Now here’s the thing. I’m a librarian by training, so I have certain expectations of how publications are titled, and Pulse, I must say, confused me. However, we librarians also know that publishers and writers don’t care about our rules; they just do what appeals to them! Fair enough. They’re the creators after all. Still, when I see a serial publication titled Pulse: First 2014, my immediate assumption is that the serial’s title is Pulse, and that I have in my hand the first edition for 2014. Not so, in this case. In fact, the serial – here, an annual – is titled First, and the title for the 2014 edition is Pulse! Got it? I have now!
So, what is First? It is “an anthology of creative works by students at the University of Canberra”. It has been published as First since 1995, but it commenced in 1993 under another title, Analectica. The editors of the 2014 edition therefore see Pulse as the anthology’s 21st volume, a “coming-of-age” edition. An impressive achievement I think. I’m not an expert on student-writing publications but 21 years in a world where projects come and go with some rapidity demonstrates a wonderful commitment by the university to its teaching of writing, design and editing.
The volume was put together by an editorial committee comprising students, some of whom feature in the volume. We are assured however that entries were all read blind. According to the university’s online news site, Monitor Online, there were 130 entries from which the final 26 stories and poems were chosen. Two prizes were given, though this is not noted in the volume: Best short story to Andrew Myers for “Neon Snow”, and best poem to Madonna Quixley for “The Archeological Dig”. The Monitor Online article also says that this was the first time all first year design students at the University submitted designs for the book’s cover. Sarah Watson won with her design which suggests “a sharp and energetic heartbeat”. It’s an attractive design, simple but strong, and I like the way a simplified version of the heartbeat (or pulse) carries through at the bottom of each page. Very stylish.
So, the content. I’m always interested in the order used in anthologies. In this collection, the first story, Alex Henderson’s imaginative “Easiest job in the world”, is futuristic, about a new way of creating energy using human power. There is a sinister mismatch between the protagonist’s unquestioning acceptance of his/her role and the reader’s suspicion that this acceptance is dangerously naive. It makes for a powerful start to the anthology. The last story is, fittingly, about death! Titled “Death’s apprentice”, and by Kaitlyn Wilson, it’s a reassuring, somewhat light-hearted, but by no means trivialising exploration of dying. In between is a diverse collection of works including poems, a graphic short story and a travel piece, as well as more short stories. Let’s talk about the poems, first.
Nine, if I’ve counted correctly, of the works are poems. I laughed at Cameron Steer’s “Nuts”, and smiled at the wry but wistful “Love song” in which an uncertain Katherine McKerrow writes to her potential lover, as yet unknown:
I’m not sure you should
look for me.
Try someone made with more
reality, brave enough to sing with the world
I loved Marjorie Morrissey’s short but evocative poem, “Canberra”, in which she captures the life and noise of the bird we love to hate, the Sulphur-crested cockatoo. If you like dogs, you’ll relate to the powerplay between master and dog in Owen Bullock’s “On the beach”, and if you like Murakami you’ll enjoy spotting his books in Gloria Sebestyn’s “Ode to Murakami”. Then, of course, there’s Madonna Quixley’s winning “The Archeological Dig” to which I can certainly relate. It starts:
Called ‘my side of the bedroom’,
it bears imprints of
geological and metaphorical
layers; not necessarily
related to years or epochs.
Books, almost categorised,
files, letters, pretty pieces of
paper that wrapped
gifts, now unclothed,
lie strewn throughout the sediment.
There are attempts at organisation
amongst the dust.
Against this, in the margin, I wrote “oh yes”!
This is an unusual anthology – at least in my experience – for the diversity of forms it contains, the most surprising of which is a graphic short story. It’s “The bringer” by architecture student Christopher Olalere. The art is sure, with a lovely use of colour. Like a few of the stories in the anthology, it has a speculative fiction element, this one to do with a “wishing star” that isn’t what it appears.
