Smells, Snugglepot, Springsteen Vibes, Sleepers and Stuff

Ah, to write. To do it for the joy alone. I am addicted to creating and recording. I am also addicted to discovery. How does that writer do it? How did they come up with that? How did they capture just how that feels, or what it would feel like, or how it would feel to be someone else?

Smells and sounds. I love seeing how writers describe these, and I love trying to do it myself. I love the challenge, too, of trying to write something that is unique, allowing it to be yours, but learning from what has already been done. It really, really is hard. It really is a challenge. And it is wonderful. I would like to be challenged by this all my life.

Now, the ol’ weekend round-up. A combination of me things and literary links and happenings that I feel like commenting on.

* Did you read Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs as a kid? Well today is May Gibbs’ birthday (she’d be 131!) and if you’re in Sydney you can attend a celebration, honouring the author and her generous legacy – on her death in 1969, she left the copyright of her works to Northcott Disability Services and The Spastic Centre of NSW. The details are: Sunday, 18th January, at ‘Nutcote’, May Gibbs’ family home in Neutral Bay. There’ll be special birthday event with cake-cutting ceremony at 12.30. Address: Nutcote, 5 Wallaringa Avenue, Neutral Bay NSW 2089. Phone: 02 9953 4453. Nutcote is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 11.00am to 3.00pm. You might be interested in the author’s biography: May Gibbs: Mother of the Gumnuts, by Maureen Walsh (Sydney University Press).

* I went to the launch of The Lifted Brow 4 on Friday night. Unfortunately I was incredibly tired and in a bit of a blue mood so I didn’t stay for the whole show. Who was the special guest? I enjoyed Fulton Lights from Brooklyn, who had a bit of a Springsteen vibe (with more electro-edge). The rest of the skinny-geek-chic bands I found, honestly, a little boring. But then, I was already tired and moody. I have read a few stories in the issue so far and there have been a couple of goodies. The LB team decided to make this one a bumper issue and include many overseas ‘names’ – the cover boasts the likes of Neil Gaiman, Sarah Manguso and Joe Meno – some amazing writers, but from reading some of the stories one wonders if they did just accept anything from some overseas writers in order to maximise sales with names … but I will read on and see how I go with the rest. Christopher Currie‘s The Maverick is a hilarious and sharp story about a modern wannabe noir hero-cop. The journal is probably worth buying for this alone. The best part of the night though was when I’d been eyeing some immaculate-looking poser-type girls resting against the wall, and then in walks Josephine and Jess. They were such a contrast. They both dress very feminine but have such strong and forceful presence. Their eyes were a little glazed, they had massive smiles and gave massive hugs and were a little sweaty and just beating with life. It made me so happy to see them.

* A launcheroo is coming up for Torpedo 4, at Readings Carlton on 13th Feb. It’s their tribute issue to Richard Brautigan. See more info here. 

* The January 2009 issue of The Short Review is out, the best online review site for short fiction collections.

* And yet another launch coming up is one for the very respected yearly fiction journal Sleepers Almanac No. 5. Here’s the info from their email:

To kick-start the year, the Sleepers Almanac No. 5 is hot off the press and ready to be celebrated. Melburnians, please come along to:
Date: Thursday the 12th of February
Time: From 6pm till 8pm
Place: At the Trades Hall Bar on the corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton – now enter via Lygon Street.

This year’s Almanac is an absolute treat, with stories by Eleanor Elliott Thomas, Virginia Peters and Patrick Cullen, amongst many other riches, and including cartoons from the excellent Oslo Davis and the brilliant Andrew Weldon. It’s our fifth and we’ve hit our stride; and as we’ve aged, we’ve also upped the font size!

At the launch, there will be readings, shenanigans, and a chance to meet many of the authors. The Almanac will be available on the night; and in all good bookstores after February 1st for RRP $24.95.

‘Sleepers continues to work a crucial nerve in Australian writing.’ – Nam Le

Sleepers Publishing has also ventured into novels. Their first two releases are due out soon – Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming (remember I loved his story in Overland 192?); and Brendan Gullifer’s Sold. They’ve kindly sent me copies, so I’ll at least get around to one of them in the next few months. Really keen to read Steven Amsterdam’s.

* Today I’m having a drink with the lovely Krissy Kneen, who’s book will be coming out with Text later in the year (remember, she was one of my ‘Best Unpublished Books’? – so many of them are now going to be published!). After that, I’ll be meeting up with Lisa Dempster of Vignette Press, and Cassie Flanagan of the Adelaide Format Festival, which I’m also looking forward to. I’ll keep you posted on the festival, which will be held in March. It’s been a productive weekend overall after meeting Gerard to map out our screenplay, then writing 90s novel at the SLV for about three hours yesterday. Last night was Seinfeld and wine (well deserved, yes?).

