I enjoyed this article on 'Late Bloomers' in The New Yorker. Makes me feel less
I enjoyed this article on ‘Late Bloomers’ in The New Yorker. Makes me feel less rushed (for a little while).
Christmas is coming up. Books are great presents, especially for children. Literacy is incredibly important for our future leaders, teachers, doctors and whatnot. No one needs to be reminded (well, sometimes). Your local bookstore should have a handy catalogue, or peruse my reviews. Shelfari and other book networking sites are also great for ideas and recommendations. Another great gift idea is to give to a charity on behalf of your friends and family members. Some of my favourites are Amnesty International, Starlight Foundation, World Vision, Oxfam, Kidney Health Australia, Indigenous Literacy Project and Greenpeace. Of course, there are MANY more. Feel free to list some in the comments. Another idea is to support Australian literary culture by subscribing to a literary magazine such as Overland, Meanjin, or Southerly. Again, there are many more. But it’s a gift that will enlighten and stimulate all the way through the year.
On Thursday, December 4, the finals of the Australian poetry slam will be broadcast live from Sydney Opera House on the web and on ABC TV. See the website. And view the ‘online’ component winning entry. It’s really something.
This darling essay ‘On Bibliophilia and Biblioclasm’ is deserving of your lit-minded attention. Although the phrase ‘young people these days’ always distresses me. I have had many great conversations with other ‘young’ people about the deliciousness of browsing bookstores. Most of us already have too much to read yet we’re drawn in, always, by the pleasant smell of aged treasures, the invitation of faded imaginings. I LOVE second-hand bookstores. I am enthralled by them. And I understand Dalrymple’s particular interest in the inscriptions. For me, it’d be the notion of another story existing behind the written one on the pages, a mystery of sorts, and a deeply human, ephemeral one. I have bought a few books with very simple inscriptions – names, dates read, for such and such. They always add to the book for me. I also have books where people have written in the margins, over the pages, circled things. I feel an affinity with these mysterious readers as I am one who does this too. I take note of the words they underline heavily. The (!) or * in the margin. Sometimes I connect with them and the author simultaneously. Often they are completely different to me and I like getting to know a bit about them throughout my own reading. Sometimes I wish I could have a conversation with them. Or get them, the author and myself in a room, have a few brewskies and discuss Humbert Humbert’s journey of self or some such thing. This is what my dreams are made of.
The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2008 has just gone up. Oh, how the to-read list grows!
Lisa Dempster, publisher of Vignette Press was kind enough to send me one of their ‘Mini Shots’ – little bite-sized books with funky illustrations on the front. She sent me ‘The Fast Lane’ because it’s set in 1994, just a coupla years short of when I’m setting my next novel ms – and as the story is vividly descriptive of the pop/Uni culture of the era. I definitely enjoyed this lit-morsel, easily swallowed on a lunchbreak. If you want to check out the other Vignette Mini Shots see their site. You can subscribe to have them delivered too.
And finally, tomorrow I am getting up at 6am to start writing said 90s novel. I haven’t quite finished all the research, timelining, character profiles, but I am needing to start nonetheless. It burns.
Above: 90s icon River Phoenix *sigh*. Pic nabbed from here.
Firmin is a sad, lonely, depressing book. An anthropomorphous rat, achingly empathetic, shares his hopeless, dreaming, doomed existence. The ‘chinless’ one was born in a bookstore and suffers from ‘lexical hypertrophy’ or, as he also refers to it, a kind of ‘biblio-bulimia’, where he at first literally devours books, before actually learning to read them.
Estranged from his common rat family and pondering how he might communicate with humans, Firmin consults a book on sign language. But his communicative efforts result only in the sign-language phrase ‘goodbye zipper’, which has little, if opposite, effect. He imagines a life for the bookstore owner, and regular customer and sci-fi writer Jerry Magoon, who lives his own lonely existence upstairs. Firmin also spends time at The Rialto, with his ‘lovelies’ – in the daylight hours Ginger Rogers, smoothing over into midnight naked ladies, rolling around on rugs.
The book contains a smattering of heartbreaking illustrations. Mostly, Firmin appears small, isolated, and overwhelmed. His rat-eyes are large and simmering. The book is intertextually woven with narratives in the shape of (useless) hopes and dreams that Firmin has, due to his reading of the recognisable classics in the bookstore, beginning with ‘the big one’ – Finnigans Wake, which ironically is never complete for him as he ate so much of it as a child-rat. The way Firmin views his world is sincerely literary, and tinged with self-loathing, and had such enormous appeal to me. Like the best sad books, it is also often warmly funny:
‘The combination of a heavy head and weak limbs forced me to adopt a ponderous gait, and while later in life I fancied that this lent me a methodical and dignified air, at the time it only made me seem all the more freakish. I could not help wagging my enormous head from side to side as I walked, or lumbered, which gave me a rather bovine appearance.’