I wish, as I’ve said before, that I could comment on all of the pieces, but we’d be here forever, so I’ll just comment now on a few of the short stories. I liked, for example, Kieran Lindsay’s “Emily”, which is a cancer story with an unexpected ending. Ashley John’s “Not a toy” is about an arguing couple in which the apparently down-trodden husband gets his own back in a shocking way, while Rachel Vella’s “The noose” is a surprising story about a rather sour mother-son relationship. Claire Brunsdon effectively builds up tension in “Run”. I enjoyed Niki van Buuren’s “Only silence leads to salvation” about a future world in which music has been banned! Wah! No music? The story itself is a little predictable, perhaps, but I did laugh at the idea of a “Silence Revolution”. Andrew Myers’ “Neon snow” is a father-son story about a father’s concern for his gay son, and his promise to always be there. Nick Fuller’s entertaining “How not to write”, on the other hand, provides some wise advice about writing, despite its “philonoetic hebephrenia*”!
I wasn’t sure what to expect of a tertiary student anthology, but I enjoyed it. Not all the students are young. Some, from the bios, are clearly “mature-age”. Consequently, there’s a range of stories from those dealing with transition to adulthood to those exploring more mature relationships. I was intrigued by the overall tone. Although individual pieces vary and although much of the subject matter – like cancer, the environment, noxious relationships, good relationships under threat, and technology – is serious, there is, somehow, a light touch. Misery isn’t laboured, and yet there is no sense that life is easy either. Interesting too is the fact that several pieces either fall into the speculative fiction spectrum or involve eerie happenings or other-world beings. Does this signify a loosening of genre division, a willingness to break free of the purely rational – or it simply that this is a broad-brush anthology?
Whatever the case, Davis puts it well in her Introduction:
There’s magic, humour, hope, fear, colour, variety, simplicity and complexity in this Pulse: First 2014.
There’s talent and heart too. It will be interesting to see where these writers go next.
(Review copy courtesy University of Canberra)
* “Philonoetic : intellectual” AND “Hebephrenia : a condition of adolescent silliness” (according to Nick Fuller)
Part way through my reading of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and punishment I wrote in my book – because, yes, I am a marginalia writer – “Who does Dostoevsky agree with?” It’s a somewhat naive question, I know, because the author doesn’t have to agree with anyone – and very often doesn’t. You just have to look at Humbert Humbert for example, or Patrick Süskind’s Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. But, in those novels, you can assume the authorial viewpoint. Crime and punishment, however, seems to me to be very different. What is Dostoevsky’s viewpoint? Does he have one?
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW … THIS IS A CLASSIC, SO FAIR GAME I’D ARGUE.
This brings me to why I read classics. There are two main reasons: one being simply that I’m interested in our literary heritage, and the other is because they still have something to say. I guess this partly answers the question I posed a couple of posts ago doesn’t it? I read for insight into “the human condition”, to understand what makes us tick, and therefore, I suppose, to know myself and others better. Anyhow, back to Crime and punishment and my marginalia comment. The central question in the novel is, really, why did Raskolnikov do it? And his reasons are so ambiguous, so paradoxical, that he slots pretty comfortably into our post-modern world of uncertainty, self-consciousness and fluidity. Of course, he’s not modern (or post-modern). He’s a 19th century creation (and this is a mid-19th century novel with a happy ending). But he’s a creation who is hard to pin down, because he’s the creation of a writer from a society in flux, and of a writer who was perhaps himself in flux. Indeed, Raskolnikov’s name, so the translator of my edition tells me, derives from “raskol” meaning “a split or schism”.
So, Raskolnikov commits his crime. He murders not only the “old hag”, a pawnbroker with whom he’d had several problematic dealings, but her sweet, simple-minded sister Lizaveta, who surprised him in the act. Raskolnikov evinces little or no obvious guilt for his actions, though his physical illness and mental disarray post-murder are surely a psychosomatic response to what he’d done. His behaviour is quite schizoid, at one moment warm and generous, and then suddenly cold and calculating. No wonder those close to him can’t make him out. He’s a slippery beast.
