Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Hi, ho, hi, ho: It's back to work I go

Just a quick post to let you know that I'm back at the ABC in Brisbane, doing some casual shifts in the online newsroom.

It's exciting being back in a busy newsroom, one which values journalism, quality writing, and new media technology. And how extra delightful to go from this ...
The old ABC premises in Toowong, photo courtesy of Brisbane Times.

... to this--the new ABC building at Southbank.

Photo courtesy of Weekend Notes.
I'm enjoying getting my head around the digital aspect of online reporting, and I must say I am loving the challenge so far.

Obviously, I'm still tutoring during the school term, writing and researching that historical fiction project, polishing up short stories, writing book reviews for Good Reading magazine, and freelance writing and editing while finishing off three courses this semester in Writing, Editing and Publishing at the University of Queensland.

Okay, that's enough blogging. It's back to work I go.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

BWF14—memories, selfies and inspiration

Another successful Brisbane Writers Festival has been put to bed, and all that remains are memories, lots of notes, a few selfies with authors, and the obligatory pub lunch for volunteers this Friday.

Here, I’d like to share with you some of my highlights from BWF14.
Kerri with Caroline Overington

Driving the lovely Women’s Weekly associate editor and author Caroline Overington to Corinda Library and moderating her session. We spoke about everything from raising children to finding time in our busy weeks for writing to her latest book Can you keep a secret? and the process behind Caroline’s next book (due out next month) called The Last Woman Hanged, the tragic story of Louisa Collins.

Karen Joy Fowler

Indulging in a master class with Karen Joy Fowler and her advice on ‘the issue of mess’ in short stories, and a love story master class with Amie Kaufman who helped us find our ‘unbreakable kinks’ so that we can write the book we would want to read.

Taking visiting writers program authors out to the University of Queensland, including The Guardian journalist Luke Harding, Australian Geographic editor John Pickrell, Stella prize-winner and historian Clare Wright, and UK poet Simon Armitage.
    Clare Wright
Getting to use my social media ninja skills by tweeting updates throughout the sessions.
 Being able to add bookseller to my repertoire, selling Clare’s books after her event.

David Malouf

 Sitting for one entirely blissful hour in the Red Box at the State Library of Queensland and listening to David Malouf recite poetry from his collections Typewriter Music and Earth Hour (his new one).

Enjoying a hilarious session with Kimberly Freeman, Francis Whiting and Josephine Moon chaired by Mosquito Advertising author Kate Hunter about the bonds of female relationships in life and in literature. When I asked what was the one thing that women feel and experience through generations, they all answered simultaneously: ‘love’.

That definitive answer, as well as Amie’s master class, and Caroline’s overwhelming generosity with her tips and time have given me much-needed and valuable direction in my historical fiction. I seem to recall writing something similar in a blog a year ago about sharing the first 20 pages of my manuscript with US editor Hannah Gordon Brown at last year's Brisbane Writers Festival. 

I’d better get to it, then!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

'Returning the Bird' finds a home

I am thrilled that the good people at New Asian Writing have decided to publish my short story online and include it in their annual anthology, to be released at the end of this year.

To tell you the truth, and as my writers' groups will attest, I have been sitting on this baby for a while. Every time I went back to it, the story needed more and more work. So I polished and polished, put it away for months, and went back to it last week and saw exactly where it wasn't working for me. I needed more time, and I needed to be in a different frame of mind to finalise the story.

Many thanks to New Asian Writing for their prompt reply, and their constructive and incisive comments.

While 'Returning the Bird' is a work of fiction, many ex-pats will recognise certain landmarks, events, and perhaps even themselves in the story. Please enjoy my story here

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Slowly savouring Colum McCann

Colum McCann photo thanks to the Irish Times.
I have long been a fan of Irish-born American Colum McCann, after reading This Side of Brightness and more recently Let the Great World Spin for book club. Now, stepping into a Colum McCann novel is like taking a well-earned holiday somewhere guaranteed to be life-changing and incredibly beautiful—I just know I’m in for a treat. And so it was with McCann's latest book TransAtlantic. I picked it up from Folio Books in Brisbane city as the blurb promised it might be linked in some way to my own historical fiction project, which begins in Ireland in 1840 and which I have been attacking in fits and spurts for some time now. But really, purchasing this novel was simply a guilty pleasure. I was ahead with my book club reading, my book for review hadn’t yet arrived from Good Reading magazine—or at least tossed onto my balcony (our postie tends to mix up a few of our local streets, but at least he gets the numbers right), and I was on uni holidays. I was going to savour Colum McCann. I was going to taste his words, rather than crunch through them, dip in and out, and sigh a lot. Which is exactly what I did.