The beginning of the novel didn’t get me in straight away, where Firmin ponders how to begin. After reading such great works himself, it is a daunting task for him (and oh-so-relatable). But as soon as the novel switches to an empathetic description of his mother seeking refuge in the bookstore to give birth, the tone took me over. While I will not ruin it, the ending at first disappointed. But as I pondered it in the days after reading, I couldn’t think of any other way it could have ended. It disappointed me, perhaps, because it was such a low note. I realised all the reasons for it in the days after – the rats swarming just like humans swarming over the earth. The definitions of vermin. Parallels between a rat-infested crumbling suburb and a human-infested crumbling world. The possible uselessness of intellect and passion. The loneliness of the impossibility of true understanding and communication. And in the end…
It makes it a deeply artistic, truthful and quite absurd book. I walk around with the feeling of it still, a little unshakable – it feels a lot like Midnight Cowboy, so if you love that movie and you generally are a reader, I think you will get something from this book. I think about Firmin still weeks afterwards and bring the book up in all sorts of conversations, and I know its effect, its character, its purpose, its lines, are turning it into a favourite. Yet a favourite that is quite personal – a favourite I wouldn’t recommend to everyone. A favourite I just want to gobble up myself, alone, in a dusty corner of a falling-apart bookstore at the end of the world…
2009 will bring many delightful literary goodies. I am privileged to know of them as I wrote an article for Bookseller+Publisher entitled ‘The Ones to Watch 2009’ – it’s in the Summer issue, which has just come out. One on children’s books will be in the March ‘Junior’ issue (which I’m currently working on).
I can’t reveal too much. I’ve already blown the whistle on Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro, but trust me, it is all over the publishing world. I’ve also, for some time now, been looking forward to Cate Kennedy’s debut novel. Some readers would know I’m a big fan of her wonderful collection of short stories Dark Roots, and I was luck enough to interview her about it.
Today, that interview came to me in the mail in the new issue of Australia’s oldest literary journal Southerly 68/2: Little Disturbances.Yes, it’s been a great month for me, in terms of publications! This whole issue is centred around the short story – it not only has stories by some of the finest writers in Australia (incl. Sunil Badami, Chris Brophy, Craig Cormick, Jeremy Fisher, Derek Motion, Michael Wilding, and another one of my faves Paddy O’Reilly), but it has essays and reviews on/of short fiction. Mine is the only interview. I’m grateful for Cate’s generous answers, and I do hope people enjoy it.
Back to 2009… there will also be a new novel by Paul Jennings (Yes, I said novel), and one by Morris Gleitzman – two authors who inspired me to be a little writer at the age of nine.
This is just a tiny glimmer of the literary goodness to come… Is there anything in particular you guys are looking forward to?
Other People's Words
Nov 24, 2008
Louisiana Alba is the author of Uncorrected Proof, which
Italians have a phrase: non mettere le mani avanti, don’t put your hands out in front (to prevent the fall you fear). Let the scholars sort out my fictions. I am trading here on memory and instinct alone, a dangerous line, I know, particularly as I was going to do a piece on Windschuttle and other historical fabrications. Do you know Windschuttle? Does anyone care? No? Then, I best leave him for another time.
Nam Le has just won the Dylan Thomas Prize. This is no small prize and no small feat, I said to myself, then realised I was staring at my own. My feet were the only feet in the room. I was intrigued though I confess I didn’t know Nam Le’s work before I went online and ordered the one copy of The Boat held by the British Library. The book of The Boat. The Boat in book form. It says a lot about the focus of readers in London that it hadn’t been snapped up already. After the Booker Prize shortlist was announced every copy of every book the BL had by every writer on the damn list was in use. Hell, what’s going on? I said at the time.
Nam Le, who is he? When no answers came I could interpret I webbed wider to find out more. I came upon: ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’, from The Boat itself. I read the screen-printed story. Even in the twenty-first century I still find it hard to read fiction this way. Yet Nam Le had me hooked with his first words. The Boat had cast me a line. ‘LHPPCS’ is a fine and good story, as Hemingway might have said. I saw echoes, or imagined I did. Thom Jones’s an-American-in-Vietnam stories, what was Nam Le doing here, a parody of memoir technique developed by a writer come writing-teacher in an Iowa writing school? Many stylistic lines from many American short story writers crossed my eye-line, Le skilfully self-addressing the author, wannabe, manqué throughout.
Thom Jones is still on that Iowa program I believe. I have long admired his work and parody him in Uncorrected Proof. Judging by ‘LHPPCS’, I feel no less strongly about Nam Le’s capacities, finding the comments of praise I saw this morning true and right down to the last syllable. Hemingway is an apt voice to mention as well, I suspect, for what happens at the end of ‘LHPPCS’ happens to the Hemingwayesque character in The Garden of Eden as well – the writing and story of both characters ending up…No, I can’t say it either.