And he’s a slippery beast because it seems – if I understand the various end-notes included in my edition – he’s a vehicle for Dostoevsky’s views on Russian society and intellectual life at the time. So, here I’m answering my opening question: Raskolnikov represents Dostoevsky in that he speaks to Dostoevsky’s concerns about some critical issues, but these concerns are multifarious so cannot be pinned down to one main idea. In some ways Crime and punishment could be seen as Dickensian, in its description of the grime and poverty of St Petersburg, but I don’t see Dostoevsky as a Russian Dickens. His main focus is not social justice, though the idea of “justice” features frequently in the novel, but more intellectual, political and psychological. Raskolnikov’s “motives” range from utilitarian ones (the world will be better off without the “hag”, “a useless, foul, noxious louse”) through philanthropic ones (her money could be used to help others) to megalomaniac and egotistic ones (“I wanted to become a Napoleon”, am I one of the “extraordinary” people “who dares to stoop and grab”, one who “moves the world and leads it towards a goal”?). These motives address many of the debates that were occurring in contemporary Russia, debates about socialism, Westernisation, moral responsibility versus environmental impact on human behaviour, and social Darwinism. Overlaying all this is Dostoevsky’s Christian belief. Sonya, the young girl who takes up prostitution to provide for her step-mother and siblings, is the person to whom Raskolnikov first confesses. While shocked, she listens and refuses to believe, or at least accept, his baser motives. Her solution is a Christian one, to “accept suffering and atone”.
In the end, at his trial, Raskolnikov gives practical reasons for the crime to do with his poverty and desire to use the victim’s money to help his career (except he didn’t touch the money), and admits he turned himself in because of “heartfelt remorse”. He receives a relatively light sentence (only eight years in Siberia) for various reasons, including his sickness before the crime, his generous character, and the fact he did not use the money.
Raskolnikov is one of literature’s great anti-heroes, alongside the likes of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Camus’ Meursault, to whom he has been compared. I can see why – though he doesn’t have the clear motivation of Macbeth, nor the absence of motivation of Meursault. Like Meursault in particular, Raskolnikov is complex and engenders endless debates that are as affected by the reader’s beliefs, experiences and attitudes, and dare I say by the reader’s times, as they are by the text itself.
The novel’s ending suggests “renewal” and “rebirth”, but what exactly Dostoevsky meant by it all is not completely resolved, at least in my mind. There has been enough ambiguity and paradox throughout – for example, Raskolnikov argues that if he has to question whether he has “a right to power” then he doesn’t because one who does wouldn’t ask – and the trial is covered with such brevity to undermine complete confidence in the resolution. I like this sort of openness. It seems appropriate, therefore, to conclude with Raskolnikov’s loyal friend Razumikhin who says to Razkolnikov’s mother and sister:
Keep fibbing, and you’ll end up with the truth! I’m only human because I lie. No truth’s ever been discovered without fourteen fibs along the way … Name anything you like: science, development, thought, inventions, ideals, desires, liberalism, rationalism, experience, anything at all, anything, anything – and we are all, without exception, still stuck in the first years of preparatory school! We just love making do with other people’s thoughts.
Is Raskolnikov an original, a creative truth-teller, or just another confused human being prattling off ideas he’s heard from others? That is the question.
Crime and punishment
Translated by Oliver Ready
London: Penguin Books, 2014 (Orig. ed. 1866)
Today, I’m going to return to writing about early twentieth century Australian literature. Last year I wrote several Monday Musings on the topic, including two (Part 1 and Part 2) based on an article written by Nettie Palmer in 1927. Today’s post draws from an article Palmer wrote in 1935. It covers some similar ground, but from a different perspective. In that earlier article, Palmer shared the titles of novels that she believed were Australia’s best, commencing with the statement that only a small number of good novels had been published in Australia. In this article, written eight years later, she argues that the Australian novel has arrived.
I was intrigued by her confirmation of an observation I made last year that poetry had the ascendancy in Australian literature. She wrote in her typically direct way:
Furphy, Lawson, Barbara Baynton — a few names of story writers stood out like islands in an ocean of balladry.
