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Aug 29, 2008

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All book links are to Readings Bookstore, supporter of Indigenous Literacy Day and official MWF bookstore.
Thursday August 28
Let me begin by explaining how your humble narrator’s face became projected on a wall.
As you may well know, my favourite book of 2007 is The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon. I finally got to meet Matt in the flesh after a great session on the historical novel (or ‘novel of now’ – see below). I asked Mr Condon if he was sticking around for any of the Festival Club activities, and he enquired as to what went on in said club. I told him about the entertaining LoveTV and how much I had enjoyed Jackie French baring her soul.
Later that evening I enquired as to who was the unlucky sod that was to enter the tent, only to find that it was none other than my beloved author, Matt Condon. Excited to see another side of the master wordsmith, I settled in for a drink with Amy Barker and Ryan Paine, the former who is also a fan. I was busily engaged in conversation when I noticed Matt walk in and look around the club with a kind of disdained curiosity, his eye travelling the dismal crowd of literary ruffians and a crazy old couple in matching stripy beanies flying on tangents from poet Tracie Morris’ themes. I made a mental note to go and say hello, as he seemed like he was on his own, and I hadn’t yet had the chance to D&M with him further over The Trout Opera, after our interview via email about a year ago.
Pictured: Matthew Condon
About half an hour later, as Ryan and I were suffering the beanie-lady’s mumblings on Ned Kelly mythologies and uncoverings, a certain Mr Condon slipped past me, head down in propulsion, a beady-eyed trout who seemed to find no flies to hook him, only sinkers.
So whose unfortunate friendliness with MC Michael Nolan forced her into the position of replacement for such an interesting being as Mr Condon? Your humble narrator, of course. The LiteraryMinded face generously sharing her first sexual experience, failed loves, and festival crush to a tiny crowd of drunk literati and crazy old folks. It wasn’t so bad, but you owe me, Matt. A dedication in your next masterpiece, perhaps?
Earlier in the day Hannah Tinti, Emily Perkins and John Clanchy shared their short fiction methods and inspirations in a panel ‘Chekhov’s Children’, chaired by Louise Swinn. Tinti read a section of ‘Home Sweet Home’ from her collection Animal Crackers– in a domestic setting, a woman reawakens to her James Dean obsession, before a moment of complete, shocking disturbance. Perkins read from ‘Early Morning Gutter Relationship’, and Clanchy, from a story in his collection Her Father’s Daughter. The topic was raised about the difficulty to get short fiction published unless it might disguise itself as a novel, for example with an overlying thread or theme. Clanchy said though, that there seems to never have been a time when more short fiction was being written. It was also mentioned as being unfortunate that literary competitions often exclude the longer short story.
Pictured: Anton Chekhov
Tinti runs a literary magazine One Story, which has 4000 subscribers in the US. It comes out every three weeks and features just a stand-alone piece of short fiction (like Vignette Press’ Mini-Shots). She says the important thing is that a vast amount of the subscribers are not writers but just people who genuinely enjoy reading the form. Influences cited included Joyce Carol Oates, Tobias Wolff, Jo Anderson, Kevin Linsfield, Frank O’Connor, Alice Munro, and Chekhov. Clanchy said ‘if you’re going to write, you can’t avoid him’. And he mentioned that the ‘key’ to Chekhov’s success at storytelling was the balance, or tension, between compassion and dispassion, empathy and distance, from the characters. To achieve the micro world and perfect emotional arc of a short story Clanchy also gave this advice – ‘persist, read like a writer, and go back to the masters’. Tinti added that one should ‘take risks’.
I almost bumped into Kevin Rabelais on the way to the ‘Historical Novels’ panel and got so lost in his smile I practically floated up the stairs. I came in a little late in the middle of Matthew Condon reading from that book I can’t go on about enough, The Trout Opera. Sometimes it’s dangerous to hear your favourite writers read, or to meet them, as it may taint your experience of the work, but this doesn’t happen too often. In this case, and many others, it only added a dimension. The other panelists were Fiona Capp (Musk & Byrne), and Simon Cleary (The Comfort of Figs).
Capp spoke about setting something in the past as a way of dealing with issues and themes that may be too difficult to tackle in a contemporary setting, on a personal level. The jump into history allows distance. She explores outlaw mythologies in female form through the novel – and the concept of women as moral outlaws, as opposed to physical ones. Cleary talked very enthusiastically about the research process – delving into lives, rounding out characters with history and interview, and hanging out with fig trees to get the ‘mood’ right of the present-day character. Condon says his novel has historical elements quite ‘by accident’ and it is a ‘novel of now’, which I couldn’t agree with more. It’s purpose, he says, is to ‘elucidate life and a community’s or a character’s feelings’. They all agreed that there is a point when too much research might swamp the imaginative life, and that there are always gaps in history that will have to be leapt into with imagination. Condon quoted one of my all time favourite films Wonderboys, when Hannah Green says to Professor Tripp (about his enormous manuscript) – ‘I don’t think you’ve mady any choices’, as he’s left in unnecessary and incredibly detailed research.
Above: Professor Tripp, Right: Philip Gourevitch
