Monday, 28 October 2013

Don't you love the smell of petrichor in the morning?

The problem with telling the world you've been shortlisted for a literary award, is telling the world that you didn't win. But that's the chance you take in this era of self-promotion. Actually, I'd rather call it 'news sharing'.
Last night, I returned home from a trip to Melbourne where I took the chance to do some more historical fiction research at the State Library of Victoria and the Immigration Museum. But the driving reason for heading down to chilly Victoria was to attend the Elyne Mitchell Writing Awards in the Upper Murray town of Corryong.
I was thrilled to be shortlisted out of a record number of entries but, alas, I did not win. That honour deservedly went to Isabella McNickle from Bungendore, near Canberra, with 'The Funeral' - a very well-written and moving story of 11-year-old Josie who attends her beloved uncle's funeral in 1958. Isabella expertly captured the feeling of the times as well as the thoughts of the young protagonist in a truly polished piece of writing.
I met some engaging locals, the late Elyne Mitchell's daughter Honor Auchinleck and son-in-law Mark, listened to an hilarious talk by author Sandy McKinnon, chatted with lovely agent Tim Curnow, and got to know some fellow writers, namely Alana Brekelmans from Brisbane (of all places) and architect and memoirist Charlotte Austin from Mansfield, Victoria.
As serendipity would have it, Sandy asked a young lady in the audience what her favourite word was. She said 'petrichor' - the scent of rain on dry earth. I admit I hadn't watched enough Doctor Who to know that one. But it gets really spooky when I also discover it's my new friend Alana's favourite word and blog name.
Now each time I catch a whiff of petrichor, I will look back on my time in Corryong with extra fond memories.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Fingers crossed ...

I'm about to fly down to Melbourne for a much-anticipated long weekend. I have baked a lasagne for the family, filled the car with petrol, stocked up the fridge and pantry and even dusted the living room (!).
The main reason for my jaunt is to attend the Elyne Mitchell Writing Award in country Corryong on Saturday night where my short story, 'Chubby Struthers' Transformation' has been shortlisted from a cast of about 150 entries from across Australia and New Zealand. Even if I don't 'win', I will get to rub shoulders with other writers and meet literary agent Tim Curnow, HarperCollins associate publisher Katie Stackhouse, author Sandy MacKinnon, and prolific writer and former winner Kate Rotherham. Kate's recent winning entry, 'Companion Gardening' is a treat to read and available in Award Winning Australian Writing 2012. (Excuse my blatant self-promotion, but you will also see my Henry Lawson Award winning story 'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' contained therein.)
The Elyne Mitchell Award is named in honour of the author of the Silver Brumby series, pictured here.

I'm also heading into the State Library of Victoria where the good people in the manuscripts room have pulled some diaries and sketchbooks of early Melbourne which will help immensely with my historic fiction project.
So, if nothing else, I will come home on Sunday night having met some terrific people, examined some old historic treasures and gazed upon some inspiring rural countryside - which will no doubt plant the seeds for further short stories.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A Turning Point for Australian Film - excuse the pun.

If you have a spare three hours and $25, I would urge you to get along to see Tim Winton's 'The Turning' on the big screen before it's too late.

Seventeen Australian directors give each of Winton's short stories from the book of the same name, their own treatment, which could be confusing if not for the glossy explanatory program included in the ticket price which helps viewers keep track of the main characters - each played by different actors, and a timeline of the Lang Family as well as brothers Frank and Max. I'm not convinced this is entirely necessary, although I'm sure it helps that I had read the collection beforehand. My advice would be to enjoy each short story for what it is. Personally, I think trying to link the stories to each other could do your head in. And there is an intermission to regroup but this comes, I think, one or two 'stories' too late. Interestingly, there is an encouraging representation of indigenous actors (bring it on, I say!). But the change in skin tone is seamless which shows just how far we've come, not only in Australian cinema, but as a viewing audience. Bravo to that.

