Projects and publications, plus an opportunity for online writers

It’s been a while since I updated, so I’ll shove it all in one post. First of all, Happy New Year! 2014 was an incredible year for me, though it started out rocky (I was unemployed for about two months). The highlights were finishing my doctorate, publishing Captives, and having a story included in Best Australian Stories 2014.

Simpsons did itAnother highlight was reworking a chapter of my thesis and having it included in this book: The Simpsons Did It! Postmodernity in Yellow (eds Martin Tschiggerl and Thomas Walach-Brinek). I wrote about Lisa Simpson as a nonconformist, the prominent voice of the show’s critiques of dominant consumer society (while being complicit to it, as the show is). If you’re interested, it’s available on Amazon. I’m looking forward to my copy arriving on the 4:30 autogyro.

I was also delighted to contribute recently to The Lifted Brow: Digital 15;2, with two new flash stories: ‘Close Like This’ (set in a strange underground bar) and ‘The Washington Irving Hotel’ (set in an abandoned hotel I saw in Granada).

Soon I’ll be contributing to a cool online project, Dear Everybody Collective, where artists and writers collaborate back and forth and the results are published on Instagram. I’ve really enjoyed following so far, particularly the collab between Rose Jurd and Melinda Bufton. Follow and scroll back here.

Speaking of online projects, I’ve decided to release the current short story I’m working on, plus a couple of new flash pieces and perhaps some audio in a package on Gumroad, to try something different rather than publishing new work through literary magazines. Of course I’ll continue to do that, I just like the idea of having a button here where people can always find new work from me, if they’re interested. Perhaps at some point I’ll release an extract of my novel-in-progress, or even digitise one of my workshops. What do you think? Editing is important so Daniel Young (of Tincture Journal) is on board to help me curate and polish the pieces. If you’d like to find out when I’ve released anything this way, add your email here (it won’t be too often/spammy).

And now the opportunity: I’ve been invited to be a judge for the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, which awards $5000 over a year to a writer who will produce 50 pieces (roughly one per week). There is more info here. There has been some criticism of the prize, namely that it’s not enough money per piece of work. These criticisms come from  writers whose work is valued (financially) at a professional rate (as it should be) but I just want to take a minute to describe my own reaction to first hearing about the grant, and explain why I support it.

First of all, I thought it was generous, as it’s a personal donation made by a writer and teacher who has produced great volumes of online writing (mainly for interest, innovation and pleasure), so knows what it takes. Secondly, in my experience over seven and a half years of blogging, there were times when I wondered why something like this didn’t exist. Before and after writing for Crikey, for example (who only paid for a short while, by the way, when it was in the budget), I certainly would have applied for it. I was writing two posts per week for no immediate financial gain (though peripheral opportunities arose), and had a strong readership.

I experimented with advertising and it was never lucrative, though I know some people make it work. There are many types of blogs (ie. literary, experimental etc.) that would never attract advertising. Also, having ads on your blog requires admin work, or for some bloggers even requires you to (arguably) compromise your content with ‘sponsored’ posts on particular subjects. While this grant ‘sponsors’ a writer, the entire concept for the posts will be the author’s own, and there will be no editorial intervention.

People who are professional freelance writers are paid more than $100 for a piece (although many publications in print and online still only pay around that, I know because I’ve written for them), so I can see why some might have an issue with this grant. But those writers have put in the hard yards and are on a different tier, I think they can acknowledge that this grant is just not for them. Who is it for? There is a massive ‘blogosphere’ (and social media-sphere) of all kinds of writers (creative, critical, personal, you name it) who put a lot of time into their online writing, and who do it for love, and this is who this grant is for. They will already have a strong concept, and they will already write regularly. Off the top of my head I think about two of the blogs that inspired me at the beginning: Christopher Currie’s ‘Furious Horses‘ (the 365 stories project) and Krissy Kneen’s ‘Furious Vaginas‘. These blogs were updated with regularity and were a kind of discipline for the writers (and they have both gone on to be traditionally published authors) as well as being unique, stimulating and entertaining for the reader. I’m sure there are other writers like this to uncover, who will be excited to have their work acknowledged and financially supported. And I’m looking forward to discovering a range of voices and ideas as a judge of the Thiel Grant. Again, click here if you’d like to learn more or apply.