Sally Warhoft (The Monthly), Michael Burleigh (Standpoint), Julianne Schulz (Griffith Review) and Philip Gourevitch (The Paris Review) spoke on the continuing existence of the high-end literary journal in the age of the internet. It was great to have the contrasts between national and international (UK & US/Europe), and also between government/University funded and independent journals. The Monthly, which is independent, has had a doubling of readership in the last twelve months. If anyone has read The Monthly you would agree that the strength of its content deserves this (the essays are some of the best I’ve read), but it could also be the incorporation of their great online project SlowTV, which strangely wasn’t mentioned. I decided by the end of the session, too, that I should get myself a subscription to The Paris Review as its commitment to fiction and interviews on the writing process sounded wonderful. Gourevitch filled the ‘very large’ shoes of George Plimpton, who edited the journal for over 50 years, but my friend, Amy Jackson, assures me he’s doing a great job. Nobel laureates are showcased beside emerging, edgy writers in a way that encourages the young, but also ‘for the nobel laureate not to feel like a museum piece’, Gourevitch said. The difference between the US and Australia, the conclusion came, was that circulation of mags like The Paris Review and The New Yorker are not only up, but up with a young readership. This is where I think some Australian magazines like ABR are failing. The writing is wonderful, but the website is terrible, and there aren’t enough young writers in the pages. Some Australian publications are elitist and stale, and should take advice from quality, commercially successful puiblications like The Monthly. I think Sophie Cunningham’s overhaul of Meanjin is a wonderful example of what can be done – now it’s also a matter of sticking to the commitment to having more online content and looking at bringing awareness to younger audiences and potential subscribers.
Friday August 29
Early morning I arrived for the Remix My Lit masterclass, where Amy Barker and Elliot Bledsoe explained the Creative Commons laws which make pieces voluntarily available for redistribution, mixing, and adapting. They went through some fantastic examples of how it has been done before, from the William S Burrough’s ‘cut-ups’ to some of David Bowie’s song lyrics (brilliance), Jeff Noon’s metamophiction, and of course in other mediums like song and film. It was really just an introduction to the project (for which the deadline for an anthology has been lengthened, see the website), and then we literally did some old-school cut-and-paste with Emily Maguire’s story, ‘Cherished’.
‘Snap, Crackle, and Porn’ was the name of an interesting panel with Professor Catherine Lumby (The Porn Report), Emily Maguire (Princesses & Pornstars), and Gaylene Perry. The contrasts on this panel were very strong, but not conflictual – the angles taken provided interest. Lumby and Maguire provided evidence for hostile terminology used against women and people of colour in porn, and as a proliferation of wider cultural norms (misogynistic and racist elements). I’ll do a review of Maguire’s book when I get to it (it’s added to the dauntingly massive pile). Perry brought it down to a more personal level, as she is writing a novel from the point of view of a woman who discovers her husband has become addicted to porn. She read a part of the novel, where the woman is experiencing the first denials of deception. She said that the purpose was to explore porn as a socially accepted normality, that made some women feel coerced to accept it or a partner’s use of it, in case they might be considered sexually abnormal. I found that this was an interesting take on it, and the first time I’d seen a panel of this sort where they had someone who wasn’t looking at it from a social, cultural, statistical or political level, but the way it (porn itself and also notions of secretiveness and guilt) might affect an individual.
Margaret Simons, John Quiggin and Antony Loewenstein celebrated new media in ‘Where Are the Gatekeepers’. Loewenstein took this on from the point of view of his travels in The Blogging Revolution that the internet brings power to the voices of ordinary folk and dissidents in repressive regimes. I’ll be posting my review of this wonderful book and interview with Loewenstein soon. Simons, who writes for Crikey and authored The Content Makers was also adamant that the internet revolution was inevitable and that print news was going to have to adapt. She thought that social networking was essential as the democratic element in this new culture – ‘social networking is very serious indeed’. All three, I will point out, did not see the print publicaton as having to fade out – but that it must adapt to exist. Loewenstein said on this point that he was amazed at the way the mainstream media still only offered one viewpoint (eg. of the invaders of Iraq, without talking to an Iraqi for a balanced viewpoint). John Quiggin, a daily blogger, says the misuse of the gatekeeper function in print is being challenged by bloggers, who most of the time aren’t answering the interests of a corporation and can even rip the mainstream ‘news’ apart. Another strong argument of theirs was that while there may be a proliferation of ‘crap’ online, it is an elitist argument that ‘youth’ are being dumbed-down by this culture. Because everyday life has ‘crap’ and it’s just that it is visible and in-your-face online. Those that have grown up in this environement, they argue, are easily able to filter out the crap and bookmark what they enjoy, helped often by social-networking friends with similar interests, or via blogrolls. Simons also raised the point that the word ‘blog’ was becoming inadequate for the sheer amount of different material it was covering. For example, I have started to call mine a ‘litblog’ when I talk to people, because there is a subculture of literary-themed blogs, and it differs from the personal or political (while still having elements of both). So I thought that was a very valid point she made. The problem to face for news and political reportage, is how journalism (paid, researched) journalism expects to survive, but all panelists were positive that people have always been hungry for news, and a model will be found.
(pictured – The Gatekeeper…)

