Online writing course reviews

I love a good writing workshop, and there are quite a few online options around at the moment. Soon after the COVID lock down began I panic bought a load of writing courses to keep me amused in my spare time. Here’s a wrap up of them so far.

Writers Victoria

Writers Victoria have traditionally run face to face workshops, but have been moving their offerings online in order to continue their programs by pivoting their one day workshops into webinars. I have done two of these now: Showing and Telling with Emily Bitto, and The Art of the Redraft with Penni Russon. The format for both these workshops mirrored their live options as closely as possible. There were two eighty minute learning videos, and a one hour live Q&A session with the presenters so you could get all your questions answered. Both courses included handouts and exercises, and the big bonus for me was the personalised feedback on a 500 word piece of your own writing. The presenters are all accomplished writers or writing professionals in their own right. The courses cost $155 dollars, and and you can watch the webinars again at your leasure via a link again later.

Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings have a neat online learning tool for their suit of self paced courses. I completed their Writing A Thriller course with J.P. Pomare, author of Call Me Evie recently. It took about six hours total to complete, including exercises. The course is a nice mix of reading, audio and video lessons, and practical exercises, and the $149 purchase gives you lifetime access to the course materials.

Australian Writers Centre

I’ve done and reviewed the Australian Writers Centre’s online courses before in some detail (here and here). My most recent sojourn included Fiction Essentials – Grammar and Punctuation; Fiction Essentials – Dialogue; and Fiction Essentials – Characters. These three self paced courses took about 2.5 hours each to complete. The first included some online exercises to test your knowledge as you go, the other two have handouts. All three were a mix of video slides and/or audio lessons. They cost $137 each (usually $195), so a little on the pricey side compared to the others, but the course content is good.

Writing courses are a fun way to spend some of your free time, and a good use of the funds you’re saving if you are working from home and not going out. Writing courses help keep me motivated for my own writing, and I get some valuable tips to improve my writing practice. I also feel like I am supporting the creative writing industry to get through these lean times. I for one want to see the creative industries survive through the current global malaise so will keep doing what I can to help keep them afloat. Now to choose what to do next…

What online writing or reading experiences have you had of late?

Image: Jerome, Arizona

Book review: Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar

There was something about listening to the audiobook of Wolfe Island whilst I worked in my own bubble in my vegetable garden – weeding, harvesting, fertilising, mulching, planting – the attention to detail those tasks demand slows time. The activity threw me deeper into a novel that I’m sure I would have been enthralled by anyway, and submerged me into the melancholic world of Kitty Hawke.

Kitty is a resilient and resourceful woman of fortitude, and the last human inhabitant of Wolfe Island, which is being devoured by the rising sea. She lives a solitary, creative existence with her wolfdog, Girl, and makes art from found objects that she sells to the mainland. Kitty and Girl both come across as half wild and half domesticated, each lends the other a strength that is fortified by the Waterman giant talisman statues Kitty constructed from found objects to protect the island.

It was exhausting being around people and noticing them, thinking about them. I felt roughened and coarse now, as if I was rubbing against the grain of Wolfe Island. It used to be that I could forget myself and be, spend hours in the marshes watching the tides and the grasses, birds walking over my feet. I’d been still so long, listening to the unintelligible wind, I was part of it then, and insignificant. I missed that. The writing helped a little.

Wolfe Island

Kitty is drawn to reconnect with the outside world when her granddaughter arrives with some friends who are in danger because of their status as climate refugees. On the mainland climate refugees are ‘runners’ and vigilante ‘hunters’ chase them down and kill them. Gradually the young people let her into their troubles and she connects with them, eventually their cause becoming hers. When the island ceases to be a refuge for the runners, the group set off seeking safety in the north.

The islands were worlds and you didn’t move lightly from one to the other, and people’s way of speaking wasn’t quite the same from one island to the next. If we ran into each other on the main – a no-man’s-land to us – we saw our resemblance to each other, and heard our own foreignness in each other’s voices and prickled up and felt the eyes of people on us, assessing us for threat in the same way that we did them, resenting them for it and feeling their resentment toward us.

