Detachment, surfaces, excess: No Limit by Holly Childs

No LimitHologram is a new venture publishing novellas by writers under 30. Hologram is associated with Express Media, a fantastic organisation that provides support and development opportunities for young Australians in writing and media.

The first book to be published by Hologram is No Limit, by Holly Childs. It’s about Ash, who is stuck in Auckland due to a volcano, or the apocalypse—she’s not sure. Ash is seeking her cousin Haydn but then is dragged in aimless directions, encountering people and places. This book is all detachment, surfaces and excess: pop culture references, superficial nostalgia, technology, and falling quickly for one another. There’s a dissociative aspect, between the characters’ experiences and reality: one character Skypes her sister while the sister simultaneously uploads screenshots from the conversation to tumblr, without using her hands. The characters rave during the apocalypse, making comments about clothes and shoes, movies, tech. This could be symbolic of a detached interplay of online and offline worlds, connected and disconnected selves.

The action in No Limit is quite banal, there’s no ‘plot’ per se, and the characters’ motivations are faddish, shifting (no doubt deliberate and conceptual, though as a reader it takes effort to care about what might happen). The novel’s strength lies in Holly Childs’ intense novel-world (reflective of contemporary Gen Y and Millennial experience), which is completely self-contained. All metaphors and similes are relevant:

Haydn is looking right into her eyes, ‘When I came, my cum was green. Like bright green.’ His lip trembles. ‘Like Gak.’

The language is at times overwhelming, in the sense that excess information is overwhelming, like having too many tabs open. And so I think this, too, is deliberate—this onslaught—though it could alienate some readers.

Texts that are name-checked reflect the tone of the novella (retro-futurish), such as Tank Girl and Hackers, and if you like William Gibson or Bret Easton Ellis you might also want to pick this up.

I’ll be publishing a review of the second Hologram title, Elisabeth Murray’s The Loud Earth, in May.

Captives available for pre-order!

CaptivesFCR (1)In her first book of fiction, writer and literary journalist Angela Meyer demonstrates her gift for painting vivid pictures with a few adroit, restrained brush strokes.
—Jennifer Peterson-Ward, Books+Publishing 

You guys…

My first fiction book is being published in May: Captives. It’s a petite, dark collection of flash fiction, with a cover and layout beautifully designed by Sandy Cull. Here’s the blurb:

Captives opens with a husband pointing his gun at his wife. There’s a woman who hears ‘the hiss of Beelzebub behind people’s voices’, a photographer who captures the desire to suicide, a man locked in a toilet who may never get out, a couple who grow young, and a prisoner who learns to swallow like a python.

Angela Meyer’s Captives is a collection of shimmering story wafers, each of which hovers at exactly the sweet spot of just enough. Individually piercing, Meyer’s fiction slices fit together like the best poetry does, amplifying what came before and chiming with what comes after. —Tania Hershman.

I’m so excited that some of my fiction has found its way out into the world, thanks to Inkerman & Blunt. You can follow the publisher on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Captives is now available for pre-order! If you order from Inkerman & Blunt directly before April 30, you’ll receive a signed copy (only $14.99)! You can also order it from your favourite local or online bookstore (the ISBN is 9780987540126).

I’ll be doing plenty of events around the release of Captives, which I’ll announce mainly via Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also started a dedicated events page here on the blog.

Thanks, as always, for reading. (Can you believe this blog will be seven years old the month Captives comes out?) 

Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2014

Sweaty lit crowd

Sweaty lit crowd

This year, the Premier’s Awards were held at Government House, in a palatial room of cream, blue and mint, complete with thrones. I arrived just as the talking began, on a dry, hot Melbourne night, and found a place to stand and fan my face with the nominee form.

my life as an alphabetIn the young adult section, Barry Jonsberg won for My Life as an AlphabetHe dedicated the prize to the memory of his Norwegian father, and two characters called ‘Sneaking Blanket’ and ‘Rolling Toilet Lid’, who featured in his father’s tales.