* Writers at the Convent is coming up in Melbourne on February 13, 14 and 15 (I was in Venice that time last year!). See the program. Yay, Peter Goldsworthy and Charles Darwin-related things!

* This is a gorgeous article on Janet DeNeefe (via Beattie), who runs the Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival, which I really hope to get to this year. I went in 2006 and it was seriously amazing.

* I didn’t think I had much this week but this has turned out to be huge – sorry! Coming oh-so-soon: An introduction to two of my favourite poets; an interview with Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap; and a combined book/film review of Revolutionary Road with my good friend Mr Celluloid Tongue. And just a week til I see Neil Young in the flesh!

16 thoughts on “Smells, Snugglepot, Springsteen Vibes, Sleepers and Stuff

  1. So much going on! I love summer. Great critique of TLB 4 and the party, I couldn’t make it and thus don’t have the book yet either, but I look forward to checking it out. I think the TLB gang do such awesome things!

  2. I should also add that it’s a bit of a pet hate of mine when journals use ‘famous’ writers instead of focussing on the quality of each submission and how it fits in with the rest of the journal. Though it’s a difficult balance, especially when you’re new – to get people interested in your journal by featuring established writers isn’t a bad thing per se, but using writing that doesn’t fit or isn’t up to their usual standard just sells everyone short.

  3. Hey, Lisa ‘n’ Ange! If you look at some of the people in the issue, they’re often from overseas, but they’re not exactly famous. It’s pretty much a result of my reading more overseas writing than local writing, and these fun overseas short story writers often being more “up for things like the fake bookshelf” than Australians I approach. Also often, where somebody is famous, their piece is one of the best in the journal – look at Daniel Handler’s, Heidi Julavits’s (the story she wrote for us is also in this month’s Harper’s), and Joe Meno’s. Also gotta point out, on the topic of how I feel about quality vs. how I feel about sales, the next issue has a CD of an eighty-minute epic poem. … And the fact that nobody who works on the Brow except the contributors ever sees a dime.

  4. Also, I wanna say that I’m not trying to “crush resistance to The Lifted Brow”. I know that among 67 stories, you’re not going to like some of them (or a lot of them) – I’ve got my favourites, too. Am really just pointing out that the effort is about my idea of quality, not my idea of what’ll bring in the cash or the cred.

  5. Hi Ronnie – yes I haven’t got to a lot of the stories you mention there yet (and I love Joe Meno), and yes, perhaps the few I read just didn’t click with me for purely subjective reasons.

    I’m sorry I didn’t mention all the profits going to the contributors, because that really is a great thing. I know how much work you and Jane put into it for no (financial) benefits, so of course that’s totally rad. If I do end up reviewing it, it’ll be my honest, critical opinion as a reader and reviewer, as that’s what I do. 🙂

  6. Hey Ronnie, I wasn’t talking about TLB when I made that remark about journals using famous people! I haven’t seen the latest issue yet. It’s just a trap that I think that it’s easy for indie publishers to fall into… and to be honest I do think some of the responsibility falls on the writer as well. If they’re asked to submit and can send anything in, rather than be read with the rest of contribs (that is, they have a guaranteed spot), then it could be easy to send in something not necessarily up to their usual standard. Mmmm. Thinking out loud now.

  7. Of course! Guys, don’t stress, I’m just responding to a couple of aspects of the post. In criticism, what I don’t respect is when people make assumptions about the motivations and politics behind a work – it’s generally beside the point, and a bit lazy, and a heck of a lot easier to disqualify than criticism that focuses on a subjective response to the art.

    In general, since I’ve moved to Melbourne, I’ve been equally frustrated with a snobbery that comes from some of the established journals and a REVERSE snobbery that comes from some of the younger ones – it seems a bit time-consuming and silly, especially when there’s only a few hundred of us even reading literary journals in Australia. The point is, I know some people will look at the cover of TLB4 and see some of our contributors and roll their eyes about it – I just wish there were something I could do about it, other than try not to worry.

  8. Do you really think there is an element of snobbery coming from the established journals? Or do you think they just take themselves justifiably seriously? I have to say I find the ‘reverse snobbery’ more annoying, even though I’m a big fan of postmodernism, metafiction, deconstructive works etc. When things just become ‘bizarre’ for the sake of it, I get really cheesed off. By the way, I’m totally off the topic of TLB now, I’m just happy to have general conversation about the place of literary journals! Anyone else, feel free to chime in as well (free to sign up to wordpress with just name and email).

