Book Reviews: Bitter Wash Road and Peace by Gary Disher

Australian veteran author Garry Disher has written over fifty books in a range of genres: crime thrillers, literary/general novels, short-story collections, YA/children’s novels, and writers’ handbooks. Disher produces about a book a year and was recognised for his extensive work when awarded the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award, 2018.

I recently read Bitter Wash Road (2013) and Peace (2019). Stand alone crime fiction novels, though they both have the same protagonist and are set in the same town. Bitter Wash Road was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Awards, Best Crime Novel, 2014. Both novels are complex slow burners with multi layered plots that keep the reader engaged and guessing.

It was heart-stopping, seeing Wendy Street at a Hills Hoist set in the lawn, battling a great flower head of white sheets onto the line. They flung themselves about, enveloping, licking and taunting, flattening against her body and filling with air again. He watched her wreathe and dance, fighting, feeling blindly for the pegs and the line.

Bitter Wash Road

Constable Paul Hirschhausen (Hirsch), the protagonist in these two books is a whistleblower cop who was demoted and sent to remote, dusty Tiverton, three hours north of Adelaide off the highway in South Australia. Other cops don’t trust him and internal investigations keep hounding him. Hirsch spends his days trying to do the right thing and stay out of trouble trawling the country roads and building relations with the locals, doing welfare checks and resolving small grievances until more serious crimes take place and all hell breaks loose.

This close to Christmas, the mid-north sun had some heft to it, house bricks, roofing iron, asphalt and the red-dirt plains giving back all the heat of all the days.

Peace

Disher knows rural SA intimately having grown up there and invokes the isolation of a small country town and its inhabitants beautifully, using economical pared back prose to show the climate, distance, inhabitants and challenges of remote towns. Disher’s plotting is subtle and the years developing his skills shine through in these well crafted novels with complex characters.

Book Review: The Fragments by Toni Jordan

Who doesn’t love a writerly mystery novel?

Popular Austrian-American author Inga Karlson and her publisher were killed in a mysterious warehouse fire in New York in 1939, along with every copy of Karlson’s highly anticipated novel. The two were believed to be the only one’s who ever read the manuscript and all that remains are a few page fragments. Over the next forty years Karlson becomes a cult figure and the fragments become much studied and analysed.

And in the end, all we have are the hours and the days, the minutes and the way we bear them, the seconds spent on this earth and the number of them that truly mattered.
― Toni Jordan, The Fragments

Caddie Walker was named after a character in Karlson’s first novel and works as a bookstore assistant in Brisbane in 1986 after dropping out of university because of a failed love affair with a professor. When the Karlson fragments are bought to Australia and put on display in a Brisbane museum Caddie meets an old woman who calls herself Rachel and quotes what sounds like additional text from the book fragments that supposedly no one has read, and a mystery is born which Caddie is determined to solve.

“To spend her days reading and growing things. Could there be any better life?”
― Toni Jordan, The Fragments

The Fragments tells Karlson and Caddie’s stories across two different time periods, both of which Jordan brings brilliantly to life through her use of sights, sounds, smells and carefully selected cultural references. The character’s stories unfold at a pace into a twisty intermeshed climax. Part historical novel and part contemporary mystery the two stories are held together by the fragments and the theme of loss that runs through both characters lives. The Fragments is a page turner, and highly recommended.

“Books are time travel and space travel and mood-altering drugs. They are mind-melds and telepathy and past-life regression. How people can stand here and not sense the magic in them – it’s inconceivable to her.”
― Toni Jordan, The Fragments

The Fragments (2018) is Melbourne author, Toni Jordan’s fourth novel and the first I have read, but I’ll certainly be reading more her other work. Her debut Addition (2008) was long listed for the Miles Franklin Award, her second Fall Girl (2010) was optioned for film, Nine Days (2012) was named the Indie Book of the Year by the Australian Booksellers in 2013, and Our Tiny Useless Hearts (2016) was long listed for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Review: Adelaide Festival Theatre and WOMADelaide

On my annual pilgrimage to Adelaide for Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Writers Week and WOMADelaide, there was so much to see I’ve milked a couple of weeks worth of blogs from it. I had only been there a little over twenty four hours and my brain had already been thoroughly exercised.

Being immersed in a diversity of creative arts of all kinds provides inspiration and motivation for writing. This blog covers the theatre I attended and WOMADelaide music festival.

