Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review - Tasmania’s Forgotten Frontier by John Beswick

Tasmania’s Forgotten Frontier, a history of exploration, exploitation and settlement around Tasmania's far north-east coast
by John Beswick

This is an impeccably researched, clearly written history of North East Tasmania, an area rich in ancient culture, maritime history and agricultural settlements. Author John Beswick is a former Deputy Premier of Tasmania and a sixth generation Tasmanian whose ancestors were amongst the first white pioneers in the region.
His obvious affiliation and personal knowledge of the region shines through in the book and he has an especially endearing style of writing about seafarers.
The book covers in detail; first contact, the sealers, the Van Diemonian Wars, the farmers, the industries, and contains a wealth of curious anecdotes.
Some of these include mention of the escaped convicts who became pirates and ran vessels around Preservation Island and that of Mrs Eliza Bowen who is said to have gone grey overnight at seeing the Loch Finlas, a large barque bound for Peru founder and wreck before her eyes. It is said that generations of locals have enjoyed possession of beautiful sets of crockery salvaged from the vessel.
The book, while generally compelling and clearly written becomes a little dessicated towards the end, covering in great detail pastoral leases and details of livestock. It is a little dry for the lay reader. These swathes are luckily broken up with intriguing sometimes poignant stories of individuals and political intrigue whose tendrils still hold the state in sway today, including some innuendo around British Tobacco (BT) and the creation of the Mount William National Park and the involvement of Kevin Lyons, the Deputy Premier, who resigned in 1972 following exposure of his corruption. Lyons received $25 000 from BT to write his memoirs, a book that has not ever eventuated. In separate incidents, Federal Hotels paid $29 000 off Lyon’s mortgage, as well as the offering him a job with an equivalent salary. The latter is covered closely in James Boyce’s recent expose into gambling and corruption in Tasmania, Losing Streak.
While the book contains lots of detail it does not cover the Aboriginal community in the NE, after the decline of the sealing industry. This is an oversight in which author Beswick is not alone. The structure of many books on Tasmanian history focus solely on white settlement alone, rarely glancing at the history in the Aboriginal community, which, in the NE were especially important. An uncomfortable oversight with this particular text is the fact that Chapter One is called ‘The Europeans Arrive’.
The years that Beswick spent on his meticulous research have certainly paid off. This is a comprehensive book that explores in detail an area of Tasmania that does not have many books dedicated to it. Forty South continue to publish strongly, augmenting a rich written Tasmanian history and this book is a prime example. While it is not a book for everyone focused as it is on such a tiny pocket of the world, it is a book for those interested in the region, as well as recent Tasmanian history and development.

An edited version of this review appeared in TasWeekends, June 24, 2017

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mandy and Khin and the Yangon Literary Magazine

Podcast of an interview with Mandy Moe Pwint Tu and Khin Chan Myae Maung, co founders of the Yangon Literary Magazine and I was fortunate enough to sit down with them when I was in Yangon last year.
In this articulate and eye opeing interview, they muse on the energy in the literary and creative space in Yangon these days, the origin story of the magazine they cofounded along with Paul Chan Htoo Sang, and the move to print alongside the production of  digital editions

They talk about their own writing and their influences, and they comment on the feminist movement in Myanmar today.

The discussion about what may be considered "thematically Burmese," is fascinating, with a conclusion - that it's either politics or love.

The interview took place at the time of Lionel Shriver's incendiary comments about cultural appropriation and the ensuing debate and commentary. Mandy and Khin respond to this situation by describing their personal experiences seeking publication,  The interview is marred, however, by my unwieldy rant-style lead in question about this particular subject. They also ofer some perspective and insight into books about Myanmar by foreigners.

Mandy and Khin were such a pleasure to interview. Erudite, intelligent, opinionated.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Paige Turner, June 2017

Waaay too much going on to allow space for any chitchat banter or personal rhapsodisations on recent reads. (I took Paul Auster with me to Bangkok, The New York Trilogy, adored it to pieces, three stories of detectives and identities lost and assumed and as slippery as fiction. Then Olga Masters’ Collected Short Stories which was dry and dusty and I did not persist, then Gao XingJian, Nobel laureate and his One Man’s Bible, sexy, lively alongside a despotic regime. I will return to him.