Best Australian Stories 2014, ed. Amanda Lohrey

best australian stories 2014I’ve really enjoyed reading this year’s Best Australian Stories (which includes my story ‘Too Solid Flesh’, originally published in Island 137). One commonality I found between the stories, which reminded me of the power of fiction (what it can do), was an emotional complexity that can only be ‘shown’, not explained. For example, in Julienne van Loon’s ‘Bring Closer What is Left to Come’ there is a moment where the protagonist, a married woman who desires her colleague, thinks she sees her crush from behind on the stairs:

‘and she watched the way he walked and the desire sparked in her so fast and so quick it was almost painful to keep walking…’

But by the end of the paragraph she sees the man she desires in the office and realises that the person on the stairs had been someone else. The protagonist’s feelings are not elaborated upon and the reader takes on the complex emotion of such a case of mistaken identity. There is also a minor epiphany that occurs regarding the directionless surge of the woman’s desire. And this is only one moment.

The story is framed by the woman’s cycling commute to and from work. Time shifts, and there are references to speed, the bike in time: descending, airborne, stuck. The structure relates to the woman’s psychological state, but there is ambiguity: again, making the story emotive rather than explanatory.

In the beginning, the reader is at a distance from the woman as the woman herself is from others and from herself; the reader is then drawn in closer but the constant shifts indicate uncertainty (which relates to us: we cannot really know what we want, we are caught up in desire, we will have moments of pedaling backwards). I can see why editor Amanda Lohrey opened the anthology with this powerful story.

There are so many that stood out for me, but two that have resonated in particular are ‘The Panther’ by David Brooks and ‘The Green Lamp’ by Leah Swann, which follow each other in the book. I loved ‘The Panther’, which is about a panther in a painting that becomes real for the writer in the story. There’s a mood hanging over this story: elegant, haunting; a lounging loneliness. And it’s unashamedly self-conscious. The ending produced in me a shivery thrill.

Swann’s ‘The Green Lamp’ is a genuine and empathetic story which captures in micro a contemporary masculinity. It’s about a young tradie who gets laid off and takes a job in a pizza shop. He lives with an older, intellectual woman. At one point he blunders when something happens to a young women he works with. Throughout, the reader has access to his thoughts, and they reveal a curious and poetic soul who is unable or reluctant to articulate his deeper self. They also reveal someone-in-becoming; through these small experiences in the narrative he is finding out what he thinks and feels. And relevant to the contemporary climate there is a complex mix of arousal, self-loathing, knowing, not knowing, wanting and not wanting. Besides this excellent study of character, the story overall reminds the reader that you never truly know what is happening in someone else’s head.

I won’t mention every story but there were so many that gave me shivers or that I found myself thinking about hours or days afterwards. From the sense of uneasy desire in Lucy Neave’s ‘The Horse Hospital in Dubai’ to the overanalysis of self (to the obliteration of self) in Nicola Redhouse’s ‘This is Who You Are. You’ll See’. Claire Corbett’s story-essay ‘Snake in the Grass’ is rich—a story in which you can wallow. Fiona Place’s ‘Now I See’ lingers long due to its deliberate calm execution.

Kate Elkington’s ‘The Interpreter’ is deft, moving, and sneaks up on you. Arabella Edge’s ‘The Peacock’ is a great lesson in giving the reader ‘just enough’. The peacock at the centre of the story is a symbol—something about the way we attach/what we are attached to, in a crisis and more broadly in our lives. JYL Koh’s ‘Civility Place’ is a welcome foray into the speculative/surreal: Richard Yates meets Philip K Dick, about the inescapability of commerce. Ryan O’Neill’s ‘The Stories I Read as My Mother Died’ definitely gave me shivers. It explores the different ways emotion is expressed, and inadequacies of language (what can be told and what can’t, having words but having none). Kirsten Tranter’s ‘Pet Name’ is a story about curiosity (the curiosity itself revealing layers about the character) and is fascinating and alive. Don’t read ‘Blood and Bone’ by Lisa Jacobson if you have to do anything afterwards, it’s absolutely weighed down with grief. So beautifully sad.

Lohrey has pulled together a very strong anthology with much emotional resonance. I’m absolutely honoured my story is nestled among the above. I’d love to know what your favourites are, if you’ve read the anthology. I’ve got Best Australian Essays 2014 and Best Australian Poems 2014 sitting here too…

Captives reviewed in Cordite

CaptivesFCR (1)Jo Langdon has written a beautiful and perceptive review of Captives for Cordite Poetry Review.

‘The space beyond the stories is essential, and the words themselves appear with an illusory ease and simplicity.’

Read the rest here.

Captives is widely available, including from the publisherReadingsBooktopiaAvid ReaderFishpond (free worldwide shipping), or your local bookstore. The ebook is available on KindleGoogle Play, iBooks, Kobo & more.

