Tag Archives: Margaret River Press

Lost Boy & Other Stories, edited by Estelle Tang: Book Review

If, like Sylvia Plath, you have feared “the death of the imagination”, rest easy: it is thriving and flashing itself in the latest collection of shorts released by Margaret River Press.

One of my annual highlights is to receive the Margaret River Short Story Competition anthology. I have had the pleasure of reviewing the collections since the inaugural 2011 competition and this year I am, once again, not disappointed.

lost boy

In the imagination stakes, the winning story Lost Boy is a tour de force.  Who conjures this boy who speaks in a language of stick figure sketches? What acute observational eye brings to life the kind hearted cop who …

 … felt an almost talismanic attachment to the boy, not only because he’d picked him up, like a lucky coin, but also because he’d been the first to extract conversation, of a sort, from him. (15)

or the foster parents …

 … Lorraine – dumpling of a woman, with a shrewd, weathered gaze – and Doug – big, silent and marked as an old tree. (16)

Who is this writer brave enough – assured enough – to leave the reader with …

 … the empty sound of a case file slid into a drawer among a hundred other finished or unfinished stories. (25)

so that we may savour our own creative juices? Who is this story-teller confident to resist the temptation to settle every piece of the puzzle into place?

It’s Melanie Napthine. The Melbourne-based writer’s ‘Tear along the dotted line’ was featured in the 2014 anthology The trouble with Flying where it glittered amongst the many gems for its clever simile and metaphor. Her winning entry this year (Lost Boy) is, I am delighted to say, completely different in style but no less impressive and, in my humble opinion, a worthy winner. The angles and slants of my literary leanings are mine alone so it is thrilling when a judge’s favourite resonates with me as a fellow writer, reader and reviewer.

There is great diversity in this year’s collection (titled, as always, by the winning story); from Susan McCreery’s frightening scenario of intrusion which becomes something altogether different (‘The Uninvited’) and the ultra-short, surreal ‘The Ginkgo Tree’ (Paige Townsend)  to the gritty reality and subversive menace of Eva Lomski’s ‘The Trapper’ (which was awarded second place).

The gripping horror of Lomski’s story is cleverly emphasised by the structure and cadence of its sentences.

Clamped around her right boot, a steel-jawed trap. No pain yet. Numb. Think systematic. (28)

and this:

Metal snap of a trap. Cried out. He was there, standing over her, springy as a jockey, lifting a shovel to waist-height. Black. (30)

The Southwest prize was awarded to Carol McDowall for ‘Bringing Home the Ashes’, celebrating the love between grandfather and granddaughter with humour.

Two highly commended stories are ‘Ash Miss’ and ‘Mojitos in Tehran’.

Claire Aman’s cleverly titled ‘Ash Miss’ is a tale of a disenfranchised boy (“Something is careful in him.” (113)), a grey budgerigar and a damaged and understanding woman (“Neila, droopy cardigan and slippers, one hand missing” (116)).

In ‘Mojitos in Tehran’, Magdalena McGuire tackles a difficult subject, far removed from everyday life for most of us, with great delicacy and depth of understanding. It is a multi-layered story that tackles some rather large themes with understated – yet intense – brevity.  A remarkable feat in just eleven pages.  An old woman and a baby:

They seem to recognise something in one another, making me think that the end of life and the beginning are closely linked. This is true in more ways than one. A pregnancy is an end of sorts though everyone calls it a beginning. (229)

The narrator finds the blazing supermarket lights “optimistic. They are not afraid to go all the way” (233) and the battles she struggles with as she teeters on the precipice of a new life are both ordinary and extraordinary.

There it is: the old life. Too close to ignore, too appealing not to touch, and yet clearly slipping away. (238)

The juxtaposition of the subdued art of crossword completion with the exhilaration and exuberance of hang gliding works as a clever contrast in ‘Glory Season’ (Cassie Hamer). Wind (“a Westerly, soft as a baby’s breath” (73)/”obliterated by a tsunami of aerial turbulence” (79)) is woven throughout this rather uplifting story about grief.

