, the textures, the tropical scents, the human tapestry.

elemental_COVERFinally, Sustenance is a mother’s story—powerfully so—and that is an aspect of the novel best discovered through the reading. And I think that makes it a good companion novel for Elemental, a grandmother’s story written by my character Meggie and intended as as a gift for her granddaughter’s 21st birthday. Elemental’s dedication reads:

For
Edna Jean

and all grandmothers

~~~

And so, get commenting and signing up, and you’ll be in the draw for our big book giveaway—plus the bonus Jennifer Saunders tickets if you’re located in Perth. Links to posts by Sara, Annabel, Emma and Dawn are below.

Good luck!

Sara Foster has chosen for the giveaway a book she’s already given to her mother, M.L. Stedman’s bestselling The Light Between Oceans. Sara’s mother loved it!

Annabel Smith’s Mother’s Day pick is Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, ‘a book about motherhood—about the sacrifices it asks of us and the rewards.’

Emma Chapman calls her chosen book, The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait, a real page-turner: ‘a wonderful, heartbreaking novel about the effects of depression on a family.’

Dawn Barker says of her pick, Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret: ‘My mum would love the page turning story and the emotional drama—as I did.’

78 Comments

Filed under Writers ask writers

Writers ask writers: tools of the trade

MWF Ang_portraitThis month on Writers Ask Writers, we’re talking tools of the writer’s trade, and I’m delighted to welcome our special guest, Melbourne crime writer Angela Savage. I’ve just read the first in Angela’s Jane Keeney PI series (Behind the Night Bazaar), set in Chiang Mai, and can’t wait to read the rest (The Half-Child and The Dying Beach).

~~~

I don’t really think myself as having ‘tools of trade’, although I have a studio full of ‘stuff’ that probably qualifies. Here’s a random selection:

DSCN4018Reference books: shelves and shelves of them, accumulated over three decades of work as a book editor—many, perhaps most, of them pre-dating the internet.

Stationery: I couldn’t get by without my post-it notes, markers in every colour, and more pens and pencils than the average person would use in a lifetime. My late Burmese cat, Daisy, once famously ate all the post-it notes off the side of a manuscript, which is why her successor is not allowed on the desk!
DSCN4021

DSCN4004Notebooks: ordinary A4 or foolscap lined lecture books, plus travel journals in all shapes and sizes.

Talismans: because I am open to the idea of good luck (not bad).
DSCN2735100_4260_2

Manila folders: possibly half the world’s supply, and yes, I know what’s in most of them, although on occasion I’ve been surprised.

100_5941Tea: I drink copious volumes every day, at least partially as part of the creative process (time out).

Heavy-duty airconditioner: because I live in Perth!
DSCN4025

Technology: I love my MacBook Pro—I’ve been using Macs since Macs began—and I work with Microsoft Word and the Macquarie Online dictionary.

That list only scratches the surface, and it excludes all the pinup boards, archive boxes and research books specific to each of my books. It also excludes these:

DSCN4026because I’ve given them up. Honest.

~~~

Here are the links to posts by the other writers, who all have interesting things to say about their tools of trade.

Angela Savage: ‘I love Chinese-made notebooks with nonsensical English phrases on the cover like “Health is the things that makes you feel that now is the best time of the year”…’—Read more here

Annabel Smith: ‘I make notes with a pencil and am especially fond of the ones made out of recycled Chinese newspapers—they are beautifully smooth—and sustainable—what more could a gal want?’—Read more here

Natasha Lester: ‘[Scrivener] is a note-taker, a word-processor, a scene organiser, a research collector, an organiser, a motivator; in short, it’s a miracle.’—Read more here

Sara Foster: ‘I like perforated notebooks so I can tear out pages and collate them properly. I save the pretty notebooks for diaries instead.’—Read more here

Emma Chapman: ‘I made myself a crucial “inspiration board” to remind myself that this process isn’t always easy, but that the most important thing is to keep going.’—Read more here

Dawn Barker: ‘If I write in the morning, a strong flat white. If I write in the evening once the children have fallen asleep, a big glass of wine.’—Read more here

What are your idiosyncrasies when it comes to tools of trade?

PWFC author collage

32 Comments

Filed under Writers ask writers

Writers ask writers: why I write

This month’s question in the Writers Ask Writers blog series is particularly challenging, and one that writers are often asked: Why do you write? Here is my response, followed by links to posts from Dawn Barker, Emma Chapman, Sara Foster, Natasha Lester and Annabel Smith.