Loud MouthTheatre Company presents SHIT by Patricia Cornelius at The Backspace from June 21. The fabulous Maeve Macgregor is directing and the precis runs like this -Bobby and Sam are survivors who combat the restrictions enforced on them by their gender and their class, and our expectations of them: but how much can they get away with? Tickets at Theatre Royal.

Poet Gina Mercer and yoga teacher, Shanti Panaretos are hosting a retreat with yoga, writing and very good food. Gina is a recognised Tasmanian poet and this sounds like a lovely weekend; guided in movement, encouraged in writing and eating good food. It is taking place in Dodges Ferry at the end of July. Get in touch- shantimacan AT

Forty South have got a few newbies out, I’m reading Tasmania’s Forgotten Frontier, a history of exploration, exploitation and settlement around Tasmania’s Far North-East Coast by John Beswick. Fergus Gives a Hoot (pictured) by Kathleen McLaren is being launched by Donald Knowler, journalist, author and the most wonderful writer of birds on 1 June, 5.30pm at the Hobart Bookshop. The book is about roadkill and it is for kids.

The Tasmanian Writers Centre are in a busy and curious space in the lead up to their Writers and Readers Fest, the program is coming soon. They are also hosting the sharply generous Benjamin Law, on June 18 for a workshop on Memoir and Life Writing.
22 June is a Twitch event, Twitch being the centre’s youf arm, currently without a rudder I believe. I’ll still celebrate the Young Writers in the City: Glenorchy event, 5.30pm at the Moonah Arts Centre. More information? Click here.
The wonderful James Dryburgh is also hosting a workshop with TWC about writing essays. James' collection Essays from Near and Far gives an introduction to his thoughtful writing.

The Comic Art Workshop do excellent things. They did a residency on Maria Island and the next one is in Yogyakarta, Indonesia later this year. Some of the work from the Maria residency is in an exhibition at the chapel in the Penitentiary on Maria, at Darlington. More reason to visit Maria and remember to tell the tourists to watch out for the waist high devils that may attack.

Hobart local Kate Gordon is working with multi-award-winning publisher Twelfth Planet Press to launch their new children's imprint. Titania's books will be aimed at children between the ages of 3 to 13 and will have a focus on diversity and inclusiveness, within magical worlds. The first project for Titania will be a children's book by award-winning writer and scholar Nike Sulway. You can follow Titania on Twitter at @Titania_TPP, or via their their Facebook page.

Twelfth Planet has also launched crowdfunding for an ambitious anthology, Mother of Invention, which will feature diverse, challenging stories about gender as it relates to the creation of artificial intelligence and robotics.

On June 2 at Utas the Human Rights Art and Film Festival, is screening Constance on the Edge. There’s a panel discussion and more details can be found here or by searching HRAFF on Facebook. The eponymous Constance is a strong Acholi woman who was one of the first refugees from South Sudan to settle in Wagga Wagga with her family in 2005

Alongside the stylish and interesting quarterly Island mag publishes, they also host one of Australia’s most important poetry prizes, The Gwen Harwood. Entries close in August. Utas is running a writing prize with Island, open to all current and former students and staff of the institution. Well worth a look. Island 149 will be out for winter reading and contains an art feature on Sonia Heap’s the Armoury,  Bruce Pascoe’s Lin Onus Oration- Sea Wolves and a piece on Chauncy Vale and Nan Chauncy by Brigid Magner plus an essay on Queenstown and the Unconformity fest, by Tas Poetry Festival Director Cameron Hindrum.

Fullers in Hobart, on June 8 is hosting the launch of Nic Gill’s book Animal Eco Warriors, Humans and animals working together to protect the planet which looks wonderful. Nicole is one of Australia’s increasingly recognised science writers and this is her first book.

