Angela Meyer (ed), The great unknown (Review)

Angela Meyer (LiteraryMinded):

Reblogging this fantastic review of The Great Unknown from Whispering Gums, a blog I’ve read and admired for quite some time.

Originally posted on Whispering Gums:

Angela Meyer, The great unknown

Courtesy: Spineless Wonders

The great unknown is a mind-bending collection of short stories which explores, as editor Angela Meyer says, “the unknown, the mysterious, or even just the slightly off.” I was, in fact, expecting more horror, thriller even, which are genres that don’t really interest me, but this collection is not that. There are some truly scary scenes – so if that’s your bag then you’ll appreciate this collection – but many are more subtly mysterious, giving the collection a broader appeal.

There are nineteen stories, most of which are the result of Meyer’s direct invitation to some favourite authors. Six, though, come from the shortlist for the Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award, 2013, of which Meyer was the judge. The invited authors were given the same brief as that for the competition, which was to write a story inspired by the “fifth dimension”, that is, the world found in shows like

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The Great Unknown authors: PM Newton

The Great Unknown w blurbs small imageThis is the twelfth post published in conjunction with the release of The Great Unknown, where authors share their experience of writing eerie stories for the anthology. The Great Unknown is available from BooktopiaReadingsAvid ReaderFishpond (free shipping worldwide) and all good bookstores. You might also want to add it to your shelves on Goodreads.

PM Newton is the Sydney-based author of The Old School and Beams Falling (which I am currently enjoying). Today, she tells us about the nightmarish north coast of NSW and the scariest activity of all: writing short fiction…

PM Newton (credit Peter Rae - Fairfax)

PM Newton (credit Peter Rae – Fairfax)

What did you enjoy/find challenging about writing to this particular brief or theme?

I find short stories a challenge no matter the brief! They are a very exposing form that can leave a thin idea with no place to hide. The theme of the collection was very tempting, so I decided to face my short story fear and have a crack. Numerous blown deadlines, unproductive fretting and massive insecurities later, a short story appeared. Thank you, Angela.

Tell us about your story in The Great Unknown.

It sprang from landscape and my memories of living for a short time in the hinterland of northern New South Wales. The valleys that follow the rivers back up into the Great Dividing Range are stunning but it’s an intense landscape, the climate can be extreme and the place does affect people in different ways. Lots of people are attracted to the north coast; they come following dreams that sometimes turn into nightmares, and like most small rural communities there’s a strong sense of who is a local and who is not. The story took those ideas and then stirred in a big bucket of what if?

What memories do you have of watching The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or of reading spooky/uncanny stories (or comics) as a kid? Did these play any role in your developing imagination? Which films, TV shows, books etc provide that same sort of allure for you these days?

TZ eyeballAs a little kid just hearing the theme to The Twilight Zone was enough to scare me, and as for the eyeball… I was under ten when it was playing on TV and my older siblings must have watched it because I remember it as being really creepy and quite possibly true! Then again, I was also terrified of Daleks.

I didn’t watch or read horror although I was a big fan of The Omega Factor, a BBC Scotland series from the late ’70s, which dealt with the uncanny and was incredibly atmospheric, very much a progenitor of The X-Files, which I also loved. I’ve always been a fan of SciFi: Dr Who, Blakes 7, the Star Treks and Wars, and Philip K Dick is a writer I return to again and again. I am still a big fan of the genre. The potential to explore contemporary questions and push the limits of What if? is incredibly exciting and can be found in the unlikeliest of places, such as the brilliant reboot of BSG. Dick’s recurring question What does it mean to be human? turns up again and again, reworked different ways such as in the Danish TV series Real Humans and the British TV series Being Human. Margaret Atwood writes work that tests the limits of social and technological development. Her trilogy feels like it comes from the same universe as JG Ballard’s The Drowned World.

What thoughts do you have on the current status of genre fiction? 

The genre is blooming, in print and on TV although movies seem to be locked into a death roll of rebooting superheroes every couple of years. In writing there is active engagement with ideas and also with acknowledging the lack of diversity in the genre, both in writers and the characters written about. Again, this is changing, with voices such as Nalo Hopkinson, NK Jemisin and Saladin Ahmed gaining better recognition.