Jennifer Maiden took out the poetry prize, and then was the overall winner of the Victorian Prize for Literature, for her collection Liquid Nitrogen. Maiden coudn’t be present to accept the prize, but her editor told us about how well she articulates the politics of violence. Her publisher, Ivor Indyk, spoke about poetry as ‘the most powerful, personal and political of forms’liquid nitrogen. In Liquid Nitrogen Indyk said that Maiden, who has a painful condition which inhibits her movement, allows her imagination to soar and go to places her body cannot. He also said the work holds conversations, between the poet and herself, with the figures in the poems, and with the reader foremost. There was a collective excited gasp around the room when Liquid Nitrogen won the main prize. It was a good day for poetry!

The drama prize went to Savages by Patricia Cornelius. She commended fortyfivedownstairs for taking on independent, risky work. She also thanked the judges for choosing an original work over an adaptation, and one that is brutal over a work that is life-affirming.

The Forgotten WarThe non-fiction winner was Forgotten War, by Henry Reynolds, about the conflict that occured on Australian soil between Aborigines and white colonists. Reynolds thanked people who put their personal and professional lives in the service of literature (you’re welcome), particularly publishers and booksellers. The booksellers received a huge clap. He also commended the Victorian government for the award’s continuity, citing the Queensland government as an example of how it can all go wrong.

The fiction prize went to one of my all-time favourite authors Alex Miller, for Coal Creek, which I shamefully haven’t yet read (as you know I’ve been travelling and Coal Creekresearching a big project of my own). Alex was his usual self, both warm and dry (like the night, I suppose). He spoke of writing Coal Creek, that the pleasure of the process was reward enough. In reference to the premier’s comment about being halfway through and enjoying the book, he joked that he must have been able to put it down to come to the awards! Miller spoke of literature enduring and surviving in communities, despite constant obstacles.

The People’s Choice Award went to Hannah Kent’s gorgeously dark Icelandic tale Burial RitesKent thanked independent booksellers for Burial Ritesreally getting behind the book and giving it a good start in the world.

After the announcements, I finally got my hands on some bubbles, and had conversations with many gorgeous people in the Melbourne literary community—writers, editors, publishers, library folk, festival peeps—all readers. Some people thought I’d been away a lot longer than I had. Is that a good or a bad thing? Either way, I was welcomed back many times, and that was incredibly sweet. By the end of the night I’d set quite a few ‘proper catch-up’ dates, and possibly lined up a couple of articles. I honestly don’t try to ‘network’—though that word possibly just means being friendly, engaged, and sharing ideas about what you’re interested in and working on.

I don’t have a job, yet, but after last night, and then seeing Readings’ list of most anticipated books today, I’m feeling very good about what 2014 will hold.

Congrats to the winners of the Vic Prem’s! Have you read the winning or shortlisted books? Would love to hear your thoughts.

with Kat Muscat & Karen Pickering on the red carpet (pic c/o Karen Pickering)

with Kat Muscat & Karen Pickering on the red carpet (pic c/o Karen Pickering)

Maria Takolander’s The Double

The Double Maria Takolander9781922079763
Text Publishing 
August 2013

One of the best contemporary short story collections I’ve read, Takolander’s fictions are intellectual, dark, strange and often dystopian. The tone is of casual realism, but what’s described is beyond that: fantastical, nightmarish or just off; my favourite kind of fiction. If you like Kafka or Beckett, or MJ Hyland for that matter, you’ll like Takolander; or if you find meaninglessness meaningful. Or if you like your imagery as dark crystals:

a woman remembering her brothers’ ‘white bodies shatter the black mirror of the lake. Immediately they are sucked below’ (from ‘The Double’).

Objects that speak to a man, like a strap that says ‘hang on’ and doors that say ‘out you get’ (in ‘The Obscene Bird of Night’).

A man weeping in a diner as a woman called Svetlana cuts his steak. A dog outside keeps barking. And starlings are ‘[s]weeping through the insects. Their noise as shrill as panic. Their tiny hearts like ticking bombs’ (from ‘Three Sisters’).

The stories don’t seem to say ‘can you imagine?’ but ‘somewhere this all happens’.

The stories in the first part all have the names of books. In ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ men are eaten away by desires. But what is the student’s mother fading from? Violent masculine scrutiny? This realist story could be the darkest of all.