But about the book. TransAtlantic zigs and zags across time between Ireland and North America first by boat, then by aircraft—describing in vivid detail the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland by historical figures Alcock and Brown. (Interestingly, the main male characters of the book are real, the female leads fictional, but no matter.) The book goes on to trace the fortunes of an illiterate Irish maid, the American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a pioneering female journalist, a talented photographer, American peace-maker Senator George Mitchell …
 'So many of our lives are thrown into long migratory orbits.'
then a woman who loses her son in a senseless act of violence during the Irish ‘troubles’ who drops her bundle (who could blame her?) but finds the world does go on. It is this sense of hope in a sea of loss that marks Colum McCann novels, I have found. In the case of this one, it is the loss of a child against the mystery and potency of an ancient unopened letter that is the crux of the story. Well that, and slavery versus freedom, and war versus peace.

'There isn’t a story in the world that isn’t in part, at least, addressed to the past.'
What the letter contains becomes less important than what it signifies:
  '… it’s preservation of possibility, the slight chance that it contains a startling fact, or an insight into some forgotten beauty.'
So, although we are linked to the past, through blood, through stories, what we make of the present is perhaps the most vital point.

TransAtlantic is delicately sad and incredibly beautiful, and lovers of stunning sentences will not be disappointed—you are in the hands of a master (or is that a master in your hands?). One small word of warning for those who are not fans of sentence fragments. There are many. My writers' group pals will attest that I'm growing, if not fond then at least, tolerant of them and I acknowledge the creative prerogative in using them. When you come to the rather sudden end of TransAtlantic be sure to go back and read the first couple of pages, before Book One. It ties everything together and is guaranteed to make you … sigh. Maybe shed a little tear too. Simply beautiful.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Brisbane Writers Festival program out tomorrow!

I've been a busy girl lately. That's because I have been making the most of my uni holidays by working one day a week at the Brisbane Writers Festival doing some grant writing, blogging, organising of partner events, and even getting creative by making a 'chatterbox' complete with instructions (believe it or not, this is a valuable skill I learnt at uni last semester -- writing instructions -- there's more to it than you think). I cut out and folded 53 of the little suckers for a partner event held at GOMA today. A chatterbox to get people talking... get it? (In my day, we called them 'nit-pickers', which probably isn't very nice for a BWF partner event, so let's go with chatterboxes.)

I'm loving my valuable experience at the Brisbane Writers Festival. Readers of my blog will know that I volunteer every year, with more and more of my skills being used to help create a cracking writers festival. This year, I have been asked to moderate some sessions, and there isn't a week that goes by without me walking out of the festival office in South Brisbane with a new release under my arm. To work with lovely people, surrounded by books is bliss!
But the really exciting news is that the BWF program will be in the Courier-Mail tomorrow. Don't miss it. Grab your morning coffee and your highlighter pens, find a sunny spot and plan your trip to the festival, which is happening in the first week of September. I'll see you there!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

David Malouf on works of wit and visual play

In his 81st year, the great David Malouf has returned to Brisbane for a series of events including a talk today at Brisbane City Hall: 'In conversation with David Malouf'.

