Tag Archives: Rashida Murphy

2016 speeches #2: Rashida Murphy’s The Historian’s Daughter

Here is a second speech from 2016, made on the delightful occasion of the launch of Rashida Murphy’s novel The Historian’s Daughter (UWA Publishing) last August. I decided not to edit out my concluding comments—a few tips on how readers can help books make their way in the world—as people often ask me about this…

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The Historian’s Daughter is a special book. First, and most importantly, it is a beautifully written, page-turning, multilayered novel with engaging characters and something worthwhile to say.

Second, it is a debut novel, which always occasions a particular kind of interest, because reviewers, the media, bookshops, readers are not only wondering What story do we have here? but also Who do we have here?

Third, this book started its life as a PhD. It has been loved and laboured over, even cried over, throughout many years and it has been the centre of its writer’s life through all that time. It has jumped through many hoops, been read by many eyes, been critiqued and reviewed and examined and, as a thesis, honoured with the Magdalena Prize for feminist writing.

And speaking of honours… The Historian’s Daughter made the shortlist of an international award for an unpublished manuscript, the Dundee International Book Prize—no small achievement.

And finally, it caught the discerning eye of Terri-ann White, and has found for itself a good match for publication.

The Historian’s Daughter had me hooked from the very first page, which consists of only one sentence: This is not the story he wanted me to tell. Is there a person alive who would not immediately want to know what is this story? Who is this he who seems to have some power and an expectation that what he wants is what will come to pass? And, especially, who is this narrator who is defying that voice?

Hannah is the narrator. I love her, and I think you will too. She comes to us first as a little girl, a daughter, a sister, a sharp observer of all around her, growing up in India in a ramshackle house with too many windows and women—and, drawing on a rich literary image, a madwoman in the attic. It is ruled equally, and unequally, by her father, The Historian, and her mother, The Magician, and overrun by largely unpleasant aunties who remind me of a flock of nasty budgies—Hannah describes them more musically as dervishes with their dusters and dupattas and constant chatter who fill the house like smoke on a winter’s day. Hannah adores her older sister Gloria, who smells of honey, and tolerates her brothers, who are named Clive and Warren after two of the conquering thugs celebrated in a set of ornate books in her father’s library called The English Conquistadors of India.

The uneasy equilibrium of young Hannah’s world is disrupted when a stranger arrives, one of her mother’s strays, and a revolution in Iran strands him in India. These events, and the secrets and lies threaded through the weave of the family, lead to its fragmentation, and by the time we meet Hannah as a young woman in the second part of the novel she has taken a life-changing journey to Australia not of her choosing and is soon to embark on another, more dangerous, one to Iran that is.

I have been skimming across a brilliant surface of plot and relationships and family, a seemingly domestic sphere, but The Historian’s Daughter has depths and layers that resist any attempt to classify it. It is indeed a feminist novel. Hannah’s childhood world is patriarchal, where women’s voices are silenced within the family and within society. It is also post-colonial, portraying an India that bears the traces and the consequences of a most complex colonial past. And the novel reaches into a world where extremism and violence can break from the margins and make a refugee of anyone. The novel is written with great compassion and intelligence, with a sensibility that the personal is political. It reminds us that notions of self and other, home and elsewhere, centre and margin, are always contingent—and what a timely reminder that seems to be in the world we live in now.

Perhaps the things that shine most brightly for me are the great heart of this novel, its hopefulness, the empathy and compassion it has for its flawed and endearing human characters. The first of two short pieces I’d like to read for you is a beautifully realised little childhood portrait of Hannah and Gloria, with a glimmer of the humour that can also be found in the writing:

It was a quiet afternoon. Most of the aunties and cousins were out on mysterious errands, and our brothers were playing badminton outside. They were supposed to be looking after us. The Magician was busy with the tailor all day, measuring the windows for summer curtains. After that, we were going to be measured for new dresses. Gloria was in a dilemma. She wanted new clothes but she couldn’t stand the tailor. Abdul Master was a ratty little man with greasy hair, brown teeth and a leery laugh. The Magician thought he was worth his weight in gold. He raised our arms and circled our bodies with measuring tape, brushing his fingers over our chests and hips and stomachs while coughing up phlegm. He had sour breath and stained fingernails. I didn’t like him either, but reckoned it was a small price to pay once a year for clothes that hadn’t been previously worn by Gloria. We dawdled in the library with Grandpa Billy and his conquistadors, and I gathered up old newspapers to spread under our feet before the toe-painting ritual. These were rare, these moments alone with Gloria, without her noisy friends, without the Magician or the Historian, without the aunties calling us unfortunate half-breeds. Here were were—the two of us.

