Haiku Book Reviews – part 9

Capital by John Lanchester
Funny, insightful,
one of those great books other
authors love-envy.

The Secret Son by Jenny Ackland
A curious and
sprawling story of secrets,
history and what ifs.

The Mule’s Foal by Fotini Epanomitis
Myth and legend wound
around family memory,
a stark village tale.

The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
A one-night-can’t-put-
down-crying-all-over-my-
hanky-kind-of-read.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Memoir-not-memoir
on motherhood, family,
gender and being.

My Place by Sally Morgan
This is the book that
everyone should reflect on
at ‘Australia’ day.

Something Fresh by P.G Wodehouse
Oh! PG Wodehouse,
where have you been all my life?
Could not put this down.

Antarctica by Gabrielle Walker
An intimate mix
of science, history, epic,
and discovery.

Mawson by Peter Fitzsimons
A long hard slog of
a journey into madness,
ice and history.

In Bed with Douglas Mawson by Craig Cormick
I came for Mawson
and stayed for Cormick’s insight,
portraits and funnies.

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett
I mean, it’s like an
iceberg, right? So much happening
below the surface.

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida
Unassuming and rare,
this book delighted
and devastated me.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Her short stories are
whole and perfect, each one a
novel of its own

Shiver by Nikki Gemmell
A vibrant aching
story of ice and love and
vast immensity.

Ida by Alison Evans
Pulling you in page
by page, a clever take on
the pathways of life.

More than this by Patrick Ness
I walked into a
streetlamp because I couldn’t
stop reading this book.

The First Year by Gen Gannon
Clever and witty,
a stay-awake-late-reading
brilliant kind of book.

the nudists next door

Very happy to have my short memoir piece ‘The Nudists Next Door’ appear in the December 2016 edition of The Victorian Writer. It’s the members’ mag for Writer’s Victoria – the Victorian writing centre for information, support and workshops – so you may just have to mosey on over to their website and order yourself a copy! Or you could mosey on over there and check out their fantastic courses and events. Or you could mosey on over and just kind of lurk about the periphery without anyone knowing your business because it’s a free world, isn’t it, and who am I to demand such prying information from you?

The Big Issue fiction edition 2016

Very excited that my piece ‘The Smell of Her Perfume’ is first cab off the rank in this year’s The Big Issue Fiction Edition. I attended the launch yesterday where fellow contributor Miles Allinson was part of a panel alongside TBI editor Amy Hetherington and books editor Thuy On, chaired by State Library of Victoria CEO Kate Torney. At one point Miles talked about how much harder it is writing short stories than it is writing novels. At this I was nodding so voraciously and unequivocally that my head detached from my neck and rolled across the floor, resting by the stage where it continued to blink in vigorous agreement.*

Short stories are so difficult to master. I say this as someone who has in no one way mastered them. To me, novels are so much more forgiving in that they allow far more time and space to build your characters, create opportunities for them to connect with readers, and to map out their journeys and struggles and realisations. You can forgive a boring paragraph in a novel but they absolutely destroy a short story. Short stories, by their…short…nature, demand connectivity with the reader immediately and are far less merciful. Every sentence – every word – is precious and important, and can make or break the story. It is so so easy to write terrible short stories. I would know. I do know. This is one of the things I know so so well. My man friend has very clear and specific instructions on how immediately following my demise he is to destroy my large cache of failed short stories in an extremely thorough bonfire so that no one can ever set eyes on them. This is my bonfire of the vanities, if you will, though less to do with sin and more to do with my pride and literary vanity.

I feel like I need to write around ten truly terrible short stories in order to salvage one half decent one from the weary rubble of my creativity. And I can never tell at the beginning which this story will be. The one in TBI came about in a single afternoon after I gave up working on a different story that was refusing to be wrenched into existence and had been battling me for weeks. ‘The Smell of Her Perfume’ is the tiniest fraction of a real memory – my mother’s perfume as she carried me home one moonless night – spun into an entirely new beginning and middle. It is simple, raw and brief, and I’m terribly proud of it, though I’ve really no idea where it came from. And I’m terribly chuffed to see it in such a tremendous magazine.

*This actually happened. **
** No it didn’t.

Iran and back again

Sorry for the silence, but I’ve spent the last couple of weeks traipsing about Iran researching book 2: talking politics with young activists in Tehran cafes, getting chased by camels in the sand dune desert and staring in wonder at the centuries-old mosques and shrines swelling with the faithful and devoted.

It is another place, Iran, so different from the Iran of the Western media and political fear mongering. It is a place of history, proud of a Persian culture that spans far before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Of a language that survived the Arab invasion through the determination of its people and the power of poetry as a form of resistance. Where poetry still is a passionate act of subversion, alongside theatre, the arts and the internet as the populace refuse to be restricted by a revolution hardly anyone seems that taken with.

This was the thing that struck me most in Iran – the many daily acts of defiance of its people. I met religious conservatives and Tehrani hipsters, elderly villagers and well-off city folk, and everyone seemed determined to show me that Iranians are not their government and will not allow their government to limit their freedoms. Whether it be making their own wine at home, pushing the limits of what is considered a headscarf or striking up conversations with strangers in cafes to encourage them to enrol and vote in the elections, people find ways to voice their protest and demand their freedoms – to demand the choice to decide what they do, how they dress, how they practice their religion and who governs them. And more than anything, what people tried to convey to me through their frank openness, their friendly conversations and their boundless hospitality was their frustration at knowing how the world sees them. As one woman told me: We hate that people think we are terrorists or that our government represents us. We just want people to know that we are people, some good, some bad, but people like everyone else.

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weddings, parties, anything

My big brother and sister-in-law were kind enough to ask me to do a reading during their wedding ceremony last night. We joked about me pulling the reading from my own book, but there’s nothing really wedding appropriate in TBIB at all, plus I’m conscious about being that person.

Instead, I read a wonderful passage from Louis de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a subtle shout out to my family’s Greek heritage. I love the book, and, as I said in my introduction to the reading, ‘it is a beautiful story of love and war and Mussolini and syphilis, so perfectly apt for a wedding.’ Here is what I read (affixed to the back of a copy of TBIB because everyone loves a good self-promotional jape.)

“When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are to become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day… For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.” – Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

As for the rest of the wedding, I danced as if no one was watching which made all the people who were watching laugh.

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