Tansy Rayner Roberts is leading a workshop called Scavenger Fiction at the Resource Coop in South Hobart on June 25. This is a creative workshop set amongst the South Hobart Tip Shop Bookshelves; the works as inspiration and Tansy there to guide through the writing process. Bookings are essential for this June 25 workshop, or call 6332 3891

Make sure you check out the Huon Valley Midwinter Festival’s call for entrants to the Storytelling Cup - coming soon.

And if you want to drop me a line, tell me what you’re reading or what you’re writing or any other news – racheledwards488 AT

A version of this column was also published in Warp, June 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review - Flame Tip, Short fictions by Karenlee Thompson. Foreword by David Walsh

Flame Tip is a collection of short stories that pivots around the devastating 1967 bushfires that ripped through Southern Tasmania, leaving 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless. These fires have been seared into the Tasmanian psyche and, fifty years on, even as history drags this moment in time away from us, Tasmanians are hyper vigilant and aware of lessons learnt from those days. Those attributes, which could be as a result of trauma suffered by the community more broadly, have meant that recent suburban and peri-urban fires and the damage wrought is felt more keenly, but also that they have been responded too more wisely.
I often get nervous reading new short fiction, as it is rare to find true gems amongst any literature, even rarer amongst the smaller population of writers in Tasmania. I breathed a sigh of relief after the first story in this collection, confident that KarenleeThompson can construct a solid story and take the reader on a short journey with her prose. These stories hum a good tune, and are generally well constructed.
As mentioned, the book’s stories pivot around the ’67 bushfires, but they also cover the territory of domesticated life, love and romance. Some of them delve into deceit and one of them, ‘The Keeper of the Satchel’, fairly distinct in the collection, delves into a man’s mind as he creates a new dictionary, a dictionary that better reflects his understanding of the world. A recurring theme is the burnt, or deceived woman, which is treated with a small element of bitterness in the poignant story, ‘A Bird in the Oven’, where a wife is left by a husband who is dizzy with a new woman, and the story follows her personal regeneration, and that of her family.
Alongside the destruction of fire and ensuing loss are other motifs including the tacky ex husband. These stories have an edge of spite to them, though the cuckolded woman is the victor. They do seem to be a little raw though, a little as if it has been written as a revenge story, and this detracts from the reading experience. They feel burdened.
In her introduction, Karenlee Thompson borrows from the Nobel Prize winning Chinese writer Gao Xingjian, and talks about presenting a version of truth ‘under the mask of fiction’, and this does leave the reader to wonder what aspects of the stories are autobiographical, but that is superfluous, really, as these stories generally, save a few, have a good narrative arc and propel the reader onwards.

The book also has a foreword by David Walsh, with typically wonderful and obscure references, which has surely lead more people to pick up a book of short stories, which is a good thing.
The fact that the book pivots around the fires is tricky territory, as this book’s readership will predominantly be in Tasmania and to bring a version of fiction to an event that is painfully true for many, is brave, and ultimately healing. We must, however, consider that the fire has been carried on, through living memory and even through epigenetic dispersal (not to get too Walshian on you’all) and that to bring it front and fore not only offers space for healing, but also for pain to arise.

Versions of this review have been published in Warp (May 2017) and TasWeekend magazine (May 27, 2017)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sholeh Wolpe and the essence of contemporary Persian poetry

Sholeh Wolpe is a wonderful poet and translator, hailing from Iran, currently residing in LA, via the UK and Trinidad, where she was sent to live with her aunt at age 13. Her work, while contemporary, is part of a centuries’ long Persian love and respect for poetry, and in this interview, recorded in Guangzhou, China late last year, she will tell you of childhood call and response games that revolved around poetry.
She is not able to go back to Iran, partly because it would mean giving up citizenship elsewhere, and partly because she translated the powerful, erotically charged poetry of Forough Farrokzhad, a poet, whose words, says Sholeh, unveiled the words of Iranian women. Her new translation, of the twelfth century Sufi Mystic, and teacher of Rumi, (who is incidentally the biggest selling poet in the USA today) Attar’s Conference of the Birds,  will be released from WW Norton this year.
This interview was first published on Transportation Press.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Richard Fidler on the process of interviewing

