Monthly Archives: November 2011

Which Writer Wrote

Shooting stars possess a certain grandeur for me, an almost religious significance.  I see them as symbols of a pure and nervous beauty, devoid of torment, nervous in the way of any vivid thing.  Even their names hum with the energy of other worlds – the Delta Aquarids, the Lyrids, the Orionids.  All that splendour , and such power.  

Check in on Sunday for the answer

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2011 Redlitzer Anthology: Book Review

Last week, I posted the first half of my Redlitzer Anthology review.  Here are my thoughts on the final five stories.

The Swallows of Wellington Point by JA HENRY
Some writers use gritty reality as their base (Christos Tsiolkas comes to mind).  Conversely, JA Henry employs a style here that would best be described as gritty unreality. Nick-names and bogus games; car chases and law breakers; birds and bats.  What a delightfully unusual story.  The characters’ names are wickedly derivative in a modern-day Dickensian kind of way (Canon the human copier, Dreamon and Mangrove) and descriptions are evocative, yet precise: a bird in ‘mating plumage [that] could have stepped off the back of a silk kimono’ and ‘the sea is old silver, dead calm’.

Marathon Woman by MAREE REEDMAN
Maree Reedman is the only one of the writers known to me (we once attended a Queensland Writers Workshop together) and she is the reason I sought out this anthology.

Marathon Woman is I think best described as a ‘Memoir Fragment’, in which Reedman’s unique voice rings true.

The scariest movie for me was not Terminator or Alien or even Nightmare on Elm Street.  Please!  Freddy Kruger with his bad manicure and Clinque-free skin didn’t even come close to cutting it. 

Marathon Woman reflects on fear; on the horror that can be created by dental equipment in the wrong hands.

Reedman is one of those writers who can capture a voice perfectly – yes, even her own.  As an adult she has not forgotten the dog-year-length of the years in a child’s life.  As a tween ‘before the word tweens had been invented’ her ‘gob problems’ continued with the advent of one Miss Swan with her ‘steel coloured scouring pad hair’ and her ‘bench of horrors’.

Miss Swan is followed by Doctor Chin, another voice captured perfectly and, finally – mercifully – the kindly Brian who understands the power of touch.  The author’s relief is evident in discovering ‘what Santa did for the rest of the year.’

Marathon Woman is both  funny and frightening a-la Stephen King.  It’s a well-crafted story and Reedman is clearly a writer to look out for.

The Journey by MAIRE SHANAHAN
In what is perhaps the shortest story in the book, Shanahan takes us on a train journey; at the same time unfurling one of life’s big (and arduous) journeys.  The narrator has survived the loss of his wife.  Thankfully, the loss of his daughter’s presence is not permanent.  Sad without being morbid and, ultimately, hopeful.

 Acceptance by MARGARET SHIELDS
A tricky tale, this one and I wouldn’t want to spoil it by revealing too much.  Suffice to say that some readers will sympathise with the narrator and may form hasty judgements about her partner.  As in life though, there are usually two sides to a story. 

 Dead End by LINDA UPTON
A murder mystery set in a museum on a fund-raiser evening, the tone is set by the curator/narrator who has the hard-boiled edge of a film noir detective.  ‘Like plaster ducks flying across a wall, we were going nowhere with donations this evening.’

Suspense is difficult to pull off in just eight pages or so, but Linda Upton manages to do it with this little ‘who dunnit’ and she resists the urge to present the proverbial ‘knight in shining armour’ at the denouement.  Nice work.

I look forward to next year’s anthology.

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WHICH WRITER WROTE Answer

I think this is the first time that no-one picked the correct answer. 
33% went for Mick Jagger and 67% for Carly Simon.

Take the dawn of the day
And give it away
To someone who can fill the part
Of the dream we once held

The lyrics are from the song ‘So Sad’, featured on the album Dark Horse and were penned by none other than Mr George Harrison.  The song was recorded in 1974, just after the disintegration of his marriage to Patty Boyd.  George, whose bushell was often shaded by the prolific and public branches of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, died in 2001 as a result of lung cancer.

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WHICH WRITER WROTE

We’ve had poetry and fiction.  Now, this week’s WWW features song lyrics.

Take the dawn of the day
And give it away
To someone who can fill the part
Of the dream we once held

Have a guess and check in on Sunday for the Answer

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2011 Redlitzer Anthology: Book Review

As readers of this blog would be aware, I am a huge fan of the short story and I wish we had more published in Australia.  In these days of shorter attention spans and media bombardment, there is a need that could be filled perfectly by anthologies and collections of shorts.  

I managed to get my hands on a copy of the 2011 Redlitzer Anthology by being persistent but it seems they are as scarce as hen’s teeth.  The anthology is the result of a competition run by the Redland Libraries for emerging unpublished writers, and the Redland City Council is to be commended for its support for such a worthwhile endeavour.

