Ideas and the Internet

Here’s a random fact: Pigeons have learned to discriminate between the paintings of Monet and Picasso. It’s just one of many interesting snippets that my late night or early morning web-weaving forays throw out.

When I’m involved in a project, I have difficulty thinking of anything outside of my bubble so, when I woke from a dream with the sensation of flying and the words ‘Medusa One Snake’ in my head, I headed straight for the computer.

My project was a collection of short stories commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Tasmanian Black Tuesday bushfires so I Googled fire+snake+bird. After some toing and froing and weaving about in the ever-widening web, I was startled by an article that brought my three search words together and got my writerly synapses writhing.

Matthew Crawford reporting for ABC’s Radio National in June 2016 poses a question: “Could flocks of birds be picking up burning sticks and dropping them on unburned ground in order to spread fire?”. Crawford’s question resulted from his interview with Bob Gosford, a columnist and bird researcher endeavouring to prove the theory that birds of prey follow fire fronts to feast on fleeing reptiles and insects.

The article sent me on further web trips, researching birds of prey, their habits and habitats and a hell of a lot of other stuff and then I left it alone and let my imagination take over. What emerged was a humorous tale with a fiery twist, included in my forthcoming anthology Flame Tip. Medusa One Snake is a proud, intelligent bird with a son – Scout Junior – who is elegantly analytical and mathematically inclined. Medusa’s partner – slow in thought and deed – has the contradictory moniker ‘Swifty’. The birds analyse and harness the fire, flying into the future as winners.

The early morning random web-surfing that sent me Bob Gosford’s research also left me with a heap of [possibly useless] information about bees (they have been trained to recognize explosives), ostriches (the males can roar like lions), Alaskan law (in Alaska it is illegal to whisper in someone’s ear while they are moose hunting) and cats (cats have 32 muscles per ear and a house cat can outrun Usain Bolt). I use the word ‘possibly’ in relation to the uselessness of this information because one or all of these snippets may eventually prove to be useful if the facts check out (or even if they don’t). Keep an eye out for my ‘Usain and the Egyptian Mau take Manhattan’ story.

 

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Six Degrees in Shorts

Six Degrees of Separation – #6degrees

6degrees-rules

I remember having a go at this some time ago and I enjoyed the randomness of it all, so here I go again. Currently hosted by Kate at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, this month’s featured book is Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ which I read and loved.

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo

As my chief reading pleasure comes from short stories, I’ll go slightly outside the lane and look at shorts. Let’s see where six steps take me . . .

When I think of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I think of a strong, fearless woman. Immediately, I thought of a passage from a short story written by Jennifer Mills. I had to search and search to find it “We think we are strong in my family. We think we are stoic.  . . . We are only loyal to our own endurance.” The lines come from ‘The Capital of Missing Persons’ in Mills’ collection The Rest is Weight. The story is a beautifully crafted, poignant story about family.

rest-is-weight

Ah, families. Or “transistorised circuits” as the narrator Martha in ‘Blood Relations’ refers to them. Marion Halligan’s short story in The Hanged Man in the Garden is a piercing character study, memorable on a number of fronts but I have always remembered the families as transistorised circuits.

hanged

Martha. The name rings a bell and I rush off in search of something about spiders. What is that story? Oh, I’ve found it. ‘Martha and the Lesters’ is a short by Glen Hunting which made the cut in the 2014 Margaret River short story competition and was included in the anthology The Trouble with Flying. Hunting is a master of the short story and his writing can make me laugh out loud.

flying

In a bizarre twist, ‘Martha and the Lesters’ leads me back to an author via moniker. Natasha Lester wrote ‘Wonder Tale’ which I read in the Sunscreen and Lipstick anthology. [actually, ‘Wonder Tale’ is taken from Lester’s novel What is Left Over but, as I read it as a short story, my theme still has legs]. It is memorable to me for the phrase ‘scratchy voice carving the words into my dreams’. ‘Wonder Tale’ is, as I read it, a story about telling a story and it is – perhaps – about truth and motherhood.

sunscreen

No-one writes motherhood quite like Susan Midalia (one of my all-time favourite shorts is Midalia’s ‘A Blast of a Poem’). ‘An Unknown Sky’, the title story of her 2012 Anthology, has a mother adjusting to her son’s leaving, her “beautiful, ironic, unknowable son”. As the mother of just one child – a son – I related deeply to Midalia’s story.

unknown-sky

Mothers. I think of ‘Perhaps the Bird was Wise’, Carmel Bird’s story of a girl sitting at her mother’s deathbed as time ticks quickly. I read it in her collection My Hearts are Your Hearts. The book was borrowed from the library and I can’t check it now but I am pretty sure I am recalling the right one. It is fitting to finish this Six Degrees jaunt with Bird, a strong fearless woman (if her writing is any indication) who (like me) grew up in Tasmania.

my-heartsSo there, I managed to twist my love of short stories into this fun meme.