Tracie Morris performed more of her conceptual sound-poems, which are interesting and intellectual, and get under your skin in a way, but I have to say I was more entertained by some of the word-based ones the night previous. Sound poetry, though, is something everyone should experience at some stage.
One of the highlights of the whole festival for me so far was Static – a performance by Sean M Whelan, Nathan Curnow, Alicia Sometimes and musician Quinn Stacpoole. It was part play, part poetry. The three spoken performances ranged from a teen character voice, to abstractions, to absurdities. The Twilight Theme song played over transitions, inviting recollections of strangeness, as did viewpoints in the works on God, the Universe and extraterrestrials. Curnow’s piece was highly absorbing, and quite heartbreaking – he is just as strong an actor as a wordsmith. His persona puts his hand up in Church and questions ‘Why doesn’t the Bible say more about aliens?’ Alicia Sometimes had a few lines that summed up universes within them, and gave me that writerly jealousy of her incredible talent. Whelan’s piece had a lion with the face of Harvey Keitel coming to eat his heart. It was hilarious and moving all at once, and Kafkaesque in its animalism, empathy, humour, and absurd inevitability.
Left: Alicia Sometimes, Above: Harvey Keitel not as a lion.
Still to come – Saturday and Sunday – John Marsden on his Hamlet, Live Remixing report, more Matt Condon, live readings of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, and ‘From Friedan to Feministas’.