As a writer and reader of short stories, I eagerly awaited this 'unique cinema experience' with recurring themes of coming of age and understanding people's actions and motivations for doing the things they do. I think the film worked well, with expert direction, exquisite cinematography, and brilliant acting - you have never seen Rose Byrne look like this (the teeth!). I hope the success of 'The Turning' encourages the Australian film world to take a further look at short story collections. I'm sure they know how to contact Cate Kennedy and Peter Goldsworthy - who have given us terrific short story collections to ponder.
Tim Winton's 'The Turning' is still showing at boutique cinemas around the country and in my home town of Brisbane - namely at the Centro in James Street, New Farm with the Regal Twin in Graceville also picking it up recently.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Magic Happens: Serendipity and Synchronicity in a Modern, Mixed-up World

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an Avid Reader salon in West End. The idea of a 'salon' has long fascinated me - I see lively, thoughtful and sometimes controversial conversations in a chintzy parlour of over-stuffed armchairs, potted plants and strong alcohol served in stemless, crystal glassware. No ice.
There was certainly plenty of wine last night, with ebullient host, Krissy Kneen, issuing several invitations to grab a top-up. Great value at $7.50 a ticket and evidence that Avid is sincere in helping emerging writers.
First up, were QUT student Grace Finlayson, Richard Newsome author of The Billionaire's Curse series, and Jordan Lawrence sharing a haunting, rhythmic story in memory of his brother - which won him last year's Griffith University creative writing prize.
Then, former St Peters Lutheran College student, diplomat, award-winning short story writer and now Canberra-based Felicity Volk took her turn, reading from her debut novel Lightning.
Lightning is a road-trip through the rural fringes to the heart of Australia. Persia, all alone and nursing debilitating grief, begins her journey in Canberra after lightning sparks a bush-fire altering the course of her life. Along the way, she teams up with asylum-seeker Ahmed who spins imaginative tales along the way out of the towns they pass through - putting the reader instantly in mind of One Thousand and One Nights - except it is Ahmed telling the stories - perhaps to prolong his stay in a country that doesn't want him - while Persia pretends to be mute so she doesn't have to talk to him.
Volk raises a number of questions in this book. First, what do we do with the people who pass through our lives? Do we hold onto them, or do we let them go? Regardless, they all leave their mark. Then, the big one. Who are we? Persia knows she is a combination of German missionary, Italian migrant, and Afghan cameleer. This inevitably raises some rather topical questions: Who comes? Who stays? Why, and for how long? Would that be until they are not useful anymore? How ironic that Ahmed is about to be deported, but let us not forget the Afghan cameleers who were brought here to open up the centre of Australia. We needed their help; their expertise in working in such harsh, arid conditions. Ahmed asks: 'Who's Australian?' I believe we answer that question with the choices we make every day. We can choose to be kind, like Persia's truck-driver, or we can choose to be cold-hearted and turn our backs on those who need our help.
Lightning is a work of literary fiction. To me, it evoked the magic realism style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the sheer silliness of Alice in Wonderland - with Persia's grief her own personal Jabberwocky. Volk says she was concerned the magic realism tag might put readers off. She says Lightning is 'a book of paradox invoking the magic and mystery of our living days' and 'the serendipity and synchronicity of our lives'.
Book clubs will also want to discuss the book's religious themes, the characters', and our own, sense of connection across time and place, as well as the classical elements - especially fire which brings destruction as well as healing and redemption, and water which soothes.
Lightning is full of beautiful, resonant passages. One of my favourites is when Ahmed feeds, and thereby sustains, Persia.
He put the last part of Persia's sandwich in her mouth. 'Servitude - freely offered servitude - is a study in elegance and grace,' he said. 'There is nothing more beautiful than devotion.'
Volk says Lightning was six years in the making and that she wants to write the types of words she likes to read. Let's hope she continues down that path because I suspect there's more terrific work to come from this talented, generous and delightful writer.