Oh dear, but she’s right! (Interesting that she used last names for the male writers, and full name for the female.) She argues that there were a few reasons for this, one being that Australia didn’t have an established publishing industry. A poet, she explains, can get published in a journal and can then pretty much self-publish a collection of his/her works. “The publishing of poetry”, she writes, “can be an amateur matter”. Again I love her language:
It costs less to produce, in the usual small edition, the comparatively few words of a poet, stringing down the page like a small mob of cattle, than to publish the sixty, eighty or a hundred thousand words of a novel, and to put that novel into effective circulation.
Palmer was better known for her literary criticism than for her creative output, but she does have a lovely turn of phrase!
That is the main practical (or “external” as she puts it) reason. The other main reason relates to the form itself, and its development in Australia. She writes of Australia being in the “age of discovery”, novel-wise, the “age” that Russia was, perhaps, at the time of Gogol and Goncharov, and America at the time of Fenimore Cooper. She names some Australian novels (of which more anon), and argues that
Those of our novelists whose books are something more than imitative commercial products have had to write without models, and to descry their own patterns of life in this chaos; their work has indeed been
“All carved out of the carver’s brain.”
Attempting what had not been touched before they had to be original or perish and they have not perished.
The author who most established the novel in Australia, she says, was Henry Handel Richardson, with her trilogy The fortunes of Richard Mahony. She, Palmer writes, managed to break free of “the ‘colonial’ attitude” and “the conventional formula of the happy ending” that had been rife in the 1890s with writers like Rolf Boldrewood. She says that
… the existence of the Mahony trilogy had made publishers less reluctant to handle Australian books of literary quality, and readers less automatic in their demand for a happy ending at all costs.
The happy ending, eh? It’s still with us to some degree isn’t it? Anyhow, she continues:
It used to be assumed, at least by publishers, that an Australian novel would give its characters plenty of “out-west”, but no complex adventures of the spirit. That we are just beginning to live that down is due largely to the world-wide respect for H.H. Richardson, who … though it worthwhile to give 15 years to the construction of a novel on Australia’s major historical problem — that of the immigrant in all his resistances, faced by this new country in all its early crudities.
Have we finished with this topic, I wonder? I don’t think so, but it has become more complex and just as worthy of novelistic exploration, from the settler (past and recent) and indigenous points of view.
Anyhow, now to the names of the writers she identifies as moving the Australian novel on. One is Katharine Susannah Prichard (whose The pioneers I have reviewed). Palmer describes Prichard’s “literary courage” and praises the quality of Prichard’s writing, in books like Working bullocks and Haxby’s circus. She argues that
to suggest as Professor Hancock did some time ago that Miss Prichard has merely covered our geography with descriptive writing is to miss her fathomless and unfailing human sympathy.
Having read two books by Prichard, I agree with Palmer. Is there a gender issue here I wonder in Hancock’s dismissal? (I don’t know Hancock so won’t take this further now, but you can’t help wondering.)
Other writers Palmer mentions are Frank Dalby Davison and his novel Man-shy (which I read in first year high school and which I’ve been keen in recent years to read again), the collaborative author M. Barnard Eldershaw and their novel A house is built, and an author I’m not familiar with, Leonard Mann, and his war novel Flesh in armour. This book she says “in itself would justify that we were now adult” for “his fearless adherence to invigorating fact and his few passages of lyrical ecstasy”. Wow, I think I need to check out Mann.
She concludes by arguing that she doesn’t think poetry should yield its territory to prose but that “the production of imaginative prose literature is necessary to any country today”. Fair enough – we need all the arts to be strong and healthy for us to be an “adult” nation.
A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Julian Davies’ Crow mellow. It’s an enjoyable and at times provocative read. I’d love to share many descriptions and scenes from it but, since this is a reader’s blog, I’ve decided to share some thoughts relevant to my focus made by the main character, poet Phil Day. Much of the discussion in the novel concerns the creation and criticism of art, but here Phil is considering its consumption, specifically in this case, reading:
Reading, writing. If writing was a perplexing activity, reading had to be somewhat puzzling. What could be more passive? He was more of a reader than most, an absorber of information on trust, on a whim and a wish. And what did he believe he was getting from the activity? Entertainment? Well, of a sort, but that was never enough. Betterment? He wasn’t so benighted a romantic as to believe anyone was improved by books. If it was information, wasn’t it a bloodless sort of knowledge? What else then? No, the most he hoped from reading were some silent conversations. If the authors were long dead, the interaction seemed more animated. This was a simple paradox simply to be enjoyed.