I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch (Graeme Base) open on my lap at four years old, tasting the different worlds at the top of The Magic Faraway Tree at seven, devouring the ‘unreal’ Paul Jennings at eight, crying in Two Weeks With the Queen with Morris Gleitzman at nine, and sleuthing it out with Emily Rodda’s Teen Power Inc. at ten. One of my firmest memories still carries with it the scent of a fresh slipcase – my Mum and Dad went away when I was nine and brought back my sister and I collections of Roald Dahl. The memories of reading through my childhood are so vivid. Reading honed my perception of the world, my abilities to understand the motivations of others, and allowed me to laugh, cry and be entertained.

Some children, in our very own country, have little or no access to books.

The second annual Indigenous Literacy Day aims to help raise urgently needed funds to address the literacy crisis in remote Indigenous communities.

So what can you do to help?

Find out the participating bookstore near you and buy a book on the day. It’s that easy! I’m sure I’ve given you plenty of ideas with my reviews and interviews. Participating publishers and booksellers will donate 5% or more of their takings on September 3rd to the cause. There are also events to be held across the country, and businesses are encouraged to pause at work and read to support Indigenous literacy, and make a gold coin donation.

Click for more information on getting involved for individuals, the book industry, schools, and businesses.

Overseas and still want to help? Make a donation.

Find out what was achieved in 2007.

Feel free to bombard me with ideas of what book/books I should buy on the day…

Friday August 22

Sometimes Augusten Burroughs’ memory stretches deep and wide, a vivid pool. It is due in part to an element of autism in his bloodline. This is how he remembers looking through the saltine cracker at his mother at one-and-a-half, as described in A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father.

He decided to finally write about his sadistic, sociopathic father in this book, after his father died and Augusten felt true freedom for the first time – different to the unhindered ‘freedoms’ of his unconventional late childhood/teen years. ‘I wish I could say I wrote the book for the readers… I wrote the book for me’, he told the audience last Thursday night at Melbourne’s Town Hall.

Burroughs is an endearing, energetic presence – slim and fidgety, he constantly arches forward in his seat when expressing (or confessing), and readjusts the cap on his bald head, which he refers to as his ‘toupee’. He writes about himself because he knows himself, not who the man is with the briefcase in the front row. People enjoy his memoirs, he thinks, for two reasons. Some extract the rawness, the hurt, and confusion and say ‘me too’! Others read it and say ‘thank God it’s not me’! And both of these aspects make memoir appealing. Burroughs himself reads for the ‘me too’ realisation, and the moment when this occurs, he says ‘an incredibly profound change occurs in your body on a molecular level… an understanding – I’m not alone’. He says people read because they are ‘hungry for truth and connection’, and he even relates this to the enormous popularity of social networking.

Writing came about for Burroughs in the death throes of an incredible alcoholism. One addiction (for the written word) thankfully supplanted the other. On the verge of dying; a skeletal mess living in a shithole in his own filth; Augusten dared himself to face the pebble in his shoe rather than comfortably giving up – that he had never yet tried properly to write. Seven days later he had his first novel.

‘To heal’, Burroughs says, ‘is a TV expression’. Heal is a TV word – because when we lose someone, or experience abandonment or pain, we never really ‘heal’, eventually we just overcompensate somewhere, somehow. ‘Your soul might become more muscular’. Burroughs shared on the night what was the most difficult experience to write about. The confident performer almost faltered when he told us about the makeshift doll he made of his Dad when he was a child, peppered with his scent, so he could curl up with it and be overcome with drowsiness.

Burroughs was always determined not to have the mentality of victimisation, which he witnessed in his mother. The world will not come to you. He lives now close by to some of the horrors of his early youth, in order to be near his brother and nephew. When Jennifer Byrne asked how he could be so close to these horrible memories, he answered that the ‘horrible and the beautiful coexist’.

On the way home, everyone in the tram I was on smiled at a different level of story playing out. A 70-year-old woman wouldn’t accept a seat – she was out for a few wines and a night with her husband of fifty years. She was originally from Runcorn, with a lime green bridge. In the early days of their marriage they cycled everywhere together in tune. They want to go to Hawaii for their anniversary, she told us all.