Beverley Lello shows originality and cleverness with her fragmented set-piece ‘Scenes from a Disappearance’, opening with A possible prologue and ending with the cryptic A possible ending but for only one part of the story. (Lello penned the delightful ‘Things that are found in trees’ which won the first Margaret River Short Story Competition).

Erin Courtney Kelly’s ‘Hot and Cold’ is a luminous lingering allegory, featuring rhubarb, no less! I.N. Murray, with a deft hand, carves out a coming-of-age scenario in ‘Skeleton Creek’ and Michelle Wright’s labels in ‘To call things by their right name’ are clever. There’s always a story that can sidle up beside me and give me a punch I didn’t see coming. Jane Downing delivers the blow in ‘An Undelivered Letter to the Future.’ Knocked the stuffing out of me.

Louise Hodge had me laughing out loud with:

Mum has got a new friend called Dawn who is a bit of a feminist and I am sure she is giving Mum some bad tips. Mum used to dye her hair with tropical Copper Glow, but Dawn said Mum should be true to herself, which happens to be a pretty unattractive shade of grey. (‘Lagoon Dreamer’, p. 197)

Twenty-four stories…too many to comment on every one, but every one with merit.  Laurie Steed and Richard Rossiter had the job of forming a longlist from the 323 entries, with Estelle Tang making the final judgement and editing the collection. With a forward by Director Caroline Wood and a succinct introduction by Estelle Tang who resisted (thank you!) that age-old temptation to tell us all about the stories before we read them, it’s a varied collection, an imagined universe of beguilement, grief and humour. Much like the universe we know. If, like me, you love the short form, then you will not be disappointed. Lost Boy & other stories is available from Margaret River Press.

 

 

 

 

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The Trouble With Flying and other stories: Book Review

Kate Rotherham’s ‘Potholes’ is a standout piece in the 2014 Margaret River Short Story Competition collection (The Trouble With Flying and other stories).  Perhaps it has something to do with its upbeat humour amongst some melancholy, introspective stories.  Maybe it is the even pace. Or the originality. I suspect it is all of these things and much more.

Harry has read a magazine article entitled ‘Ten ways to a happier life’ and these numbered suggestions (such as express yourself creatively and find your passion) thread their way in and out of ‘Potholes’.  Harry does indeed find a way to express himself creatively and ticks another of the recommendations by practis[ing] senseless acts of beauty.

Harry’s father Les is one of those in-my-day, too-busy-working kind of dads common to his milieu who’s “never met a child yet who didn’t have ADHD” (127).  After retirement, Les was bombarded with options, all of which he declined to embrace; his response to the idea of a Wednesday evening watercolour class being “I’d rather stab myself in the eyeball with a fork” (129), and when he finds an excuse to visit his old workplace he realises that, without him, the place has become “officially Aspergers Central” (129).

‘Potholes’ is a beautiful, uplifting, original story that made me laugh.  I find myself thinking about Harry as I go about mundane tasks. It is pleasant to be reminded of the possibility of beauty in the prosaic.

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I have had a soft-spot for Margaret River Press since I reviewed their first collection in 2012, followed up by a review of the 2013 competition collection as well as their first full-length work of fiction, Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt.

There’s always something a little bit quirky to love about the actual printing of the books. In the case of this 2014 collection, it’s the beautiful bird headpiece that ‘plumbs’ onto the reverse and flows through the book in the form of arty section breaks. Both the impressive cover and the text design are by Susan Miller. Clever.  Perfect.

Back to the stories . . .

Claire Aman gets a nod for the originality she conjured in ‘Zone of Confidence’, a love story written with the same chutzpah afforded its spunky protagonist. I delighted in this poetic sentence I found hidden amongst more direct text: “At least there are no clouds marauding in the sky, only a white daytime moon tossed up high” (176).

‘My House’ by Rachelle Rechichi tells the story of a family in the grips of despair and, while seemingly vulnerable, there is a deep underlying strength evident in the narrator, May.  Strangely, the tale is ultimately uplifting.  I think it is because of the survival instinct we can read into May’s personality.