In the second piece, just a short paragraph, we fast-forward to Australia, where Hannah has just moved in with the man she loves, Gabriel. I love it for its lyrical qualities, its gentle restraint, and the sensory nature of the prose:

Afterwards, in the quickening chill of early winter, we made coffee and sat on the verandah with an open packet of Tim Tams resting on my lap. The garden smelled of crushed peppermint and chocolate. White cockatoos flew past the marri trees, their calls fading as they disappeared over the crest of the hill. The sky glowed briefly before plunging us into a moonless night. Silence then, except for the crickets, cidadas and butcherbirds.

You can tell, can’t you, that Rashida is also a poet.

The Historian’s Daughter deserves to be recognised and discussed and intelligently reviewed. I hope that it finds a very wide readership. And it struck me that, in a gathering of friends and family and well-wishers keen and willing to help out, I could give you a few suggestions on how you can do just that.

Obviously, please buy many copies tonight, and have them signed. But there is more. Talk about the book, recommend it to the readers you know—the good people of the world, as I like to think of them. Make sure your local library has copies and that your local bookshop orders it in and that it’s displayed prominently on their shelves. When you do see it on a shelf, take an ‘in the wild’ photo and post it on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. If you belong to a book club, consider choosing it when your turn comes up next, and you might even be able to persuade the author to visit. If you’re on Goodreads, post a review, even if it’s only a few words. If you have a blog, or write reviews, or take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge or any other reading challenge, please know that whatever attention you choose to focus on this book will make a difference, because genuine enthusiasm and engagement always do, and those of us who write are immensely grateful for it.

Rashida talks about The Historian’s Daughter here

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The next wave updated (part 2): Rashida Murphy and Karen Overman

In this post, Rashida Murphy and Karen Overman, part of the wonderful group of Western Australian women writers I featured here two years ago in the series ‘The Next Wave’, talk about what has happened in their creative lives since then.

Rashida Murphy

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In 2014, when I was featured in the ‘Next Wave’ series, I had a manuscript entitled ‘The Historian’s Daughter’. I also had a year to go before I submitted that manuscript as part of a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University. In August 2016, The Historian’s Daughter was published by UWA Publishing. Since then, my life has traversed uncharted waters. As a novelist I have appeared at two regional writers festivals and been invited to the Perth Writers Festival in 2017. I have judged writing competitions and just finished a stint as a guest editor of the journal Westerly (‘New Creative’ issue). I am to be a Writer-In-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre next year. All of these events seem designed to make me pinch myself (which I do, frequently, and my husband no longer appears concerned when I yell, Ouch!).

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Life as a published writer has unexpected moments of grace. Like the time I walked into a bookshop in Fremantle and the wonderful manager recognised me and told me my book was ‘selling well.’ And the time, in a library, a woman came up and said her friend had recommended she buy my book. Friends and strangers have posted positive reviews of The Historian’s Daughter, and it has been sighted and photographed in India, America, England and Canada, in addition to various cities in Australia. And I find myself answering questions about writing as if I know something. In truth, I’m terrified. Proud of my novel, yes, but terrified that I’ll find out it’s been a big mistake and this will all go away in a puff of smoke. This feeling is sometimes referred to as The Imposter Syndrome, a malaise many writers suffer from, apparently.

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Interviewed by Charlotte Guest at the New Norcia Writers Festival, 2016

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With fellow guest editors of the Westerly ‘New Creative’ issue

So where to, next? I’ve started writing my next novel and I expect it to change so many times that I won’t try to describe it in a sentence. Yes, it has women with foreign names who wear flowing skirts and have completely non-exotic childhoods. (I write fiction, after all).

Next year, I expect to wander around, lost for days, waiting for someone to find me and take me home. We are moving south of the river. As a northerner, this thought flummoxes me and feeds into my directional dyslexia. They say change is good for the soul, don’t they? I’m hoping ‘they’ are right. At the very least, expect some entertaining stories about those strange people who live south of the river, eat bananas and keep goannas as pets. Now I really must ring my kids (all of whom live south) and assure them it’s an advantage to live close to us again. It doesn’t matter how far they run, we’ll find them.