I was fascinated by this, because sometimes I wonder myself about whether this activity I so love is too passive. Should I be getting out there instead and doing something? There’s plenty to do – both around the house and outside it in the service of others. Of course, being a reader, I argue with myself that it’s not too passive, but on what grounds? Entertainment goes only so far – and anyhow, I’m not sure that I read specifically for entertainment, though reading is something I enjoy. And information is part of it, but less so – particularly if we are talking facts – from reading fiction. But betterment? This is a good one because there has been quite a bit of discussion recently about the value of reading.
In 2013 Huffington Post listed, with some supporting evidence, “7 Unconventional Reasons Why You Absolutely Should Be Reading Books” which include things like improved empathy and staving off Alzheimer’s. Last year, several newspapers reported on research published in Science which argued that “that social skills are improved by reading fiction – specifically high-end stuff*, the 19th-century Russians, the European modernists, the contemporary prestige names … [that] those who read extracts from literary novels, and then took tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, did significantly better than other subjects who read serious nonfiction or genre fiction.” Science writer, Christian Jarrett, at the wired.com, though, does put some breaks on claims that reading changes our brains.
So, I’m sort of with Phil. I hope reading helps stave off dementia (which is “betterment” for me) and I’m romantic enough to hope that reading might improve our ability to empathise, but I don’t think “betterment” is the main reason I read. Conversation, however, is another thing – silent conversation with the author, sometimes conveyed via marginalia, and conversation with other readers about what I’ve read. These conversations challenge my intellect. But there are other reasons I read too. I read to escape into other worlds, both near to and far from my own, and I read for the emotional hit – to laugh, to cry, to feel all sorts of emotions (although I try to avoid fear!!) What all these add up to in the end is something very simple: I read because it gives me pleasure.
I’ve titled the post “Julian Davies on reading” but it’s his character Phil Day speaking. Is this what Davies thinks too? Possibly, though Crow mellow being the sort of satire it is, I think all we can assume is that Davies is throwing some ideas out there and that, since these ideas are coming from Phil, we should give them particular consideration.
And now, you know what I’m going to ask: Why do you read?
* The high-end literary word used by the Sydney Morning Herald writer!
I’ve decided to start a new, occasional series – a bit like The Conversation does! I have two reasons for this. One is that I’m reading pretty slowly at the moment, partly because my current read is a big one, and partly because life is busy. The other is that during my current decluttering project I’ve come across a lot of old reading notes, and they contain such treasures that I want to share them (not to mention document them so I can toss out my notes!) Who better to start with than Thea Astley?
Coda, published in 1994, was her third last novel (a novella, in fact). You know how readers love to remember favourite first lines? Well, Coda’s first line is one of mine. It starts
I’m losing my nouns, she admitted.
This immediately tells us the main subject matter of the novel – aging – and hints at the speaker’s attitude. Kathleen, our speaker and protagonist, is getting old, and when her house is reclaimed by the government for a right-of-way, her children (daughter mainly) move her into a retirement community. This is a satire, so you won’t be surprised to discover that the name of this village is Passing Downs. Kathleen, needless to say, is not happy. She’s not ready to be, as she says, “corpsed”, but she’s a wily, acerbic old woman, a self-styled “feral-grandmother” who’s pretty clear-eyed about the way life goes, about the
… four ages of women: bimbo, breeder, babysitter, burden.
In a Sydney Morning Herald article written, as it turned out, the year before she died, she is described as one of Australia’s “prose-poets”, who were “led” by Patrick White. You can see it in this line can’t you? The confident alliteration that ensures the words are almost spat out as befits their meaning.