Melanie Kinsman’s ‘A Paper Woman’ is a poignant tale of a narrator battling disease. The story opens with a punch:

Before you came I spent a bitter winter.  My heart froze in my chest. The hospital sheets lay thin and flat against my ribcage. My breasts had been cut off, and a slash of a scar lay in their place. (228)

Kinsman’s words cut precisely to the heart of illness and its surrounding accoutrements, the narrator’s hospital stay a “macabre vacation” (230) from her usual life as she felt like a “fledgling woman: unmade, unfinished, an amputee” (230).  She later describes herself as “a paper woman, thin and flammable”, to which her lover’s gaze is a match (235).

In ‘Tear Along the Dotted Lines’, Melanie Napthine uses clever simile, metaphor and imagery.

  • Ants that might be attracted by food left out … “would have the bench coated in them, a sheet of shifting black like the hair of a drowned girl” (269)
  • A watermarked ceiling sports a “swinging nude globe blindly supervising” (270)
  • A “train arrives, with a difficult slowing that its cool silver skin contradicts” (267-8)

I thoroughly enjoyed Glen Hunting’s ‘Martha and the Lesters’.  The story tackles a difficult theme with great humour.  It’s narrated by Roland (his family was “fairly progressive by wheatbelt standards” (304)) who lodges with the feisty Martha and a collection of spiders who Martha says don’t love her. “They’re only here for the books.  I’m certain they come down and pore over them at night when I’m asleep” (305).

Anyone who has suffered severe pain will likely relate to the protagonist’s predicament in the simply and aptly titled ‘Dying’ (Bindy Pritchard). “She learnt how to chase her pain, dip under it and fly beside it until it fitted her body perfectly.” (338)

It is interesting that, of my favourites singled out in this review, Pritchard and Rechichi are the only prize-winners (Pritchard scored second place for ‘Dying’ and Rechichi won the prize for the best story from a South West resident with her story ‘My House’).  That’s why I enjoy short story collections. You might not love all the stories but there are usually some that resonate.  And there’s lots to love in this collection. I even enjoyed the introduction (quite out of character for me) by Richard Rossiter and Susan Midalia.

So there you go . . . my love affair with Margaret River Press continues.

Check out their website where you can purchase The Trouble with Flying and other publications, find stockists, and read about forthcoming events.

The winning entry in this 2014 competition is, as the title of the book suggests, ‘The Trouble with Flying’ (a coming of age tale) by Ruth Wyer. Congratulations to the Sydney-based ‘fledgling’ writer. When you purchase the book, make sure you check out her bio which is quite a hoot. 

BOOK DETAIL
The Trouble with Flying and other stories. Ed. Richard Rossiter with Susan Midalia, Margaret River Press, Witchcliffe, WA, 2014.
ISBN 978-0-9875615-2-7

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KNITTING and other Stories (Ed. Richard Rossiter): Book Review

There was one little book that packed a powerful punch for me last year.  It was the compact, concise, compelling collection of short stories Things that are Found in Trees (my review).  The stories were selected from entries to the inaugural Margaret River Writing Competition.  I loved the book and I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for Margaret River Press ever since so I was delighted to be asked to review the anthology resulting from this year’s competition.

Knitting and other Stories is a larger collection (24 stories) presented in conventional paperback form with a great knit-look cover (designed by Susan Miller).

Knitting

Barry Divola’s winning entry ‘Knitting’ is a brilliant stand-out story.  He nails his characters, from the perfect depictions of a bogan neighbour (who is basically a language-challenged, ugg boot wearing mother of a scowling five year old in a Hello Kitty T-shirt), to an aside on gallery openings:

The cheap wine, the cheap opinions, the cheap people.  And the horror of someone coming up to you as you’re looking at a picture and asking ‘So what do you think?’ (21)

‘Knitting’ is beautifully structured with a mystery posed early by way of ‘seven years of silence, no reconciliation’ (23) between mother and daughter:  the same mother and daughter who had once silently knitted together, their needles forming a ‘soft click-clack like a morse code from one to the other.’ (22)  The narrator’s recollection of the man ‘who called himself Blaze (when his name was Craig)’ (23) is hysterically funny.

