I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the Avon Valley Readers and Writers Festival since its inception in 2012, and I’m pleased to report that the 2016 iteration was the best yet. For the first time, the AVRWF stretched across York, Northam and Toodyay, with each Wheatbelt town spending a day in the spotlight. The festival kicked off for me on Friday night at Barclay Books in York with Portland Jones reading from her recently-released novel Seeing the Elephant, accompanied by William Yeoman on guitar. Portland read beautifully and I was sure to pick up a signed copy of her book before the night was through. I also met Rashida Murphy, whose novel The Historian’s Daughter was also recently released to widespread acclaim.
On Saturday, I missed out on seeing Ian Reid’s session on writing historical fiction due to my kids playing in a hockey grand final in Beverley (they lost but were proud to have made it that far), but I scurried back to Northam in time for Ron Elliot’s workshop on scriptwriting. Ron won’t remember this, but he’s actually taught me scriptwriting before, way back in 2000 at Curtin University. After lunch, I attended sessions by the very witty Brigid Lowry (who reminds me more than a little of another Kiwi import in Juliet Marillier, not least because of her accent) and Sara Foster. Saturday ended with a bang at the Riverside Hotel, literally a two minute walk from my front door, for the customary dinner and author panel. The panel was facilitated by Kelli McCluskey and included Tabetha Beggs, Ron Elliot, Corina Martin, myself and one other person whose name temporarily escapes me. Everyone got a chance to say their piece, including members of the audience (many of them esteemed festival guests) and a good time was had.
On Sunday the show decamped to blustery Toodyay where I first attended a session by Tabetha Beggs (Chairperson of KSP) and Belinda Hermawan (President of FAWWA) on why WA authors and readers should band together in the face of government funding cuts and other threats. Next up was a fascinating session by Sam Carmody and Brooke Davis on their writing friendship and journeys to publication and acclaim. After lunch we heard from Michelle Michau-Crawford, winner of the Elizabeth Jolley Award and author of the excellent Leaving Elvis and Other Stories regarding a sense of place in fiction. Finally it was time for my own session on writing short fiction and entering relevant competitions, which seemed to pass by without calamity.
Then it was 4pm and everyone was saying goodbye. It was a privilege to have been a part of this year’s Avon Valley Readers and Writers Festival, which almost literally brought a bevy of talented WA authors to my doorstep. Thanks very much to Angi McCluskey for coordinating the whole shebang and to the rest of the hardworking library employees for allowing the whole thing to happen. I can only hope that next year’s AVRWF will be even bigger and better than the 2016 edition.
The fourth annual Avon Valley Readers and Writers Festival is upon us, on the weekend of 9-11th September. This year the Festival will stretch across the Wheatbelt towns of York, Northam and Toodyay. This promises to be the biggest and best AVRWF yet with dozens of notable authors in attendance. The full program is online here.
I’ll be presenting a session on writing short fiction on Sunday 11th from 3pm at Toodyay Public Library. This session will cover some mechanics of story construction, tips on entering short fiction competitions, and I’ll be reading ‘Frank’ from the newly-minted Award Winning Australian Writing 2016, which was launched just last week in Melbourne. Here’s a link to my session on facebook.
I’m really looking forward to the festival and in particular meeting WA authors like Sam Carmody, Brooke Davis and Michelle Michau-Crawford, whose books I have read and very much enjoyed recently. I’m also looking forward to the dinner and author forum on Saturday night at the Riverside Hotel, where I’ll be appearing alongside Ron Elliot, Fleur McDonald, Tabetha Beggs and Kelli McCluskey.
My crime story ‘Frank’, which won the 2015 City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award, will shortly appear in Award Winning Australian Writing 2016, which is being launched at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 31st August. Sadly I won’t be able to attend the launch, but I am looking forward to reading this year’s crop of award winning stories. I’ll be reading from ‘Frank’ as part of my workshop on short fiction at the Avon Valley Readers and Writers Festival on 9-11 September.
‘Frank’ will also be appearing in Westerly: New Creative, an electronic issue of Westerly featuring emerging Western Australian authors, which will be launched at the Australian Short Story Festival in Perth on 21-23 October. Happily this is a launch I will be able to attend. I’m really looking forward to these launches and events; it should be a great end to 2016. I’ll be enjoying my hard-earned Long Service Leave from teaching over this period too–can’t wait!