I’m not going to write a review here. It’s too long since I read the it, but this is one of those books that has left a lasting impression on me. It’s wicked, funny, bitter and, yes, poignant, too, because it deals with a situation for which there are no simple answers (except, of course, compassion, which is lacking here). I will though share a few more quotes to show the way Astley uses language. You’d be hard-pressed to find a cliche in an Astley book.
Here is a description of, as I recollect (my notes aren’t clear here), her husband’s island dream going sour:
The island had become for him a bright stamp whose colours had run.
Then there’s Kathleen describing her income, her
Public service pension that drizzled brief fortnightly puddles of support into her bank account like a rusty tap.
And here she is, looking for words:
She was scrabbling and rooting about for words in that old handbag of her years.
I love how these images draw on the familiar – and yet they have a freshness that grabs me, and makes me smile, every time I read them.
For a recent review of this novel, check out Lisa’s at ANZLitLovers.
I’ve written several posts in the past about festivals and awards – national and regional – but I haven’t written about ongoing lower-key literary events, sometimes called Readings, sometimes Salons, so today I’m going to highlight this aspect of Australia’s literary culture. I first planned this post a year ago when I read about the Whispers Salon (more anon), but left it in the background until I had time to research other events. Then, last week, author-blogger Dina Ross emailed me about a new Melbourne event, Shorts@45, which finally spurred me into action. As usual with these sorts of posts, I am not presenting an exhaustive list – how could I know what’s going on all over Australia’s nooks and crannies – but giving a taste of what’s happening.
So, here goes, in alphabetical order by name of event:
- Outspoken occurs in the gorgeous Maleny area of southeast Queensland. It describes itself as “an extended literary festival taking the form of occasional conversations with writers”. It started in November 2010, and they charge $15 for the events. Last year they had authors as diverse as ex-treasurer Wayne Swan and Karen Joy Fowler (whose We are completely beside ourselves was shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize), historical Henry Reynolds and debut novelist Ellen van Neerven. This event is more of a “conversation” than a “readings” event, but I’m including it because it is an ongoing event rather than an annual festival – and I’m sure the authors would read from their works during the conversation! (Website, Podcasts page)
- Poetry at the Gods is the event I know best. I have written about it at least once before (most recently last year in a post about hearing Les Murray at the event). The event takes its title from the venue, The Gods Cafe/Bar on the ANU (Australian National University) Campus. It is run by poet Geoff Page (whose verse novel, The scarring, I have reviewed here). It’s a monthly event and involves readings by, usually, a couple of poets, sometimes one, sometimes more, starting at 8pm (with meals available for purchase earlier). The cost for the event itself is $20. Page manages to organise many of Australia’s top poets to read (including local poet and winner of last year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry, Melinda Smith). I only wish the evening didn’t clash with other commitments because I’d love to attend more often than I do. (Facebook Page)
- SHORTS@45 is the event Dina Ross emailed me about. It is a new bimonthly series, curated by Ross. Its name, too, comes from its venue, fortyfivedownstairs, in Melbourne. It will comprise readings by authors and actors, and aims to celebrate “the best short story writing at home and overseas”. The event is supported by fortyfivedownstairs, Reader’s Feast Bookstore and Allen & Unwin’s Faber Writing Academy. It costs $20, including a glass of wine. (I like the sound of that!). The first event of the year will be February 9, and is themed Love and Loss, with contributions by Carrie Tiffany, Arnold Zable and Toni Jordan (all of whom I’ve reviewed here). There will also be a reading by actor Paul English, of a short story by Liam Davison who died in the MH17 crash last year. (Webpage)
- Sunday Poetry (or, Sydney Poetry, or, Poetry Readings at the Brett Whitely Studio) is a free, monthly poetry reading event – held, yes, on Sundays – that seems to be supported by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. “Most months”, they say, “feature a poet from our curated program. At other times there are special open-mic readings”. I can’t locate the 2015 program, but it seems for have been running for at least 3 years, so I am assuming it will run again this year. Last year they had single poet readings (such as Omar Musa), multiple poet readings (Harbour City Poets), and open mic days (Aural Anthology).