The Doctor By Robert Icke

The Doctor starring Juliet Stevenson, is an adaptation, by Robert Icke, of the play by Viennese dramatist, short story writer and novelist Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 production Professor Bernhardi, a portrait of antisemitism.

The adaptation broadens out the focus of the play to be about identity politics (gender, sexuality, race and class), ethics (medical, religious, parental) and power dynamics. The director extended the issues and really messed with the audiences head, perceptions and biases by casting women as men, white people as black and black as white.

The protagonist Ruth Wolff is a Alzheimer’s medical practitioner and secular Jew. She prevents a priest seeing a fourteen year old girl dying of sepsis as the result of a self administered abortion. He was called by the parents but the girl is not in a state to decide for herself if she wants to see the priest. The incident goes viral and provokes a petition and TV debates, that jeopardise Ruth’s career and the medical institutes funding. ‘The incident’ itself had some of the qualities of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas in its impact.

All the characters in the play claim righteousness in their own positions and all are shown to be potentially compromised by their own characteristics or beliefs. The playwright employs an exquisitely torturous interrogation of the use and misuse of language, and the play was an exhausting, mind bending, and brilliantly performed piece of theatre that I will be pondering for some time. If you ever get a chance, go and see it.

Dimanche by Chaliwaté and Focus

The Belgian theatre production Dimanche (meaning Sunday) was both beautiful and harrowing. The almost wordless performance was delivered through the mediums of film, acting, sound and puppetry and depicts three friends tracking and filming the cataclysmic impacts of climate change.

It begins with three filmmakers journeying in an imaginary truck to the arctic to document the breakup of ice flows. Only two survive the experience and we cut to life size polar bear puppets on a futile search for food as their habitat disintegrates. The set switches to a couple living with an elderly relative in extreme heat. As they swelter under fans, the furniture melts, and eventually the elderly woman succumbs to the elements.

With each new scene, another of the friends falls victim to the impacts of climate change until the final scene which depicts the world under water. It was a stunning piece of theatre, precisely executed. I am very glad I went to see it despite leaving feeling like a frog in a slowly boiling pot of water.

WOMADelaide

WOMAD is a four day music, arts and dance festival held in Adelaide’s shady Botanic Park and a chance to immerse oneself in what feels like a parallel universe. Around 20,000 people per day and hundreds of artist from around the world gather each day to celebrate the diversity or music and arts with performances across eight stages scattered through the park.

My favourites included music by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Tami Neilson, Mavis Staples and Spinifex Gum; acrobatic performance by Gravity and Other Myths; and climate talks by Cristiana Figures the former UN Secretary for Climate and reflections on climate optimism by film maker Damon Gameau, scientist Will Steffen, environmental lawyer Michelle Lim and Adelaide Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor.

I departed Adelaide full of creative inspiration and having done some internal plotting and written a few scenes for my next novel, which will have an environmental theme and be set partly in Melbourne, partly in East Gippsland. Watch this space.

Theatre images from the internet

Adelaide Writers Week 2020

Adelaide Writers Week (#AdlWW) remains one of the best writers festivals I’ve attended. Year after year it doesn’t disappoint, and attendance is free. This year showcased a lot more non-fiction than fiction and it was an intellectual feast.

My plane landed at 3pm last Sunday and I got to #AdlWW in time for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. If you want to get your reading groove on with some award winners keep an eye out for these:

Children’s Literature Award and Premiers AwardNevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia) – An enchanting series by debut Australian author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world, but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.

Young Adult Fiction Award Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein (Walker Books Australia). Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival.

Fiction AwardThe Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones (The Text Publishing Company) The art historian Noah Glass, having just returned from a trip to Sicily, is discovered floating face down in the swimming pool at his Sydney apartment block. But a sculpture has gone missing from a museum in Palermo, and Noah is a suspect. The police are investigating.

Natalie Harkin

John Bray Poetry AwardArchival-Poetics by Natalie Harkin (Vagabond Press) an embodied reckoning with the State’s colonial archive and those traumatic, contested and buried episodes of history that inevitably return to haunt.

Non Fiction AwardThe Bible in Australia: A cultural history by Meredith Lake (NewSouth Publishing) explores how in the hands of Bible-bashers, immigrants, suffragists, evangelists, unionists, writers, artists and Indigenous Australians, the Bible has played a contested but defining role in Australia.