David Malouf in conversation with ABC news presenter Karina Carvalho, at City Hall
Five Brisbane artists have honoured his work (which includes nine novels, five short story collections, nine collections of poetry including his latest Earth Hour, five works of non-fiction, four opera libretti, and a play) by selecting and interpreting something from this great body of work in art.
Malouf says he had no say in what the artists chose to represent because once a book goes out into the world, it is no longer your own.
'Books go out and find friends, lovers. Some come back with a response to what you have done in your own world.'
One artist has used just one line from the novel Fly Away Peter. Another artist has depicted what he considers to be the polarity between 'the classic' Ransom and An Imaginary Life and 'the domestic' 12 Edmonstone Street and Johnno. This artist uses plaster casts studded with Queensland crustaceans, flora and fauna laid out on a laminex table in one installation, and an aerial view of the 'serpentine' Brisbane River on amphora jars in another.
Malouf says they are all a beautiful way of playing with things from different areas.
'They are works of wit as well as visual play,' he says.
Then there are screens, which Malouf says we use for decoration as well as to shut ourselves off from neighbours.
'These are teasing you to look through and see more, but you can't. So they are physically and sensually very beautiful.'
He says the screens remind him of eavesdropping and peering through doors, which he did a lot of until he was aged about five at which time he was told to go and join the outside world.
'I was good at making myself invisible. I was always watching, always listening. I was a very clever eavesdropper and a very clever lingerer around doorways.' It is this, he says, that makes for good writers.
His advice to aspiring writers: 'Keep your eyes and ears open'.
The artistic interpretation of this great author's work, 'David Malouf and friends', runs until 23 November 2014 at the Museum of Brisbane on Level 3 at City Hall. Entry is free.
How pleasant it was to sit for an hour and listen to Malouf talk about his early influences, his love of growing up in Brisbane 'which was always subjected to the great Southern put-down' with its topography 'all hills and gullies'. And of watching General MacArthur getting out of his car outside Lennons Hotel during WWII in a culturally rich city of 400,000 people 'which was just big enough to have a grasp of absolutely everything [in terms of cultural offerings]'.
Despite Malouf's rejoicing at all things cultural, he is famously averse to technology and doesn't own a computer or a mobile phone.
He says there have always been changes, but some of these have not been for the better.
'In the 2nd Century, papyrus rolls were turned over to codex. But two-thirds were not transcribed and disappeared.
'Technology is moving very fast, and I'm not sure where it's going.'
He says the Doomsday Book, held for over 1,000 years, was put onto CD Rom at the National Archive in London where it lasted for 10 years, but it is no longer accessible in that format. Fortunately (and ironically), it is available online.
'We need to be very careful,' he says. 'So much can be lost.'
And on having turned 80 this year, he says 'writers never give up'.
'But if they have any sense, they will stop publishing; not stop writing.'

Friday, 11 April 2014

How to write like Lloyd Jones

Today, I was lucky to be one of twenty people who attended New Zealand author Lloyd Jones's masterclass 'What to write about: The authenticity of the writer's voice'.
I have struggled to find my voice in the historic fiction project I am working on, so I felt very fortunate to be chosen to take part. And even luckier when Lloyd and the class critiqued the first page of my work-in-progress. More than anything, it has given me the momentum to keep writing and a new plan of attack -- just what I needed.
Here are some tips the Mister Pip author passed on to the emerging and the established writers in the class today.
  • 'Masterclass?' Lloyd says writers are 'forever the apprentice' who have to re-learn how to write with each new project.
  • He says writing is like sitting on a bus; the person sitting next to us is either boring or engaging. What is it that determines that? Light and shade? A unique story? What makes it authentic?
  • A writer needs to establish a 'contract' with the reader. When a 'break of faith' occurs -- either through the language, tone of voice, or getting some detail wrong -- then it tells us that something is not quite right.
  • Find your own voice through writing what has never been written before. Give yourself permission to be nonsensical. Everything else will fall into place; don't worry.
  • Don't necessarily write about what you know (as opposed to what other writers may say).
  • Don't over explain yourself. It is the reader who 'completes' the literature.
  • Do some 'limbering up exercises' before you start -- write about a word or a group of words by closing your eyes and listening to your voice.
  • (Julianne Schulz, Kerri Harris and Lloyd Jones)
  • Be playful and see what happens -- you may be surprised.
Isn't technology wonderful? Eighty other people joined a webinar to participate in today's class. Writers from Flinders Island in the Bass Strait to Albany in WA to Rockhampton in Queensland, provided some incisive comments and examples of writing from our free-writing exercise. The Griffith Review editor Julianne Schulz should be given a special mention here -- she did a great job hosting the two-hour class, adding valuable comments, as well as responding (by typing on an unfamiliar laptop) to webinar participants.
Thanks to The Griffith Review, Arts Queensland, the Brisbane Writers Festival, the Queensland Writers Centre and Flying Arts for making the class possible.
I'm off to see if I can take that fourth paragraph and turn it into the start of an engaging, unique piece of literature.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

It's never too late ...