Wolfe Island

Lucy Treloar’s first novel Salt Creek won the Matt Richell Award for a New Writer, the Dobbie Literary Award and the Indies Award for Debut Fiction. It was also shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, and the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2016. Wolfe Island is deserving of its own accolades and I’ll watch with interest to see how it goes.

I say, ‘Girl, Girl,’ and she comes to me like a myth, her coat sleeked smooth, her tail back out. She is in a line, a ripple through the long grass, and butterflies and hoppers rise in her wake, lifting like spume and catching the light. She passes me by with a rush of wind and her sweet wolf scent, leading the way to anything.

Wolfe Island

Wolfe Island is a slow, lyrical lament on the state of the world in the grip of climate change, and the subtlety with which Treloar brings you to realise you are in a very near dystopian future is a little alarming. The novel is written in three parts – the island, the journey and return home, each revealing a different lense on a climate impacted world and Kitty’s relationship with her family, her place in the world and herself. Oh, not to forget her wolfdog, Girl, I’m a sucker for a novel with a dog as girls best friend…now I must go and turn that pumpkin I picked into soup.

Spoken word: Feet of clay

I have written a couple of blogs about spoken word. My first spoken word event was for a local festival in the town I live in a little over a year ago – Poetry and Prose at the Pub. I decided to do it to challenge myself – it was an introverts nightmare. Nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, I read up on tips for delivery and practiced for hours, the dog listening patiently in the background. I delivered my piece, script in shaking hand, to a local audience of about thirty people, and to my releif it went down well.

My second spoken word outing was at the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival in Tasmania, last year. This time I delivered my piece freestyle, having learnt it off by heart. My best tip for remembering a script is to record yourself reading your work and play it back over and over, and practicing delivery until you nail it. At Noir at the Bar in Cygnet there were about seventy people in the audience.

The Artistic Director of Terror Australis tracked me down a couple of weeks ago and asked me to record my spoken word piece Feet of Clay for a Facebook live event she’d started hosting called BookLove Tuesdays. Feet of Clay combines my dual interests of poetry and crime fiction and tells a story of ambition, love and jealousy in the pottery world. It’s a bit creepy, but I hope you enjoy it.

I would love to write an entire novel using this rhythmic style one day – although I think it would be hard to keep this type of cadence up for an entire manuscript – a challenge for another time perhaps!

What are some of the things you have done to challenge yourself or your writing?

Main image: Tanna, Vanuatu

Book Review: Sold by Blair Denholm

Nothing like a bit of noir to make you feel better about your own circumstances…

He and Maddie should simply disappear from the Gold Coast. The gaudy city masqueraded as paradise, but sometimes it was hell on Earth.

Gary Braswell is a ball scratching Gold Coast car salesman, a chain smoking compulsive liar with drinking and gambling habits, and he’s not averse to a bit of illicit drug taking either. His act now, worry about consequences later approach to life have left him in debt to a loan shark, Jocko, whose hired muscle is the worst kind of ex crim. Gary thinks his luck has turned when a wealthy Russian couple buy four cars from him that enable him to pay back his debt to Jocko, but Jocko wants Gary to run a little package to Bali for him as a late payment penalty. If he refuses Gary’s wife will be paid an unwanted visit from Jocko’s muscle.

When it came to heterosexual couples and serious vehicle purchasing Mr usually did the talking and Mrs the listening, and sometimes the eye-batting, lip-licking and hair-twirling. There were rare exceptions, about as rare as Gary tipping the first try scorer. He imagined the ‘work’ the woman referred to might be pole dancing or selling pot.

While Gary’s trying to work out what to do, his wife goes to stay with her mother for her own safety. Meanwhile Gary gets a new job as a real estate salesman chasing bigger returns with his bullshit, and his best mate agrees to help him hatch a plan to get him out of his pickle with the help of the federal police, some of whom are as dodgy as Jocko’s muscle. Of course Gary just ends up in deeper shit involving dodgy money laundering Russians, and his life spirals more and more out of control on sex, drugs and booze.

Snot dripped from his nose. He placed a hand to his forehead. Temperature seemed normal, but his arsehole was red raw. And if that wasn’t enough, the itchy balls were back.