After four and a half days of listening to many fabulous writers, here are some snippets from the ones that most captured my attention:

Fiction

Fiction writers I really enjoyed listening to included Charlotte Wood (The Weekend); Tash Aw (We, the Survivors); Alice Robinson (The Glad Shout); Lucy Treloar (Wolfe Island); Felicity McLean (The Van Appel Girls are Gone); and Michael Robotham (Good Girl, Bad Girl).

The imagination is so private, fiction writers worry about what people think about what’s coming out of our heads… you don’t want to be Andrew Bolt but you don’t want to self sensor before you put words on the page…if you have some talent you are obliged to use it.

Charlotte Wood

Non fiction

Meredith Lake, author of The Bible in Australia had a discussion with Christos Tsiolkas, fiction author of Damascus and Tim Costello author of memoir A Lot with a Little (Christianity’s Crossroads) on ethics and the culture of Christianity at a time when faith is in decline and church institutions have been in crisis. The three interpret the words in the bible in a way that is a world away from the likes of Israel Falou and the cherry picked words that spill from the venomous mouths of the more conservative religious leaders. Their interpretations speak of tolerance and justice and equality and attempt to grapple with the contradictions of faith, including the weaponisation of the bible and the churches as custodians of as much evil as good in Australia’s history. The discussion was far reaching across subjects such as Indigenous and LGBTI rights, child sexual abuse, refugees, science and climate change and was one of the most thought provoking discussions I have heard in some time, which is saying something for a secular non-believer.

Meredith Lake, Christos Tsiolkas and Tim Costello

I want the best of faith to defeat the worst of religion

Tim Costello

Ross Garnaut author of Superpower: Australia’s Low Carbon Opportunity had a conversation with Tim Flannery author of Life Selected Writings on climate change. Garnaut pointed out there was a brief optimistic moment in 2007-08 when all Australian governments were behind a positive climate policy move. This ended when Abbott wrested power from Turnbull then got rid of the climate council and carbon pricing and set about discrediting the science.

In 2016 a cyclonic weather event had a significant impact on South Australia’s power supply after destroying some pylons that were in the main supply line. The Commonwealth Government blamed the weather event on renewable energy. In another world the reality of a cyclonic event occurring in a non cyclonic region would have been seen as an example of the problem of climate change. As the speakers noted, governments have a loud megaphone, and when they lie, they get traction. A situation we see playing out more and more with politicians peddling fake news. The risk is they open themselves up to being vulnerable themselves to being tossed out by the next, better liar.

The shining light in the climate debate is that the state parliaments are in pretty good shape and delivering positive results in the climate change space. The federal parliament is pretty weak and bleak, aside from outlier, Zali Stephen. The price of successive government failures and our failure to change policy earlier is that we now need to cut emissions by 7% per year, every year from now on. It seems there are twenty five people in the Federal parliament holding twenty five million Australians to ransom. The electorate needs to force politicians to act.

The Cut Out Girl, a biography by Bart Van Es. The story was drawn from Barts family in the Netherlands during WWII. His grandparents were one of many families who hid Jewish children from the Nazis during the war. Bart tells the story of Lien, who was hidden for some time by his grandparents.

The degree to which we dehumanise others reflects how disconnected we are from our own humanity…mainstream acts of intolerance in the middle enable extreme acts at the fringe…compassion has to be married to healthy boundaries and consequences…

Tony McAleer

Other non-fiction writers I really enjoyed listening to included Long Litt Woon (Mushrooming and Mourning); Jamie Susskind (Future politics); Sophie Cunningham (City of Trees); Chike Frankie Edozien (Lives of Great Men); Dennis Altman (Unrequited Love); Tony McAleer (The Cure for Hate); Yanis Varoufakis (And the Weak Suffer What They Must?); Margaret Simons (Penny Wong Biography); Angela Woolacott (Don Dunstan biography); and the delightful, thoughtful and funny Vicki Laveau-Hardie who’s debut memoir The Erratics was published when she was in her seventies and won the Stella Prize.

Book review: The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde

I almost drowned in the beauty and tragedy of this watery novel. The End of the Ocean is two stories that converge twenty-four years apart, either side of climate change induced environmental and societal collapse.

They talked, the two men, and the mountain ate up their words.