  9. Actually, you’re totally right – I’m using “snobbery” lazily. What I’m calling snobbery in the established journals is really just conservative choices, what seems like a bit of a lag in the idea of what makes good writing (or too narrow an idea of what’s acceptable writing). Having too firm an idea on what makes writing good, whether it’s an old idea or a new idea, AND being in a position of credibility, like the established journals are, can easily look like snobbery to someone who’s outside that closed circle of what they’ll accept and what they won’t. And you know, I’m not making a blanket statement here – it’s something I’ve perceived, from some journals, sometimes.

  10. * In the end, I just don’t think the way to create readers is to, say, start including comics in your magazine *as an exciting leap forward* twenty years after they entered the (international) establishment! That’s a cultural thing, but it would be nice if the literary journal occupied a place ahead of the culture proper. When something like comics lags, for whatever reason, it again looks like snobbery – twenty years ago, that *was* about a high art/low art distinction, so it’s easy to read it as that manner of anachronistic divide. (It’s worth pointing out that I would totally take a Nam Le or a Robert Drewe over most local avant garde – both those guys are kicking the asses of anybody else, and are do it from classical short story forms. In my opinion, there IS work being done in Australia that’s super-groundbreaking, but god help its chances of happening in a literary magazine.) (I would love that.)

  11. Yeah, but often too those journals reflect the tastes of the editor or fiction editor, and their general readership might appreciate those tastes. And I don’t think they always make conservative choices either. I would never call Paddy O’Reilly’s stories conservative, for example (an Aus journal regular).

    I think the ‘Best Australian Stories’ usually is very diverse – at least Robert Drewe’s were – selecting from old and new journals and some unpublished work. But then the 2008 one was a little more choosy.

    But then if, as a writer, you make it into something that’s a lot harder to get into, you can feel like you’re really making it somewhere with your writing. But I suppose some of the established Australian journals don’t necessarily have huge readerships. A writer wants to be read, that’s the main thing, but if they plan to make a career out of it, they also want to have ‘established’ journals on their resume, as it does show prestige.

    But – in a globalised, technological society, there are so many ways a writer can be read outside the traditional ‘path’ of getting published in Australia – journals, and then getting a novel or collection picked up (as is the route still of many Australian writers). I’m reasonable well-versed on contemporary Australian short fiction, wheras you, Ronnie, probably know a lot more about the international scene. And obviously we both have a passion for good writing, regardless of where it comes from. I wish I had time to read all the US journals etc. too. Maybe we could play swapsies of some of our favourites (and I’ll get to your faves in TLB too).

    Hey, maybe we could teach a theory course together one day – contemporary short fiction in the Western world or something. :-p I’m rambling now.

  12. Sorry I just got in on the second message you sent. And now I know what journal you’re talking about 😉

    And ‘it would be nice if the literary journal occupied a place ahead of the culture proper.’ I totally agree. That would be extremely exciting. I’m going to keep an eye on you Ronnie!

    But I’m glad you mentioned Drewe and Le, I agree there too – traditional story forms but blowing us out of the water. You should really take a look at ‘Uncorrected Proof’ by Louisiana Alba, scroll back through the blog a bit for my review. It’s that perfect mix of non-pretentious avant-garde and accessible narrative.

  13. Awww. I’m not talking about a particular journal. Or, alright, I was thinking about Meanjin. But it’s not fair to use them as an example of an establishment journal that is doing the wrong thing, because Sophie Cunningham seems to be doing something good with it – the quality and focus of a journal that has clout (budget, staffing), plus exciting work to back it up. Comics is just an easy example out-of-context and isn’t so much meant to refer to them.

    I’m not totally sure about conservative choices appealing to a general readership in the literary journal… because I’m not totally sure that a general readership even ever sees one. As far as I can tell, most of ’em don’t have a real circulation over 1,000 copies inside the country. I think most of the time they’re just speaking to an older generation of dedicated readers like you or I.

  14. Great discussion guys. How do we get more people reading lit journals? I dunno if we can, in general. It’s worth keeping in mind that most of the long-running lit journals in Aus are heavily subsidised by grants, which can feel discouraging because they couldn’t/don’t survive on sales alone. (As Ronnie noted their circulations are quite low, too…) So if you do want to create a new, commercially successful lit journal you need to think about how to attract a non-lit-journal-reading audience…

    I do think having young people put out stuff like The Lifted Brow and, yes, The Mook, and many other indie journals helps widen the field of people who are reading lit. Of course, these readers might not then go and buy Meanjin or whatever, because they might not consider what they are reading to be lit – i.e. they’ve picked up something because of the theme, or the design, or the fact that it was being sold at a band night… it’s lit by stealth, perhaps?

    Would be interested to hear what other people think!

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