Tag Archives: elemental

Wild, Weird & Wonderful in Margaret River…

For those of you who don’t know—and I’m sure most of you do—Margaret River is a world-acclaimed food and wine region in the South West of Western Australia, and one of Australia’s most beautiful and vibrant tourist destinations. It is also home to a fabulous writers festival, and I’m delighted to be taking part in this year’s Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival, 3–5 May, at Voyager Estate.

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The festival theme is Wild, Weird & Wonderful, and I like to think there’s a bit of all three in all of us.

I’m in very good company this year. Among those on the very long list of authors and presenters are Germaine Greer, Anna Funder, Kim Scott, Liz Byrski, Susan Midalia, Sarah Drummond, Ian Parmenter, Dave Warner, Michael Leunig and William McInnes.

I’ll be talking about Kathleen O’Connor of Paris with chair William Yeoman (Friday, 9.30–10.30am, Main Stage), and about Elemental in a session entitled ‘Salt, Sleet and Wild Seas’, with Sarah Drummond, author of The Sound, and chair Rashida Murphy (Friday, 2–3pm, Main Stage). You can view the full program here.

If you’re going, please come and say hello!

Need a reminder of just how glorious Margaret River is? Here are a few of my favourite photo-memories…

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Margaret River resident and all-round treasure Ian Parmenter

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French fishing girls…

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In a French coastal town in Brittany, where I was recently, researching something completely unrelated to fishing or fishing girls, I often found myself thinking of Elemental’s  Meggie Tulloch and the herring girls of north-east Scotland.

I hadn’t known much about the rich fishing heritage of Concarneau, but when I went on a walking tour around the harbour and listened to the guide speak about the prominent role played by women and young girls in the fishing industry I began to experience a sense of déjà vu. In Concarneau, the focus was sardines rather than herring, and the girls worked in confiseries (canning factories) dotted around the port.

 

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They wore aprons and Breton bonnets that were different to those worn by other women of the town, and when they were not preparing and packing sardines in oil, they were knitting, or cleaning fishing nets, while waiting for the return of the fleet. And praying that their men would not be lost at sea, pulled to the ocean floor by the weight of their wooden-soled leather seaboots.

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Sounding familiar?

And then I discovered that the name of the oldest canning factory in Concarneau, established in 1893, is Maison Courtin. A French version of Curtin? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.

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New edition of Elemental

UWA Publishing is releasing a new edition of Elemental for the Australia/New Zealand territory, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. It’s a new size and a new price—with a new cover, too. I confess I will miss the original image of my wee reid-heid, with her arresting stare, but I love this new, atmospheric vision for the novel…

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I’m told the new edition will be in stores on 1 December but is available for ordering via the UWA Publishing website next week.

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Creating a sense of place

I was recently invited to contribute a piece to the Scottish Book Trust’s ‘Five Things’ blog. The Scottish Book Trust is a fabulous organisation that promotes reading and writing as having the power to change lives—and that’s my kind of ‘mission statement’!

My piece is on creating a sense of place in fiction, and you can read it here.

 

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Elemental on air

Kate Evans from Radio National is a lovely interviewer and I was delighted to talk to her about Elemental. If you didn’t catch it on Books Plus or Books and Arts this week, the podcast is here.

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Book club baking!

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Amy Wiseman baked these Elemental-themed treats for her book club’s discussion of the novel today. Don’t they look delicious! Meggie Tulloch would never have seen this much jam as a fisher girl in the north of Scotland, where ‘jeely pieces’ consisted of no more than a scrape of watery jam on a chunk of dry bread. And I doubt there was anything so luscious and generous made in the Mills & Ware biscuit factory in Fremantle, either. 🙂

Beautiful, Amy!

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Shortlisting of Elemental, WA Premier’s Book Awards

elemental_COVERThis week I was thrilled to learn that Elemental has been shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards in the Fiction category. My little red-haired gutting girl is proud to be in the company of these stellar titles:

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (Random House Australia)
Coal Creek by Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)
Eyrie by Tim Winton (Penguin Group Australia)
The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr (Fremantle Press)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Random House Australia)

You can read the full press release here.

The six shortlisted titles are also eligible for the People’s Choice Award. You can vote for your favourite here (WA residents only, and voting closes 29 August).

I was also thrilled to see that the shortlist in a new category, WA Emerging Writers, includes writer friends Dawn Barker for Fractured (you can read a recent 2, 2 and 2 guest post from Dawn here) and Yvette Walker for Letters to the End of Love (my review here).

What an exciting week it’s been!

 

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Inspired by time and place…

A lot of research went into the writing of my second novel, Elemental—and research is something I love. I remember missing the first half of a teleconference because I was so engrossed in something I was researching on the net that I forgot the time! But possibly the most exciting part was visiting places in the UK where the novel is set: the Shetland Islands, fishing villages in the north-east of Scotland, Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast.

Here are a few photographs from those visits, along with some brief extracts from the novel they inspired.

Fishing villages

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I was born in a village as far north-east as you can go on the Scottish mainland, closer to Norway than London. Roanhaven was only two miles from the town of Gadlehead, and I’m told they’re all the one place now. But back then, oh, we were a folk apart, we thought Gadlehead as much a stranger-place as Fraserburgh to the north, Collieston to the south, and all those inland villages where Ma would sell fish from the creel on her back.

Pink granite

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That wind!…Every year it took a little more of the houses in Tiller Street, wearing them away grain by grain. Not the frames, no, for the pink granite of Gadlehead will survive more generations than I’ll ever know, but the soft matter between that yields to the elements.

Seaboots

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Jockel Buchan, an old fisherman, strode through the shallows to reach me. Waded in, he did, almost to the knees of his great seaboots.