‘He’s a beautiful man’, she said with sparkling eyes as he patted the seat next to him. She went to sit and kissed him with a smile and sparkling eyes, proudly and publicly.

Everyone thanked the tram driver as they stepped off smiling into the chilly night.

Saturday August 23

Paroxysm Press Book Launch – gritty readings from a small press which has lasted ten years. A few beers in the arvo and catching up with Varuna friend Amy Jackson, who has a great piece in the book. Review to come.

Hearing diverse readings from Alexis Wright (Carpentaria), Jeff Sparrow (Communism: A Love Story), and Kevin Rabelais (Landscape of Desire). Kevin Rabelais himself too desirous to be married (pictured). Alexis Wright an absolute treat, such a beautiful writer. Jeff Sparrow very interesting – bought his edited Overland. Panel chaired by Louise Swinn, and the focus being that all have studied through RMIT, showing the success of its course.

Checked in at the Festival Club. Had bought a copy (finally) of Helen Garner’s The Spare Room. Was telling everybody far and wide about it including the lovely Cate Kennedy (my interview with her forthcoming in Southerly in November), and Cate told me Helen was standing right in front of me. I felt bad catching her on her downtime but she very kindly signed my copy. I am slapping myself now because I babbled on about myself and told her of my enormous to-read list, instead of remembering to tell her how amazing I found her short story The Life of Art. How much it moved me, how much I related to the female characters, and how it’s one of the best short stories I have ever read… As time travel is currently impossible, I’ll just have to hope I have the chance to tell her again some day.

Then there was the industry party. A wonderful night with a stream of enlightening conversations. Met some amazing people (poets, writers, publishers, editors, radio producers and speakers – all readers!) and caught up with others. Ended up talking about my own writing here and there and feeling surreal for who I was talking about it with, but not invalid. A room weighty with ideas, triangle sandwiches, and wine. A tall, glass and silver cross-haired roof in BMW Edge theatre in Federation Square. Lots of sparkling eyes of interest and enthusiasm. Really feeling like the UNESCO City of Literature.

Sunday August 24

Barry Maitland discussed crime fiction with Peter Mares, broadcast today on the ABC Book Show. Interesting for anyone interested in crime, genre in general, or writing. Maitland is an ex-architect, and Bright Air is his first novel set in Australia, and not written from a 3rd person police-procedural point of view.

A session called ‘The Honest Trader’. A sobering discussion with Heikki Patomaki, Ken Davidson and Duncan Green about free (or unregulated) trade. What came out of it for me was a more firm commitment to responsible consuming (eg. seeking out fair trade goods). The most interesting and frightening point made was about correlations between continuing population growth and the impossibility to meet emissions targets to prevent global warming. This is something that has to be looked at immediately, or in another 20 years results will be catastrophic. Great to see a packed session with both old and young.

David Rakoff (pictured) was very entertaining, as introduced by Max Barry in ‘Don’t Get Too Comfortable’, a session sharing the name of his book. Rakoff writes not out of being ‘disappointed’ with everything as such, but because he is ‘constantly vibrating with anxiety and fear’. He read out a great passage expressing the ridiculousness of an expensive restaurant and the focus on consumer-level luxuries, eg. the tastiest olive oil, or pretentious and unnecessary focuses such as ‘bruising’ a leaf for its scent, and eating one sole date for dessert (there’s no way I can adequately capture the way he writes about these things). Rakoff says he finds writing ‘astonishingly difficult’, like ‘pulling teeth from his penis’, but he does it because he does ‘like to be listened to’.

