Sunday, 17 May 2015

A little bird in my inbox

A little bird has just flown into my inbox, thanks to my dear and long-distance friend Benita.

It made me think about inspiration—where it comes from, and how our own deep-seeded thoughts have a way of breaking the surface of our everyday and sending us scurrying to the keyboard and, in Ben's case, her sketch pad.

I have been trying to whittle down a novel-sized idea into a short story for a uni assignment. It has involved a lot of research to capture a specific time and place—the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum in 1856, the Yarra River, and the Goulburn in the Murchison district.

It's an historical fiction story a tragic twist that helps us understand love, loss and learning to continue on life's journey. 'Everything flies and goes away' is a love story that starts with a Blue Wren feather, once believed to protect the bearer from drowning, and how our memories can both nurture and haunt us.

Photo courtesy: Marlo and Beyond Images of Australia by Helmut Kummer

Incidentally, Ben is working on a rock series of drawings in her own university art studies. I share my house and home office with rock samples, thanks to my geologist husband. He, of course, is delighted at Ben's choice of still life.
Photo courtesy: Benita Murray

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.'