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Julie Twohig, Full circle (Review)

January 17, 2015

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?

awwchallenge2015Julie Twohig
“Full circle” in Around the block: Our Darebin Community
Greensborough, Vic: Flat Chat Press, 2007
Available online at the author’s website

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2015 9:28 am

    I think it’s a great idea to review short stories available online, Sue. I might never have heard of this author’s prize-winning work otherwise, and I’m sure some people who get to read to her story (via you) will go on to track down her other work. I wonder how many other authors offer samples of their work online?

    • January 18, 2015 10:12 am

      Thanks Elizabeth. I think a few do, but it’s a but hit and miss. Often of course it’s usually stories that have been published a while ago, but that’s ok!

    • January 18, 2015 10:14 am

      I agree, it’s a great idea, Lizzy. Publishing a short story on-line can be a tricky decision. To submit to a competition, a story must not have been previously published (blogs usually qualify as ‘published’) and certainly not have won a competition (fair enough). So, for my website/blog I only ‘publish’ (some of) the stories that have found their way into anthologies (is it better/fairer that readers buy the anthology?). Or I pop them online when they win a competition – leaving my other stories eligible for submission elsewhere.

      How lovely to reviewed by Whispering Gums!

  2. January 18, 2015 9:52 am

    Thank you so much Sue at Whispering Gums! What a wonderful surprise to find you have visited my website and reviewed Full Circle. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Equally delighted to be held up as an example of the work involved in crafting a short story.

    Perhaps I should add that it was 2007 when Full Circle won first place in the Darebin Leader Short Story Competition, attracting much appreciated prize money of $1000. Being my first win I didn’t know at the time that it was (still is) considered generous prize money in terms of short story awards (especially given that in Australia, first-time novelists are fortunate to reap $6000 – I think this figure is still correct?)

    I mention this because it is almost eight years since the competition’s conception and downfall. Unbeknownst to me, the furor broke while I was travelling through India, during which time an award ceremony took place at Northcote Townhall, wherein my daughter stood in for me and read aloud Full Circle (brave soul!), graciously accepting a cheque on my behalf (the cheque was ‘pretend’ – more about this soon).

    Returning to Melbourne, I was greeted by a deluge of emails – extremely angry emails from competition contenders, pissed off about 3 things in particular:

    1. The organiser/s of the competition had randomly published non place-winning entries. Unfortunately there had been no mention of publication in the guidelines. This oversight meant these stories were rendered invalid for submission to subsequent competitions (the usual criteria being that entries must not have been published).

    2. The organiser/s were also slammed for releasing all entrant’s emails via a joint email which disclosed our email addresses.

    3. Finally, award money wasn’t released for weeks after the award ceremony, angering many once again. Phew!

    So my first win was tainted by this messy saga. Thrilled to have won and to hear that voice of validation echoed back to me from the other side of the writing void, my ‘win’ came amidst a public outcry that threatened to sue the organisers.

    Sadly, I doubt this competition will ever be reinstated. Perhaps, with enough time passed to mellow tempers, the inaugral Mayor’s Writing Awards in Darebin that you mentioned Sue,will take its place? The Darebin council allegedly has the largest population of ‘artists’ in a Melbourne zone, and as such, deserves its own competition.

    Long-story-short, thanks for reading this little vent Sue – and for the opportunity to revisit the surrounding story. Mostly though, thank you for your reading and generous review of Full Circle.

    Wishing you a lovely day in my home-state!

    • January 18, 2015 10:18 am

      Thanks Julie … So glad you didn’t mind my using you as an example. And thanks for fleshing out that sorry saga. I more or less got that from the Crikey article but it wasn’t expressed as clearly and succinctly as you’ve done here. The email address issue is a common mistake … Potentially dangerous but in a way forgivable, if they only did it once! The publication without permission though is another matter. Were they naive? Disorganised? Whatever, they should have done their research about how you run a competition. And yes, from my reading of short story comps, that’s a generous prize. Maybe their heart was in the right place?!?

      • January 18, 2015 7:11 pm

        Yes indeed Sue – their heart was in the right place. It’s a shame they weren’t given a second chance. Nothing like a bit of drama eh?

  3. Glen Hunting permalink
    January 19, 2015 5:03 pm

    A very interesting story and ‘backstory’. Yes; I wonder why the competition organisers didn’t just say that they would publish selected entrants, subject to their consent. It could have been so simple. Ah well.

    Good of you to plug a hardworking short story writer. Keep it up, both of you. 🙂

  4. January 22, 2015 5:44 am

    The story sounds wonderful! Thanks for reviewing online stories because then I can actually read them! So off I go to read this one 🙂

    • January 22, 2015 7:20 am

      Thanks Stefanie … That’s exactly what I hope people will do with these individual online short stories.

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  1. Whispering Gums reviews Full Circle | Julie Twohig

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