 

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Anthology Launch

It was my pleasure to attend this year’s launch of the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize anthology for 2016. The first half of the event was a panel discussion on writing for Tasmania 400 South, with regular magazine contributors joining editor Chris Champion for a vibrant chat. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of diving into this pictorially exquisite publication, I encourage you to check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

After nibbles and drinks, Chris Gallagher (Director of the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre and one of the competition judges) gave a wonderful speech and facilitated a Q&A session with the finalists. Having sipped (quaffed? guzzled?) a couple of glasses of fine Shiraz, I think I coped okay with responding to a question here and there. I certainly had a great time, chatting to fellow finalists and listening to some readings from winning entries.

On the subject of winners, I would like to mention last year’s Young Tasmanian Writers’ Prize winner, Ben Smith Noble who read beautifully from his story. I went to the same school as Ben – Taroona High. I am sure his is a name we will hear more of in the future.

The evening was seamlessly coordinated and overseen by the vivacious Lucinda Sharp. Thanks Lucinda for a memorable night!

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Another Ship finds a Port

I’m thrilled to report that my story ‘Baked Beans and Wisteria’ has won a place in this year’s Big Issue Fiction Edition to be launched on 26th August at the State Library of Victoria. We writers send out our ships, all polished and splashed with champagne, and try not to worry about them as they navigate the deep blue. It is always a joy when they find their home port. 

Meanwhile, I’m heading down to Hobart tomorrow to attend the launch of the Forty South anthology of the best of this year’s Tasmanian Writers’ Prize stories. It will be fun to meet some of the other finalists. I’m really looking forward to reading their stories and seeing my own ‘Jack Frost’ in the mix.

 Ah, this writing life!

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Vale Gillian Mears

I have no words.

Vale Gillian Mears

 

 

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Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2016

What a joy it was to receive the news that I made the final cut again in this years Tasmanian Writers’ Prize for my short story Jack Frost.

Congratulations to award-winning Canberra author and science journalist Craig Cormick who stands on the winner’s podium with No man is an island.

Keren Heenan was highly commended for All the quiet things.

The other eight finalists, who will be published in the Forty South Short Story Anthology 2016, are:-                                         

Alicia Bakewell (WA) – Walking on water

Margaret Forster (TAS) – My first volcano

Malcolm King (SA) – Eddystone Rock

Andrea McMahon (TAS) – Crystal Ball

Wendy Riley (VIC) – Maya’s Story

Karenlee Thompson (QLD) – Jack Frost

Roger Vickery (NSW) – Seven Variations on the theme of recovery

Helen Wyatt (TAS) – Maria Magic

Congratulations everyone. I can’t wait to read the stories.

Head to the Forty South Website for further info

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Prayers of a Secular World, edited by Jordie Albiston and Kevin Brophy: Book Review.

Sometimes, a poem can strike so deeply as to leave you speechless. It is often personal: the subject matter unearths a buried chord or a voice speaks like one you have heard before, calling memories out to play. It may be – variously – rhyme, rhythm, length, word choice. It might also depend on where one is, literally or metaphorically, at the time of reading. This is a wordy introduction to my favourite piece from Prayers of a Secular World because, frankly, Daniela Giorgi’s ‘Sea Fox’ has left me as close to speechless (and almost breathless) as I can get. It sings to me on every level in six succinct stanzas. My partner rarely reads poems (not even those written by me) but this is a poem I knew would resonate. When he agreed (with a sigh of resignation) to listen to a ‘Sea Fox’ reading, it took him a moment to find his voice. When he finally spoke it was to ask me to read it again. I hope you can hear my applause, Daniela Giorgi. Bravo.