- Whispers Salon is organised by the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) and is a bimonthly event. It’s free, and the QWC describes it as follows: “Whispers cuts across genre and style – short and long form – to showcase exciting new voices alongside some of Australia’s best-loved authors in a series of dynamic reading events.” The first events were, I believe, held at the State Library of Queensland, but in 2015 the event, they say, will be hosted throughout Queensland. The first event for the year, to be held on February 7, will be at the Fox Hotel in Brisbane, and is titled “A New Day” but it’s not clear exactly who will be reading.
These are just five events but I think they all sound pretty interesting. For an excellent list of Australian literary events, you might like to check Jason Nahrung’s blog page, 2015 Australian Literary Festival Calendar.
Have you been to any of the events I’ve listed – or to similar ongoing literary events like them?
When I review individual stories, I tend to choose ones that are available on-line. Is that fair, I wonder? It means the author receives no payment for the story I review, but it does mean readers can enjoy a story that they may not otherwise easily access and, I suppose, that the author receives some exposure. Does that make sense? Whatever! This is what I do!
So, to Julie Twohig. She came to my attention when she commented on one of my posts. As most of us do when people who have blogs themselves comment on our blogs, I checked out her blog. It turned out that Twohig is a short story writer, and has had some success, winning or being shortlisted for various awards/competitions, and being included in a few published anthologies. She’s a good example – I hope she doesn’t mind being held up as an example – of the hard work short story writers put into getting their stories known and published.
She provides the text for a few of her stories on her blog, but I chose to read “Full circle” because it is, she writes, her “first winning story and first short fiction to be published”. It won the Leader (Leader being a newspaper group) Darebin (being a community in Victoria) Short Story Competition and was also Commended by The Society of Women Writers Victoria Inc. I enjoyed the story. It’s not one of those tricky short stories that leaves you wondering at the end, but it’s a story from the heart about a middle-aged woman, Jean, returning to the Luang Prabang area of Laos, alone, thirty-two years after her previous visit with Peter, the man who was to become her husband. Peter isn’t with her because, we soon realise, he has died (not because of divorce). Early in the story Jean remembers him saying “I’ll rest when I’m dead”. The tone, here, is sad, nostalgic, not angry or bitter.
The story starts like a typical travel story. Our protagonist is on a bus in an unfamiliar environment, trying to work out how to navigate a different culture. It’s nicely done:
After freeing her backpack from an overhead rack Jean tries to dodge the spillage while scrambling past passengers packed tightly along the aisle. ‘Sorry, sorry … excuse me.’ She had thought it might be rude to thump her fist on the ceiling the way the locals do to make the driver stop. She wishes now she had.
All travellers are, I’m sure, familiar with this uncertainty about how to act. Anyhow, we are not sure what Jean is doing except that it is something she feels she must do – “this trip is for her. For Peter. Full circle”. Aha, there it is, the title, half way through the story.
I’d love to discuss what she is doing because it rang true to me – not that I have experienced exactly the same thing (my spouse is still alive), but I’ve experienced enough for it to have that lovely sense of “ah yes, this makes sense”. The story is well structured. There are a few flashbacks to give us a sense of where Jean is in her life, but only as is needed to convey who Jean is and why she might be doing this trip. The imagery isn’t particularly original, but it is effective, and not overdone, which suggests that Twohig has taken care to hone her story.
At the end of the story on her website, Twohig tells us that poor handling of the publication of the anthology resulted in a furore, which led to the competition not being repeated. Interestingly, the very same Leader newspaper group ran an article in February last year announcing the inaugural Mayor’s Writing Awards in Darebin, with two prizes – for Adult and Children’s short fiction. The winners of these prizes were announced in June on the Darebin Arts website. The winning and highly commended stories earned a cash prize and the “option to be published in n-SCRIBE issue 9″, the City of Darwin’s community arts magazine, which is published annually. It remains to be seen whether this competition will be run again in 2015. Full circle?
“Full circle” in Around the block: Our Darebin Community
Greensborough, Vic: Flat Chat Press, 2007
Available online at the author’s website