I read a newspaper article a few years ago that said most of us would probably change our careers five times in our lifetime. Five times? I thought: Wow, that’s a lot! At the time, I was getting towards the end of my Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. It was a big effort on my part. First, I went to night school and did four senior certificate subjects to gain adult matriculation and university entry. Then, I studied for two years part-time while working full-time as a legal secretary. It was pre-children, so I could be selfish with my time. I gave it my all.
I enjoyed working as a journalist. I loved communicating to a wide audience, finding things out first-hand, writing to be understood, and reaching out to people while I worked in both commercial radio and at the ABC. To be completely honest, my ambition started to wane when children came along. I considered my three children to be my finest achievement – and I probably always will. I tried my hand at teaching at an international school when we moved to Jakarta and I helped edit and translate a coffee table book after the devastating December 2004 tsunami. When we returned to Brisbane in 2008, I dragged my feet. At the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t want to return to a newsroom.
I volunteered for the Brisbane Writers Festival, I did public relations for my children’s primary school, I organised a book club, I did a couple of writing and editing courses, I kept writing short stories and entering competitions, I joined a vigorous writers’ group, and I applied for jobs where I thought I could use my journalism skills in a wider capacity.
Still, something was missing.
Earlier this year, as I walked through the University of Queensland, suddenly the penny dropped. I had to go back. I had heard about the Writing, Editing and Publishing program and made some enquiries. Course convenor Ros Petelin told me I would be surrounded by people who care about writing; she said graduates found themselves in ‘gold collar’ positions. Coming from the 'blue collar' profession of journalism, I was hooked.

Grammar cartoon by Alejandro Yegros.

I care very deeply about journalism, and about grammatical and editing sins that we see not only in the media but all around us. So, I’m up-skilling, adding to my journalism knowledge, rounding out my writing skills, and learning how to make my mark in the world of publishing with a Graduate Diploma in Writing, Editing and Publishing. All going well, I will continue to Masters. So, with the children now relatively independent teenagers, it’s ‘me’ time. I will still write short stories – in fact, I’m mentally unable to stop. But, I’m going to be an editor. A really good one. And I couldn’t be more excited!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Immersing myself in Coal Creek

Something happens to you when you read Alex Miller. In The Novels of Alex Miller, An Introduction, Professor Brenda Walker reckons the British-born author could be 'Australia's greatest living writer'. I think what makes Alex Miller so good is his accessibility as well as his intelligence, and his grace when dealing with people of all races, particularly indigenous Australians, and the country itself. When you read Alex Miller, your soul is refreshed. His latest novel, Coal Creek is no exception.
Alex Miller migrated to Australia himself as a lad of 16 and worked in Queensland as a ringer before putting himself through night school to get into university where he studied English and History. He did it the hard way, and it's perhaps those formative years as a ringer which has shaped who he is - certainly, his early days have shaped his writing.
Protagonist Bobby Blue tells his story in a colloquial style (with the poor grammar of his station) of how he falls in love with 13-year-old, Irie Collins. Irie is the daughter of Bobby's boss - Mount Hay's police officer. Constable Daniel Collins is full of book learning, but not much else, unlike Bobby - who knows the secrets of the district and what he doesn't know, he's sensibly wary of. Trouble brews when Constable Collins clashes with Bobby's life-long friend, Ben Tobin, and the tragedy that unfolds is heart-wrenching and unstoppable. Set in the 1950s in the Central Queensland interior, Coal Creek shows what can happen when misunderstandings occur, prejudices are held and the wrong questions asked.

Coal Creek - Alex Miller

The winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards (yes, they still have them), Coal Creek is full of wisdom and is beautifully written. Like when Bobby Blue and his horse come across a playground used by the Old Murri People ...
"The scrub came to a sudden end and that wide open space was shining white in the light of the stars in front of us. The starlight was always brighter over that playground. I do not know why that was. But it was something that always impressed me whenever I seen it. It made you stand and puzzle at it, and it made you know there was a lot of things in the life of the scrub you did not understand or have no knowledge of, even though you and your dad before you had spent your entire lives in it."
I raced through Coal Creek  in a couple of days, knowing all the while I would regret not spinning it out, like something delicious but at the same time incredibly healthy and good for me. That's not to say I didn't savour it. I just regret the experience was over way too quickly, because I may have to wait another year or so before Alex Miller's next novel. Although, he does have an impressive back catalogue I could easily dive into.