Sally Naylor-Hampson won second prize for ‘Laps’, a story of a secretive sexual awakening: ‘I could think of nothing but naked breast against steering wheel.  Bare back to dashboard.  Heaving thighs on seat.’ (156-157).

‘I Shine, Not Burn’ (Vahri McKenzie) won the South West Writer Prize with an introverted look at life and death and memories.  Here’s the narrator reminiscing after her grandmother’s death: ‘She made the best of a bad lot and stoically refused to name the bad lot for what it was.’ (101)

Kristen Levitzke was Highly Commended in the Open Category for her haunting depiction of postnatal depression in ‘Solomon’s Baby’ and I think this is my favourite from the collection for the emotion it sucks from the reader and the questions it leaves.

I was honest, I didn’t lie.  ‘I did it.  It was my fault.’ And I said it over and over, ‘My fault. My fault…my fault…’ I know I alternated the intonation like a song, but it was all that I said, one confession strung like a pearl to the next. (47)

Not easily forgotten.

Jacqueline Wright shows finely-honed word skills in ‘My Mother and the Robber’. A city apartment is described thus: ‘It was Fort Knox material soaring fifteen stories into the belly of a midsummer Perth Sky’ (68).  Ultimately though, the story left me slightly baffled and unsatisfied, as did Gemma Nisbet’s ‘Walking Home’ and ‘Playing with Ramirez’ by Paulette Gittins.

Hilary Hewitt shows a wry humour in ‘The Cushion Phase’: ‘…his eyes are the most tempting colour, like seventy per cent Lindt.  Google is quite clear about the beneficial effects of dark chocolate.’ (114). I enjoyed Margaret Everingham’s humour too in ‘Father Figure’.

Another standout is Barbara Knight’s ‘I am Alien’, a clever look at the influences that shape us, from our families to our peers.  The story shows how easily innocence can rupture through little more than apathy, with corruption and sordidness speedily replacing it.

There are certainly some fine stories here. But I have one concern; the seemingly contrived way each story segues from its predecessor.

For example, ‘Laps’ (Naylor-Hampson) features a young surfer and is preceded by another surfing tale (‘That Summer at Manly’ by John Jenkins). A Pregnancy is central to Divola’s ‘Knitting’ as it is to the story that follows, ‘Off the Map’ (Dorothy Simmons).  Amanda Clarke’s ‘The Girl on the Train’ is immediately followed by another train story ‘Kissing Tracks’ by Alyssa Davies. Two thirty-nine-year-old women in Paris (‘The bees of Paris’, Bindy Pritchard), are immediately followed by ‘Francesca Lombardo, aged thirty-nine’ (292) in John Dale’s ‘Expressway’(which is an entertaining and humorous contemporary tale about a Virgin Mary shrine or a murky stain on the concrete wall of the expressway, depending on your point of view).  One father story is followed by another, drugs features in a story and the next one runs with the same theme. After a while, it starts to resemble tag team story-telling.

I find it disconcerting to see themes and patterns emerging from what should be an eclectic collection and I’m not convinced that stories from different authors (competition entries) need to be presented in this way unless they are pieces written to a specific theme.  Still, it’s a minor quibble.

After completing my review, I searched the net to see what others think but didn’t stumble across anything, apart from a considered review from Anne Skyvington in which she names her three favourites.

So I figured I would do the same as Skyvington and share my favourites here, along with some info from the ‘Notes on Contributors’ (which I didn’t read until I’d picked my three):

  • Kristen Levitzke for ‘Solomon’s Baby’. Perth-based teacher, writer, mother. This is a superb story that I don’t think I will ever forget. ‘Solomon’s Baby’ is fearless and thought-provoking.
  • Barry Divola for ‘Knitting’.  Sydney working journo with seven books to his credit. “one wife, one daughter, one cat and no hair”.  I would have preferred to give another writer a ‘moment in the sun’ but I just can’t go past this judges’ favourite.
  • Barbara Knight for ‘I am Alien’. Ah! What a joy to include a ‘late bloomer (75, writing seriously for just eight years), and a fellow Tasmanian to boot! (Incidentally, if you had asked me which story was written by a 75-year-old retiree, I would never have guessed it was ‘I am Alien’).