It’s interesting that TV series like BSG and Game of Thrones have cut through and gained plaudits and viewers who are quick to say they ‘don’t read/watch SFF but [insert name of exception] is really good‘. Meanwhile in literary SFF, the SFF v Spec Fic debates rumbles on, and the genre as a whole still bubbles beneath the radar of the big book awards, with all the cachet and cash that entails. At the Key West Literary Seminar in 2012, China Miéville spoke in defence of pigeonholes, arguing that it need not be reductive but merely taxonomic, although he did acknowledge the seizing of the term ‘literary fiction’ with a wry ‘Well played, sir, well played’. Miéville’s advice to the genre was to embrace what made it different—its ‘swagger’. So here’s to embracing the genre and swaggering the hell out of it.

You might also enjoy reading about stories by Deborah BiancottiChris FlynnHelen RichardsonA.S. PatricMarion HalliganGuy SalvidgeKathy CharlesAli AlizadehRyan O’NeillCarmel BirdRhys Tate, and Alex Cothren.

Anna Funder’s All That I Am wins 2012 Miles Franklin

Anna Funder made her name with the much-hailed and widely published nonfiction work Stasiland. Her first novel, All That I Am—already a bestseller and winner of multiple awards—has just been awarded the Miles Franklin Literary Award for 2012. Congratulations Anna!

Recommended reading:

Miles Franklin winner Anna Funder finds out it’s all about her, award coverage by Stephen Romei in the Australian.

A review of All That I Am on the ANZ LitLovers LitBlog.

A great interview with Anna Funder in Kirsten Krauth’s ‘writing mothers’ series.

Find out more about the other shortlisted books from 2012 here.

Shakespeare and Co., Paris

Despite seeing Notre Dame, the Panthéon and the Conciergerie today, and unexpectedly falling in love with stone, spiral staircases, there was another highlight I thought you’d appreciate: visiting one of the world’s most famous and truly delightful bookstores, Shakespeare and Company. The shelves are crammed with old and new books, the staff (I heard only Australian and American English) climb on actual wooden ladders to get to high places, and upstairs is a library and that famous bed. There were no photos allowed up there.

Above: G perusing the film books.

Okay, here’s one chimera (not a gargoyle) from the Notre Dame, because they are incredible:

And it was great seeing the Notre Dame right after paying our respects to Victor Hugo. Did you know much of the restoration in the 19th Century took place because he called attention to it?

At S&C I bought Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, and a great illustrated bag.

heterogenesis – a poem

it was not the kiss of the spider-woman
that led him to Giovanni’s room
so small a thing as a boy
climbing fairy mountain

it was not ennui of cohabitation
that led her to jiggery-pokery
tongue-flicks on a jew’s harp
unsheathed fingertips

not mutated but heteronumerous
a pastiche of emotivity
breast by cheek by bone
awaiting naturalisation

Voiceworks #69 'Identikit' – A Responsive Review

Depending on which side you open it from (a magazine with an identity crisis?) you will not be disappointed with the latest issue of Voiceworks, an Australian magazine that showcases the creative talent of under 25s. It is non-profit, literary, and intellectual without being inaccessible. ‘We are the youth and we are not apathetic’, it screams. But boy, are we disillusioned – I can’t help noticing the elegant darkness of Voiceworks’ writers in the issues I have read (Identikit, Superfunhappy, Zero and Ratrace). While the fiction, poetry and artwork vary in subject and tone, in almost all pieces there are spikes under the mattress. There may be vague semblances of hope, but the majority of these lie in nostalgia. The awareness of beauty is always tainted by the awareness of its transience.

Although this has ended up being a lengthy review, I wanted to comment on each piece in the issue. I jotted notes as I went – some are insights, some are comments, some are criticisms, and some are amazements. Please enjoy the mish-mash of readerly insights by an Aussie youth reading Aussie youth –

Upon opening:

A genius satirical artwork by Sam Wallman comments on the penchant for youth conformity ‘Become a fuckwit in less than 5 minutes!’

Ryan Paine’s editorial outlines the focus of the identity issue and its broader implications. Ultimately, an individual’s struggle for identity is tied into national identity, and this relates to our integrity (and lack of).

‘Singularity’ is the continuation of creative response project ‘Beautiful Corporeal’. A quirky piece, brimming with pathos, that explores judgement of difference in surface appearance.

‘No Cars Go’ by Caitlin Shearer. Indifferent, stylized – a teasing Lolita, with peached cheeks and shadowed inner-thighs, but a stop sign warning against her innocence – or is it her indifference?

‘The Wire’ by Felice Howden. This story exists in a difficult timespace. Have months passed or just one morning? It is an explanation of paranoia – technological infiltration of our very insides, carving us out until we are hollow. I felt the story was too short though, I wanted to know about the character. Frank is flat in his lethargy and sickness – a blank slate.