~~~

In an online article entitled 15 Famous Authors on Why They Write (Flavorwire), we’re told George Orwell listed four reasons: ‘sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose’—to which he added, in the process undercutting his own certainty: ‘All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.’

The same article quotes Joan Didion as saying: ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’

I find my own instincts far more allied to Joan’s than to George’s.

Another online article (an organisation called Author’s Promoter) boasts a pie chart, representing the results of a survey of 100 published authors. Why do writers write?

As a way to express themselves (15%)
Because they have to (13%)
To help others (13%)
To educate (11%)
To share their imagination (8%)
To influence (6%)
Because they are influenced by other writers (6%)
Because it is a passion and a pleasure (5%)
Because it is therapeutic (5%)
Because it is their profession (3%)
To entertain (2%)
To immortalise themselves or others (2%)
For exposure and fame (2%)
Because they were victims of circumstance (2%)
Because of curiosity (2%)

Now, unless my calculator is faulty, that adds up to 95%, but let’s not quibble.

Once again I find myself with Joan rather than with the 100 published authors who took part in the survey.

In thinking about how to answer this seemingly simple question, I have meandered up and down a few paths—the philosophical, the aesthetic, the downright flippant (Why do I write? It’s not for the money!)—finally leaning towards the existential.

And so I offer a simple analogy.

In 1998, during a holiday to the UK, I travelled to Scotland for the first time. My husband and I drove up through the spine of England, crossed into the west of Scotland, passed through Glasgow, drove north alongside Loch Gare—eventually, that is, after going south for some time thanks to a wrong turn insisted on by the navigator, ahem, me—and finally into the Highlands, our destination. The area around Glencoe was the most spectacular, rugged, luminescent landscape I had ever seen, and I fell utterly in love with it. But my seduction had begun almost as soon as we crossed the border. The outer-city sprawl of Glasgow, the sparse Lowlands, the narrow road winding round the lake, signposted with warnings like BEWARE OF FALLING SHEEP, the dour faces and deadpan humour of people in bars and cafes—I had looked on all of these things and felt a slap of recognition: So this is where I come from. Ancestrally, this was true. But I am two generations removed from my nearest Scottish forebear; I never expected to feel such a visceral connectedness to a place so far from what I’d always thought of as my place.

DSCN3847

A few years before this, I had decided to take some Creative Writing units at university. I’d had a patchy kind of background in writing. In primary school, ‘composition’, as it was called then, was my favourite subject. At thirteen, I had my first poem published in the school magazine. In the same year I wrote my first ‘novel’ (about fifteen pages, I think) and was crushed when my English teacher did not value my sense of melodrama and cautioned me against plot contrivances like gypsy fortune-tellers. I also wrote execrable song lyrics in my twenties. However, by the time I enrolled in writing classes at university, I had been working as a book editor for many years and my motivation for choosing these units was closely tied to that rather than to any ambition to be a writer. I wanted to understand the creative processes of the writers I worked with and to put myself on the other side of the red pen, to feel what it was like to have my work critically assessed and edited. I thought it would make me a better editor, and I think it did. But it also gave me a light-bulb moment: So this is what I’m supposed to be doing. And I think I’d had to reach the right time of my life to flick that switch.