Rashida’s blog rashidawritenow
UWA Publishing

 

Karen Overman

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So what have I been up to since last we met?

‘The Blue Moment’ manuscript sits percolating in a drawer with its sisters (I shall return soon to this manuscript to ‘prune’ and feed anon), and work upon another manuscript has been embarked upon. This most recent will form part of a trilogy.

In the interim I have been travelling lots—Finland, Norway, Ireland and soon a return to Russia and China. On these travels my mind becomes a net scooping up little bits of shimmer-and-gravity along the way.

Oh, and I have been blogging. Some pieces of shimmer make it into these blogs. On one occasion a piece of gravity did, too, in a blog addressing the hysteria (and unkindness?) being displayed towards the Muslim community in Australia. I say Australia, but its argument could be applied to the wider world.

I think I poked a bit of a hornet’s nest. Apart from being kindly informed that I was ‘a piece of s**t’, and then hearing from another dear reader, ‘I hope you die in a terrorist bomb blast’ (I’m hoping I don’t get one of these readers in the Christmas Kringle…)—it gained an audience from all over the world. At last count it had attracted almost 23,000 shares. It also confirmed my deep-seated feeling that if my larger work ever attracts a substantial readership, I hope this doesn’t occur until at least three minutes after I’ve popped my clogs!

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Did this brief moment of notoriety make me want to crawl back into my shell?

No.

Did it make me want to court greater notoriety?

No.

Did it make me want to moderate my opinions?

Not really. (Well, perhaps momentarily after the first few death threats, but when the hundreds of messages of affirmation began streaming into my Facebook Messenger in-box from all over the world…no, no rescinding of opinions at all.)

Most importantly, it reaffirmed my belief in the power of the word. And, especially for someone like me who eschews public speaking, the power of the written word.

The effect of the blog drove home to me how important—in my life, and perhaps in yours—it is to think deeply about what is occurring in the world that surrounds us: the beautiful things, the ugly things, the unfairnesses and the actions that make us as fine as we can aspire to be. These are all worth applying the best of one’s mind to, and perhaps even to take the further step of writing down the fruits of such thought.

On 19 November 1863, Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address said, The world will little note, nor long remember what is said here—and he couldn’t have been more wrong. The world remembers every word of his address, firstly, because what he said was fine; he stated his nation shall have a government of the people, by the people, for the people. But, most significantly, his thoughts live on because he Wrote. Them. Down.

The power of the written word cannot be underestimated. So, as a mantra to myself, and as an exhortation and encouragement to my fellow writers on Amanda’s generous-spirited blog, keep writing.

Keep thinking, deeply.

And, keep writing!

Karen’s blog: hvalsang
Karen’s novel: The Avenue of Eternal Tranquillity

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2, 2 and 2: Rashida Murphy talks about The Historian’s Daughter

Version 2It’s my great pleasure to be introducing Rashida Murphy’s accomplished debut novel twice this week—first, here on looking up/looking down; second, on the occasion of her book launch on the 31st (details here)

I absolutely love The Historian’s Daughter—the intelligence and vulnerability of young Hannah; the tender relationships between the sisters, between them and their mother, and between Hannah and her ‘mad aunt’; the novel’s pace alongside its sophisticated use of restraint; and the lyrical prose that sings from the page as the narrative takes us from India to Australia to Iran and back to ‘home’.

Here is the book’s blurb…

In an old house with ‘too many windows and women’, high in the Indian hills, young Hannah lives with her older sister Gloria; her two older brothers; her mother—the Magician; a colourful assortment of aunts, blow-ins and misfits; and her father—the Historian. It is a world of secrets, jealousies and lies, ruled by the Historian but smoothed over by the Magician, whose kindnesses and wisdom bring homely comfort and all-enveloping love to a ramshackle building that seems destined for chaos.

And then one day the Magician is gone, Gloria is gone, and the Historian has spirited Hannah and her brothers away to a new and at first bewildering life in Perth. As Hannah grows and makes her own way through Australian life, an education and friendships, she begins to penetrate to the heart of one of the old house’s greatest secrets—and to the meaning of her own existence.