I was initially daunted by what seemed a rather earnest and high-brow title. Prayers of a Secular World. But the poems and meditations are all accessible and inclusive. What a surprise to receive this beautifully designed (Sandy Cull, gogoGingko) compact book with a forward by Inkerman and Blunt publisher Donna Ward and an introduction by author and intellectual powerhouse David Tacey who reminds us that sacredness is a ‘dimension of the everyday’ rather than something to be celebrated at special times in holy buildings.

Aboriginal culture has never separated the sacred from the ordinary but finds it embedded in the everyday. (10)

Tacey tells us that we can bring a greater awareness into our own lives by thinking like poets.

The poems and contemplations in this volume are separated into six sections. There is something here for everyone but, in keeping with my opening remarks about the personal call of a poem, I’m going to tell you a little something about my favourites in each section.

See the Dreaming Claim You
Maya Ward’s ‘Powerful Owl’ gets its claws into the subterranean layer of my soul. It is dark and potent, the stuff of dreams.

My mind was forged in the crucible of you
And my spine is a tree
Where you have perched
For thousands of years (14)

 A Mantra That Will Keep Us
Every word in ‘The Sadhu’ by David Francis seems perfectly chosen, mulled over, repositioned perhaps. The effort put into the writing makes the reading effortless so that I was transported into the world of this journeyman of landscapes. I felt as though I was standing before a perfect portrait in a quiet gallery, seeing the sacred mountains. And then I felt myself breathing the thin mountain air. Now I can taste the rice and hear the bells. If I close my eyes, is it possible that I might see the mysteries and grace beyond the narrow path of the present? Maybe.

‘The Sea Fox’, as already mentioned, is my favourite. Giorgi’s metaphoric transportation of expressions between the pain-racked body, the surroundings (You pace the raw metres of our flat, it’s three a.m) and the thoughts of the partner (My brain is dry, red, sore, scratched by empathy) (42) is brilliant.

Domestic Interiors
It was very hard to narrow down my favourites in this section. ‘Don’t’ by Matt Hetherington is clever and poignant; a diamond. Ali Alizadeh brings perfect rhythm to a yearning for love in ‘Venus’. As a mother, I am transfixed by ‘First Night’. Anna Ryan-Punch captures the deftness of the midwives and nurses, the mystery of babies and the re-arrangement of a mother.

Midwives relieve me of your squalling
head. I am as glad and guilty as Catholic steak
on Good Friday. Soon they will bring back your limbs
that I made … (54)

 The Delicate Formation of Faults
As I indicated in my opening, sometimes the connection with a poem might have something to do with where the reader is reading and so I don’t doubt that ‘No End to Images’ by Sarah Holland-Batt has a particularly literal connection for me. I read it on a boat on the Danube so no surprise that lines like no end to iron shoes along he Danube and no end to the gardens of Europe/with their murderous symmetry (78) hit their mark. For the same reason ‘Folding Down Corners’ (Anna Ryan-Punch) and ‘Photographs of Jews’ (Lisa Jacobson) spoke to me clearly.

The Shadow of the World
Catherine Bateson’s ‘Imperfection’ brought to mind Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’. Cohen reminds us that the cracks let the light in. Bateson draws our eye to the beauty of a hand-embroidered orange nasturtium that … here, in the left hand corner/can never match its yellow twin (95).

Believe There’s a Road to El Paso
Judy Johnson’s ‘Swans’ is a stand-out for me, mainly because it made me laugh. Her beautiful poetic descriptions of the majesty of swans morphs into the comedy of the momentary glitches of the propellers of their feet failing to launch like the frenzied paddles of a waterwheel and their absurd cries half bugle, half air brake. Toward the end, the poem is deeply philosophical: The soul we do not believe in, suddenly/believes in us, and flutters in terror (138-139). And her final stanza, which I won’t quote here, is divine. You need to read the whole poem to fully appreciate its depth and beauty.

I have a weird habit. Whenever I finish reviewing a collection of poems or short stories, I go back through to see a) what my favourite pieces have in common, b) what I know about the authors, c) if there are any themes I seem to be leaning toward. I usually find that my choices are eclectic, unbiased and fun to analyse. And this time it’s no different. Many of the writers are unknown to me, the subject matters are vastly different and yet – on some level – linked.

There’s something for everyone in this beautiful gold-embossed collection. For more information, head to the Inkerman and Blunt website

BOOK DETAIL
Albiston, J and Brophy E, eds.
Prayers of a Secular World
Inkerman and Blunt, Carlton South.
ISBN: 978 0 9875401 9 5

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