Let me be frank or… Nam Le. This writing strikes more than one chord, literary and life chords. When I first left Australia, after university and film school, my first assignment abroad was to film a boat full of ex-Vietnamese hitting land in southern Thailand. Pure fate. It was only the second time I had professionally put an Eclair 16mm camera up on my shoulder, only the second time I had used one live full-stop. As I clambered about the decks of beached boats, sweat running in my eyes, the stench of summer in the Gulf of Thailand all around, somehow I kept the excitement of the waving forms motoring towards me in focus, somehow I maintained the other arrivees close-by in frame, somehow I didn’t end up in that murky Thai seaside drink all sides up. All along I had no idea I would revisit this plot and theme several times in my life.
I move on to Hong Kong filming and producing two more films on escapees from a hell on wheels inside Vietnam, to a fate far worse than the Thai camps, if my olfactory memory of the warehouses along Hong Kong’s Pearl Harbour serves me well. My fourth and last experience is back in Sydney six years later, making a film for Special Broadcasting Service on a need some Vietnamese children developed for writing up their experiences. In a Strange Land, one girl titled her poem, or was it tilted, living out a nightmarish late childhood horror that was Cabramatta, or as some Australians casually called it back then, Vietnamatta. Reading Nam Le brings it all back.
What is Nam Le’s ‘LHPPCS’ all about then? Writing in Iowa? Growing up in Australia? Relationships? Remembering Mum? Revisiting or leaving Vietnam behind? Getting onto livable terms with Dad? Memory in ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’ is a wonderfully cruel trick. We live and die by it along with his character in the same instant. Nam Le’s memoir, the memory of his life’s truths as laid out in fiction, is an examination of a fictionalised ‘ex-Boat person’ narrated in such an unadorned air of truth that if the other stories in the collection are even half as good, then I know in truth I am in for even more of this rare treat.
Can’t wait to see what she says after reading the rest! – LM
… for young adult novel Gone, by Michael Grant, who wrote the ‘Animorphs’ series.
This is the first good book trailer I’ve seen. A development in the literary world I’m keeping an eye on. Obviously, it has a budget. But the concept is still quite simple. It has definitely got me intrigued. I also read the chapter sampler and it hooked me right in.
Have a squiz.
If you’ve seen any others, email me or comment – and I’ll do a round-up sometime: literaryminded [at] gmail [dot] com. Email me too, if you want to tell LM readers about your favourite book!
I have a wee poem ‘Tinsel Dreams (Tram Moment 1)’ in the new Story To… zine, which is available in print and as a FREEBIE online. Click on Issue 2: Pod People here.
Note that I wrote this poem after going to Varuna. There is a bit of stream-of-consciousness thought ramblings about mentor Peter Bishop, and other things. As is the nature of stream-of-consciousness…
And this blog post will now run into a bit of stream-of-consciousness.
Last night was the launch of Overland 193 which I’m really looking forward to reading. Of course, I will review it for you also. I’m looking forward to Antony Loewenstein, Alexis Wright, Eva Sallis, Louise Swinn and David Prater, as well as the bunch of writers I don’t know as well. Steven Amsterdam’s piece from the last issue is still haunting me somewhat.
I got to catch up with Antony Loewenstein at the launch (revisit my interview with him here), and got to meet Christos Tsiolkas – finally buying a copy of The Slap to add to the (larger than ever) to-read stack (it no longer qualifies as a pile). They were in conversation about dissent, the internet, Judaism, identity, confronting literature, and many, many more interesting things. Someone was filming so perhaps I’ll be able to link you up at some stage. Antony is about to head to the US to talk about some of the issues raised in The Blogging Revolution.
We also had nice Chinese food.
Did you know Text Publishing are bringing out Nick Cave’s second novel (the first in 19 years) late in 2009? It’s called The Death of Bunny Munro. I’m very excited.
Tonight is the Sketch launch. I’m reading my short story ‘The Minimalist and the Lamp in Berlin’ and a short extract from my novel manuscript Smoke & Dancing. Shimmy on down.
Some forthcoming reviews on LM include Firmin by Sam Savage, Hamlet (John Marsden’s novel vs Kenneth Branagh’s film version), and The Comfort of Figs by Simon Cleary. I’ll also be having a guest post by Louisiana Alba, and a ‘responsive’ interview with Josephine Rowe. And hey – don’t forget to email me if you want to do ‘Other People’s Favourite Books’.
Other recent acquisitions – Parting with my Sex – Lucy Chesser, The Steele Diaries – Wendy James, Led Zeppelin: When Giants Walked the Earth – Mick Wall, Svetlana or Otherwise – Tiggy Johnson, Witchcraft – Sharanya Manivannan, Turner’s Paintbox – Paul Morgan, and both of Simmone Howell’s books.
I’ve been having strange dreams lately, with music in them. And Grug. And deflated sea animals. But such is the nature of dreams. Sometimes people you have been thinking about (and repressing) show up.