And now, over to Rashida…

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2 things that inspired the book

1 A sentence I wrote in my journal in 2007: This is not the story he wanted me to tell. I thought it would be the start of a short story. I had no idea who ‘he’ was and what the ‘story’ would be. In 2008–09 my husband and I moved to Melbourne and I wrote a few short stories that didn’t go anywhere. I started writing The Historian’s Daughter in 2011 and this sentence began to make sense. Now it’s the first line of my novel.

2 An incomplete memory. I grew up in a fairy chaotic household (in India) with itinerants wandering through, often with little explanation. I remember a group of Iranian students who lived with us at various times and one boy in particular who stayed with my family for several years. I don’t know what happened to him. This bothered me, especially when I made friends with Iranian refugees in Perth, so I imagined (and researched) what life would have been like for a young person caught up in a revolution. The novel is, in part, my attempt at bringing closure to events I cannot inhabit anymore.

2 places connected with the book

1 Iran—in particular, its capital city, Tehran. I’ve never been there but I based some of the action of the novel in the city. It was strange to be ‘writing a place’ I’d never been to and I wondered several times whether I should choose another place. Especially because all ‘good writing’ should come from ‘what you know.’ But the Iranian Revolution of 1979 placed my characters firmly within that history, so it was hard to avoid. I steeped myself in Iranian films and novels and history and drove most of my Iranian friends to distraction by asking them endless questions about food and culture (and eavesdropping on their conversations). I don’t speak Farsi but I can follow some of it.

2 Perth. Funny, for a novel partly set in India and partly in Iran, it’s actually Perth that has the strongest resonance for me. Perth’s sunny disposition provided the perfect background for a novel about darkness and family misdemeanours—in a way that (I hope) West Australians can relate to. And despite the fact that my writing always seems to locate itself in ‘other’ places, Perth is home. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Except, maybe, Florence.

2 favourite characters in the book

1 Jarrah the dog. I am not a dog person—most definitely a cat person—so I have no idea why or how Jarrah padded in so firmly, and settled into my writing life so comfortably. Jarrah’s appearance caused us both (me and the main character Hannah) much consternation and surprise. I think Jarrah and his owner, Gabriel, arrived at the same time and I just went with it. But Gabriel has a function as the laconic Australian romantic interest, whereas Jarrah gads about, reclining under kitchen tables, rebuking Hannah, making friends with her sister and generally behaving better than most people in the novel.

2 Gabriel. I chose the name in honour of one of my literary heroes, Farmer Gabriel Oak from Far From The Madding Crowd. ‘My’ Gabriel is a woodworker (which is probably why he has a dog called Jarrah) and volunteer firefighter, a good Aussie salt-of-the-earth type, whose straightforward thinking confuses Hannah, who can’t fathom why he’s so cheerful and confident. Hannah doesn’t have much to be cheerful about. Here’s the first time Gabriel appears in the novel.

Bent over a large plastic bag filled with sawdust and wood shavings, hands and arms plunged into its depths, he muttered small curses and agitated the dust that settled on him like brown snowflakes.

I watched from the door as he straightened up holding a small round object and said, ‘Gotcha little bugger.’ Then, his right hand over his eyes to peer at me, he sneezed loudly again and said, ‘Oh heck. How long have you been there? Come in please. I’d lost a router bit in there somewhere.’

He stamped his feet, whacked his chest with his hands and came towards me, trailing curls of wood and smelling of smoke, a tall man with green eyes and laughter in his voice.

‘What can I do you for?’ He offered me a warm, dusty hand and gripped mine firmly in exchange.

Easy to see why Hannah falls in love with him, right?

Version 2

Speaking at the New Norcia Writers’ Festival, 2016

 

The Historian’s Daughter will be in bookstores in September
Visit Rashida’s website
Find out more at UWA Publishing

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The next wave: update

Congratulations to two writers featured last year in my series The Next Wave. MichelleLR-2 Michelle Michau-Crawford has signed a contract with UWA Publishing, and her short story collection ‘Leaving Elvis and other stories’ will be published early in 2016. DSC00729 Rashida Murphy’s unpublished novel ‘The Historian’s Daughter’ has been shortlisted along with nine other manuscripts for the Dundee International Book Prize. The winner will be announced in October. I couldn’t be more thrilled for Rashida and Michelle!

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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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