‘Braille’ by Geoff Lemon. Sense-stimulating, imagetic. ‘Dense with flavour, she is/the dark shock of raspberry crushed on the tongue’. The Braille metaphor works well closing the first stanza, but is repetitious by the end. It would have had more impact as a stand-alone line, or repeated once – resonant – when the narrator has finally cracked the code. The poem has a distinct rhythm and readability though – beats like a hip-hop song to a sensual climax.

I don’t know what the point is of ‘Miri and her Fucking Lemons’ by Jenni Kauppi.

Guest Artist Graeme Doyle throws you in your seat with his miasmic faces, disturbing layers of vision. A phantasmagorical expression of multiple resonations, simultaneous. Every image has something guarded and something open, eg. the juxtaposition of dark slitting eyes and open light-reflected ones in ‘Eve End Uneven’. Mystical and dark rock album covers.

‘A City of Your Choice’ by Z Barron. A definitive Y poem – ‘we could drown in concrete and no one would notice’. Disdain for commercialism, consumerism of religion. Z Barron speaks to my hearts own. I’m so glad pieces like this are getting published. It is not quite the cyber-punk poem but it is close, utilizing techno-speak as description – ‘pixelated knees, waist-deep in digital’. Speaking a new Universal language and not-so-new themes of youth. Relatable and lonelifying…

‘The Needle’ by Tess Kerbel. A wry smile this poem did plant upon me. A clever snapshot, a moment, an object. What can be made of it, and the irony that it could be nothing. Just another ‘small, silver minute’. Kerbel insists that perhaps we are probing too hard.

Gina Marich’s reflection on Ikea ‘Selling Abstrakt Lifestyles’. She stumbles into Ikea in search of air-conditioned comfort and finds herself confronted by the simulacra of display toilets and plastic plasmas. The article gives a little glimpse into the motivations behind buying – the theme-park-like escapist element (like in WOW Sight&Sound), and also explores the dangers of choice anxiety. Unfortunately, Marich ends on a soft note, where something biting would have fit. But the article is still relevant. I commend her analysis, but feel a bit more pessimistic myself.

‘Illustration’ by Vinna Kartika. Children looking up to an experienced eye, from the comfort of their cottage. Within the eye and its expressive tendons are nestled items of everyday – necessities and expressities. It is too much for the swollen eye, who sheds a tear towards its semi-exposed heart. But the children look on with innocent wonderment, they look on and on with expectation…

‘Uncle Jeremy has Turned into a Tree’ by Patrick Lemon. A simple story with a kernel of truth and a subtle pathos. Infinitely re-readable.

John Swain’s illustration is stylistic.

‘Blind Faith’ by Amy Jackson. The son of a Minister discovers sinful behaviour. A very entertaining story with a strong teen male voice.

‘Skin’ by Anna Dunnill. Intriguing, philosophical and searching, a slender story, a moment with some anonymity. It’s almost as though the conversation between two characters is really an internalisation. Confessional, open. A youthful and feminine need to have our insides tattooed on out skin, but a fear that they might be misconstrued, or, like Pluto, made irrelevant, cast off.

‘The Truth of Horses’ by Bridget Lutherborrow. A horses identity. Like a campfire story, about family, freedom and unknowing.

Matthew Lorenzon’s music column. Intelligent, educational. Tying in music theory to larger spheres of identity, history, culture and politics. One of the best pieces in the magazine.

Aimee Nichols’ sex column. Delicate and informative. Discussion and information for survivors of sexual abuse.

Linus Lane’s comics column. I always enjoy the comics column as I don’t have time to read many comics, it keeps me posted. This time, an informative look at the history and ultimate failure of the Aussie superhero comic. See Linus Lane’s ‘Eugene’ comic –

‘Emo Accountant’ by Mary-Anne Georgy. Apt for this issue. The true loss of innocence… Already symbolically aware of the weight of the world, now it is thrust in his face. Time to choose a new way of fitting in by fitting out?

Geoff Lemon’s Edcommitorial. Discussing Voiceworks’ role: training ground for entering established media, or genuine alternative to it?

‘Fish Brain’ by David Murcott. Rythmic, visual, odd. I like.

Sam Wallman’s ‘Earnest Planet’. Clever.

Pavel Wojtech’s ‘Untitled’. Fluid in line, great contrast, moody.

Beck Haskins’ ‘Illustration’. A surreal dreamscape of the victimised rats. The pursuer plucking them from his vantage point over the fence.