And on a much more serious note, did you know an Australian writer is currently detained in a Thai jail for writing a book that apparently insulted the Thai monarchy? Hear it from a Thai blogger. Melbourne PEN recently wrote a letter to the Thai government to request his release.
Also, support the Indigenous Literacy Project by bidding for an amazing array of signed books.
Reviews + Analyses
Nov 18, 2008
Picador, 2008, 9780330449175 (
In 1904, Sophie awaits her husband at the train station in Richmond. He is returning from the heart of the Brazilian jungle, seeking a mysterious, rumoured species of butterfly. When he arrives at the station Thomas is a shadow – scarred with insect bites, thin, and not speaking at all.
The narrative of The Sound of Butterflies involves Sophie’s frustration at her husband’s silence, as well as a slow-reveal of flashbacks to Thomas’ time in the jungle, with his scientific companions – all well-drawn, flawed, secondary characters.
The appeal of this book is in its tone, and themes of innocence and desire. At a sentence level it echoes literary classics – selective, elegant, artful prose – which heightens the bubbling of unspoken or drawn-out desires beneath the surface. Even Thomas’ passion for his butterflies is eroticised, as is the general pursuit of adventure, knowledge, the unknown. Temptation abounds for all the characters – quietly.
The narrative is a little frustrating at times in the actions of quiet Thomas. It seems necessary to draw out his silence, his awkward behaviours, as narrative drive. The reader does share their frustration with Sophie, who is a voice for it. The only thing is, at times it pulls the believability string just a little tight. Although the reader is slowly getting insight into Thomas’ condition, I wasn’t always 100% convinced that he would act that way for so long after. Nonetheless, it had a compelling effect as I waited to find out the why and the when as the story unfolds from its cocoon. And by the end has emerged a captivating butterfly.
The adventures in Brazil are the best part – described vividly through sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. New Zealand author King has obviously immersed herself in the era and the place in her research. The other scientists all suffer their own secrets, prejudices, moments of insight and anguish.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good old-fashioned adventure, heated by desire. The book embraces romance, discovery, and secrecy. This is a book to capture in your mental butterfly net before sleeping, causing rich, tropical dreams.
Rachael King has a fantastic blog, charting the writing life, which I have read very regularly ever since I put my name down for this book at work.
Come along and hear me read (possibly sexually explicit material!) Also reading will be Kirk AC Marshall and Amy Jackson, who you might remember from my ‘Best Unpublished Books’ posts. Sudeep Lingamneni‘s photography is also in the issue – and I’ll be posting some more of his photos soon that are from our manuscript (short story/photography project).
I won’t do another ‘week in the life’ post this week, but let me tell you, it was even busier than the last one! Got to meet some great literary delegates from Scotland and the north of England at various events during the week. Josephine performed for them and sold out of her books (‘responsive’ interview with Josephine coming soon). I attended the Summer Read launch at the State Library of Vic, The Lifted Brow listening party, and Simmone Howell‘s book launch for Everything Beautiful. My to-read pile grew again with lots of mail during the week. And of course, I worked and blogged throughout. Keen to get back into some novel research tomorrow!
This week, besides the Sketch launch, I’ll be catching up with Antony Loewenstein at the Overland 193 launch. He’ll be in conversation with novelist Christos Tsiolkas. Besides posting some more of Sudeep’s pics, I’ll post another review for you this week, and other yummy lit-stuff. And I’ll just take a quick sec to say thank you so much for reading. This week I have had the most unique visits I’ve ever had, over 1100! Be sure to become a fan on Facebook if you haven’t already. I only send an ‘update’ about once a month, and it’s lovely to see who some of you are.
By the way, I’m still obsessing over this song. ‘Jingle… jangle…’
Other People's Words
Nov 14, 2008
Hi. I’m Barry, and I run the writing group known as Nitewriters [in Miss LiteraryMinded’s home town Coffs Harbour]. We’ve been around for almost ten years and we aim to get our members published. Personally, I write speculative fiction in the ‘what if…’ vein, but have been known to try horror and action/adventure type stuff. My first major publication is in Next Stop Hollywood, a collection of short stories that are being pushed around Hollywood as fuel for the film and TV industry. I’ve nearly finished a collection of short stories tentatively titled Toss of the Coin which I am in the process of turning into a TV series. Here’s hoping anyway.
What is one of your favourite books?
I have many faves besides my own, but Next Stop Hollywood: Short Stories Bound for the Screen is in the top three. Beyond that, Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein.
How do you describe this book when you recommend it to other people?
Good for young and old, with a few life lessons thrown in. Good adventure with a non-preachy message and a touch of inspiration for good measure.
How old were you and what was going on in your life when you first read it?
I was at school, having Shakespeare shoved down my throat. The books they gave us were ‘classics’, but I wanted something that was new generation classic.
How many times have you read it?
Probably a dozen or so. I come back to it every couple of years or so.
Who wouldn’t you recommend it to?