100_4944

These two moments of clarity come from the same place, have same constituent cells—the blood and tissue and neurons of identity. What I do. Who I am.

~~~

Here are links to the reasons my Writers Ask Writers friends offered. Every one of these rang true for me. And how about you? Easy question? Or does it get you thinking?

Annabel Smith: …it has to do with the creative impulse, with creating something from nothing, with the deep satisfaction of pounding at a sentence, a paragraph, and beyond, to create something which others will connect with and be moved by. —Read more here

Natasha Lester:  …my reasons have to do with being a child and then a teenager and then a young woman and now a much older woman who still finds herself lost in the world of a book.—Read more here

Sara Foster: I write to try to look life in the eye—both when it thrills me and when it terrorises me. I write to explore the vagaries of human nature, the dichotomy of what is said and what is done. —Read more here

Emma Chapman: Writing offers you the chance to imagine a life wildly different to your own, and being a dreamy teenager at the time, any life seemed more interesting than my mish-mash of school and home.—Read more here

Dawn Barker: writing is an escape, an intellectual challenge, and an incredibly frustrating puzzle that gives me immense satisfaction when I solve it. —Read more here

PWFC author collage

31 Comments

Filed under Writers ask writers

In fine company…

Image-for-ECU-SW-student-news-Aug-2013The Mt Lawley campus of Edith Cowan University, in Perth, is currently holding an exhibition called ‘Celebration of the Book’, which showcases the published creative work of graduates of the university’s higher degree program in writing (PhD, Masters and Honours), as well as some of the academic staff involved in the program.

Candidates graduating from these programs undertake a major creative work plus an accompanying exegesis; my PhD thesis, for example, consisted of a novel (submitted under the title ‘Ellipsis’ and subsequently published as The Sinkings) and an exegesis comprising two substantial essays, one on the subject of ambiguous genre and the other on ambiguous gender.

Many of the graduates of ECU’s higher degree writing program have gone on to achieve publication; outstanding novels that spring to mind—products of that program—include The Alphabet of Light and Dark (Danielle Wood), A New Map of the Universe (Annabel Smith), The Nature of Ice (Robyn Mundy), Finding Jasper (Lynne Leonhardt) and The Albanian (Donna Mazza). Even that abbreviated list includes one Vogel Award winner and one T.A.G. Hungerford Award winner, as well as four short- or long-listings for other major awards. To quote from the exhibition catalogue:

From 1999 to the start of 2013, twenty-one writing students have graduated with a Higher Degree from Edith Cowan University. More than half of their projects have resulted in significant publications. Many of our alumni have carved careers as professional authors and academics, mentoring a new generation of writing students. From a small base comes an impressive collection of printed works. As part of our 2013 Celebration of the Book Exhibition, Edith Cowan University is proud to showcase a selection of creative writing publications, with supporting comments from the authors.

I feel proud to be included among the writers featured in the catalogue (you can download a copy via the link here)—writers whose work I admire, many of them friends, and/or colleagues in various capacities.

So congratulations to ECU, to exhibition curator Robyn Mundy, to all the writers exhibited (full list below), and to one supervisor, in particular, who has been thanked so often that there is talk of a fan club (he would hate that!)—Dr Richard Rossiter.

And what fine company it is!
Dr Suzanne Covich
Dr Fran Cusworth
Dr Maureen Helen
Dr Simone Lazaroo
Dr Julia Lawrinson
Dr Lynne Leonhardt
Dr Donna Mazza
Dr Vahri McKenzie
Dr Anne Morgan
Dr Robyn Mundy
Dr Ffion Murphy
Professor Glen Phillips
Dr Marcella Polain
Associate Professor Richard Rossiter
Dr John Charles Ryan
Dr Annabel Smith
Professor Andrew Taylor
Dr Terry Whitebeach
Dr Danielle Wood

10 Comments

Filed under Writing

Writers ask writers: author for a day

kirstenkrauth_webThis month in our Writers Ask Writers series, the question posed is: If you could jump into the life of another author, past or present, for one day, who would it be and why? And it’s a pleasure to welcome, as guest blogger for August, Kirsten Krauth, who has recently released her accomplished debut novel, just_a_girl, described as ‘a Puberty Blues for the digital age’. There are links at the end to Kirsten’s choice of author, along with those of Annabel Smith, Natasha Lester, Sara Foster, Emma Chapman and Dawn Barker.

~~~

Katharine Susannah Prichard seems to have been a presence in my life since the beginning of my writing career. The first validation I ever received as a writer was as winner of the Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award in 1996. And a few years later, a story of mine called ‘The prospect of grace’, which draws on the lives of four famous couples including Katharine Susannah Prichard and Hugo Throssell, won the Patricia Hackett Prize for best contribution to the literary journal Westerly (the story has since been included in Inherited).