The End of the Ocean

In 2017, seventy year old Norwegian sailor, journalist and environmental activist Signe visits the place of her childhood. Once a place of great natural beauty, the river and waterfalls have been diverted for hydro electricity, events that destroyed the habitat of much flora and fauna, her parents marriage and her own first relationship. The glaciers are melting and she discovers her old love, whom she has never gotten over, is contributing to their destruction by selling glacial ice to the Middle East as a luxury item. She is infuriated and tips most of a load of ice into the ocean to melt and sets off in her sailing boat, Blue, with the remaining twelve non-degradable blue plastic containers in search of her old lover so she can dump them in his yard.

It is strange—no, surreal, surreal is the word—that I’m one of them, the old people, when I am still so completely myself through and through, the same person I have always been; whether I am fifteen, thirty-five or fifty, I am a constant, unchanged mass, like the person I am in a dream, like a stone, like one-thousand-year-old ice. My age is disconnected from me, only when I move does its presence become perceptible—then it makes itself known through all its pains, the aching knees, the stiff neck, the grumbling hip.

The End of the Ocean

In 2041, twenty five year old David worked at a desalination plant until the drought became so severe he had to flee with his family. He is a climate refugee in a French refugee camp trying to find his wife and infant son who he and his six year old daughter Lou became separated from when they had to abandon their home due to the drought and a massive fire. Once they have reunited they will head north to the water countries.

But the power came and went, the stores were emptied of food staples and the city became emptier, quieter. And hotter. Because the drier the earth became, the hotter the air was. Previously the sun had applied its forces to evaporation. When there was no longer any moisture on the earth, we became the sun’s target.

The End of the Ocean

Signe’s journey is fuelled by anger and despair at humanities destruction of the environment and personal sadness about her own relationships. As she encounters many perils on her sea voyage she reflects on her own life and relationships, and why she lives such an isolated existence. David’s journey is driven by desperation and the longing to be reunited with his wife and son as he tries to provide for himself and his daughter in a world where climate change and water shortages means day to day survival is tenuous. Gradually the two stories converge across time when David and Lou stumble across an old sailboat under tarps at an abandoned house far from the sea.

I have really tried, I have been fighting for my entire life, but I have been mostly alone; there are so few of us, it was futile, everything we talked about, everything we said would happen has happened, the heat has already arrived, nobody listened.

The End of the Ocean

The speculative fiction novel is a meditation on human destruction of the environment, climate change, family relationships and human resilience. The End of the Ocean, translated from the original Norwegian by Diane Oatley, is beautifully written yet a frightening rendering of what a future world might look like in the face of climate change. The ambiguous ending contributes to the haunting sadness infused throughout, a must read, but not a feel good one. Lunde, a climate change advocate, is also the author of The History of Bees (2015) and Przewalskis Horse (yet to be translated), both of which I will add to my reading list.

Write, edit, submit…

Writing is a team sport

Really the title of this blog post should be write, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, submit. In my #AuthorsForFireys blog I mentioned that I had sent my manuscript off to an assessor. About ten days ago, editor Dan Hanks sent me his feedback and report on my manuscript. I was chuffed to read this comment in his email: The long and short of it is that this was a tremendously fun story.

Dan’s report is a considered breakdown of everything he thought worked or needed polishing. He also included a brain dump of notes scattered through the manuscript, pointing out his thoughts as he went which was really helpful. I have quoted some of his comments in this blog.

The story unfolds at pace, the structure is all present and correct, and the characters are so well written in their shades of grey that you’re never quite sure who is going to end up being good or bad or somewhere in between. Which means the tension is kept cranked up to 11 for most of the book and the reader can’t help but keep turning the page to find out how it’s all going to end. Great stuff!

manuscript assessment comment

I have heard varied opinions about the value of manuscript assessments, so I did enter into this exercise with a degree of skepticism. It was with welcome relief that found it to be very valuable. There is also the added bonus of an injection of confidence when someone you don’t know, and who’s job it is to be critical, reviews your work.