I hope some of my blog visitors (or visitors to ANZ Litlovers where this review is cross-posted) will purchase this latest publication from Margaret River Press (available here) and, if you do, please come back and let us know your three favourite stories.

BOOK DETAIL:
Knitting and other stories. Ed, Richard Rossiter, Margaret River Press, Witchcliffe WA, 2013.
ISBN 978-0-97872180-8-7

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Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, Edited by Delys Bird: Book Review

The latest outing from Margaret River Press is Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images edited by Delys Bird.

Fire

The dark cover image gives a ‘heads-up’ to the sometimes confronting pieces it contains but nothing could have prepared me for the impact of Cassandra Atherton’s ‘Raining Blood and Money: Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire’. Her description of shoeboxes filled with personal belongings as “mini-coffins” is perfectly sad and sadly perfect.   The term “thud-dead” that is the motif in this devastating imagined recounting is a quote from an eyewitness of the infamous 1911 New York factory fire and Atherton uses it to devastating effect. Of all the thud-deads repeated throughout the story, it was this one that left me breathless:

One of the girls hurtles into a street-light before her broken body lands on a pile of others beneath her.  A muted thud-dead. (89)

If you know nothing of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, I can recommend reading blood and money as a mini-history lesson.  If you know it well, the piece will bring the scene to life in all its unimaginable horror.

Another historical piece amongst the contemporary is ‘No Surrender’, in which Dorothy Simmons presents a different view of the Kelly Gang through a mother’s perspective.  Coincidentally, ANZ LitLovers (where this review will be cross posted) has a recent review of Jean Bedford’s novella fictionalizing the life of Ned Kelly’s sister Kate. Such vignettes into the lives of the ‘bit-players’ in these vast sagas help bring history to life.

David Milroy’s commissioned piece ‘Walardu and Karla’ presents as a pastiche of Aboriginal legend and contemporary realism.  Here we find Slim Dusty cassettes, the shadow of the Flying Doctor’s plane and a faded Dockers jumper, woven into the dreams and landscapes of tradition.  There is some great comic writing in this story like the description of the local expert on the Karla legend who is “happy to live the rest of his life in beer, in cigarettes and in-cognito” (16-17).  And this delightful gem where Alfred fondly recalls meeting the love of his life:-

Then from out of the darkness there came the voice of a goddess.

Ya got any cigarettes?

He turned slowly to face his destiny.

Nup! Don’t smoke. (20)

Underneath this rocking-good humour is a compact and special love story.

Kate Rizzetti writes beautifully in ‘Cool Change’ about a “man of the mountain, as strong and unyielding as the gums he felled for a living” (52), opening her story with Keith’s “unshaven kiss” (49) and ending with an imagined gentle kiss on his “whiskery cheek” (60).

Some of the poems are exceptional, from Paul Hetherington’s ‘Bushfire’ (“Rain came in drops like stones/clagging ash, banging roofs,/making molten dreams” [72]) to Carmel Macdonald Grahame’s expert melodic alliteration (“the lost, last bathroom was green and white,/leafily lead-lit” [73]) in ‘Coming Down to Earth’Miranda Aitken’s ‘Isaac’s Land is Burning’ needs to be seen on the page to appreciate its cleverness.

Metaphors and similes provide for some great imagery in Clair Dunn’s ‘Quest for Fire.  An old termite mound opposite a burnt out tree are, together, “like rusty bedheads” (185)  and morning is described beautifully as a “smudge of indigo appearing in the east” as the narrator feels “the soft underbelly of night” at her back “curling up in hollows and burrows” (195).

The book itself is easy on the eye with an interesting use of white space and thoughtful placement of images, one of my favourite plates being Aerial King Lake – Black Saturday 2009 by John Gollings.  It is so difficult to believe that the image is un-manipulated apart from a “small increase in contrast and red saturation” (39).

This is a collection that invites dipping into, here and there and I am sure I will revisit it many times, perhaps finding kernels of understanding and picking new favourite pieces.  For now though, the thud-deads of ‘Raining Blood and Money’ won’t leave me alone.

Available from Margaret River Press.
This review cross posted at ANZ LitLovers.