Wouldn’t? Someone who was into the Bronte sisters, or Mills and Boon. They’d hate it.
Do you have a crush on one of the characters, or the author? Or do you want to be one of them?
Not a crush, but it was the first book where I admired the characters, and wanted to be them. Even the bad guys were kind of cool.
Have you read other books by the author? If yes, what did you think of them? If no, why not?
Yes. Some I liked, some I didn’t. Heinlein wrote across a variety of styles under a sci-fi banner. Some like Number of the Beast took me years to get. Others like Red Planet I loved straight away.
What do you love most about it?
We have a dissolution of everything we as people hold dear. The characters are thrown into an untamed world and are forced to grow up and recreate some form of society from scratch, only to have it snatched away again at the end. Imagine – fighting for survival as junior adults, surviving and beginning to flourish, only to be forced to become more or less children again.
Think about the feeling it gave, or gives you. What could you most closely relate that to?
It contains most of human history condensed in about 250 pages, on a strange planet far, far away.
Can you share with us a favourite moment, passage, or line in the book?
No one line. The last bit, where (spoiler alert) the Gate is re-established and teenagers who have been living as adults just melt into kids again, all but the one who helped forge their way through. The character accepts he must return, albeit reluctantly, but uses the experience to become what he wanted all along.
Do any other books come close? Name a couple if so.
In terms of feelings generated in me – Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz and the ‘Riftwar’ saga by Raymond E Feist. Dozens more, but that’ll do for now. In many ways, they all inspired me to create my own worlds, and have active believable characters to run around in them.
Miss LiteraryMinded is interested in representing a range of reader voices in this new segment – people from all walks of life and different countries, not just writers. Email me if you’re interested in telling the world about your favourite book! literaryminded [at] gmail [dot] com.
And do revisit my ‘responsive’ interview with Nam.
This is so exciting, when you love a writer’s work – because a prize like this not only brings them greater recognition, but affords them the time to continue to make a career out of writing. It’s wonderful to know that more of Nam’s imagination and talent will become available for us.
If you haven’t read The Boat yet, get thee to a book retailer.
Lip Issue 16 has arrived in my mailbox. In this issue I have a piece titled ‘Virtual Projections: How We Construct Ourselves Online’. As it’s a magazine for young women, I spoke to girls and women in virtual environments – MySpace and Facebook – but its also about my own experiences in those spaces and through being a blogger.
I have previously had a short story (‘Birthday’) and review published in issues of Lip. It’s a wonderful independent publication dealing with ‘real’ issues for young women, and featuring alternative fashions, book extracts, stories, articles and interesting, unique artworks and photography. Hardworking editor Rachel Longhurst keeps topping herself with each issue. If you know a teenage girl who is disillusioned by the glossies on offer in the newsagent, it might make a good gift. And it’s still glossy!
So it begins and ends with sex, and there’s a whole lot of juicy business in the middle, but Seduce Me also has an intriguing storyline and vivid, memorable characters. Megan Clark utilises the characters’ sexualities to round them out – desires, fulfillments, vulnerabilities and disappointments.
Carissa has a perfect, sweet boyfriend – Oscar. She is wound tight in her commitments – work, a business degree, keeping fit, and planning a future with her man. One day on the beach she sees a couple that look as though they’ve stepped out of the 1920s. Benedikte (one of my favourite names in the world) and Charlotte are committed to a life of freedom, excess and pleasure. They are wordly, articulate, stylish – they dance and drink and make love with whomever they desire. Carissa is intrigued when Charlotte dives into the ocean, fully-clothed. Carissa’s boyfriend, Oscar, at first goes along with Carissa to events borne out of this new friendship, but Carissa’s hunger for life and for passion is growing, and she begins to feel stifled by the domestication around her. We then follow the characters to the romantically-described streets of New Orleans.
Of course there is much more going on behind the scenes of Charlotte and Benedikte’s fantastical existence. Revelations emerge throughout the narrative, often guessable, but with enough skillful intrigue and interest to make you want to read on.
This is a well-written, entertaining piece of genre fiction, and the character Charlotte made a real impression on my mind. Some of her wisdoms turn out to be false but I think most women would relate to the way she wants to emulate her idols, eat and drink what she wants, and appear confident and glamorous on every occasion. ‘[L]ife is too short not to dress up’ she says. We then also relate to Carissa, who wants to saw off her shackles and be free as Charlotte appears to be.
There are descriptions of heartbreak, jealousy, intimacy, relationships, and the many flickers and flames of desire. In terms of the sex, so deliciously interwoven, no two scenes are alike. Clark finds a variety of ways of expressing the act, seductive but emotionally satisfying, like the novel as a whole. A great pillow-side indulgence.