The writing style is crisp and clean and punchy, as you would hope from a book of this genre, but there is certainly scope to vary the rhythm in places and build on the beautiful flourishes of prose that crop up from time to time – which I believe will lift the book to the next level.

manuscript assessment comment

Here are the things I found most helpful from Dan’s feedback…

On story, plot and structure:

  • identified some gaps and areas he felt needed to be fleshed out – particularly to give context to make it work more effectively for an international market
  • inject a little more scene setting
  • identified a loose end I hadn’t accounted for that needed tying up

There is a big theme here about having the freedom to be yourself. Theme is a big way to turn a perfectly fine and well plotted story into something that the reader can’t stop thinking about after they’ve put the book down. And what you’ve done with these characters – set against a backdrop of a campaign arguing for the right to be able to be yourself – is quite special.

manuscript assessment comment

On characters:

  • a couple of minor characters he felt needed a bit more distinction between them

On writing style (description/dialogue):

  • identified a few areas to tidy up to improve clarity and flow
  • a couple of spots to improve logic or continuity for the reader
  • some advice on grouping dialogue snippets appropriately so it’s easy for the reader to understand who is saying what
The forest for the trees

Last week I worked through all Dan’s feedback and made most of the changes he suggested. The other interesting thing for me about this exercise was that between the beta readers and the manuscript assessment I set the work aside for about a month without looking at, or thinking about it at all. I had one of those ‘aha’ moments when I went back to the work, about why people say you should let your manuscript ‘breathe’. Looking at it with fresh eyes gave me a new perspective, and I made some more new changes I identified myself, because of the distance.

All in all this is a really entertaining read, with a surprising amount of heart for a thriller, and some great characters to follow as they try to solve this mystery (and hopefully more in the future??).

manuscript assessment comment

I still have some minor tidying up to do, but did send a synopsis and a sample of the work I have completed revising to query a couple of agents last week, so I feel I have now started the next part of this journey. As I enter the querying phase, I am following the approach I learnt from completing the online Pitch Your Novel course I wrote an earlier blog about and look forward to seeing how that goes, though no doubt the waiting will be a challenge!

How is your writing journey going?

Book Review: The Dark Lake By Sarah Bailey

Secrets are at the heart of a good mystery and Sarah Bailey packs them into her debut psychological mystery, The Dark Lake.

The house turned out to hold more of Robbie’s secrets than I had ever expected, though I am sure there are many more that we will never know

The Dark Lake

Gemma Woodstock is a cop in Smithson, the small town in New South Wales where she grew up. She’s good at her job but a personal train wreck, which stems back to the suicide of her first boyfriend at the end of high school ten years earlier. Her relationship with her loving partner and father of her child is distant, she is sleeping with her married work partner Felix, struggles to be a good parent to the son she loves, and drowns her emotions in booze.

Probably I should move away, leave Smithson, but starting over has never been a strength of mine. I have trouble letting go.

The Dark Lake

When high school drama teacher Rosalind Ryan, who Gemma went to school with, is murdered, the small town is shocked. Gemma and Felix start to investigate the crime and the intertwined secrets of Rosalind and Gemma start to emerge. The investigation almost undoes Gemma in her effort to keep her own history and emotions separate from the case.

I allow myself to process the fact that Rosalind Ryan is dead. I suddenly feel startled to find myself a fully grown adult.

The Dark Lake

The book is a well written slow burner and hooks you in with a compelling and complex story line. It’s character driven with a well drawn cast who are easy to like and/or hate. The story shifts from the present to ten years earlier, gradually revealing the interlinking stories as the secrets are revealed.

Set in between a burst of mountain ranges, Smithson is a little oasis of greenery in the middle of endless fawn-colored acres of Aussie farmland.

The Dark Lake

I liked it enough that I will read the next in the series, Into the Night.

Taking a writing break

Are we there yet?

I had a week off last week and went surfing with some friends and a couple of hounds. It was also an intentional week off from writing, so I prepared last weeks blog post in advance and wrote this one after I got home. Having subscribed to a ‘write every day,’ or at lease most days philosophy for the last four years, it was an interesting exercise.

Point Roadknight

Of course there is a good reason for writing every day. The practice, like developing an exercise routine, drives momentum, improves your writing technique and keeps you connected to the story you are working on. The flip side is that stopping (like stopping exercise) makes me worry I may lose my writing muscle and struggle to get back into it. It’s a bizarre bind. When I’m writing I often worry about the other things, like domestic chores, that I should be doing, yet when I’m not writing I worry that I’m not – in case I lose momentum. Despite my contrary feelings, the week off was refreshing and fun.

Main beach
Main beach

Anglesea is about 115 kilometres west of Melbourne at the northern end of the Great Ocean Road on the Anglesea River. It has a resident population of about 2,500 people and retains the feel of a sleepy village. We stayed at a house close to a bushland reserve and the local golf course which is home to a mob of kangaroos. It was quite lovely to hear the thud of kangaroos hopping through the garden in the night and to be woken by early morning bird calls each day.