BOOK DETAIL

Bird, Delys, Ed. Fire: a collection of stories, poems and visual images, Margaret River Press, Witchcliffe, WA, 2013.
ISBN: 9-780987-218070

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Finding Jasper by Lynne Leonhardt: Book Review

Perhaps because of my love of short fiction, I sometimes feel that first-time novelists can’t resist the urge to tell too much; to be too earnest in their quest to have a reader understand, to be unable to trust some of the background to reader imagination.  Lynne Leonhardt has resisted admirably and Finding Jasper shows none of the insecurities of many debut novels.

                The story opens in 1957.  Gin (Virginia) is an aspiring pianist growing up in rural Western Australia without a father.  Gin’s father is the Jasper of the title; a man who has been missing since the war, a man that Gin never knew and so didn’t realise how much she missed.

                In a sublime passage early in the book, Leonhardt hints at the mystery that is Jasper:-

 Jasper. Attie [Jasper’s twin] always seemed to say it softly and swiftly, half under her breath, like it was some kind of secret.  Jasper.  Jasper? Perhaps it was her accent but the way she said it sounded more like whisper. (24)

                This mini-expose on Jasper’s name was almost hypnotic so that every time I read his name from thereon in, I read it in a whisper. Jasper is like a part of the story you can’t see; like the weather or the milieu, he just is.  He is a whisper in the background.

                The timeline shifts back a year to 1956, before leaping back further to 1945 and gradually forward to 1963, then 1965. I enjoyed this time-shifting, space-shifting style.

                Leonhardt’s imagery is swift and subtle:  rickety steps that have been “hollowed with time and wear” (17); wild grass that “tongued its way between the rusty heights of the bulrushes, reaching up to feed off the sun” (25); a wooden dinghy rocking in the shallows “as if trying to slough off the remainder of its flaking blue paintwork” (25). 

              Here’s Gin’s stepfather shaving: “bum out, chin jutting forward and mouth drawn in a downward U” (186).  Just stop and savour that description for a moment.  Perfect.

             And now listen to Gin’s mother as she held her by the shoulders “while her mouth said ‘mmmmw’ to her cheek” (208).

                The farmyard chooks serve as motif, acting as barometers throughout the novel to punctuate the minutiae of daily life.  When the pudgy hands of Gin’s piano teacher peck at the keys, they remind her of her aunt’s “fat white hens” pecking at seed (17).  There’s the familiarity with the hens that comes about through the daily egg collection. “Funny creatures, chooks.  So fastidious the way they picked up their scaly feet from in amongst the dust and the food scraps” (53).  And the social life in the barnyard, not unlike a human gathering, “They had almost stopped their racket, hoarse no doubt from their constant gasping and all that bock-bock-bocking” (54). The chooks are part of the landscape, emphasising daily routine through the generations:-

Through the kitchen window she could see Audrey’s silhouette winding through the redgums, the curve of her widow’s hump and her plump arm swaying in balance as she carried the scrap bucket over to the chooks. (85)

It is no secret that I am biased toward Australian authors with authentic Australian voices telling Australian stories that resonate with my Australian mentality.  By the same token, I am dismayed when such Australianness becomes contrived, when phrases and sentences are pushed forward awkwardly to give a sort of forced Ockerishness to a tale. Thankfully, there’s no sign of that here.

             In Finding Jasper Leonhardt paints Australia well, giving us – casually, almost nonchalantly – the half kerosene tin mailbox, cotton-wool stuffed Bex bottles, kikuyu, lamb cutlets in butcher’s paper tied with string, swooping wattle-birds feasting on kangaroo paws and bottlebrush blossoms, the “creedle-crawdle song” of the magpie.

            Other countries find their way into this Aussie narrative: Leonhardt draws out the colourful vistas of Ceylon with a tender touch, and writes of wartime London with the respect deserving of the ‘Mother Country’.  But Australia – in its various forms, the good and bad – forms the backdrop for most of the book.  I enjoyed this passage, showing the bush that I know well from the perspective of a newcomer:-

 There was something depressing about the Australian light, so bright and strong that it showed up every stain and flaw.  It wasn’t just the napkins, which had been boiled thoroughly in the copper under her sweating brow.  Everything about Grasswood looked dirty and tattered, especially this time of day. (95)

 Finding Jasper represents a double debut; it is Lynne Leonhardt’s first novel and it is the first full-length work of fiction published by Margaret River Press.  Congratulations to author and publisher. 