Mon 3 Nov – blog posted Sudeep’s pics before work. Rode bike to work (environmentally friendly). Quiet office on the day before Melbourne Cup. Sweat at the gym after! Finished reading Ian Rankin’s Doors Open (will review at some stage). Jumped on the email and there was lots of great feedback from Nam Le blog post. Flatmate’s best friend came over – pizza ensued and a long, nostalgic night of Triple J’s Hottest 100 Volumes 1-7 (which I’m using for novel research of course), lots of Jim Beam w/ coke zero and great conversation.
Tue 4 Nov – After last week’s Black Dog Books Christmas party I woke up to another publisher Christmas/Melbourne Cup party – that of Ford Street Publishing. Met up with two of the lovely ladies from work and one of their friends and found the 1850s house in Clifton Hill. We were the first to arrive but it wasn’t long before we were mingling with friends of Paul Collins – Ford Street Publisher – including many children’s authors, editors, screenwriters, illustrators, non-fiction writers and so on. I was very excited to meet Rolf Heimann (y’no, the maze guy?) but apparently made him feel old by saying I did his mazes as a kid. He said (in a gorgeous German accent) he would love to get some of his novels out there but publishers (generally, not Ford Street) want more mazes and puzzles! I had many great conversations, didn’t win anything in the Cup pool – but my B+P publisher did (go Tim!). I enjoyed far too much champagne and a variety of snacks, including wasabi peas that had been in the sun too long. The garden was gorgeous and I wanted to take the dogs home.
I did drag one young lady, a Ford Street editor and a sci-fi writer, Sue, off to my friend’s Gra-beque (his name is Gra) back in St Kilda, where there were more writers and strange connections to the writers from before… it’s a small world. Had another couple of drinks but was home at a respectable hour.
Wed 5 Nov – Woke at the usual time and didn’t feel great about it. Posted my Tania Hershman interview and got into the office before anyone. Sucked down many litres of water and caffeine during the day. Had delicious dim sims for lunch. Was distracted from work (like everyone) by the election – followed on Crikey’s liveblog and BBC. Cried when Jesse Jackson teared up. Forgot the hangover and was in love with life. Started a story for the Weekly Book Newsletter on the delegates coming to visit our fine UNESCO City of Literature next week from England and Scotland. Can’t wait to meet them. Managed to still go to the gym after work and them zombie-rode my bike home, smiling still. Crashed out.
Thu 6 Nov – Busy day at work, WBN out. Post Obama-bliss around the office. A strange sight when I went to get sushi for lunch – three black dudes in a bright white cadillac. Gold jewels. No music. Exchanged glances with them as I crossed the crossing. Looked like they’d teleported from California, circa 1982. Contemplated asking for a ride. Wondered what their story was. Called Nanna on my break. My sis also got the books I sent for her birthday and loved them! Was pleased and excited. Shimmied by the gym on the way home, got dressed quickly and met my friends at ‘The Hive’ (they live in the same apartment block). Went to Sean M Whelan’s book launch, with great performance by Sean with The Mime Set. Book is Tattooing the Surface of the Moon (Small Change Press – do click the link, there’s a smaple poem!). Audience did Queensland-style ‘yawp’s. Excited also to hear Graham Nunn read – a poet whom I’ve read much of. Decided to experiment with LiteraryMinded YouTube channel:
Unfortunately I only got 3/4 of ‘Seven Day Dream Journal’, a wonderful piece. I’ll tell you more about Sean on LM soon. Got home and crashed out.
Fri 7 Nov – Posted Louisiana Alba review in the morning. Finished Nathan Curnow‘s chapbook No Other Life But This on my break at work. Had been putting off finishing it for so long because I loved it too much. Went right back and read over some again. More on that soon. Went hardcore at the gym and walked out and it was pissing down raining. Lucky I hadn’t ridden but my umbrella is shonky and I walked along, STARVING. Nothing at home so I stopped by the supermarket. Rain eased slightly. Bought a few things then decided I craved naan bread. Crossed road to Indian restaurant and ordered two naans. Started to walk home, still STARVING. Shopping bag broke, rain came down. Felt annoyed and silly and oh well thats life etc. Got in the door and jumped on the foil. Naan bread went too quick. Hung out with flatmate and drank more bourbons. He showed me an episode of Entourage. Enjoyed it because I’ve always loved film/Hollywood stuff. Amusing. To bed…
Sat 8 Nov – Woke up early, a little nervous and excited about Page Seventeen launch. Go on train with friends, beautiful trip and the furthest I’ve gone in Vic thus far (I’m a Coffs Harbour girl for you new readers). We had delicious lunch, bought second-hand goods (like a 50s/80s black dress with pink underlay – only $25!), had a quick beer, then got to the Queen of Tarts Cafe. Lots of great readings. Wasn’t too nervous in the end. Read half my story – a teaser – will have to buy to read the rest. In my favourite shirt:
Got to talk to Lee Kofman whose short story ‘Floating above the Village’ I read in 2007 Best Australian Stories. Remembered that I adored the ending and told her. She said she thought my story was ‘mature’. Stoked. Many lovelies came (thank you!). A beautiful day – trained home, and spend Sat night alone (in a good way), watching a movie, drinking a little, writing a bad poem about one of my (four) crushes (all unavailable for different reasons, but maybe I do that deliberately). Obsessed over a Nick Cave song. Bed at a respectable hour. Woken up by flatmate and best friend at 3am who came home via trolley. Remembered a great Christmas Eve back in Coffs which involved a trolley. Good times.