I was very excited lining up for the session with Jim Sharman (pictured) and Barrie Kosky. Not because Geoffrey Rush was casually standing about a metre away, but because (as you all know) I’ve read and adored Sharman’s Blood & Tinsel (review+interview). I ended up being a little disappointed, though, that the focus of the conversation was almost exclusively theatre. I don’t think the audience would have left knowing much about what either of the books were about (Kosky’s is On Ecstasy). I did learn a lot of the political elements of Australian theatre, and Sharman still provided wonderful insights, such as when he spoke about the tensions between extremes of profundity and a dirty, gritty vulgarity in Australian theatre and film tradition. The ‘vulgar and the sublime’, and the high/low culture mix as opposed to the middlebrow are how both directors work, and I suppose this is also evident in Blood & Tinsel. Sharman ended on an interesting and characteristically perceptive note, saying that he feels a new wave is ready to rise but it is most certainly also through a new medium, which is being ignored by the larger and older culture, and I felt proud of this blog and its growing readership. Perhaps I can ride that wave.

The new golden age of the short story is starting to be spoken about, and one writer who has certainly contributed to this internationally is Nam Le (pictured). His wonderful collection The Boat explores a variety of themes, settings, voices and even metafictional concepts in a highly accessible, engaging way. Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading it knows that the stories are each wholly absorbing worlds of their own and end on a perfectly rounded note of contemplation. Nam had a chance to speak about his endings (the ‘terminal point and point of reflection’), and various other topics not only to a Melbourne audience, but via satellite to Edinburgh, the other UNESCO city of literature. Despite the technical newness which Sophie Cunningham and Nam had to quickly become accustomed to, the session was fresh and interesting. I hadn’t yet known about the scrapped 700 page novel (‘a learning curve’), and the way Nam became besotted with the short story form relatively recently. I also loved how he spoke about writing as an act of courage, that it’s about a certain ‘push’. But I’ll let Nam explain better when I interview him on the blog soon…

Sunday evening in the Festival Club was a quiet but privileged place to be. I shared a wine with my friend Brigitte, and her friend Emily. They were there too to see Emily Zoey Baker, who gave a wonderfully entertaining poetry performance, from her sexy feminist songs to her Twin Peaks love note, she is clever and on the money with every word.

Children’s author Jackie French was coaxed into Aphrodite’s tent for LoveTV, where she basically opened up about sex, love, passion, and wombats. It was so enlightening to hear her talk about her husband who is incredibly different to her and yet they share something indescribable. Her obvious passion for him was beautiful, and with only about twenty people in the room I felt pretty lucky to see it – I can see where the joy in her books springs from. John Marsden was also present, quietly, in the room, and I caught up with Festival Director Rosemary Cameron for a quick word on how it was going. She was quite glad to have the satellite feed over, but otherwise still looked excited and sprightly, happy to be in the presence of who are obviously some of her favourite people.

Jackie French really struck a chord with me when she expressed the need to ‘live life with fullness of heart or there really isn’t much point’.

I’m looking forward to next weekend including Matthew Condon, Remix My Lit, Emily Maguire, Static poetry performance, Robert Dessaix, Toni Jordan, Delia Falconer, Antony Loewenstein and more!

Allen & Unwin, August 2008, 9781741755015 (Aus, US/Kindle)

A version of this review was first published in the July 2008 issue of BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine (c) 2008 Thorpe-Bowker (a division of RR Bowker LLC).

George’s life consists of working in a bowling alley, staring wistfully at the tree where he and his ex shared their first kiss, keeping an eye on his grieving brother, and helping out his sad-but-ever-smiling Mum. George might be still focused on his ex, but easygoing Stacey provides a nice distraction, as they ‘practice’ being with other people – with each other. She helps him to feel safer at night, with dark memories of a midnight prowler still fresh in his mind. The Magda Szubanski dream sequences are surreal, beautiful, literary – her enveloping presence symbolises warmth, laughter, frivolity and sweetness. The tales of both George and his brother Matthew unfold in the narrative. The book is tragicomic, exploring the difficulties of communicating depths of feeling, and the ways we hold onto suffering. George’s first-person narration is honest, straightforward, often hilariously apt, and all too human. There are flashes of childhood moments that make or break a person’s innocence, and there is dealing with it all in the present, learning to let it pass through. This is an absorbing novel and obviously well deserved its Vogel win. It should appeal to most sensibilities, old and young. There’s some resemblance to Charlotte Wood or Alex Miller, with a little more youthful swagger.