There’s an element of satire in the final pieces which all concern a mythical text and poet. They revolve around people associated with the study and care-taking of words: academics, a librarian, judge of a poetry competition (who suffers the severe effects of a concrete poem).

At the heart of these (and carried through the collection) is some nod to ambition: it’s displayed as a straw-sucked egg in the face of all the words already out there, and all the nothing.

Carmel Bird Award winner: Alex Cothren

The-Great-Unknown-frt-221x350I’m pleased to announce that the winner of the Carmel Bird Short Fiction Award 2013 is Alex Cothren, for his wonderful story ‘A Cure’. ‘A Cure’ stood out for me due to its imaginative speculation on the limits of ‘misery’ entertainment (and potential abuses of brain-tech), and questions it raises around the effects of saturation and over-stimulation. It’s an entertaining, smart and emotive story. It ticks all the boxes. I wasn’t surprised to hear that Alex took the competition/anthology brief very seriously.

‘A Cure’ will be published in The Great Unknown (Spineless Wonders, December), alongside other spooky and strange stories by established and emerging Australian writers. Alex has also won $500.

We collected some info from Alex when he was shortlisted, about himself and the story, so I’ll share a couple of answers with you here to celebrate his win:

Alex Cothren

Alex Cothren

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

As with any type of speculative fiction, the joy is in the speculating – creating a world recognisable, yet slightly twisted by the introduction of a ‘what if…?’ I had a lot of fun researching the advances in brain-computer interfacing, trying to figure out how these could one day become part of the everyday, in the same way wi-fi has now become mundane. The challenging aspect was attempting to write something that could do justice to the creativity, intelligence, and insight of The Twilight Zone. In that respect, the brief was an impossible one.

Tell us about your story in The Great Unknown.

I wanted to write a story exploring the issue of how the suffering of the unfortunate         has become a global commodity consumed by the privileged. It was initially inspired by Amy Wilentz’s Farewell, Fred Voodoo, in particular a passage in which the USA-born author tells a Haitian friend how much she loves visiting that impoverished country, to which the friend responds: ‘well, then, I will give you my Haitian citizenship, and you give me your U.S. passport. You can stay here, but I’m leaving’. As Wilentz writes, ‘her point was that poverty, or even just some discomfort, is not so bad when you know that with a snap of your fingers, it can come to an end’.

How authentic can our empathy really be when the subject of pity disappears with a turn of the page, flick of the channel, click of the next link etc? I wanted to explore what would happen to a character who, aided by advances in technology, became stuck in the tragic world she was accustomed to entering and exiting at her leisure.

Congratulations Alex!

Readers, I hope you’re as excited to read it as I am to publish it. More Q&As with authors in The Great Unknown will appear on the Spineless Wonders website and on LiteraryMinded in the lead-up to publication.

I want to say thank you to Bronwyn Mehan and Spineless Wonders for letting me judge the Carmel Bird Award for 2013. It’s been an honour and a pleasure. I’m also incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to edit the anthology, and bring the invited and shortlisted stories together in one strange, memorable, meaningful bundle.

The Great Unknown: author reveal + comp closing soon

FRONTAbove: sneak peek at the cover artwork by Michael Vale.

It’s just one week until entries are due for the Carmel Bird short fiction award, and the stories are coming in thick and fast. I’ll be taking some on the plane with me tonight on my way to the UK!

What I want to reveal today, to get you even more excited about entering the comp (and, of course, reading the anthology down the track) is the list of fantastic writers I invited to contribute a story to The Great Unknown. The Carmel Bird short fiction award winner and shortlisted stories will join these authors in the anthology.

The contributed stories are strange, funny, spooky, suspenseful, smart, political, moving, atmospheric, absurd, and feature a range of voices and scenarios. Certain themes and threads are beginning to appear in the collection as a whole. Doo doo doo doo…

So here are some of the excellent ‘down under’ writers whose work will be appearing in The Great Unknown (click through for books, websites, bios):

Ali Alizadeh
PM Newton
Chris Flynn
Paddy O’Reilly
AS Patric
Ryan O’Neill
Krissy Kneen
Damon Young
Deborah Biancotti
Chris Somerville
Carmel Bird
Marion Halligan
Kathy Charles

Great list, yes? It’s been a pleasure working with these talented pros. The Great Unknown will be published by Spineless Wonders towards the end of this year. More soon.