Sun 9 Nov – worked on blog stuff (review drafts, questions for interviews, ideas etc.). Met Josephine in St Kilda Botanic Gardens for relaxed reading and writing session in the shade of a tree. Made notes on a short story I drafted a while ago (bad ending), read more 90s mags for research, started reading new novel (set in New York which is always a plus). Came home to chill, blog, and look forward to another busy week!
Can something be playfully and overtly postmodern and still be readable – driving you through a compelling plot? Louisiana Alba proves it can be done. Uncorrected Proof is a postmodern novel that entertainingly riffs on form, style, character, tense, person – but with an overall thriller/quest type plot appropriation, it folds you into its delicious bizarro metascapes and humorous oft-satirical, oft-homagical visions.
Somehow Alba (if that’s who she really is… death of the author etc.) incorporates stylistic elements of hard-boiled fiction, screenplays, cookbooks, metafiction, the spy novel, cyberpunk, the literary novel, A Clockwork Orange, Gaelic, intertextuality, memoir and so much more in a book that self-consciously satirises the entire book and publishing industry – authors, editors, publishers – literary celebrity, literary delusions, literary snobbery, literary stupidity and so on.
So what’s it ‘about’? Archie’s novel manuscript has been pilfered and plagiarized by Martyn Varginas, prolific mystery writer. Archie and his friend Cal plot a convoluted revenge through Archie getting work as an editor, and employing a re-plagiarisation of the book by a young hired-gun (or pen, as it were). What follows are kidnappings, political intrigues, sex, jaunts to New York and Paris (from London), Stake-outs, party crashings, a couple of book launches, boardroom drunkenness, author cameo appearances, mean streets, cop/spy banter, and a few disturbing murders.
I was completely absorbed in this book – somehow Alba makes it so easy to read, despite the switcheroos in style, and shifts in narrative drive and character motivation. The book’s title Uncorrected Proof displays irony – those not in bookselling or publishing may be unfamiliar with a ‘proof copy’ or ‘uncorrected proof’ – books that become available before release, oft-unedited versions of the final with spacing, grammatical and typing errors. This ‘published’ book, has a few (tongue-in-cheek) placed throughout.
Alba has worked in publishing, and is actually avoiding traditional distribution methods for the book, keeping in the uber-hip underground spirit of the novel – with a well-handled guerilla internet and out-of-hand distribution system. I came across the author through Facebook.
This book proves to me that extraordinary talent can be represented through shunning traditional publishing methods. This book is inventive, imaginative, and inspiring. It is a unique publication. If you enjoy Italo Calvino or John Fowles, or if you also work or have worked in the book industry, even on the fringes, you would get a great kick out of this novel.
Interviews + Profiles
Nov 5, 2008
9781844714759, Salt Publishing, 2008 (
Tania Hershman takes you on a series of short imaginative adventures in The White Road. Some stories are casual, tough, or laid-back, many are poetic. There are backwards unravellings, fantastical flights, speculated inventions, surprises, cleverness, humour, and scorn. The snapshots vary in tone, and explore possibilities – scientific, technological, emotional. The book is physically bag-sized and each story can be read in a sitting, but are all worthy of full attention. Many of them are told in a feminine voice – often tough, almost hard-boiled. Hershman also shows how a ‘flash’ story should and can work – a rounded idea, rendered with punch. The closing line matters.
I agreed to host Tania on her worldwide blog tour, organised by Salt Publishing, as I (obviously) really enjoyed the experience of reading The White Road and was glad to have the opportunity to ask her a few questions about writing it. I’ve also reviewed before for Tania’s online journal The Short Review – one of the few places on the web that solely reviews short story collections and interviews short fiction authors.
Tania, why short fiction?
That’s a very interesting and ambiguous question. You might mean, why do I write short fiction? Or why do I read short fiction? Or why does short fiction exist? Well, first, I don’t like the term “short fiction”, or even “short story”, because that implies it might be “less than”, not quite “full” fiction, the reader is being short-changed somehow. Call me over-sensitive, or even paranoid, but I wish there was a term for what we write, like poetry or novels, a term that doesn’t imply relativity.
But now that I’ve got that out of the way, I write and read short stories because I love what can be done in such a small space, be it 50 words or 5000 words, a magic that can be created that does not suit any other form. Short stories, because of their nature, can be surreal, irreal, can ask the reader to suspend disbelief and because they don’t take up days, weeks or months of your time, you are willing, you let yourself go into this new world. A novel, were it to ask you to do this, might have a harder time persuading you to stay there for long periods. It would be intense and disturbing. A short story can also be those things, but to me it is like a slap in the face, a short sharp shock that should leave you reeling. This is what I am always striving to do.