Review of The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion in The Australian

The Rosie Effect reviewI reviewed The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion’s follow-up to The Rosie Project for the Weekend Australian. It’s a warm read, and a successful sequel. Following is an extract from the review.

As with the first book, these incidents are humorous and cause cringing; the reader observes the miscommunication, the unravelling, and longs to step in as an interpreter. This is enhanced by the first-person point of view: we experience each incident through Don’s eyes and can only imagine what the other characters are thinking […]

There is genuine emotional intent. Don grappling with the idea of a baby and how it will fit into his and Rosie’s lives is relatable on a broad level: trying to find some structure when life is changing shape or feels chaotic.

The Rosie books are partly about control. Life events take their course, and it is sometimes difficult to confront the idea that we have no control over them. We can relate to Don’s desire to be prepared for the birth, to play a part and to understand. His ineptitude makes us laugh, but his failure to recognise his partner’s needs strikes on a deeper level.

Read the rest of the review here.

Here you’ll find an interview I did with Graeme Simsion for The Big Issue on the release of The Rosie Project in 2013.

MWF 2014, Flashing the Square, Memory Makes Us

Melbourne Writers Festival has been fantastic so far. Stimulating keynotes from Helen Garner and Chris Hadfield, and I really enjoyed yesterday’s panel ‘Crossing Cultures’, about cultural hybridisation. There were some great insights into contemporary China from Zhang Tianpan: contemporary China is very complex, but also very simple. There are many commonalities with the West—’we all love beauty and freedom’. The Chinese are ‘so clever they can make simple things complex’, and there are two Chinas: the real China and the one on the internet. Which is more beautiful? The one on the internet, Tianpan said, as it is ‘vibrant, free, and active’. Tianpan was born the same year as me; I found him informative and also very warm and funny. I’m a bit sad I missed the Beijing panel as well. I’d love to go to China one day.

FTS

But what I meant to come on here and tell you about are two events at the festival next weekend. I’m helping to launch Flashing the Square, which is both a book and an audiovisual project, featuring pieces of microliterature. I helped to judge the joanne burns competition, and the winner and shortlisted entries are included in the anthology. I was also invited to contribute a piece myself. My piece and many others have been made into videos, which are being projected onto Fed Square during the festival. Keep an eye out for them! The audio recordings are available for a limited time for free on the Spineless Wonders website. The launch is on Saturday 30 August at 7pm in ACMI’s The Cube, and I’ll be in conversation with Flashing The Square’s curator, Richard Holt, writer/ critic Cassandra Atherton and writer, A.S. Patrić.

I was on a panel about microliterature yesterday, too, with Oliver Mol, chaired by Samuel Cooney. I was delighted to find a very healthy tweetstream afterwards. Thanks to Sonia Nair and Veronica Sullivan for recording the following quotes from yours truly:

‘I want to be an artist. Not just a writer. Different ideas can take different forms.’

‘I would never tell people which of my stories are fiction or nonfiction, because it doesn’t matter.’

It was great to sign a few books afterwards, too, including one for an author I admire very much, Meg Wolitzer.

I’ll be a guest on The Morning Read session on Friday 29 August at 10am, alongside Lauren Beukes (yay!), Chris Flynn & Mark Henshaw.

And the other MADNESS in which I’m participating is a live-writing event called Memory Makes Us, alongside Paddy O’Reilly and Nicholas J Johnson. My subject is ‘desire’. From 10–4 on Sunday 31 August we’ll be in the Atrium in Fed Square, constructing stories from our imaginations and your prompts. Contribute on the day, and here. Also, bring me whisky and images of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Review: Slush Pile by Ian Shadwell, for The Australian

Slush Pile

Sometimes an author will have one big hit and then … nothing. When we meet Michael Ardenne, the antihero of Ian Shadwell’s Slush Pile, it has been more than a decade since he won the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel Ephesus. Now, he is ‘as dry as an old dog turd’. Instead of writing, he pseudonymously occupies message boards about his own book, watches porn, drinks his cellar dry and leers at the teenage girl next door.

Read the rest of the review here.

Review: Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool in The Australian

summer houseSummer House is a dark satire, scalpel-sharp and more cohesive than The Dinner, with a more complex unreliable narrator, a compelling structure, and a sutured but festering wound of themes.’

Read my review of Dutch author Herman Koch’s disturbing novel Summer House with Swimming Pool here.

I also reviewed his previous novel, The Dinner, for The Australian.