Stella, and a digression on envy, work, inadequacy

The Stella Prize 2013, the inaugural prize, was awarded last week to Carrie Tiffany, for Mateship with Birds, which you know I enjoyed very much (here’s my Big Issue interview with Carrie from last year). She very generously donated $10,000 of the prize money back to the shortlist, noting that it was a selfish act because it gave the authors time and she was looking forward to their next books! Very sweet.

Helen Garner was invited to speak, prior to the prize-giving. She spoke honestly and personally about how prizes can be tricky, if you don’t win or aren’t nominated at all. You have to remember, she said, that prizes are judged by people, driven by unconscious urges. It’s also true that even the most intelligent, studied, insightful and well-read critic is a person. There is always a factor of subjectivity.

Slowly shedding the naive shell I carried when I moved to Melbourne five years ago, I’m starting to realise that the industry isn’t quite so humble. (Yeah duh, you’re saying.) I’ve been privy to conversations lately, at festivals and events, where people are wearing envy on their sleeves, often around writers who have received big advances or won multiple prizes. I’ve heard words like ‘prize-bait’, and ‘flashing their advance’. Among all the good and positive stuff, mind you, of which there is a lot. Sometimes it just slips out.

But it’s healthy to (privately) express such things, because the industry is tough and getting tougher. Honestly, many authors whom you would think of as famous and respected are getting such tiny advances, like $4000. These are authors who have published several books. So it’s natural, don’t you think, that hopes become higher, maybe a little desperation creeps in?

Since I consider that I’m at the beginning of my career, I’m realising that it is a smart idea to have other work—a day job, freelance work, or whatever—that is regular, enjoyable (or bearable) and can be relied upon for an income. It’s a challenge in itself to find this, because ‘artists’ are not always easygoing. ‘Regular work’ can be a big deal, especially if you’re nervy, neurotic or prone to anxiety or depression (as many creative people are—no, I don’t think it’s a myth, they need to be because they need to see the inner workings of things, even if they misinterpret them):

‘All writers—all beings—are exiles as a matter of course. The certainty about living is that it is a succession of expulsions of whatever carries the life force… All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land…’—Janet Frame, The Envoy From Mirror City.

My own envy swells up when confronted with artists who seem free to be artists. My biggest obstacle to that is not money (though of course that’s an obstacle), it is myself. My unfortunate absorption of others’ opinions of what I should be doing, and the distraction of other genuine but smaller goals, means that I often put my biggest, shiniest ambition last. It gets blocked. And then there’s all the life stuff.

And I’m not brilliant, anyway. I need to work on something a lot to make it any good. An author I very much like suggested the other night that publishing a book might actually hinder my career. But most Australian critics that I respect have published books, fiction and/or nonfiction; and secondly, I obviously don’t see my career in the same light as she does. And that’s kind of depressing. It effects me, and makes me think my ambition is lofty. And it’s hard to shake those words when I sit down to write. Who do I think I am? All the while I watch the musician on the cello, moving his head like a mad person, being pure music; passion, and I envy that.

There’s a reason, then, that I’m drawn to characters in both my reading and writing who feel inadequate (would that effect my critical bias? Maybe). But also, adversely, characters who are supremely confident. Or eccentric, or glamorous; even arrogantly so. Not hard to figure that one out. Characters and figures to relate to, to make you feel less alone, and characters and figures who possess traits you aspire to. Both types are outward expressions of one own ‘truths’ and desires, though how confused it often all becomes. Always Kafka and always glam rock.

Kafka

Love & logic: Graeme Simsion on The Rosie Project

The Rosie ProjectText Publishing (buy paperback / ebook)

This feature interview was first published in The Big Issue no. 425

The main character in the novel, The Rosie Project, has difficulty understanding social cues. ‘Wherever Don goes, chaos will follow’, says the author, Graeme Simsion. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics at the University of Melbourne, undertaking a self-assigned ‘Wife Project’, a 16-page questionnaire designed to help him find a life partner. Don is fit, successful, and possesses a variety of impressive skills. Social interaction, however, is not so straightforward for Don and although he never acknowledges it, the reader firmly suspects that he exhibits characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome.

