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GOOD ON PAPER by Andrew Morgan: Book Review

Thanks to Lisa Hill at ANZ Litlovers (where this review is cross-posted) – who is undoubtedly the ‘go-to girl’ in all things Australian Literary – for the copy of this book for review.

Writers can sometimes be a little recalcitrant and uncharitable when it comes to the winners of writing grants (okay, jealous will do as a word choice, if you insist).  So it is particularly gratifying when one reads a book that won the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award and one discovers it is an exceptional piece of work.  To learn that the author was a recipient of an Australia Council Varuna Writers’ Centre mentorship reinforces a faith that we writers simply have to maintain; good, decent, talented writers do win awards.

 Good-on-Paper-120x185

In his opening salvo, Morgan punches out:

The crumbling, Art Deco monochrome of Melbourne’s inner city, trimmed below with a technicolour lacework of graffiti.  Or in the lingo of editors, that over-baked, undernourished dialect used to communicate with publicists, writers and such-like pests, it was simply urban bohemia (3)

Touché!

This is a book filled with biting wit, priceless metaphor and perfectly-drawn characters.  The first half in particular is a master-class in the economy of words.  Phrases like “I was not one of his many creditors” (3-4) say so much with so few keystrokes that the cleverness is hidden.  The description of an author who is a “recognised brand name” gets the retort “like Thalidomide” (5).  Bottles of booze encircle a chair “like a miniature picket fence” (92). Sometimes, it’s the single simple word choice that is so perfect you almost miss it: string that is “confining” a manuscript (29), “charcoal” pouches under eyes, a “pendulous” earlobe (47).

The humour that peppers Morgan’s writing is evident in the chapter headings too which run from ‘The Hangover, the Harangue, and the Hanger-on’, to ‘Surprise!’ The final chapter title is – fittingly – ‘The Beauty of Independent Publishing’.

Something as simple as a fly entering a room is elevated literarily under Morgan’s pen:

Roused by my entrance, a blowfly disconsolately circled yet another naked light globe before hurling itself in suicidal despair into a drift of cobwebs above the window.  But it seemed the arachnid owner-builder had perished or moved out.  The blowie complained bitterly for a few seconds then succumbed to ennui. (53)

The main players in this comedy are:

  1.  Nettie, the editor who spent her teenage years “interred in Sydney’s western suburbs”   and who insists that her daughter use “correct grammar and punctuation” in her text messages (10)
  2. Said teenager – Charlotte – who sarcastically texts “Where, oh where, art thou, Mommy Dearest (10)
  3. Josh Henry, the writer.  Perhaps the least realised character for me.  I found him a little predictable with his temper tantrums and his fondness for booze.  I wondered if it was a little harder for Morgan to invent this character.  Perhaps it was too close.  Perhaps we really are all predictable.  Having said that, Josh Henry does have one of the funniest lines. When Nettie rattles a pill bottle, asking if the writer had been contemplating suicide, Josh Henry blows a raspberry and says “I’d probably just fuck it up anyhow, and end up a vegetable.  Or a publisher. (94-95)” Due to my possibly warped sense of humour, I almost choked on my morning cuppa!
  4. The loveable independent publisher Augustus who puffs on his cigarettes like a “well-tailored industrial complex” (102)

Bit players include the rough-diamond aspiring writer Keith with his “elephantine footfalls” (39) and Xanthe, Nettie’s impeccably dressed and somewhat predatory (and predictable?) ex-mentor.

If the plot seems a little slight and unrealistic – an infamous writer getting a second shot at the same manuscript – it doesn’t matter: it simply adds to the rollicking good fun the reader has on the journey. It is a small book (just 183 pages) and it is easy to read in one sitting, not because it is a page-turner in the conventional sense but rather that you can’t wait to see what the next perfect word choice or simile might be.  It’s like watching a good comedian; you just want one more laugh.

