Friday, April 20, 2018

Tales from the Slammer. #1

Tales from the Slammer -

The induction happened a few weeks before my first day at work, an induction like so many other jobs; a room of screens, an internal database with a series of multiple choice questions. The questions included the standard ones that any work place would have; about protocols and standards and what to expect, but also many unique to this new place of employment, Risdon Prison, where I was to work on a grant project for LINC Tasmania, the library, and their dedicated literacy service.

I have been contracted by LINC Tasmania as a Writer in Residence at Risdon Prison, through their far reaching literacy program. Literacy is one of the most significant and important issues affecting Tasmania right now. In Tasmania, half of us struggle to read and write. A report by the ABS for 2011-2012 shows that 49% (aged between 15-74) are functionally illiterate. This means that half of the people who live with on this island do not have some of the most practical skills to get by in the modern world. These are things like filling out forms or reading straightforward instructions. 

Literacy, in terms of readin’ and writin’ is one thing, social literacy, the ability to ‘read’ a situation and to ‘write’ a response is another. In prison it is worse. Inside the prison the 49% functional illiteracy increases to approximately 80% with low skill levels in one or more domains of literacy – reading, writing or numeracy. There are myriad reasons for this; including intergenerational illiteracy, less access to educational resources, contempt for education from those the system has failed in the past and the seemingly entrenched and often ignored class system in Tasmania.

The Writer in Residence role in this iteration was a blank canvas. In my public life speak long and loudly (not long enough, not loudly enough) about the need for all of us to have the tools to tell our stories, and how, whether through spoken or written literacy we can grow a sense of self and of community. More often than not I am speaking to a literate audience. This role affords the opportunity to work specifically with those who struggle with literacy and to hopefully let some light pour in to a world of reading and writing, and to celebrate literature and the written word. The program would also need clear outcomes, and a tangible improvement in the ability and confidence of inmates to read and write.  Where to begin!?

Friday, April 6, 2018

Paige Turner - April

If you’re reading this, you can read, yep. It may seem like a silly statement, but being able to read makes you part of the 50% of Tasmanians who can read and write. Only 50% of us are functionally literate, which is of significant concern for all of us. What to do? There are lots of things, but to begin the drip feed, start reading on the bus, reading in public. Be a public celebration of reading, a very embodiment of reading – and volunteer as an adult literacy tutor through 26Ten.

You can also attend other celebrations of reading and writing, such as the launch of Word Fall by Betty McKenzie-Tubb at the Hobart Bookshop on April 12 at 5.30pm. This is her new collection of poetry, following on from a book of memoir of her last 80 or so years. She has a love and mastery of language, and as poet Robyn Mathison notes, she was moved to tears, deep contemplation or laughter as she read these poems.
Tasmanian writer Shirley Patton will have her northern launch, following a successful Hobart event in March. Her new novel, The Secrets We Keep is a compelling novel of the transcendental love of children and the truth's unwillingness to stay hidden. This is happening on April 12, 6pm at Petrarch’s Bookshop in Launceston.

On April 18 I am heading to Launceston to do a lunchtime talk for the National Book Council of Tasmania. This is open to the public and I’d love you to come along and say hello. Who am I when I’m at home? – well, Editor in Chief of Transportation Press, erstwhile non-fiction Editor of Open Road Review, South Asia’s leading mag of literature and culture, reviewer, writer, columnist, and recently I’ve had the great pleasure to be working with lower literacy inmates at Risdon Prison as Writer in Residence, doing slam poetry. April 18, 1pm on the second floor of the Launceston LINC, this is a free event.

Reading for the Revolution returns in April, this time with readings and discussion around the concept ‘democracy’ – which is something which history teaches us, time and time again that we should not take forgranted. The next one is taking place at 7.30am (yes, in the morning sleepy heads) on Tuesday, April 10 upstairs at the Food Store in South Hobart. Readings include ‘How Politics Works in Australia’ a recent essay in The Monthly by Scott Ludlum, and Tim Lo Surdo’s discussion from Democracy in Colour. For further information contact the inspirational Millie Rooney –

I’m getting conflicting information about the ‘officialness’ of the announcement – but Ellen Harvey has updated her Twitter profile to note she is the new director of the TasmanianWriters’ Centre. I imagine this means that contracts are signed and she is on her way to relocate to Tasmania for the role. This is exciting times for a centre which has a grand opportunity to be the go-to space for writers and readers of all ilks, diversities, propensities and desires. I wish her all the best for her new role. UPDATE APRIL 7- her Twitter profile no longer includes this in her bio. Oh! The intrigue! Stay tuned, I understand the Centre are issuing a press release this weekend or coming Monday.