‘Day Five and the Burden of the Big See’ by Keira Dickinson. Paranoia and Kafkaesque confusion. Animals as authority figures. A marketplace where the characters are forced to PICK ONE! Fear. Wisdom gained only in the silent undercurrents of a river. A very intriguing story. Many layers of absurdist meaning.

Featured poet – Mandi
sa Mabuthoe. Her themes of sexuality, faith and belonging have (forgive me) a universality. The spaces in which the poetic events occur are micro worlds – rooms, transport, a mirror. ‘Comfort in My Unmade Bed’ is personally my favourite. The wanting to remain but the pressure to face the outside. The rain, the wine, the books, the pencil – bitter-sweet.

‘Veritas’ by Steph Moriarty. An emotive character study. A full-circle short story. A very promising writer. To explain what it is about would be to minimize it. Subtle yet clear.

‘Alzheimers’ by Jessica Wright. A series of snapshots that hint the protagonist’s condition. Ends perfectly.

‘Small Gestures’ by Jessica Joseph-McDermott. Literally gave me shivers. The second person narration puts you in the story. By the close, you are the one whose eyes are opened.

To digress for a minute – feelings evoked at this stage of reading:
The consumerism and manufactured dreams we have been brought up on shatter at some stage, thus we recognise the shiny surfaces that disguise the dark truths – our naïve innocence, our comforts and protectedness, are exchanged for overwhelming responsibilities, a labyrinth of choices, and a fast, flashing, evolving environment.
Stories can reclaim the little things – noticing the truth in each other’s eyes, not merely waiting for our turn to speak, a tiny tattoo, a memory, a flower…

‘From Behind the Lens’ by Briohny Doyle. Incredible piece. History, memory. The fear of amnesia brought about by modern consumption and construction of historical truth.

Pat Grant’s ‘How to be a Good Zombie’. Useful!

‘Hungry’ by Amelia Walker. Symbolic. I believe it is about the distance between what we need and hope for, and what society delivers. The impossibility of new beginnings when we have displayed our raw selves? The only recognisable identity being our ‘official’ one.

‘On the Back of the World’ by Jessica Au. Jessica – where is your novel? Vivid characters bred from true insight. Shockingly beautiful.

‘Old Jindabyne’ by Fiona Wright. Nostalgic imagery.

Alex Hutton’s Media column. A look at the Bald Archy Prize. Supportive of alternative ways of artful expression and recognition.

Emma Wortley’s book column. When Emma is done I would like this job please. She does a wonderful job – here, what a reader gains from observing and being unable to partake in the decision-making of characters.

Timoth DeAtholia’s film column. A very apt piece on three types of typical Australian films and how this is tied into current politics of economy.

Candace Petrik’s Zine column. Still not 100% clear on Zines. Possibly because I am not city-based. Can I look at one? Candace compares Zine-creating and blogging.

If you haven’t yet encountered Voiceworks, see the website for stockists. If you have read this issue – leave a comment – I would love to know how others received it.

The Girl/Woman is Overwhelmed – a Poem

‘A flourish of strumpets’ is the collective noun for prostitutes,
someone says across the table.
Earlier she had been walking
and noticed the earth under her feet
stretched all the way around in a multicoloured ball
that was bouncing around
in the slow motion pinball machine of the Universe.
A star exploded somewhere
and a hundred years later she could see it
but inside her, it took less than a second
for nerve impulses
to register in her brain.
While walking
she saw a woman
with a face wrinkled like the prunes on her breakfast
and she suffered the thought
‘one day that is me!’
She wondered at the woman’s puckery smile
and what music she may have liked
because everyone seems to like different music
and some was playing in the girl’s head
who wasn’t really a girl but breaking into womanhood
and the music seemed like the soundtrack
to a feeling she couldn’t quite describe
but the guitar could.
In all these moments there flashed by
stones, which would outlast literature,
and grass, that would disintegrate
like humanity or even the most memorable song,
because everything would be nothing one day.
She thought of her boyfriend
and the blast of heat inside her
that he inspired
and the moment of the memory
was almost as good as the moments themselves
when they are together
but with an emptiness
a missing
that is to be filled
when after someone mentions ‘a flourish of strumpets’
he appears behind her,
silhouetted by the beer sign
in black and smiling.
And the girl feels the vertigo
of being upside-down on the planet
so her arms grip him tight.

Baudrillard's Beach – a Poem

Peering over the top
of the cereal box -
some generic headland
70s eyeshadow gradation
bleached beach, fingernail curve
board-wax chests
silicon animorphised.
A print on my wall
or a window, you ask?
Baudrillard’s beach
if either
the print
on my retina
has been cast.