I took it upon myself to review the collection (who knows…it could harbour the next Elizabeth Jolley or Patrick White ) and here are my thoughts on five of the ten works, in order of their publication within the anthology:-

Sticks and Stones by Beverley Asmus.
In our school years, most of us would have known a boy or a girl who we might have referred to as being ‘not quite right’  and I’ve read a couple of stories centred around such characters but what sets this piece apart is Asmus’s ability to get inside the character’s  head.  Daniel – who sees and understands his world in purely literal terms – wonders why rust tastes horrible, yet mandarins (which are the same orange colour) are sweet and juicy.  Trouble comes when Daniel is compelled to stop some boys from smoking (because as both the packet and his mother inform him ‘people got cancer from smoking’).

Heartburn by Danielle Carey
Jeremy is a girl-shy church-going writer, feeling more awkward than usual in a new city.  When he meets a rather strange and forward girl by the name of Lou, he projects his ideal female onto her and through a strange sort of osmosis, she reflects what he so desires.

Friends and Lovers by Trish Cation
A murder mystery vignette that might make you think twice before accepting a glass of champagne at a work party.  Renee is an evil piece of work: ‘Money and men – success and sex.  Put it any way you like, they were the two things that mattered most to her…’  Renee’s foil?  the fool…‘sweet little Lauren’. 

The Heart of the Matter: a memoir by Marci Dahlenburg
I really enjoyed this memoir piece, a kind of ‘sliding doors’ snippet about what might have been.  The author takes us with her as her status as a new mother is thrown into turmoil.  She becomes ‘lost in the labyrinth’ that is the hospital as she makes her way to the Paediatric Cardiology rooms to discuss how her daughter who ‘just this morning [had been] perfect’ was now less so.

How do you say it?  Is Down Syndrome? Has Down Syndrome? It was the first time I’d said it.  I didn’t even know how to say it properly.

While the nurse is ‘effervescent’, the baby is ‘floppy’ and the new mother is clamping one hand on top of the other trying to claw her ‘way back to reality’.  My heart ached for her.

Instead of stepping blithely from the shower, grief laid me low.  I was curled foetal on the tiles, screaming a mute prayer into the drain with tears and soap mingling.

The Heart of the Matter packs a devastatingly powerful punch and I hung on every word.

Always by Janice Gallen
I am a fan of one-word titles and this one  immediately conjured a love story. The song of the same name played in my head as I began to read, the structure of the sentences seeming to fit the cadence perfectly.  And yes, it is a love story in a very true sense.  On the day of her beloved husband’s birthday, an elderly woman allows the sands of time to shift as she reminisces about the period before the war when she met the one and only love of her life.  She tries to ignore the portentous pecking of a magpie at the window and shrugs off the tightness in her chest as she remembers the passionate letters they once shared and the unbreakable bonds they forged throughout their married life. 

 She was beside her darling, her lover, her soul mate, and since she’d met him, she hadn’t wanted to be anywhere else, either in life or death. 

 I loved the honesty of this piece.  It pretends nothing:  it is – quite simply – a love story.

In a forthcoming post, I will review the final five stories.  In the meantime, if you’d like to nab yourself a copy of the 2011 Redlitzer Anthology, try contacting Redland Libraries.

BOOK DETAIL:
2011 Redlitzer Anthology, Edited by MK Hume. Redland Libraries, Redland City Council, Aust.
ISBN: 978-0-646-56337-4

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WHICH WRITER WROTE Answer

The answer to this week’s WWW is Gig Ryan.

Women are full of compassion and have soft soggy hearts
you can throw up in and no-one’ll notice
and they won’t complain.  I’d shoot the man
who thinks he can look like an excavation-site
but you can’t, who thinks what you look like’s for him
to appraise, to sit back, to talk his intelligent way.

 The quote comes from ‘If I had a Gun’, a poem with capital A Attitude in both subject matter and in poetic form.  It’s tone is defiant and hostile and the colloquial language gives it a modern popular edge, emphasised by the odd swear word.

Gig Ryan is an award winning Melbourne poet,   She was given the name Elizabeth when she was born in 1956 and I’d love to know when and why she changed her name to Gig. Can anyone enlighten me?

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WHICH WRITER WROTE

This week’s WWW features a poet.

Women are full of compassion and have soft soggy hearts
you can throw up in and no-one’ll notice
and they won’t complain.  I’d shoot the man
who thinks he can look like an excavation-site
but you can’t, who thinks what you look like’s for him
to appraise, to sit back, to talk his intelligent way.

Have a guess and visit this site on Sunday for the answer.

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WHICH WRITER WROTE Answer

The answer to this week’s WWW is Kate Grenville, award-winning author of such masterpieces as The Secret River (2005) and Lillian’s Story (1985).

Were they still laughing at some silly women’s joke? Or was it possible – was it conceivable? – that they were at this moment winking at each other, and laughing not at some frilly little schoolgirl joke, but at me, the man, the one who did not know things that they knew…Pride forbade me to turn around and squint into the light, but the air in front of my face grew dark and the muscles of my face froze.  I closed the door on them with loathing: a loathing born of despair.