Who’s got the ball?

The locale is a great spot to get away and relax, walk parts of the 44km coastal walk or through the beautiful wetlands at the head of the river, surf the long rolling waves, eat fresh fish and produce from one of the many local farmers markets, or simply read a book and gaze out over the bushland. And I did all of those things.

Yippee!

One day a friend who is the chef at a local cafe dropped by with fresh caught tuna which was delicious barbequed and served with fresh salads and overcooked potatoe chips. On another night we ate at Captain Moonlite, an eatery jutting out over the main beach in the surf lifesaving club restaurant that serves up coastal views and a fresh modern seaside inspired menu that is updated daily. A must for a night out in Anglesea.

Rest time

One afternoon we made the half hour drive to Lorne along the Great Ocean Road. It’s a drive that makes you realise just how beautiful the Australian coastline is – who needs Greece! Lorne is home to an old Art Deco theatre built in 1937 to cater to tourism after the completion of the Great Ocean Road. The cinema has terrazzo floors and is one of the few single screen theatres left in Australia. We saw the movie Little Women, which I enjoyed but found a bit long. The theatre is worth a visit, just remember to take cash as there’s no credit card facilities.

Raining Roo

The complete change of scenery felt much longer than a week and I feel quite refreshed. I’ll start to get back into the swing of writing this week and expect to get my manuscript assessment back soon so I can make what changes I need to, start querying in earnest and get on with my next book, which cogitated quietly in the background while I was away.

Morning glory

Dames of Crime: Helen de Guerry Simpson

Australian born of French heritage, Helen de Guerry Simpson (1897-1940) achieved much in her relatively short life. Simpson moved to England as a teenager and was educated at Oxford where she studied music. Her education was interrupted by the war, and in 1917 she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Services to work as an interpreter and decoder, unscrambling secret messages for the British Admiralty.

Simpson met and became close friends with another female crime writer, Dorothy L. Sayers in London. Both women were early members of the Detection Club along with other well known British detective writers like Agatha Christie. Sayers contributed to two of the Detection Club’s round-robin works The Floating Admiral (1931) and Ask a Policeman (1933) and the creative non-fiction The Anatomy of Murder (1936).

Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

Oath of the Detective Club

Simpson was a woman with dynamic energy and broad interests. She was known to be a good fencer, an accomplished horsewoman, and a student of witchcraft. She played the flute and piano and was an excellent cook and wine maker using ancient recipes to make her brews which she stored in the cellars under her London house. She also worked as a radio broadcaster, a playwright and ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate on the Isle of Wight in 1938.

Simpson was a versatile writer, publishing poetry, writing plays, short stories, crime fiction, historical fiction and historical biography and non-fiction. Her first book, Aquittal (1925), was written in five weeks as the result of a bet. Five of her novels were mysteries, three of which were written in collaboration with English novelist and playwright Clemence Dane (also known as Winifred Ashton) whom Simpson named her own daughter after. The authors first collaborative work was Enter Sir John (1928), followed by Printer’s Devil (1930) and Re-Enter Sir John (1932) set in the English theatre world with protagonist, amateur sleuth and actor Sir John. During this period Simpson also wrote the dark political novel Vantage Striker (1931).

Simpson won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for her 1932 novel Boomerang which was her first big success. Two of Simpsons novels and one collaboration were turned into movies. Enter Sir John (1929), written with Clemence Dane, was filmed as Murder! (1930) by Alfred Hitchcock; Under Capricorn (1937) set in NSW was turned to film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1949 and starred Ingrid Bergman and Michael Wilding; and Saraband for Dead Lovers (1935) was filmed in 1948.

Simpson died age 42 in October 1940 after a short illness.