Writing the Dream from Serenity Press is an upcoming collection of non-fiction pieces from 24 Australian authors on their pathways to publication. Featuring work by big name authors like Juliet Marillier, Natasha Lester and Anna Jacobs, the volume also includes pieces by emerging authors such as myself. I’ve been extremely impressed by the work the Serenity Press team is doing in terms of marketing. Writing the Dream will include a foreword by West Australian books editor William Yeoman and I expect it’ll get a fair bit of publicity in the WA media. As a pre-order special, Serenity is offering a free Writing the Dream notebook with the first 1000 sales. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this.
You can listen to a podcast of Monique Mulligan, WA author, reviewer and Serenity Press co-director, on Business Insider Radio.
Monique blogs and reviews at WriteNotes.
Writing the Dream will be released in November.
It’s not easy being an emerging writer in Australia, or probably any other country for that matter. Arts budgets have been slashed, bookstores are closing, even the Australia Council is under threat. In this landscape, The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award is a beacon of hope, offering Australian writers under 35 the possibility of breaking out of obscurity and earning $20,000 as part of the bargain. For a long time it was my overriding literary ambition to one day win the Vogel, and I knew that my final, final deadline was May 31st, 2016. By 2017, I’d be too old to enter and thus for the best part of a decade I’ve seen thirty-five as my expiry date, Logan’s Run style.
I had a plan, one that I first concocted in 2008. I’d churn out a novel every two years in the twelve weeks of annual leave afforded to me in my role of English teacher in WA’s Wheatbelt. For the most part, I kept my end of the deal. I entered my dystopian novel Yellowcake Springs in 2010, and while it didn’t get anywhere in the Vogel it later won the IP Picks Award and was thus published by IP in 2011. I didn’t enter Yellowcake Summer, reasoning that it was a sequel and not likely to feature, but I was unperturbed. I had another far off date in mind, Jan 31st 2016, by which time I’d have completed ten years of teaching and thus would be entitled to thirteen weeks Long Service Leave. I’d take this as soon as it became available, in Term 1 2016. This would give me the opportunity to give the Vogel one final crack.
Unfortunately, but seemingly inevitably, it didn’t work out like that. In 2012, I spent the best part of the year working for the State School Teachers Union of WA, which made for a welcome break from teaching but blew my Long Service Leave date out to October 2016. I knew exactly what this meant: there’d be no last hurrah in 2016. If I was going to win the Vogel, I’d have to do it the hard way. The novel that materialised, my first crime novel, was Thirsty Work, which was written in part during my Katharine Susannah Prichard residency in 2013. I put what I thought to be the finishing touches on the novel in April 2014, during a second residency at the Fellowship of Australian Writers WA. I sent off my Vogel entry a month before the deadline and then, reasoning that it was folly to put all one’s eggs in the one basket, sent an extract of the novel to Fremantle Press. I went back to work with high hopes.
Six months later, Thirsty Work hadn’t been shortlisted for the Vogel, Fremantle Press had rejected it (albeit with words of encouragement) and my marriage of twelve years was over. In the summer of 2014/15 I had two choices: to stick with Thirsty Work and try to make the changes Fremantle Press had suggested, or twist and try to write a new novel in time to enter it into the Vogel in May 2016. I stuck, and struck out: Fremantle Press rejected the revised version of Thirsty Work, the novel was rejected by at least a dozen other Australian publishers, and I’d be turning thirty-five in less than eighteen months.
I did have an idea for a subsequent novel, City of Rubber Stamps, but it failed to cohere in time. I produced an abortive 10,000 word start on the novel in 2015, but in my heart I knew I wasn’t ready. During these months, I produced a handful of short stories when I had the chance and had some success in publishing these. Writing short stories seemed an altogether happier task than slogging my way through drafting novels that’d likely never see the light of day anyway. In the summer of 2015/16, I wrote only two short pieces: ‘Hard Travelin”, which will appear in November 2016 in Writing the Dream, and ‘The Not-Bird’, a retread of an earlier story. I was, and quite probably still am, at a low ebb.