I have given more direct quotes throughout this review than I normally do for one simple reason:  I find I cannot do justice to Morgan’s unique style.  So it seems more prudent to let the writer speak for himself.  Here’s just one more snippet:

“Lying in bed I lapsed into that semi-conscious, airport transit lounge state, where reality and unreality start looking and acting like mischievous name-swapping twins.” (150)

I worry that my effusiveness may come across as one of those ‘writers-being-nice-to-other-writers’ reviews so I hasten to assure you that I wouldn’t know Andrew Morgan from a drunken hamster.   There is a saying that comes to mind … so-and-so is ‘a man’s man’.  In a similar vein, I’m thinking that Morgan is a writer’s writer and so I will be interested to hear what other (non-writer) readers think of ‘Good on Paper’.

In one of her musings over Josh Henry’s work, Nettie thinks “If the author is the stunt pilot, the editor is the mechanic” (115).  I’d say Andrew Morgan has a few good “mechanics” on his team (and he does thank a few of them in his acknowledgements).  There is no doubt that he’s pretty good at Cuban 8s and Barrel Rolls (yes, I googled aerobatic stunts) and I can’t wait to see what manoeuvres he comes up with next time around.

BOOK DETAIL
Morgan, Andrew. Good on Paper, Hunters Publishers, Melbourne. 2013.
ISBN 978-0-980740-54-7

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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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Who’s a Happy Little Writer then?

Why, me of course!

Happy Author

The local launch of 8 States of Catastrophe was like a perfect dream for me. 

As my dear friend Vince said in his speech, the main reason that Stanthorpe has become my adopted home-town is because of its people.  I am constantly blown away by the friendliness, the generosity of spirit, and the willingness of so many to go out of their way for others. Even people who have no time to read or who traditionally pursue other recreational activities came out on a miserable wet night to show their support for me and my crazy writing addiction.

Vince Catanzaro giving his speech…

...and me trying not to cry

Let me describe the venue:  soft acoustics of a theatre padded with carpet and thick cinema curtains;  high ceiling; regal old original light fittings; beautifully framed movie posters.  It was dreamy.

Guests

The people:  Relatives, friends, work-mates, orchardists, a journalist, clerks, doctors, tourism operators, business-owners, builders, a beautician, writers, my hairdresser, teachers, retirees…what a wonderful eclectic mix.  All happy, smiling and full of good will.

More Guests

Refreshments:  The standard easy fare of biscuits and cheese, and platters of sandwiches (Thank you Denise, Sarina and Maria for your expertise and willing hands).  Mellow red and crisp white (from Vincenzo’s at the Big Apple).  Very grateful to my brother Bob and sister-in-law Denise for helping attend to the bar.

And More Guests

Photos:  Thanks to “Special K” for taking lots of happy snaps of the night and thank you Shannon Newley for coming along on a Saturday night to take some pics (here’s Shannon’s article written for the Stanthorpe Border Post published 17/3).

Sarah, Deb and Special K

The hour and a half flew by in a whirl of pecked cheeks, signed books, raised glasses, chatter and laughter.  There were lots of willing hands and it would be impossible to thank everyone who helped out but I would like to say a special thank you to Gary for segueing from barman to “money-man” time and again and for still smiling at the end of a hectic day.

Show Me the Money!

The night will bring a smile to my dial for many years to come.

Oh yes...and a few more guests

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Let’s talk about Venues

In the lull between the Hobart pre-launch and the agonizing, interminable wait for the balance of the books to arrive, I thought I’d write a little about the venue slated for Stanthorpe.
          Where the Hobart launch was held in the contemporary architecturally-stylish Mawson Pavilion (tinted glass, ocean views, delicate wire-strung lights), the Stanthorpe venue is steeped in history.
          After mooting a few different venues (winery, shop, country hotel), we’ve decided on something quite different…a private cinema.
          When my boss was renovating his offices in the old theatre building in Stanthorpe, he stumbled across some original cinema equipment and proceeded to embark upon a magnificent journey of restoration. He has kindly offered the use of his ‘Arcadia Theatre’ for the local launch and it should prove to be the perfect venue.
          Picture this: an enormous, high-ceilinged dark-carpeted empty room (thankfully, there are no fixed chairs); walls swathed in heavy burgundy cinema curtains; soft lighting from the original theatre lights, background music, guests, food, wine (of course)…perfect!

