Friday, 29 June 2012

The Hare With Amber Eyes: A New Look at Biography

I must confess I have long resisted biographies of any sort to be discussed at the monthly book club I organise. Why? Because I have always considered biography an impossible genre to dismantle, dissect and discuss the various motifs, characters or meaning. However, my steadfast views have been shaken upon reading Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes, Vintage, 2011.

the hare with amber eyes editionsIt's not so much the story of how a collection of netsuke (tiny Japanese ornaments once used to tie up kimonos) has remained in one family for two centuries - although that in itself is miraculous. But rather, it's the journey of those little ornaments amid the backdrop of modern history that makes this book so rich, I think. De Waal has looked at religious persecution, fortunes built and lost, European politics and the associated public groundswell, the importance of language, as well as sense of place and belonging. The book would be ideal for anyone considering their own family history (and it made me see just how many holes I have in my own research so far) or for anyone who simply loves a good story. Bearing in mind though, what de Waal thought would take three to four months to research and write, actually ended up taking two years. Now that's a long time to give up your day job. But de Waal writes of his compulsion; that he felt the anecdotal, dinner-party telling of the story was making it 'thinner'.
"Owning this netsuke - inheriting them all - means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them."
I suspect this foray into biography has made me spoilt. It is a well-told story full of superb detail and language told by a potter who has a far-better-than-average command of English, and it's impeccably researched bringing de Waal's ancestors to vivid life.
And the ultimate test for me: am I a better person for having read this book? The answer is, a thousand times yes, my word I am. Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes is a stunning book, brilliantly sublime and thoroughly un-put-down-able.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Grenfell - a small town with a big heart

It's back home and back to my desk after travelling to the lovely NSW town of Grenfell to collect the Harold Goodwin Memorial Statuette for my short story 'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' I am thrilled to win my first writing award and I have the statuette, based on Henry Lawson's 'The Drover's Wife', looking over my shoulder as I write this post.
While my Mum, Jan, my daughter, Ella, and I were in Grenfell, we were treated to a concert showcasing local musical talent at the Henry Lawson High School and we were moved by Steven Tandy reading Henry Lawson at the awards night. Steven managed to weave the narrative of Henry's life, including all his loves and flaws, with the great poet/writer's works -- beautifully presented, highly informative and deeply moving.
I was fortunate to meet Henry Lawson Festival Patron Dr Hilarie Lindsay MBE OAM who, as an active 90-year-old lady, is nothing short of inspiring. I wish I had half of Hilarie's wit and energy. I should also mention the kindness of Pam Livingstone who looked after us at Strayleaves B & B -- a host who went the extra mile to make sure we were comfortable and well-fed when temperatures at night dipped below zero.
 Grenfell is a country town of approximately 4000 people, a three-hour drive from Canberra and six hours from Sydney. It's a picturesque town brimming with history as the birthplace of Henry Lawson and the haunt of bushranger Ben Hall. But what really struck me at the weekend is the warmth, courtesy and friendliness of Grenfell residents. I can't wait to head back there one day soon -- it's a small town with a big heart.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Why Don't Elephants Smoke?

Recently, I was delighted to win the previously unpublished author section of the Henry Lawson Short Story Competition with my short story 'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' You can check it out at I was also very thrilled to win the Harold Goodwin Memorial Statuette for the best short story overall. 
'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' is a mixture of  memoir (a family's history of smoking) and good old narrative fiction. Hopefully, the protagonist learnt something about herself along the way. My thanks go to my family, both immediate and extended, who gave me the inspiration to write this story. I dedicate it to my Mum who really did say a pink, marble ashtray didn't make it glamorous, and who, I am happy to say, is in fine health.
My 14-year-old daughter won Highly Commended for her short story 'Under the Mango Tree' in the High School Student Section -- and has subsequently won the Junior Section of the Bush Curlews Literary Prize based in Charters  Towers. 
So, my Mum and my daughter and I are off to Grenfell in chilly New South Wales to collect my prize this weekend. I hope the birthplace of the great Henry Lawson will inspire me onward. I'm looking forward to meeting some of the other prize winners -- perhaps it will be the start of more literary connections. And I'm hoping my Mum will get to see snow for the first time as we drive from Sydney to Grenfell -- stopping in the Blue Mountains and at some lovely coffee shops for something warm along the way.

A Rabble of Butterflies

Welcome to my new blog: A Rabble of Butterflies.
My aim is to post my awarding-winning stories (assuming there will be many), keep you all up to date with my writing news, share my thoughts on writing-related issues and ultimately be part of the modern world of blogging. As a writer, and former journalist, it's important to embrace new technology whether it be iphones, blogs, and love it or hate it, twitter. Time and technology never seem to stand still and, as communicators, writers need to strive to keep as up to date as possible. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, so I'm hoping my blog will connect me with the wider world.
Oh, and finally a word on the title of my blog ... recently my 12-year-old son did collective nouns for homework, so out came a great book called A Parliament of Owls, Penguin, 2005. I just loved the irony of 'a rabble of butterflies'; surely a group of butterflies couldn't make that much of a sound! Writing can be like that too. There's so much out there, it rarely makes a sound, or does it?
Hope you enjoy following me and please feel free to comment. Kerri