Bibliography

Novels:
Acquittal (1925)
Cups, Wands and Swords (1927)
The Desolate House (1929)
Enter Sir John (1929)(with Clemence Dane)-filmed as Murder! (1930) by Alfred Hitchcock
Printer’s Devil (1930)(with Clemence Dane)
Vantage Striker (1931)
Re-enter Sir John (1932)(with Clemence Dane)
Boomerang (1932), winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize
The Woman on the Beast (1933)
Saraband for Dead Lovers (1935, produced as a film)
The Female Felon (1935)
Under Capricorn (1937, produced as a film in 1949)
A Woman Among Wild Men (1938)(with Clemence Dane)
Maid No More (1940)

Biographies:
The Spanish Marriage (1933)(with Clemence Dane)
Henry VIII (1934)(with Clemence Dane)

Collections:
Philosophies in Little (1921)
The Baseless Fabric (1925) Short stories
Mumbudget (1928) short fairy stories for children
Heartsease and Honesty: Being the Pastimes of the Sieur de Grammont (1935). Translation from the French

Drama:
Masks (1921)
A Man of His Time (1923)
Pan in Pimlico, collected in Four One Act Plays, edited by AP Herbert (1923)
The Women’s Comedy (1926)
Gooseberry Fool (1929), with Clemence Dane
Oxford Preserved (1930), with music by Richard Addinsell

Non-fiction:
The Waiting City: Paris 1782-1788 (1933), an abridged translation of Le Tableau de Paris by Louis-Sebastien Mercier
Has Russia Hoaxed the Worker?. Billings Gazette, 15 January 1933
What Communism Does to Women. Los Angeles Times, 29 January 1933
The Happy Housewife (1934)
The Witch Unbound. Collected in The Boat Train (1934), edited by Mary Agnes Hamilton
What’s Wrong with Our Hospitals?. Time and Tide, 1934
The Female Felon (1935)

Short fiction:
[Title unknown]. Nash’s Magazine, December 1928
My Daughter’s Daughter. Sphere, 1 December 1929
London in June. Sphere, 14 June 1930
Death Versus Debt. Broadcast as a reading by Simpson. BBC National Service, 29 June 1934
Puss in Boots. Collected in The Fairies Return (1934)
No Jewel Is Like Rosalind (1938). Broadcast as a reading by Simpson on the BBC (1938)

Translation:
A selection from Louis-Sebastian Mercier’s Le Tableau de Paris under the title ‘The Waiting City’ (1933).

Images: from the web

Book review: Into the Woods by Anna Krien

Deep down in our bones we must know – we must know that nothing we do is done in isolation. Cause and effect: how did it get so noisy in between?

Into the Woods

It’s hard not to talk about the climate and weather when it’s so in your face, and you spend a significant amount of your spare time cleaning up after it. We had a hailstorm with the ferocity of a tempest last weekend. One moment I was in the vegetable garden doing a bit of weeding, the next I was running for cover as hailstones the size of golf balls were hurled from the sky. Water tanks overflowed, gutters strained under the weight of the ice, paths washed away and torrents of water formed creeks where none had run before.

It was another of those moments, increasing in their frequency, where I marvelled at the awe inspiring ferocity of nature as she strives to demonstrate for humanity that climate change is real. Meanwhile many of our political leaders still grasp desperately to denial and the power bestowed on them by lobbyists, the powerful elites in the mining industry, and the likes of the Murdoch Press.

…those that have the power to change the situation are too scared to do anything in case they lose that power.

Into the Woods

I am half way through reading Anna Krien’s beautifully written narrative non-fiction book Into the Woods about the struggle over Tasmania’s wilderness areas, the people who exploit them and the people who try and protect them. Krien’s work is an exploration of the polarised and conflicting convictions, motives, emotions, power dynamics and allegiances of those involved in the struggles over the forests.

On the rear window of almost half the cars I see, there are stickers in eternal argument with on another. ‘Tasmania: The Corrupt State’ and ’Save the Styx’ versus ‘Greens tell lies,’ ‘Greens Cost Jobs’ or simply ‘Green Scum’ – slightly tamer versions of older stickers that read ‘Keep Warm This Winter: Burn a Greenie.’ It is said each glut of car stickers in Tasmania signals a new chapter in this intense and deeply personal debate that has been going for forty years.

Into the Woods

Krien speaks to everyone on her investigative search for information and understanding: activists, greenies, loggers, politicians, resident citizens. The only obviously absent voice, because they refused to speak to her, is Gunns who hold the economic monopoly over the logging and wood chipping industry in the state.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that deforestation and forest degradation contribute 17% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions

Into the Woods

Reading Into the Woods has echoes of the debates that happen all over the world in places where natural heritage and human greed come into conflict. Big companies chasing profits by selling products for humanities insatiable appetite for consumption of oil, coal, gas, timber, minerals, and land. Big public companies motivated by shareholder profits that have significant influence over the politicians they lobby and fund, stand in opposition to the passionate defence of forests and rivers and oceans by activists and environmentalists, with politicians riling the camps to maintain conflict in order to further their own agendas. Because conflict demands taking sides and creating allegiances, and allegiance translates into votes.