See also my interview with Stefan Laszczuk.

Angela's Publications

Aug 13, 2008

5 comments

Literary Smiles

I need to share some recent happiness. You'll be getting to see more of me in print in the coming months! Today I received the news that I have been shortlisted for the

I need to share some recent happiness. You’ll be getting to see more of me in print in the coming months! Today I received the news that I have been shortlisted for the Page Seventeen short story competition, which means my story ‘Mentioning Ben’ will be published in Issue 6 (November). This also coincided with my first request to read some of my writing at a launch. I plan to banish those nerves that are completely bodily and give me a wavery voice and red cheeks, despite the fact that I am willing to read out loud. The full shortlist is not yet online, but it will be up in around a week I’m told by the editor Tiggy Johnson.
 
The launch will be on Saturday November 8 at the Queen of Tarts Cafe, 1710 Burwood Hwy, Belgrave, from 2:30 pm. I’m told this is ‘out in the sticks’, which probably means it will be quite a pleasant Saturday outing. If you would like to pre-order a copy, see the website for details, or email me (angelina_gia (at) hotmail (dot) com) as I can email you the pre-order form where copies are a cheap $15, as opposed to $19.95 retail. Page Seventeen is an annual journal showcasing emerging Australian writers, and gets hundreds of entries.
 
‘Mentioning Ben’ was inspired by some of the relationships of my parents’ friends, who in mid-life seem to be breaking up and often forming new connections. The story is centred around a lunch when a visiting friend and her new partner (a paleontologist) are in town. The protagonist experiences feelings of loss for the man who was practically an Uncle, who she can’t help but remember in this man’s place, but she acknowledges the complexities of relationship break-ups. It is a snapshot story, it feeds from observations, and it utilises concepts of natural history (as tied to paleontology) to round out the present moment. I really hope you will buy the journal and have a read.
 
In other news, I have had my interview with the wonderful short story writer Cate Kennedy accepted for Southerly (Australia’s oldest literary journal), which is also out in November (I’ll keep you posted) and I would like to get to the launch in Sydney (at a UTS conference). If anyone wants to drop by too and catch up with me I would love to see you.
 
I also have fiction upcoming in a brand new journal Sketch, and the editor Nicole Taylor is also kindly doing an emerging writer profile on me. This journal is based in Melbourne and a launch party will also be occuring (and I will again combat the shaky hands syndrome). I’ll keep you posted on dates (become a fan on my Facebook page and I’ll create it as an event).
 
In other news – two of the writers I wrote about for The Best Unpublished Books (1, 2 & 3) have had recent successes. I’m not going to blow the lid yet because I’ll do a follow-up post at some stage, but keep an eye out for the shortlist for the QLD Premier’s Awards, and also a YA release from Scribe mid-2009… I’m SO excited for them!
 
If my current life sounds really wonderful, you’re right. This year I feel a little bit like I have been floating outside my body. But everyone around me knows I write every day, and work hard. It took two years of rejections before I got anything published. I still don’t get paid for much of what I do – but the compulsion to write is undeniable. I’m contantly inspired. The tease of a brewing story at the edges of my consciousness, then the beautiful release of a draft. Then many, many hours of shaping, forming, rewriting, and having lightbulb moments of elements that will come together. Some pieces never work. Some work almost immediately due to fully-formed image-sequences in my head combined with something I feel innately exiting into the prose as themes, metaphors or structures. But often I am this…

And like Edvard Munch I am not very good at drawing hands, but the brushstrokes are instinctual. Sometimes there are later additions, even accidents. Sometimes canvasses are stripped bare. Sometimes I repaint the same one because I am afraid of losing something.

Interviews + Profiles

Aug 9, 2008

5 comments

Blood & Tinsel, Jim Sharman, August 2008, HB (Australia) Miegunyah Press, 9780522853773 (Aus, US)

This interview was first published in the June 2008 issue of BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine (c) 2008 Thorpe-Bowker (a division of RR Bowker LLC).