DSCN3567I have been a member of the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, in the Perth hills suburb of Greenmount, for many years, and last weekend I spent a few hours there fulfilling my duties as a member of the Literary Advisory Board. Serendipitous, because it gave me an opportunity to take a photograph of the lovely old weatherboard house that was once Katharine’s home and place of work, and is now still a place where writers work—and learn and share writerly things.

Katharine Susannah Prichard was productive in her long lifetime. It makes me reel to think of what she achieved: 13 novels (translated into 13 foreign languages for international publication), 10 plays, five short story collections, two volumes of poetry, an autobiography, a work of non-fiction, and many pamphlets and articles. I doubt there are many literary writers who could come close today.

01

While I admire this amazing output, it is not the reason I would choose to be Katharine Susannah Prichard for a day.

Nor is it because she had an especially happy life. She did not—or so it appears, at this distance, to me. I don’t doubt that there was happiness, both through her writing and in her personal life; one only has to read the passionate dedication to Hugo Throssell in her autobiography, Child of the Hurricane, to know there was love:

To you, all those wild weeds
and wind flowers of my life,
I bring, my lord,
and lay them at your feet;
they are not frankincense
or myrrh
but you were Krishna, Christ and Dionysus
in your beauty, tenderness and strength.

But she also lived through unbearable personal sadness, losing her father and, later, her husband to suicide. And as someone who cared deeply about social justice, and believed in fighting for something better for all of humanity, happiness frequently eluded her.

As a young journalist, she worked in the slums of Melbourne, witnessing the plight of women slaving in sweatshops. In 1908–09, she spent a year in England, a time of hunger marches, Salvation Army soup kitchens and extreme poverty—symptomatic of a fraying social fabric (as Virginia Woolf was to say, ‘On or about December 1910, human character changed’). Returning to England just before the First World War, she remained there throughout the war years, and took part in suffragette marches and feminist lectures on women’s issues such as birth control. For a week in 1914 she reported from the battlefront in France.

These experiences deepened her compassion for the powerless, a thread running through so many of her novels—exploited Aboriginal women in Coonardoo (and the play Brumby Innes), returned servicemen in Intimate Strangers, struggling timber workers in Working Bullocks.

DSCN3573They also formed in her a great interest in pacifism and socialism and, later, in communism—and this last made her a target of official inquiry. It took guts to be a communist in those times. She became known as ‘the Red Witch of Greenmount’, and during the years of the Second World War her house was searched and she was put under surveillance amid fears that she was signalling from the hills to enemy craft at sea!

It’s not because I long to be notorious that I would wish myself into Katharine’s skin.

But I admire Katharine Susannah Prichard. I admire her commitment and her compassion—and especially her fearlessness. And that is why I would like to be her for a day. I would like to feel that kind of fearlessness in my blood. I harbour a suspicion that I might also find it an adulterated brew, tainted with the self-doubt and uncertainty that are found in any writer. But I imagine, I am sure, there is much I could learn about courage from this remarkable woman, this compassionate writer.

~~~

Here are the links to companion posts from our group and guest Kirsten Krauth:

Kirsten Krauth: When I was a kid, a family member was obsessed with [Leonard Cohen] … I always rolled my eyes; it’s so embarrassing when adults think their music is cool.—Read more here

Annabel Smith: [As Truman Capote] the day would begin with me lounging in my smoking jacket while I opened my mail, including fan mail, letters of outrage about my sexuality and moral degeneracy …—Read more here

Natasha Lester: [Joan Didion] made meaning out of her life. She wrote about unique experiences in a way that made them seem commonplace and connective.—Read more here

Sara Foster: I will go back to a day in 1990 on a crowded train and become JK Rowling the moment she met Harry Potter in her imagination for the first time …—Read more here

Emma Chapman: I wanted to write about the stereotype of the ideal writer: someone who is free to write when they want, read when they want, and take the day off when they want. That’s the life I wanted …—Read more here

Dawn Barker: Mary Shelley … had lots of trauma in her life, but she had one wonderful summer that would change her life and propel her into literary history.—Read more here

PWFC author collage

18 Comments

Filed under Writers ask writers