Many of the stories in the collection emerge from a scientific premise. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
I studied maths and physics at university. Not the traditional preparation for a career as a fiction writer. I could have gone either way in high school, but the Brits, bless them, forced us to choose at age 16 the three subjects that would determine what we would then study at university. I couldn’t do English, Maths and Physics. Mix sciences and humanities? Unheard of! Things are different now. But I quickly realised that I was not destined for a life in the laboratory. I wanted to write. I became a science journalist, then after a few years, realised again that it was fiction and not fact that I wanted to write. But the love for science was also still there, and this is my way of combining the two: half the stories in my book are inspired by articles from the UK weekly popular science magazine New Scientist. I read it regularly and so much of what they cover, so much of scientific exploration and discovery, is so astonishing, so bizarre, it is the perfect fodder for fiction. I was delighted when they published my story, The White Road, on NewScientist.com last week, with a link to the article that inspired the story. Their readers had never come across fiction on the site, and there were some confused comments, some criticism of my inept grammar, which was in fact a misunderstanding over the nature of voice in fiction: my main character’s grammar is rather different, not mine! There was quite a discussion in the comments section which I watched from the sidelines with interest, a wonderful meeting of two worlds.
Some of the stories, such as the lovers breaking up in ‘Flora Comes Back’, are just a simple snapshot of a time of change, or poignancy, a few of a character’s memories. Do these pieces come into your head fully-formed? And what stops them from being something longer?
My new love is flash fiction, stories under 1000 words, stories of only a page or two. I have written many, many of these short shorts, as they are also called, in the last few years. They actually emerge fully-formed, as I begin to write I have in mind that the story will end soon. I have never “grown” a longer story from a flash story (although I have re-written a longer problematic story into a far more successful flash!).
I deliberately set out to write very short stories because everything I said above about what a short story can be is all the more true for flash fiction. A tiny jolt of electricity, read in an instant, but, if done well, niggling at your brain for much longer. The process of writing flash fiction is wondrous in itself, very different from the slower process of a longer story, which comes in pieces, which requires revision, editing, trial-and-error alterations. Flash fiction can be very satisfying to write, but I also enjoy the longer process, a character accompanying me for weeks and months, the gradual unfolding of a story.
Who or what inspires you as a writer?
Other writers inspire me. Great writing inspires me. Bad writing inspires me. Films, plays, television programmes, magazines, conversations, inspiration comes from every corner. My writing groups, here and online, inspire. I don’t take notes, but it all feeds into the churning of my mind. I often write from prompts, which is a wonderful way to kick-start inspiration.
My favourite story (and one of the most entertaining short stories I’ve ever read) was ‘The Incredible Exploding Victor’, where a kid thinks his best friend is going to explode or spontaneously combust from being overfed by his mother. Can you give us a bit of insight into writing this one?
I am so glad you like that story! I started writing it during a short story workshop in the US, at the New York Summer Writers Institute, several years ago. The first line just appeared, fully formed: “Victor Bloomfield was my best friend in junior school and when he told me he was going to explode I believed him.” It stuck in my head and I was intrigued. I couldn’t imagine what this story might be about. But I loved the voices of the narrator and his friend, Howie and Victor, two eleven-year-olds preoccupied with Victor’s weight issues in 1970s London, which is where I was when I was their age. I am so fond of these boys, they are so sweet, they do ridiculous things, but they care deeply and they are great friends. I didn’t know when I began what the issue was with Victor’s mother, it took a while to reach that point in the story, and I didn’t know how it would end. I tried various things, even going ten years into the future to catch up with Howie as an adult. But I didn’t want to leave the two boys as they were, I wanted to stay with them in that particular time. Maybe there will be more Howie and Victor stories, who knows?
Through all your reading, reviewing and writing of short fiction, could you name an element or two that is essential to a successful short story?
In my opinion, and this game is completely subjective, a short story cannot have anything that is not relevant to the story. Of course, what is and isn’t relevant is a matter for the writer to decide. But for me, a short story isn’t the place for passages of description, of background, which don’t serve the interests of the story. I would also say that finding your character’s voice is essential, I am drawn to stories with a strong voice rather than a compelling plot with twists and turns.
And just for fun – if you weren’t a writer and could be anything else in the world, what would you be?
Wow, a hard question. Ok dream job: Organic Chocolate Bar Designer!
Next stop on the ‘Walking The White Road Virtual Book Tour’ – Tania will be talking about magical realism on Vanessa Gebbie’s News.
Visit the previous stop at Keeper of the Snails.
Other participants of the blog tour are Thoughts From Botswana, Eric Forbe’s Book Addict’s Guide to Good Books, Kanlaon, Sue Guiney’s Me and Others, Writers in Profile, Tim Jones’ Books in the Trees, and Eco-Libris.