‘It started off inspired by a friend of mine’, Simsion explains. ‘I’ve known this guy for over 30 years—we go jogging together—and he can be hard work at times. He’s got an opinion on everything.’ Simsion’s friend also has a particular way of speaking, which the author channelled when he began writing Don: ‘He uses computer words, like “this meal has a fault”, or “I’ll initialise my eating procedure”‘. Simsion’s friend, too, has had a tough time socially in his life. He eventually found a partner, but Simsion says, ‘for a guy who was fit, intelligent, wealthy’, it was a struggle.

Graeme Simsion

Graeme Simsion

Simsion did research into Asperger’s syndrome for The Rosie Project, mainly through first-person accounts of people with Asperger’s, or those living with them. ‘I made a very conscious decision that this [book] would be in first person,’ Simsion says, ‘Don is highly functioning enough that we can relate to him.’

Simsion was clear that he did not want Don to be the kind of character who ‘helped [other characters] grow because they [had] met him, which you see in a film like Rain Man.’ Being inside Don’s head (essentially an unreliable narrator) makes for good humour, as the reader can interpret certain social cues, or subtleties of language, that Don misses. Don’s first date with Rosie is thwarted, for example, by his showing up to a fancy restaurant in a Gore-Tex jacket and then, under stress, proceeding to ‘disarm’ the bouncers with his aikido moves.

The contrast between Don’s competency in some areas and his ineptitude in others makes for classic comedy. But it also makes for depth of character, since Simsion makes Don work for his skills. In one of the best scenes in the book, Don appears almost heroic when he manages to remember, and mix, a massive number of cocktails at a function. (It’s part of a surreptitious scheme to collect genetic material for a side project with Rosie, who is trying to identify her real father.) But Don’s cocktail knowledge, while extremely impressive, is not ‘magic’. Don has spent hours and hours with a cocktail book, testing and memorising recipes. Simsion says he didn’t want the knowledge and skills to come to Don easily. ‘There’s this cliché that if you have Asperger’s or autism you’ve got a gift.’ From his reading, and from talking to people—mainly people who have autistic children—Simsion found that this idea of giftedness is one stereotype many struggle against. ‘Don’s very focused, but he’s not magic,’ Simsion says, ‘I tried to make him human.’

Though the author has had incredible pre-release success with The Rosie Project, selling the rights into more than 30 countries, he, too, has had to work hard for it. After a mid-life career change (Simsion is from a science and business background), the project began life as a screenplay, which Simsion wrote during many years studying screenwriting. The project has changed significantly since its inception. One influence on the story’s eventual tone and shape was the romantic comedy genre, particularly classic screwball comedies. These films also helped with the development of the female character, Rosie. Simsion watched many of the classics, including His Girl Friday (1940), Bringing up Baby (1938), Philadelphia Story (1940), Some Like it Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). He particularly noted the strong female characters featured in many of the films, and thinks of Rosie as being more in line with a Katherine Hepburn style character, than female characters in contemporary romantic comedies.

But there is a somewhat traditional binary in the book, in that Rosie is the more impulsive and emotional character, while Don is the rational one. Simsion admits that some female readers have likened Don’s logic to that of ‘all blokes’, not just those with Asperger’s. Although the point is that Don is often ‘kidding himself’, says Simsion, when he believes he’s acting rationally. For example, when Don says, ‘I made a rational decision to go and see Rosie at the pub and help her find her father because that was good use of my time’, the reader thinks: yeah, right

But it could also be said that there’s a Don and Rosie inside all of us: the side that tries to make the best and most profitable use of time, and the side which encourages us to ‘stop worrying about it’, and is open to new experiences. One of the reasons the book is so successful, and humorous, is due the reader’s recognition of these warring aspects.

