Craig Sherborne’s Tree Palace and Craig Sherborne, #555writers

tree palaceYesterday:

The plane is just about to descend as I draft this. Craig Sherborne is sitting in the row in front and I’ve just finished his beautiful novel Tree Palace. I’ve been completely lost in the story of this family of itinerants, or ‘trants’, as they call themselves in the book. The family—connected by both blood and companionship—have settled in Barleyville, a fictional town in North-West Victoria, after having been on the move for so long. Settling means many things: there’s the baby that Zara, a teenager, has just had; a child she struggles to recognise as her own. There’s also the fact that settling means the locals get to know the ‘trants’ better, including the police. It may be a bit harder for Shane and Midge, the brothers, to carry on their business of removing antiques from abandoned houses, and selling them on to a dealer.

The main character is Moira, Zara’s mother, who takes on the responsibility of baby Mathew, while her daughter deals with the trauma of birth. Moira is an incredibly sympathetic character; I ached for and along with her, even when (perhaps especially when) she lies, is selfish, or takes a situation too far. But the whole family is compassionately drawn; the novel is so compelling (I didn’t want to put it down) because you care how they’ll turn out. Tree Palace is engagingly written, in an omniscient style, moving in and out of different characters’ points of view (one of the hardest ways to write, in my opinion). The reader dips inside the characters’ heads and finds gems.

Moira couldn’t bring herself to like just one cup and saucer, however pretty and floral and only five dollars instead of a fortune. She’d had her heart fixed on a full, gleaming complement. She didn’t know why exactly. Some ladylike fantasy of being a better person in better times. Settling for one cup would ruin the fantasy and make her resent needing fantasies. Fantasies were just another way of saying your own life won’t do.

At the end of the chapter, she is happy to walk away with one floral cup and saucer. And proud, later, when her daughter hungrily sips tea from it.

Craig Sherborne

Craig Sherborne

Today:

Place is hugely important in Tree Palace. On a panel at Tweed Library yesterday with Ashley Hay, Craig spoke about the fact that when he first moved to country Victoria he hated it, and the wind-blasted plains. But then he became used to the landscape and learnt to love the wind, the fierce sun, the branches always bending down, and the rocks in the ground.

The wind is ever-present, and pertinent, in Tree Palace. Stirring up the earth just as the trants are trying to set their feet firmly upon it. And tinkling through the chandelier strung over a tree. The chandelier—a spoil from one of their raids on an abandoned house—is put up in a difficult moment, at a dimmed prospect of work, and is appreciated and treated with reverence by Moira.

Moira served a meal while above there was a meal for the eye: the Milky Way wore white gloves and brought its best silver service. The chandelier glistened as they dined.

There are wonderful descriptions of both peaceful and aching aloneness in the book. Moira loves her family and is often the one to draw them together, but she is also independent, and her needs are strong. Being alone for her can be a solace.

Aloneness freshens you. Makes you listen and look at the world properly without distraction. The wind sounds louder. Sometimes the sky has a moon all day and you remember to notice it.

Midge, Shane, Zara and Rory experience their own ways of being alone and apart from the family, by choice or reluctantly. Midge struggles with his place, being a sort of step-uncle to the kids, often held at arm’s length when he aches to hold, and give love.

You’ll learn more about this book—and the books of the other authors on the tour—in the coming days, as I follow them around and run a few of the sessions myself. I hope to also give an impression of the authors themselves. In this first post, what I’ll tell you about Craig Sherborne is that he likes his martinis very dry, and he skipped school to see David Bowie in 1978.

Learn more about the #555writers tour and click through to the program from here.

Zacharey Jane, Ashley Hay and Craig Sherborne at Tweed Heads Library

Zacharey Jane, Ashley Hay and Craig Sherborne at Tweed Heads Library

LiteraryMinded is seven; Captives is born; writing-work balance

CaptivesFCR (1)I missed my blog’s birthday. For the first time. You can imagine why. Something else I’ve written has just been released, my tiny book of short fictions, Captives. 

Actually, there’s more to it than that. I haven’t felt like I’ve had a proper chance to let publication wash over me, that now when I say to someone ‘I’m a writer’, and they ask, ‘what’s your book?’ I have an answer.