I’m grateful to Lisa Hill of ANZ LitLovers for hosting this post on her site.  It gives the publishers and the author a well-deserved wider audience.

BOOK DETAIL:-
Leonhardt, Lynne. Finding Jasper, Margaret River Press, Witchcliffe, WA, Australia, 2012.
Available direct from Margaret River Press  

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Things that are found in trees & other stories, edited by Richard Rossiter: Book Review

Margaret River Press  should be mightily proud of this little production which packs quite an aesthetic punch. 

Early followers of this blog would know me to be a self-confessed bibliophile bordering on bibliomaniac so those with similar leanings will understand my delight at receiving this beautiful 11 x 16cm (yes!) glossy soft-back that fits perfectly into my hand.  As it nestles there, my fingers just curling over its edges, I stare at the title.  Yes, I’m a sucker for a good title as well.

 Things that are found in trees
& other stories

It should come as no surprise that Margaret River (south of Perth, Western Australia) would have a thriving arts scene, their slow food and wine culture being something to behold.  Following the 2011 Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival in 2011 (the inaugural being held in 2009), Arts Margaret River joined forces with Margaret River Press and – voila! – the Margaret River Short Story Competition was born which led to the publication of these select entries.  The collection is edited by Richard Rossiter who, together with Nicole Sinclair and Robert Wood, judged the competition.

Let’s look at the title story, Things that are found in trees. Beverly Lello paints a small town picture onto a world canvas as she connects a photograph of a dead elephant calf marooned in a tree in Sri Lanka with the narrator’s memories of her boyfriend.  It’s a poignant tale that, despite our fears for the worst, keeps us hoping for an alternative. 

The narrator and her Mother put up posters in their search for the young man but it is hard to see the missing Michael in the picture:

His bland, serious, photo face was just a blip between crazy clown and snorting idiot.  He could crack me open and turn me inside out.  It was my crazy clown I was looking for and I didn’t think anyone would recognise him from this photo. (27-28)

Catherine Moffat provides a perfect sense of time, space and place in Waiting for the Wheels to Fall Off like the city car dealer with ‘a cappuccino machine and Marie-Claire in the waiting room [where] the cars were laid out in shiny, complementary colours like the lipstick counter at David Jones.’ (102)

One of my favourite stories is Kerry Whalen’s ‘Its Her Place’.  Next door neighbours Hazel and Ruby come to life through their dialogue:

‘Why do you collect things, Rube?’ Hazel had once asked.
Her friend sucked her gums, face wreathed in wrinkles.  ‘It’s a hobby. Like saving stamps.’ (142-3)

Ruby’s compulsion to collect is so great that she loses sight of the line between taking something unwanted and outright theft.  Twelve tiny pages and I loved Ruby.  I cared about Hazel too (emotions that that can take a writer half a novel to achieve) and wondered what made her such a kind and forgiving neighbour.  The ending surprised me, answered my question and left me smiling.

Rajasree Variyar gets a gong for this sentence in Men don’t cry: ‘And the nightmares that stalk my midnights bared their dark faces in the day’ (50). Tight. Superb.

The other writers in this compact treasure trove are:-
Georgina Luck, William Lane, Christine Piper, Liliane Grace, Jane Skelton, Jacqueline Winn and Bernice Barry.

I was pleased to find notes about the contributors included at the end and, whilst the Editor’s comments on the stories provided in the introduction were interesting and insightful, I would have liked to see them placed at the end also so that inadvertent spoilers or preconceived notions couldn’t influence the reader’s enjoyment.  It’s a small quibble and, because of my preferences in this matter, I simply skipped the intro and read it later.

You can find out more about Things that are found in trees & other stories on the publisher’s website.

Congratulations to the winners and huge applause and cries of ‘More! More!’ toward Margaret River Press.

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