Walter Mason on The Memory of Salt by Alice Melike Ülgezer

memory of saltThe Memory of Salt
Alice Melike Ülgezer
Giramondo
9781920882907
August 2012 (buy)

reviewed by Walter Mason

One so rarely encounters God in modern Australian literature that it comes as a shock to see the word, especially so early on Alice Melike Ülgezer’s The Memory of Salt, an extraordinarily lyrical and original novel. The novel’s narrator, Ali, hears the name of God at the same time as she encounters a pointless and unexpected death. She realises that it is this call to the divine that has both swept her up in a mystical, though unconventional, devotion that comes close to defining her, and made her feel alien in a culture to which she has some claim.

Ali is an alien trapped between two different cultures. It is not just the conventional ethnic division, but the more profound divisions that fill this novel: divisions between secularism and faith, music and science, rationality and insanity. Her father, a carefree Turkish traveller, impresses her with his sense of freedom and his complete lack of attachment to the material realities of work, accommodation and even national belonging.

The Memory of Salt tells the story of her parents’ love affair, an ill-advised and doomed thing between a temporarily distracted middle-class Australian girl and a peripatetic Turkish Sufi. Theirs is a physically charged, intensely sexual attraction, and the intensity of their intentionally exotic love is played out in forbidden couplings in foreign hotel rooms, the call to prayer ringing in their ears as they fuck, smoke and doggedly ignore the impossibility of any kind of future together. Sex, too, is charged with a quasi-religious quality:

While they made love her body became a hymn calling out through the shadows and the fruit, through the streets and the lights… And as she spirited herself like an incantation across the city she became higher and higher until all the voices of all the children, and all the city lights were one.

The child of this mystical union, Ali, returns to Turkey to attempt to rescue her hopelessly stoned father, and while there she is drawn into the embrace of his family’s singular religion. A newly-pious aunt convinces her that this return to her ancestral religion is an act of grace and an exercise in destiny, and she urges the bookish and clever girl to read the Masnawi, the long, mystical poem of Rumi that addresses God as a lover and the ultimate source of being.

This is a rich and delicious novel. It brings to life modern Turkish Sufi culture in a unique and unexpected way, and is, in its own way, a particularly Australian literary artefact, blending cultures and experiences in a way that only this country and culture would seem to allow. While it demands to be read closely and attentively, it rewards with its sad and constantly surprising story. I think it marks a fascinating and important contribution to Australian literary culture, and shines some light on a world I have rarely encountered in books.

Disclaimer: I must declare that this book is published by Giramondo, a publishing house headed up by my erstwhile academic supervisor Ivor Indyk. And while I have complete faith in his academic advice, we don’t always see eye to eye in matters literary. In this case, however, I have been won over by the writing of Alice Melike Ülgezer, an author I am yet to meet, and this review represents my honest and uninfluenced opinion.

walter3Walter Mason is a travel writer and speaker with a special interest in spirituality. His first book, Destination Saigon, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2010 to great critical acclaim. Walter has also featured in Vietnamese language broadcasts, and articles by and about him have run in the Vietnam Airlines in-flight magazine and other popular magazines in Vietnam. His book is sold in pirated editions in the backpacker districts of Saigon and Hanoi, where he is assured it’s a popular item. destsaigonDestination Saigon was named by the Sydney Morning Herald as one of the Ten Best Travel Books of 2010.

Irma Gold on The Invisible Thread + WIN a copy

The Invisible ThreadThe Invisible Thread: One Hundred Years of Words is a new anthology featuring writers connected to Canberra, covering the past 100 years. There are stories, articles, poems and extracts by Judith Wright, Alex Miller, Jackie French, Les Murray, Omar Musa, Don Watson, Garth Nix, Kate Grenville and a huge range of writers new and old.

The anthology is edited by Irma Gold, who has answered a few questions about the anthology below. Gold, and the publisher Halstead Press, have also kindly offered to give away a number of copies of The Invisible Thread to LiteraryMinded readers. To go in the draw, leave a comment on this post that mentions a writer who is connected to Canberra. You can also write a tweet that mentions a writer connected to Canberra, but remember to tag it with @LiteraryMinded + #InvisibleThread. Due to postage costs this competition is open to Australia only. The competition will close on Friday the 21st of December at midnight and I’ll announce the winners on the weekend. Good luck!

Irma Gold

Irma Gold

Irma, how did you, and the Advisory Committee, select works to be included in The Invisible Thread?