Blair Denholm’s novel published by Clan Destine Press is quintessentially Australian noir with plenty of Aussie expletives. Denholm, who has an interesting past himself, crafts a protagonist who is wholly unlikeable, but redeemed for the reader by his habitual haplessness and a huge dose of gaudy humour. I’m just glad I’m not Gary Braswell’s wife, Maddie.

Gary’s bag of excuses was empty. He stared at Foss and gathered his thoughts. Suddenly his arms and legs started to jerk like Peter Garret at a Midnight Oil concert. In one rapid motion he collapsed and curled his body into the foetal position. He pulled his arms in by his sides and, unseen by Foss, pinched the soft skin on the inside of his bicep, and launched into a juddering, rocking motion. He grunted out primal-sounding noises which soon escalated into unearthly wailing.

Sold is not for the faint hearted, or those who are queasy about body fluids – it’s no cosy mystery – but it is a fun romp of a read if you like a walk on the wild side, and it could make your isolation seem not so bad after all. The sequel, Sold to the Devil is due out soon.

Strange times indeed

Where to begin when you sit down to write for the first time in three weeks and the world is a completely different place to what it was last time you faced a blank page? And how does one reclaim a creative space embattled by a mountain of work priorities driven by a virus taking an extraordinary toll on humanity?

In the grand scheme of things I am incredibly fortunate in these uncertain times – I have a stable job and I can now work from home, I am holed up in a comfortable house surrounded by hilltops, forests and the constant chatter of bird life, I have a garden to potter in and grow a lot of my own food, and a person and a dog who I am happy to be locked up with. I am also a natural introvert, so am not overly distressed by the idea of staying home for six months, after all I voluntarily did exactly that for 12 months only a little over a year ago when I took time off to write.

So what is it that leaves me a little discombobulated? There is of course the great sadness experienced when reading the news about the toll the virus is taking on the world, the shock at how this situation exposes the fragility of our globally interconnected economic and social systems, the fear that this even event will not be enough for us to find a different way to live in relation to nature, and for the well-being of people I care about. It is perfectly normal to feel a little shell shocked in the early period of a crisis of this scale, regardless of how well protected from it you might feel individually.

A situation such as this requires a significant mental shift as well as a physical reorganisation, and a willingness to embrace a new normal. The last three weeks have been a work whirlwind – we had 100 people we needed to try to reorganise to be able to work from home. This took a mammoth effort from myself and colleagues. We also have thousands of stakeholders we needed to provide urgent information to – to help them understand the changes to our workplace, and to connect them with information to help them weather the storm.

Prioritising taking care of the work team has been important, and I have been happy to do so, but at the same time I lament the intrusion into my personal space, particularly my creative space, and how the separation between this and work demands have become blurred. I need to trust that on the other side of this shift I will find my creative, resilient brain waiting for me. It made me realise how much routine plays a part in making time for ourselves – I used to use the time commuting to and from work as my creative writing time, with that gone, I need to create a new routine that allows time for writing.

It is clear the current situation is going to last for a long time, at least until a vaccine is found – conservative estimates suggest at least six months, if not years,. The situation demands finding a new routine that allows for as much of the fullness of our lives as can be managed within the restrictions we must live with out of compassion and care for our fellow human beings, as well as our own. My frustration of recent weeks led me to think about what a new structure might look like…here are some of my thoughts.

On the intrusion of work

The voice of work can be loud voice and demanding. We need to take the time to set up a comfortable workspace and make it as private as circumstances allow. Find new ways using technology to stay connected to staff and colleagues now you can’t lob up at their desk. Build in regular welfare checks to make sure they are ok. Carve out time blocks for different categories of your work – do the easy things when stress levels are high and the more challenging jobs when your concentration is at its best. Don’t expect your productivity to be what it was – at least not immediately.

Take regular breaks – make a cuppa, drink water, pat the dog/cat, talk to the houseplant, walk around the garden or gaze out the window. Even better open all the windows and blast out the house with fresh air.

Keep time sheets to help yourself contain your day job to reasonable hours the loss of a commute removes the natural boundary of home time.

Personal Wellness

Create a routine. Keep getting up and going to bed at a reasonable time. Move your body in a way that makes you energised at the start of the day. My go to exercise is running or walking with the hound, yoga by YouTube or a bike ride. I will also make time for the solace of gardening. Last weekend I spent time in the veggie patch, weeding and planting seeds – my own version of hoarding whilst others were madly buying toilet paper and cleaning products.