It's excellent to hear that the first two titles from Emily Conolon’s exciting new interactive children’s series, The Freedom Fighters, Break your Chains and Touch the Sun, are being launch at Fullers on April 7th at 2.30pm. Emily is a Tasmanian of the Year, humanitarian as well as being an author, and these books offer the opportunity for young readers (9+) to choose their own destinies, putting themselves in the shoes of migrants and refugee children and experiencing the twists, turns and life or death choices of finding your way to a new home in Australia. This is a free event, but please make sure you RSVP to
Fullers is also hosting the launch of From Limerick to Campbell Town to Detroit by Meredith Hodgson. This book traces the remarkable life of Eliza Williams who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for theft in 1851, where she served as indentured labour for John Leake at his magnificent estate Rosedale. Her letters have survived and they tell a fascinating tale of the journey from convict woman, to prosperity. The author will be in conversation with historian Kristyn Harman on Thursday, April 12 at 5.30. (see also the review of Kristyn Harman’s latest book, Cleansing the Colony, in this issue).
Private Projects, a distinctive, glorious small gallery in Moonah, has copies of artist Duncan Blanchard’s new book available now. This is the only Tasmanian distribution outlet.

A little ahead of myself this month, but a significant event on any reader’s calendar should be the launch of Robbie Arnott’s first novel, Flames. The book will be launched by MAN Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan at Fullers on May 3, at 5.30pm. I cannot wait, this book is already being lauded as a surrealist version of the island state, and what some are calling “one of the finest works of Australian literature in recent years”. Woot.

The latest in Tansy Rayner Robert’s Creature Court series is available for pre-order here.

Do you have any writing or reading news? Drop me a line –

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Paige Turner - March

Recently, I read a disdainful comment regarding mindfulness and storytelling, suggesting that they are both flash-in-the-pan fads. Oh Disdainful Commentator, how wrong you are – both of these activities, practices and wisdoms are already long enduring and it is with delight that I point you to a twenty-first century iteration of storytelling - the Story Island Project’s free, fun storytelling activities for young people at the Moonah Taste of the World Festival on Sunday 25 March. Activities will include live storytelling sessions from notable Tasmanian children's authors, book-making challenges and opportunities for young people to explore new writing ideas. Come along and pick up a free kids' storytelling activity booklet to take home! Follow the Story Island Project on Facebook for more information.

Also, Strategic Storytelling for Social Change is happening – and this is two days dedicated to story, the crafting, capture, and harnessing of story that foster community, explores shared values and creates hope – and ideally influences others on a path of social justice. For more information, check out Storytelling for Social Change on the old F’book.- or via the website.

Revolutionary Readers Relax! Reading for the Revolution is back. It is a monthly discussion that is taking place in March on Tuesday 13th at 7.30am, upstairs in the Food Store in South Hobart. March’s discussion will rove around Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, The UluruStatement from the Heart, and The Referendum Council Final Report. Y

Tamar Valley based writer Shirley Patton has her debut novel The Secrets We Keep launching in Hobart on March 22 at Fullerswhere she will be in conversation with poet and former Island editor, Gina Mercer. Launceston, fear not! Shirley will be at Petrarch’s Bookshop on April 12. 

Still pondering the very lovely Tamar Valley, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, which is happening in September this year (14-16, mark your diaries) is co-hosting the Tasmanian part of Tim Winton's national tour to promote his new novel. Tender Hearts, Sons of Brutes  is a one-hour-long presentation conducted in partnership with Penguin and Petrarch's Bookshop. This is taking place on March 24th at the Tramsheds Function Centre in Inveresk, bookings are essential and details can be found on the Tamar Valley Writers Festival website.

The Tasmanian Society of Editors, who offer some gems of workshops, are hosting Merridy Pugh to chat about her adventures publishing Pig Tails: The First-Ever Guinea Pig Novel on Thursday 15 March, 7pm at Rosny LINC. Details and booking information are ontheir website.

A TasmanianRequiem is a “new work for voice and brass” that is being performed in Hobart in April. Get your tickets soon, this is a short season and it is the piece of theatre I am most excited about in Tasmania this year.

On March 15 at the Hobart Bookshop, one of Tasmania’s most respected poets, Anne Kellas is launching her new chap book The Netted Air, with official launching duties falling to another poet elder, Sarah Day.

CutCommon has released its first ever print issue and it is awesome. Steph Eslake, the editor believes it to be the first classical music street press in the world. Pick it up for free around Tasmania (there are more than 2900 copies being distributed to more than 50 locations as part of a national Roving Launch in the next few months). For more details check out the website. 

KickStart Creative Exchange are again offering some gems, including sessions on Celtic History beginning on March 25th. More info is available on the website. 

Twenty years ago Paul Pritchard wrote an incredible book recounting his catastrophic brain injury on the slenderest piece of rock in the ocean, the Totem Pole. He now has the rights to the book and you can pre-order a copy here. 

A View for Lovers and Sinners examines the blurred lines between love and sin through a collection of short pieces created by Tasmanian artists Kitty Taylor and Nathan Tucker. Each piece combines an image from a unique location with a short fiction response. They will be posted into a FBalbum, at the rate of one a week.

Island is at it again, hosting the Writing Cave on March 6,13 and 27, Silent Reading on March 7 at Quartermasters (in partnership with Transportation Press and Bright Thinking on March 15. For more information on all of these activities, plus Damon Young’s March 22 Philosophy Class, check out the Island Facebook page.