A few years ago I had the absolute pleasure and delight of interviewing Richard Fidler on the art of interviewing. You can hear the full interview here. A couple of the gems he imparts in this discussion include
Interviewing "allows you to ask impertinent questions of interesting people and gives you a plaform to do it". "Radio is the most beautiful medium, it is just lovely". (oh! how I agree with this)
When interviewing "you should imagine you are at a cocktail party and you must always bring the listener in, and make sure they don't keep looking after your shoulder".
He talked about how curiousity is so important and how Virginia Trioli said that you must bring out your inner five year old and get rid of a perceived need to sound authorative
"If you are authnetically curious people respond to that, the trick is to not interview anyone unless you are really curious."
and that, as an interviewer, it is "incumbent on you to read and research as much as you can".
Have a listen here.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review - Seven Stories, Dewhurst Jennings Institute, edited by Ben Walter

At the launch of Seven Stories in Hobart recently Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan said “this is a significant book in Tasmanian letters.” I’ll go further than that - this is a significant book of contemporary writing in Australia, that deserves an international audience.
It is a selection of seven short stories (hence the title) by people writing in Tasmania today. These are writers who are committed to their craft and they are also some of the most exhilarating voices in contemporary literature in Australia. Without exception they transcend the fads and fashions of Australian literature, which is currently stultifying around ‘dusty realism’ and a banal Sydney-Melbourne banter. Seven Stories houses the genius brigade of writing in Tasmania, some of the most exciting writers on the ground at the moment.
The subject matter and styles of these writers vary wildly. There is acute suspenseful realism in ‘The Shy Birds’ by Emma L Waters in which she takes the reader alongside a couple walking on an East Coast beach. They meet an old fellow who offers to show them a special nest, is he genuinely friendly, or malevolent? The tension ebbs and flows with a perfect foreshadowing from the sound of gunshots (the couple then realise there is a rifle club up the road), and the nervous “pip-pipping” of the black and white birds.
Robbie Arnott’s story, ‘The Reach’ is a punch in the guts. Told through the eyes of one young brother experiencing a fit (epilepsy?) and ruining the other’s Lego, it is a tragedy of filial relations in two pages.
Ben Walter, who, through the elusive Dewhurst Jennings Institute put together this selection which won a Community Writers Award (Fellowship of Australian Writers) in 2015, is at his flagrant poetic best with the wild ride that is ‘An Anti-Glacier Book’. This is a lush story, not easy to read, replete with some literary trickery and nods towards writers who made significant literary change in the twentieth century.
Ruairi Murphy roams the library knowledgably and with aplomb, his story about a library closure and what that means for individuals who frequent it, is constructed as a series of vignettes. It is wryly funny, and shot through with darkness. Susie Greenhill, who was awarded the national Richell Prize for manuscripts last year is back with her delicate prose, this time in a story that speaks of love and loss in a war zone. Seem like too big a theme for a short story? Not in Greenhill’s increasingly deft hands.
‘The Chaos of Life Beyond Death in the Outback’ by Adam Ouston is a rambunctious and exhilarating story of a man hitchhiking in the eponymous Outback, picked up by a zombie film making crew, who he eventually murders. Michael Blake’s ‘Donny and Bucket on the Treeless Plain’ completes the anthology. It is about two teenage boys making the break from their home town, making a run for it. It is a liminal story, one that does not cover a journey, but a decision.

The print run of Seven Stories is tiny, but the book is now being picked up by booksellers around the country, I urge you to get your hands on the book while you still can.

A version of this review appeared in TasWeekends, May 6, 2017 
This review is dedicated to Tadhg Muller who coined the term "genius brigade"

Review - Tasmania’s Forgotten Frontier by John Beswick

Tasmania’s Forgotten Frontier, a history of exploration, exploitation and settlement around Tasmania's far north-east coast by John...