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Lights, Camera, Action!

Yes, I am home in body, but my spirit is still high in the clouds.

 The pre-launch celebration for 8 States of Catastrophe exceeded all my expectations.  Apart from a ten minute scare when it looked like the guests might arrive before the traffic-snarled vehicles carting the wine and food, the two-hour party went like clockwork and was a terrifically enjoyable occasion.

Son Dylan and I awaiting arrival of guests

My friends and family knew I was not looking forward to being the centre of attention but I found it didn’t take me long to start enjoying it.  And anyway, it wasn’t really me in the limelight but rather my creation, my baby, 8 States of Catastrophe. 

Signing my Life Away

We had an abundance of food; simple scrumptious fare of sandwiches, cheese and crackers, pesto.  The white wine was cold and crisp and the merlot blend mellow; OJ and mineral water were on hand; something for everyone to wet their whistle. 

Guests at the Waterfront Pavilion

The guests mingled, chatted, asked questions, admired the venue (which I will write about some other time), sipped and supped and – thankfully – purchased books. 

Some of the Guests

It was a real joy to sign books when asked.  When, at the end of the evening, I overheard a couple of guests raving that it had been great fun and ‘not boring’ as they had expected a book launch to be, I knew we had done everything right.

More Guests...just so you can see they are real

 Knowing there are quite a few out there in the blogosphere interested in the actual nuts-and-bolts of a successful launch, here are a few things that I believe helped make mine such a success:-

  • Don’t overdo the speeches.  A friend made a small speech on my behalf because…(a) I am not a comfortable public speaker and; (b) I am told that the majority of writers usually bore everyone to tears.

    My Dear Friend Alan...delivering his fabulous speech.

  • Don’t have a strict regimented program.  The speech was made at about the half-way mark when it just seemed right.
  • Make sure the guest list is varied. 
  • Try to interest the media.  I was thrilled that a photographer from the Hobart Mercury came and a journo called a couple of days later for more detail which resulted in a nice write-up with some great pics.  Book launch photos
  • Get the books ‘out there’ straight away.  We had a table set up with books on display and someone to accept money.  Because this was a pre-launch, I didn’t have access to eftpos facilities (something the publishers usually organise) but we had a computer set up for anyone who wanted to transfer funds or use paypal.  As it turned out, all the guests had come prepared and cash was in abundance.
  • You – the author – should mingle.  I didn’t want to sit all stuff-shirted at a table ready to sign books.  People purchased their books from the first five minutes right up until the end and then came to get me to sign if they so desired.
  • Have fun!  It is easier than you think.  Forget about who may or may not like the book, don’t think about how many will sell.  Just think of it as a party to celebrate the thrill of having your work published and sharing the excitement with others.

    In the foreground, my Number 1 Fan, the one and only Mammy

Thanks to everyone…you know who you are…for making the night so absolutely categorically perfect.

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Heavenly Hobart

Apologies to all those who have been waiting to hear about the Hobart pre-launch celebrations.  As I am still traveling, both   wi-fi access and time are difficult to grab.

The party was a magnificent success: superb venue, lovely wine, terrific food, wonderful guests…I could go on and on and, believe me, I will…just as soon as I am home in front of my own computer with photographs at my fingertips.

Thanks to everyone for helping me make the night a success and ensuring that I sold out of books!!

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Competition Winner – 8 States of Catastrophe

I used the number draw at physicscience to draw a random number from the twelve entries received,  and I’m pleased to announce that the winner of the competion is BB from New South Wales.

I have emailed BB to advise of the win and to arrange for delivery from the air-freighted launch stock as soon as the books are in my hot little hands.

Thanks to those who entered.  If you indicated you wished to attend a launch, you will receive an invitation if and when there is one in your state.

Congratulations BB.

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