Do some of those jobs you’ve been putting off forever because you were too busy – tidy those cupboards, paint a room, finish the landscape project, organise your bookshelf – control the things you can it can ground us when things are a little chaotic.

Eat well – if you weren’t a cook before, maybe now is a good time to learn the skill, and to appreciate the comfort in it – a couple of the my favourite places to go for tasty recipes are Arthur Street Kitchen and Ottolenghi. Identify things you can do to you bring you peace or joy – take a bath, sort your holiday photos, paint or journal, find a place you can retreat to. What things would you put in your self care toolkit? Keep them close and turn to when needed.

It is important to stay up to date with what’s happening in your world, but it’s also easy to be sucked into obsessing about it. Place limits on your engagement with news and social media about the COVID conversation and remember the media is often sensationalist, so acquire your information from trusted reliable sources. Don’t lose sight of what is good in the world.
Look for things to laugh at each day – your pet being amusing, silly memes online, and when it all seems too much – reach out for assistance.

Creativity

Carve out time for creativity and make sure you use that time for something connected to your creative interests. Now is the time to start that long term project you’ve been thinking about on and off. My plan is to set aside a block of time each day to write, perhaps I will finish my second book sooner than I thought. On the days I don’t actually write I will use my creative time for a connected activity like reading or online learning on writing. The Australian Writers Centre delivers some great online courses for writers and Writers Victoria are moving a lot of their workshops online, one of which I am doing tomorrow.

Your creative thing might be painting, knitting, sewing, or learning an instrument. Don’t limit yourself to things you already know how to do – get online and find someone who’s moved their teaching practice online – you could learn a new craft and support another creative at the same time.

Social connectivity

The political narrative about needing to keep our distance from people to contain the spread of COVID-19 uses the term social distancing. For many, the term spells isolation and loneliness. I wish the policy-makers had considered this and referred to physical distancing instead, as at times of stress, social connection is even more important than usual. It provides ballast and helps to keep people mentally well. Find ways to connect with friends and loved ones that keeps everyone safe, whether its Snapchat, video catch ups or long phone conversations. The time for hanging out in coffee shops and hugs will return eventually. We tried our first digital dinner party last week, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it can work. Some tips:

  • Keep up communication as you cook so you can time your dial in to get everyone eating together
  • Set your laptop up at least arms length from where you sit (a bit further away than where you lay the table) so everyone can be seen in the picture together
  • Sit the laptop up on some books – it works better if the camera is slightly above your eye level
  • Bring your best self to these occasions, people are dealing with the changed world in different ways, and we need to bring compassion for those we care about – it can bring out both the best and worst in people.
    If you want to hang out online because that’s the only option while you are in isolation there are loads of apps for that – Zoom, Skype, House party, Google hangouts.

This weekend we’re going to try one where everyone taking part cooks the same meal.

Community

Continue to greet neighbours from a respectable distance when you pass them in the street, when you can – support local businesses that are staying open to service your needs or donate to your favourite creative organisation. When businesses set up rules to help keep customers safe and trade fairly in response to some individuals being overtaken by individual greed – follow them without griping – it’s a time to loosen our grip on control and individualism and think more collectively. In Australia there is still plenty to go around – toilet paper, food and cleaning products included.Hoarding is really not necessary and probably tells us more about our mental health than it does about supply and demand – so if you are doing it perhaps consider spending the money on a therapist instead.

This new world order is going to be a marathon, not a sprint so railing against it will not help, now is the time for radical acceptance and innovating to make your life as full as it can be within the circumstances in which we find ourselves, with much lower expectations than you may have had previously. Chunk your days into bite sized manageable segments to avoid the existential dread of the unknown taking over and when you notice the current situation enabling injustices that make your blood boil – channel that energy into writing to your local MP, or the newspaper to call them out so the annoyance doesn’t fester.

If you wear yourself out at the beginning you may not make the distance in one piece, so take the time to find a way to be that offers you the best change of wellness, serenity and productivity for the long haul. And for those of us who take solace from creative pursuits, we must make room for them.

Stay well.

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.