The launch of Jane Williams’ new collection of haiku and senryu echoes of flight will be launched by Lyn Reeves on Saturday, March 17, 11am at the Waterworks (Site number 9, last hut on the left). Lyn will also be leading a short Ginko (haiku walk) following the launch and there will be cake. So many good reasons to go!

If you have any book or story or writing related news you’d like to share, drop me a line –

Monday, February 12, 2018

Eon, Illustrated Adventures in Time -by Aviva Reed - REVIEW

Eon, Illustrated Adventures in Time
By Aviva Reed

Review by Rachel Edwards

Eon is an exquisite word, three beautiful letters combined to precisely describe time which is otherwise beyond our abilities to comprehend, or ‘a measure of geological time: an indefinitely long period; forever”.
And this is a beautiful book. Subtitled ‘the story of fossils,’ it is a large hardcover that roams through the formation of the planet and subsequent arrival of many forms of life, right down to us humans, right at the very end of eons and eons of life and changes to this planet.
The illustrations in this exceptional book are one of the aspects that really make it book sing. They are hand drawn and painted by the author, with an element of collage about them as well. Illustrated in earthy, muted colours the rich drawings convey an element of what was changing as the earth aged and moved throughout the different eras.
A mere double spread of pages is dedicated to each major period in the earth’s history; Triassic 251– 200 million years ago, Ordovician/Silurian 488 – 418 million years ago, Archaen, 5 billion years ago, Neogene, 23 million years – 5000 years ago, you get the picture. For each of these periods the author has written a few words, in a delicately rhyming verse and one that has mostly dodged the bullet of cloying. For example, the page of Paleogene, 65 – 23 million years ago begins “On cooling Earth, creatures with wombs who could hide survived, and plants with blooms and grasses thrived”. The rhyme makes it perfect to read to children, and even as an adult reading the rhyme provides the warming repetitive nature of a drum beat – a strange comfort. It is not oversimplified.
The book, while perfect for children by dint of its accessible language is such a beauty that it will also appeal to adult readers. Also, considering that it tackles such a massive subject, one that often seems arcane and simply too big to get a grasp of, it provides a simplified, broken down yet in no way condescending account of how the planet was formed. It also shows humans for the flash-in-the-pan beings we are, within the entire geological time frame of the planet.
At the end of the book the author provides the information in a different manner; a straightforward timeline that begins five billion years ago, the Age of Molecules and finishes two million years ago during the Age of Diverse Life. To see the planet quantified in this manner, showing as it does life on land ‘arriving’ more recently than 500 years ago, and humans even more recently is another effective way to convey this scientific information without appearing didactic. There is also a glossary for those inclined to deepen their knowledge
This is a book that bridges an art/science divide with ease and beauty. It conveys an epic amount of information, covering millions of years, as well as being an object that is beautiful to behold – and to hold.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn - REVIEW

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn
By Rachel Edwards

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn is a rich historical novel that tells the true story of Marie Louise Giradin, a woman who, disguised as a man sailed aboard the Recherche in the late 1700s and is likely the first white woman to step foot on the island now known as Tasmania.
Louis Giradin, as she becomes known, flees a France that is caught in the grip of revolution, and she is also forced to leave behind a baby son. The novel is faithful to the passage of the vessel, which was accompanied by the Esperance and was operating under instruction both to find La Perouse, whose expedition was seemingly lost – as well as to conduct scientific research. These two competing goals provide a clear point of tension in the novel, and the characters of the military command of the vessel and the increasingly eccentric behaviour of the scientists aboard juxtapose each other well. Parkyn has a background in science (she trained as a freshwater ecologist) and the attention paid to the scientific knowledge and practice of the time is sensitive and genuinely engaging.
The French explorers on board – both scientific and military have their names are intertwined in our Tasmanian history, D’entrecastreaux, Kermandec, and Labillardiere amongst them. One of the strengths of this well written novel, is the development of the characters. The story is told from Giradin’s point of view, which offers a rare historical perspective from a woman. The scientists, captains and crew mates are all fleshed out and given voices and identifying characteristics, Labillardiere the scientist who reveals himself as difficult and driven in particular. It is fascinating, given the proximity in part to these men’s and this woman’s story that we have in Tasmania, to read them as real human beings, not just names of bays and headlands and seascapes.
What Giradin had been involved with in France to cause her to flee the country is one of the many compelling parts that drives this story. The revelation that she had grown up outside the wall of Versaille -  her father worked as a gardener there - and her involvement with the nascent revolution are fascinating counterpoints to the journey on the sea and what was involved in her role, as the ship’s steward, as well as what she had to do to keep herself disguised.
This is a book that tells of a significant moment in this history of the island we now call Tasmania, as well as a significant moment internationally: the French revolution, scientific discovery and research as well. It is a well told tale of a fascinating woman and an intriguing and sometimes terrifying journey on the sea. Stephanie Parkyn is to be congratulated on her first novel, one which is sure to find a wide, and satisfied audience. 

A version of this review was published in TasWeekends, January 2018. 

Tales from the Slammer. #1

Tales from the Slammer - The induction happened a few weeks before my first day at work, an induction like so many other jobs; a room of...