A doctor said to your parents when you were a child that you have the makings of a philosopher. You also mention your love of art that involves personal quests. Has writing your memoir been a kind of philosophical journey?

A walk through anyone’s life will consciously or unconsciously reveal the ideas that have underpinned that life. I’m no philosopher, but I may have a philosophical bent, and while I didn’t actively set out to explore this area, it may be that the book is revealing in this regard.

You mention a certain look in the eyes of Patrick White, shared by other ‘carnivorous’ artistic people you knew, met or collaborated with. Could you tell us a little bit about this personal influence?

If you look at, say, Andy Warhol’s Flower paintings, you are instantly struck by the colour – the intensity of the almost fluorescent flowers. This is because they’re silk-screened both on and over a black background. This is surprising, given the subject matter, but it is this that causes them to sear into your retina and your imagination. It’s like the death rattle in Maria Callas’ voice or the tragic-comic aspect in Patrick White’s writing, or the mysterious twilight on the faces in Bill Henson portraits. The Spanish poet and playwright Garcia Lorca wrote a marvelous essay about ‘duende’ or ‘deep soul’ and it’s this aspect, the recognition of death in life, and vice versa – the indefinable quality that Lorca describes that distinguishes a certain kind of artist and their work. It’s a quality I admire.

Other influences range from your vividly described boxing/carnival childhood, through rock music and opera, films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, art movements, Japan, and personal relationships. Your writing is rhythmic, visual, kinetic, visceral, and literary. Besides Patrick White, do you have any other influences of a literary nature?

As a director, I’ve worked with some marvelous writers and I am a reader, though a fitful one, so I’m sure all of these things have influenced me – but not consciously. While writing the book I deliberately avoided reading anything substantial, especially memoirs, in order not to be influenced. I did, however, listen to music continually while I was writing – sometimes for pleasure or distraction, but often to evoke particular periods I was writing about. Music triggered certain eras and its influence might also be felt in the overall rhythmic structure of the book.

Your story is contextualised with cultural and world events that transport the reader back to your experience of the era. Did you often notice the effect of them on you or your work at the time, or is it more in retrospect.

Both.

Do you have a particular audience in mind for the book? Is it the audience of Rocky Horror, Hair or Voss? Or do you hope someone unlikely will ‘open the book’ and ‘turn the pages’?

The book is dedicated ‘to those who come after.’ That was the readership I had in mind.

With many thanks to the inspirational Jim Sharman.

It really is an incredible book, see my review, and see the book’s website for a sneak peak and information on how you can get it.

Reviews + Analyses

Aug 3, 2008

5 comments

9780522853773, Miegunyah Press, August, HB (Aus, US)

A version of this review was first published in the June 2008 issue of BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine (c) 2008 Thorpe-Bowker (a division of RR Bowker LLC).
 
Jim Sharman relays the story of his life rhythmically, like a play or film. Childhood memories of boxing sideshows are cut between information on eras, people, productions, and moments of inspiration. Images from Sharman’s plays, life, and from popular culture also transport the reader into his experience.
His writing is distinctly visual, poetic and personal. His recollections of people and moments that have inspired him (from Patrick White, to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Dada and Pop Art) are endearing.
            Despite the few battles (with grief, a bout of depression, and the inevitable and sad end of relationships) Sharman has no complaints with life. His dark streak is transformed into unquestionable talent in daring shows, operas and films from Don Giovanni to Rocky Horror. His decision in later years to remain in Australia and assist the growth of quality theatre is admirable.
             The memoir is highly absorbing entertainment and has the potential to appeal to different ages and audiences, from those who will recognise suburban Australia, punk London, and hippie-era Tokyo, to those that only know Sharman through cult associations. Blood & Tinsel is an interesting and unique story of a personality with an original, genuine take on the world. Would sit well alongside Bruce Beresford’s or, Patrick White’s biography.

See my Q&A with Jim Sharman on Blood & Tinsel.
See the book’s website.