The Knab, Lerwick

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The Knab is spectacular. You can see forever from its wild summit. Rabbits scamper this way and that among the gorse and marigolds, and the cliff face is home to hundreds of puffins hunkering down among the small mauve flowers…

Puffins

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Aye, they are the strangest little things, birds that look as though they’ve been put together on the Lord’s day off by someone with a sense of humour—a hodgepodge thrown together with the bits left over from other birds…

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The big October giveaway!

UPDATE: Thursday 31 October 2013. The competition has now closed. Congratulations to winner Megan Warren. Happy reading, Megan!

This month the Writers Ask Writers group is giving away a set of TWELVE books (value $300)—a copy of our most recent releases, plus a book we’ve each selected that has, in some way, inspired our own.

If you live in Australia, you can enter the giveaway by going to the Elemental Facebook page and clicking on the blue BOOK GIVEAWAY tab, centre; alternatively, you can link directly by using the Facebook mobile app link.

Here are the titles you could win:

REVISED giveaway oct 2013

Interesting choices? Read on to find out what’s behind these pairings. And good luck!

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In the conception and writing of Elemental—a period of more than five years—I was never conscious of having Tirra Lirra by the River in my head. If you’d asked me then what my writing inspirations were, I might have opened up an archive box full of research materials—an eclectic collection of books (history, biology, philosophy, language, poetry, memoir), photocopies from archives and newspapers, travel notes and photographs, printouts from websites.

All of the materials in that archive box were indeed inspirational, and indispensable, and they mean a great deal to me.

But now, reflecting on the novel I have written, I can recognise other inspirations—the kind that are less about the particularities of time and place, character and circumstance, and more about writing itself.

They lay scattered, like breadcrumbs, along the reading pathways of my life—trails winding around books I love, stories I have lived and breathed as my own, authors whose words scale summits I aspire to reach. Among them are novels by Gail Jones, Annie Proulx, Simone Lazaroo, Anne Michaels… so many others.

And one of them is Jessica Anderson’s 1978 classic and best-known work, which won her the first of her two Miles Franklin Awards.

Old hands writing something with a pen in a notebookTirra Lirra by the River and Elemental have in common an elderly woman reflecting on her life. And through that central act of reflection, the two novels also share a preoccupation with memory, time and change—although Anderson’s Nora Porteous and my narrating character, Meggie Tulloch, are women of different eras, different worlds. There is nothing alike in their life experiences, or in their character or heart.

However, I fell in love with Tirra Lirra by the River primarily for its voice (something I have spoken of in a previous post)—the acerbic, imperious, unflinching voice of the elderly Nora Porteous who, returning (grudgingly) to the place and people of her childhood, looks back on all that drove her away and all that has brought her back.

And this is where I owe my debt to the late Jessica Anderson. I think it was Tirra Lirra by the River that taught me what I needed to know to create a distinctive voice for the first three parts of Elemental: the voice of Meggie Tulloch, the fisher girl/gutting quine who emigrates from Scotland to Western Australia, who lives through what she calls ‘the shifts in the world when everything changes’, who is daughter, sister, mother, wife, widow, grandmother and, through all of these, friend.

And I think it was Tirra Lirra that gave me resilience when I happened to read Henry James’s crushing opinion that ‘In any long fiction, use of the first-person point of view is barbaric.’

Thank you, Jessica Anderson, for proving Henry wrong so resolutely and so elegantly. For giving me so much to aspire to.

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Here are links to why my writer friends have chosen their companion titles—and to more ways you can enter our big October giveaway.

Dawn Barker: The subject matter was horrific, and made even more so by the way she [Lionel Shriver] chose to be quite blunt and realistic in the way she wrote. This book didn’t have a Hollywood ending to make it more palatable.’—Read more here

Emma Chapman: ‘…each one made me think differently about what women’s fiction was and how for women writers at that time, it was almost impossible to separate your gender from your identity.’ —Read more here

Sara Foster: I wasn’t just moved by the story, I was also impressed by how Anthony managed to combine realism with idealism when discussing conservation. This delicate line is one my characters struggle with in Shallow Breath…’ —Read more here

Natasha Lester: Joan Didion’s book covers some similar themes; it’s about mothers and daughters and their relationships, it’s about husbands and wives and their relationships, and it’s about the way grief can simply overtake a person, although they may appear to be functioning on the outside.’ —Read more here

Annabel Smith: In hindsight, I see Zadie Smith’s protagonist, Alex-Li Tandem, as a kind of spiritual brother to my protagonist Charlie: a little lost, blind to his own shortcomings, stubbornly refusing to grow or do the things he knows he needs to do…’—Read more here

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10 things I love about Sydney…

In no particular order…

The Rocks

I always think of Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow… a place of ghosts and time-travellers

Sydney skies

which always have a story to tell

Those intrepid bridge walkers

I admire them but I’ll never be one of them!

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Balmain

fond memories of Saturday-morning shopping in this old suburb when I lived in nearby Drummoyne many years ago—and I still love its shops and cafes and markets and Federation architecture

Opera whites

a stray glimpse of those iconic sails through the trees—the Sydney wow factor!

The Art Gallery of New South Wales

home of one of my favourite paintings, Grace Cossington-Smith’s The sock knitter

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The coat hanger

52,800 tonnes of cross-harbour style

Adriano Zumbo

macarons and works of art sculpted in choux and sugar… yes, please!

Great friends

Tony and Pauline (with the charming Pompey). Click here to read the story of Tony’s long-lost—and now found—band, Fuchsia

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and…

Better Read Than Dead

voted Lonely Planet’s Favourite Sydney Bookshop—and the lovely folks at BRTD have invited me there to talk about Elemental on Wednesday 24 July, 6.30pm (more information here). If you’re nearby and free that night, please come along—I’d love to see you!

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