The Advisory Committee spent a year reading through the work of over 150 writers. We tried to read as widely as possible through each author’s body of work. So between us we read hundreds of books, as well as individual essays, stories and poems published in various journals and magazines. We decided that the guiding criteria would be work of excellence, or work that ‘sings’, by writers who had a significant association with the region. The anthology is not about Canberra, so we were not limited by subject matter. From all this reading we put together a longlist, and I convened a series of meetings to debate the merits of each work. We then agreed upon a list of recommendations, from which I selected the final works that make up the anthology.

The Invisible Thread is divided into sections: ‘Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards’, and ‘Looking In, Looking Out’. Can you explain some of the choices behind the ordering and organisation of the anthology?

I spent last summer finalising content and deciding how to structure the anthology. This meant lots of time thinking, rereading, moving bits of paper around. At various points my office floor was completely covered in paper. There were so many different ways the anthology could have been structured. A chronological progression was one option, but this would have prevented the works from speaking with each other across the decades. I was looking to make connections between the works so that they could ‘sing’ together. In the end I settled on sections that are deliberately open-ended and kaleidoscopic. It’s this interplay that gives the anthology its richness. Like a choir of individual voices that together create a landscape of sound, the anthology is greater than the sum of its parts, creating a landscape of literature. I selected individual works based not just on their own merits, but also on the way they contributed to the whole. Readers often dip in and out of anthologies, which is part of the beauty of them, but there are greater rewards to be discovered reading The Invisible Thread from beginning to end.

Did you come to any other interesting conclusions, or make any notable discoveries (perhaps regarding Australian literature in general), while putting the book together?

One of the discoveries we made is that as a reflection of the last 100 years of publishing the anthology reveals the difficultly women have experienced in getting published and achieving recognition. Of the early writers included in The Invisible Thread it is the women who have slipped from our collective radar. Writers like Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw and Ethel Anderson who were highly regarded in their time but have now faded from view.

The disparity between the number of men and women in the anthology became evident only after I finalised content: one-third of the writers are female. There’s much debate at the moment about the undervaluing of women writers, and whether we—as a society—subconsciously preference male writers. In making decisions the committee was only thinking about the very best writing, but surely the committee hadn’t fallen into this mindset?

At the beginning of our search we were casting our net as widely as possible, without discrimination, seeking out every writer who’d had a significant association with the capital. I immediately went back to our initial list and discovered that only one-third of those writers were women, so the final selections reflected the imbalance of the broader pool. Recent stats show that women are still dramatically underrepresented in awards and reviews, and the newly established Stella Prize for women writers, named after Miles Franklin, is trying to redress that balance. I would like to think that the next 100 years will bring greater change.

What is the most ‘Canberra’ piece in the book, if you had to name one?

Such an interesting question and a tough one to answer (for starters, singling out one work from 75 is a terrible ask). The answer also hinges on how you define Canberra. Outsiders see Canberra as being dominated by politics, but for me what characterises the people who live here—and especially the writers—is a particular kind of thoughtfulness. This is a place of thinking, of ideas, of exploration. Most pieces in the anthology are set elsewhere, showing Canberra as a city connected to the world.

If forced to name one piece it would be Marion Halligan’s essay ‘Luminous Moments’. Over the years Marion has written so beautifully about Canberra in a way that has opened readers’ eyes to the everyday lives of the ordinary people who live here. But Marion’s essay is not just about what’s happening on the surface, it’s a moving and profound work about life and death. People have deep-seated negative perceptions about our city that have little to do with the reality of living here. Peel back the veneer and you’ll find a more subtle and complex place. That’s what Marion’s work does in an elegant and disarming way.

What do you perceive as being the role of a book like this, now and in the future?

Firstly, it makes evident the rich and diverse work Canberra has contributed to our national literature. Melbourne might be the official UNESCO City of Literature, but for a young city with a small population Canberra’s literary rollcall is impressive. The anthology also opens a conversation between works past and present. Readers can reacquaint themselves with writers now largely forgotten, discover writers who have previously been overlooked or not received the attention they deserve, and revisit the established greats. The Invisible Thread is a microcosm of Australian literary talent: worth reflecting on as we look to the next 100 years.

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