This passage comes from Grenville’s Dark Places which was published in 1994.

The narrator, Albion Gidley Singer, is both repulsive and sympathetic.  He is indeed a man of many layers of dark and darker places…certainly there is not much that is light within him.  But he is a creature of his milieu, initially adopting the traits that one of his ‘station’ perhaps ought to have had but eventually taking them beyond the norm.

It is – by turns – a laugh out loud story and a disturbing and shocking study of one man’s psyche.  I loved every word of it.

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WHICH WRITER WROTE

My new weekly quiz, Which Writer Wrote (WWW) will feature passages of writing across all genres; prose and poetry, novels, songs, biography.

This week, is an excerpt from an Australian book I have chosen randomly from my shelves and you have three vastly different Aussie authors to choose from as a match.

Were they still laughing at some silly women’s joke? Or was it possible – was it conceivable? – that they were at this moment winking at each other, and laughing not at some frilly little schoolgirl joke, but at me, the man, the one who did not know things that they knew…Pride forbade me to turn around and squint into the light, but the air in front of my face grew dark and the muscles of my face froze.  I closed the door on them with loathing: a loathing born of despair.

Answer on Sunday

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shanti bloody shanti by Aaron Smith: Book Review

shanti bloody shanti is one of those rip-roaring rollicking good time Boys’ Own Adventure kind of tales, told with a distinctly Aussie voice and a delightfully devious sense of humour.

Aaron Smith’s Indian odyssey is filled with imagery so vivid that, by the end of the third chapter, I began to feel like a seasoned visitor to Mother India, despite the fact that I’ve never set foot on her shores.

Of the Victoria Monument, Smith writes:

This was a marble palace from the height of the British Raj, fronted by a grumpy, pigeonshit-encrusted bronze Queen Victoria and surrounded by acres of English gardens wilting under the Indian sun. (12)

Mumbai from the back seat of a taxi:

…we passed through blocks of slums, destitute shantytowns built from pieces of plastic, scraps of metal and whatever refuse could be salvaged from the streets.  Overhead, masses of tangled powerlines were illegally tapped from the city grid. (25)

To say there is an interesting array of characters on this journey is an understatement: from bargain-hunter Frankie who once scored ‘a classic vintage 70s hang glider’ (24) to the Japanese hippy chick who introduces herself as ‘Suz the Nip’ and just about every eccentric character of every hue imaginable in between.

However, a couple of warnings:-

Smith might have given us just a bit too much information when it comes to vomit and shit and nostril gunk.  I’m not sure I needed to know that a case of food poisoning resulted in ‘what feels like liquefied internal organs’ falling out of his ass (17) or that staring into a bucket of his vomit he spies sweetcorn , despite not having eaten corn for months.  I know, I know…this would definitely be a big part of any back-packing, hostel-haunting, Indian safari but I occasionally cringed.  Boys being boys though, the guys will get a real hoot out of this kind of stuff.

The second warning relates to the substantial amount of drug use.  I am assuming this must be de rigueur for the twenty to thirty-somethings that would be inclined to embark on such an odyssey and I suppose it is a reflection of some affluent young Westerners (but I don’t believe it necessarily represents the majority, even in that age category).  Most people, at one time or another, have probably turned up to a party only to discover acquaintances shrouded in a Hiroshima-like haze or nasal deep in white powder but the acid tripping seemed more reminiscent of the seventies flower-power era than early twenty-first century.  Smith even hints at the strangeness of it himself I think, when he and his friends are tripping while listening to The Doors as someone rolls a joint – ‘it’s all so trite.’ (180).

I recognize that, as a fifty-something female, I am not the targeted demographic for such a book and yet I enjoyed it.  Despite not being a cricket fan, I had a good chuckle over the constant Ricky Ponting references and I enjoyed the Aussie colloquialisms (true blue, the sketchy bail and built like a brick shithouse), most of which were explained (with an eye on an international audience, I assume).  

I can’t help but wonder how many young men, after reading of Smith’s odyssey, will be testing ‘handfuls of zinc tablets’ (28) as sex-marathon-assisters.  Will readers trawl through the internet to clarify the official scientific line on déjà vu?

shanti bloody shanti is not all beer and skittles.  The unfortunate incident of Dahlia and the ‘stairway to heaven’ signals impending doom and what follows is a series of strange events and eerie coincidences that seem to straddle the fence of reality.

I learnt much about Hindu spirituality, the mighty Ganges, Nepalese politics and even the animal spirits of the Yorta Yorta people back home.  But Smith manages to impart with educational gems with the lightest of touches, eschewing any hint of the didactic. There is certainly nothing high-brow about shanti bloody shanti but Aaron Smith knows his audience and I suspect those readers will lap up this entertaining memoir.

BOOK DETAIL:

Smith, Aaron.  shanti bloody shanti, Transit Lounge, Yarraville, Aust., 2011.
ISBN: 978-1-921924-11-8

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