It’s just that I’m back in extraordinarily-busy-saying-yes mode… That’s why I truly missed my blog’s birthday. I’m working on two contracts (one editing, one writing), have started an awesome new casual job at Nant whisky bar, have two reviews, one essay and one academic paper due, am judging two writing competitions, preparing to report on a conference, preparing an interview, preparing for a HUGE amount of festivals, events and workshops, and trying to keep on top of social media etc. around my book’s release (and continuing to promote The Great Unknown). I’m a little stressed, admittedly, but I’m also grateful. When I got back from overseas it was so difficult, at first, to find work. I’d much rather have too much work, than too little. And everything feels (almost) balanced: a little reading, some writing, a bunch of emails, some editing, and then whisky.

Except for one thing: not enough creative writing going on. I’m managing about once a week at the moment. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Do many people manage to write a lot when they’re in the throes of promoting the current book? And how do other authors manage balance between book promotion (and career building) and making enough of a living? This is a question that’s been fascinating me, last year (when I finished my doctorate) and this year: what is the ideal job for a writer? Is my bar job ideal, because it’s casual and flexible, and still stimulating (I love the smells in the bar, and hearing people’s different stories about how they came to like single malts—it often involves travel). Or is freelance editing ideal? I just love putting that logical part of my brain to work: problem solving; knitting text, spaces and punctuation into something neat. I get to put the control freak to work, purge her a little. Editing feels powerful, I think. But it does use up a lot of brain power, not exactly from the same area as the writing (at least the drafting) comes from, but close by. Enough to drain you of words for the evening. I don’t think I’d want to edit full time.

4teatdrinknanta

I don’t think I want to do any one job full time.

Can I manage this ‘juggling’, then? And still write, and still pay the bills? I’m going to try.

A grant would be helpful, of course! Or an advance. I am so enjoying writing this novel and it would be great, after some of these contracts ended, to have more time in the week to immerse myself in remote 19th century Scotland.

But hang on, let me take a moment here. I have a book out! (Always thinking of the next thing.) And it’s even receiving some lovely reviews and attention. The other day I received an email from an author whose book I very much admired, telling me she admired my book! It made my day. I couldn’t quite believe that she’d written to me as a peer (I know, but I’ve admitted to my inadequacy complex on here many times over these past seven years).

I’ve linked in the past few weeks to some of the guest posts/interviews I’ve been doing around the book’s release, but recently Captives has also been reviewed in Readings Monthly by Brigid Mullane, and Bronte Coates interviewed me for the Readings blog. Author Annabel Smith also interviewed me (on the writing process) on her blog.

And The Great Unknown is kicking on! It received a review in the Australian last weekend, by Kirsten Krauth, alongside the latest Sleepers Almanac. I still have to put up the last of my author posts from TGU on here. Will do soon…

Please also check out my events page while you’re here!

And while I’m rambling on, I must say that I’m reading some incredible books for upcoming festivals: Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest is bowling me over, and Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals is lingering long in my mind. I put a small note on that one on Goodreads.

But I also feel I’ll never catch up on all the books I want to read: Alex Miller’s Coal Creek, Chris Womersley’s Cairo, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (not to mention Carpentaria), Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda, Emily Bitto’s The Strays, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil, Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, and now Paddy O’Reilly’s new novel, The Wonders, has just landed on my desk. And I have an advance proof of Jessie Cole’s Deeper Water… (!)

All the books.

OK, I best get on with my work for the day. Thanks for coming by, it’s been swell.

Signing a contract for an unfinished manuscript, on Writers Bloc

2013-11-15 09.57.18

Click here to read my piece on Writers Bloc about signing the contract for Captives before it was finished, and the ensuing writing process (while travelling). Here’s an extract:

I wrote a few of the stories around sessions at the Edinburgh International Book Fest, including a couple which are postmodern or referential. This reflects the fact that, like the narrator of Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman who knows Lolita’s mother better than she knows her own, I don’t like to separate out my ‘real world’ and ‘cultural’ experiences too much, because I’ve spent so much of my life immersed in fictional spaces. Not only in books, but in places like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or the post-apocalyptic glam world of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.

CaptivesFCR (1)Captives is available for pre-order from my publisher, Inkerman & Blunt, until 30 April (free postage). And the book will soon be available (or at least available to order) at all good bookstores. The official release is only days away! The ebook will also soon be available…

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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