The activists tread a fine line between drawing attention to threatened areas and provoking resentment that can ultimately backfire against the forest.

Into the Woods

We are all complicit in the supply chain that leads to the destruction of our environment. We influence it in the day to day decisions we make about consumption, by how we vote, what we will tolerate, and what actions we are prepared to take to preserve the natural environment that sustains us. Krien’s work meditates on the world we have made and the complexity of the choices we must make. Into the Woods has astonishing resonance for the current re-ignition of the climate change debate in Australia as bushfires continue to rage across the country.

Most people travelling through Tasmania will never know of the long-running game of hide-and-seek taking place in the labyrinth of logging roads beyond the bitumen.

Into the Woods

It is often not until something impacts us in a direct and personal way that we take notice. This summer it seems that Australia is getting a taste of the future. It is an experience that has bought the issue of climate change into the fore again, while politicians of the day continue to try and smooth the way for them to get back to doing very little about it.

If anything there appears to be an indignant kind of mateship here, a loyalty that precludes empathy

Into the Woods

As I have been reading Into the Woods and Krien’s struggle to understand Tasmania’s relationship with the wilderness I had been pondering our current governments stance on climate change. Is it some kind of misinformed ideology? Religious beliefs? Naivety? Ignorance? Shape-shifting party power dynamics that mean being bold would result in loss of power, possibly being knifed by your own colleagues with the help of the Murdoch Press?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a logger or a greenie,’ she says, ‘it’s the fact that our government thinks its electorate are a bunch of dimwits.’

Into the Woods

The rhetoric about maintaining the coal industry is about jobs, but I am reminded of a section in Into the Woods where Krien notes the primary argument for logging in Tasmania was jobs. Then she goes on to write that in reality machines may be a bigger threat to timber jobs than ‘any greenie’. I suspect the same applies to the coal industry, which is increasingly automated. Then I saw a piece of Michael West’s investigative journalism called Dirty Power made for Greenpeace. It’s a social network analysis of connections between the Coalition and the Coal Industry, and is fascinating viewing. After seeing it I concluded the primary motivations to maintain the status quo must be a particular blend of allegiances, greed and power.

Standing on a lookout with the maps spread out around us, I can imagine how easily deals might be done in boardrooms, where wilderness is reduced to abstract numbers of hectares and its fate sealed with a handshake.

Into the Woods

While Krien was writing her book, I was studying climate change at university; reading Thoreau, studying bushfire behaviour with Kevin Tolhorst, and reading documents like the Intergovernmental Panels on Climate Change reports predicting would happen without action to reduce greenhouse emissions. I am sad to say it all appears to be starting to come to fruition in a much more obvious way.

Why Tasmania?’ Barry Chipman once asked me. He’s right–in the greater scheme of things, the island is nothing but a drop in the ocean. But its story is universal–and what goes on in Tasmania goes on in the mainland, goes on in the Pacific islands, in other continents, until it comes straight back over the ice to Tasmania again. You can follow its story like a ball of wool, get tangled in it and unravel it.

Into the Woods

Once the summer is over and the fires are out, when the smoke has cleared and the first green shoots start to appear in the charred remains of Australia’s forests I can’t help wonder what will happen. Will we all breathe out a sigh and go back to doing what we’ve always done as our memory of what happened fades? Or will our collective shock at what we have done to our planet, and its consequences maintain enough rage to motivate citizens to drive our coal loving, climate change denying political leaders and their allies to take steps to make the changes we need to at least try to get a different outcome?

Some scientists are beginning to describe the modern geological era as the Anthropocene, the sixth in a series of mass extinctions, all said to be caused by extreme phenomena, in this case the harmful activities of humans. Perhaps even more poignant is biologist Edward O. Wilson’s description of the period that will follow. Wilson says it will be ‘the Age of Loneliness’–a planet inhabited by us and not much else. In his version of the future there is no apocalypse, no doom, no gates of hell, no wrath of god or mass hysteria, only sadness. I wonder if perhaps the Age of Loneliness has already begun, its effects far more complicated than we realise.

Into the Woods

I highly recommend reading Into the Woods, for its insights into Tasmania, the politics of forestry, its resonance with the global debate about climate change and for the beauty of its writing.