Now, in July 2016, a month shy of my thirty-fifth birthday, I have that Long Service Leave up my sleeve, but by next year I’ll be too old for the Vogel. My last day of school for the year will be September 23rd, my daughter’s eleventh birthday. Thereafter I’ll have four glorious months to get cracking on City of Rubber Stamps. I’m getting married again in that time, too. My partner and I will be spending two weeks trekking around Tasmania in a campervan, but I’ll have my laptop handy. I might be too old for the Vogel, but with any luck there’ll be other dawns and new horizons.
It was 2009 when I first picked up an old paperback with an intriguing cover depicting a snake, Ouroboros-style, eating its own tail. The book was A Feast of Snakes, its author Harry Crews unknown to me, but as I sat down to read I was electrified. I’ve only felt this way a handful of times, experiencing an instant, profound connection with a book and author. I enjoyed A Feast of Snakes so much that, upon completing it later that day, I started from page one and read it cover to cover again. Thus began my ‘Crews Cruise’, a year-long quest to obtain and read all twenty or so of the author’s books. The only book of Crews’ that I didn’t obtain and read at that time, aside from obscure titles like The Enthusiast and Madonna at Ringside, was the very expensive, never-released-in-paperback This Thing Don’t Lead to Heaven. I eventually rectified that omission in 2013, but by then Harry Crews was dead.
Having read pretty much all of the published secondary material on Crews as well, I proceeded to wait patiently for the author’s follow-up to his heartwrenching memoir, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. Crews had completed writing it before he died, I’d read. That title, Assault of Memory, never came, but here’s the next best thing, a touching biography by Ted Geltner. (As an aside, I must be about the first person in Australia to have read this book, several weeks before its slated release date. I have my local bookstore, Barclay Books, to thank for that.) Not every author gets the biography they deserve. Some years ago I was rather underwhelmed by a book on the never-boring Brion Gysin, whereas on the other hand Julie Philips’ biography of James Tiptree Jr has to be the best I’ve ever read. Happily, Blood, Bone, and Marrow falls squarely in the latter camp.
Harry Crews led an immensely interesting life, but I’ve long been starved of information on all but the first decade of that life. The outstanding documentary “Harry Crews: Survival is Triumph Enough” makes for compelling viewing, but it’s almost completely devoid of anything about Crews’ actual publishing journey. Similarly, no one could write better about Crews’ childhood than the man himself, but that seminal memoir ends with the author still a small boy. Most of the remaining seven decades of Crews’ life were blank to me, interspersed as they were by snippets from interviews (most of them collected in Getting Naked with Harry Crews and Critical Perspectives on Harry Crews) and non-fiction pieces collected in Blood and Grits and Florida Frenzy. Geltner’s biography fills those blanks for me and I believe that that’s a major part of what a literary biography should do.
More than that, though, Blood, Bone and Marrow offers a compelling, often funny and frequently sad account of a deeply flawed and yet profoundly influential American writer. Harry Crews toiled his whole life against the cards life had dealt him and he went to his grave without knowing the answer to one of the most fundamental of life’s questions: Who is my daddy? What blood runs through these veins? When Harry Crews passed away in 2012 I felt like I lost a treasured great uncle. Around the same time I lost J. G. Ballard and William Gay, too. I can only thank and applaud Ted Geltner for bringing Harry Crews alive for me again, albeit fleetingly.
The epigraph of the book’s final chapter is a quote from Crews himself: “The big oaks have to fall down so the little oaks can grow up. And now it’s my turn to go down.” Harry Crews was a big oak, one of the biggest, and in my mind he’ll never go down.
Three pieces of recent publishing news: first, my story ‘Frank’, which won the 2015 City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award, has now been chosen for publication in Westerly’s upcoming ‘New Creative‘ online issue. I’m really looking forward to appearing alongside a host of other (as yet unnamed) emerging authors.
Secondly, my baroque future fantasy piece, ‘when the jellyfish rule the oceans’, has been published online in Pound of Flash.
And finally, a non-fiction piece about my (torturous) pathway to publication, ‘Hard Travelin’, will be published later this year in Writing the Dream.
I’m pleased to be able to report these successes, but I’m still looking for homes for my fourth Tyler Bramble detective story, ‘Epoch O’Lips’, as well as a literary story about obsessive compulsive disorder and a dead ferret, ‘Losing Her Zen’. Hopefully I’ll find suitable homes for them in the coming months.