My literary week (9), some thoughts about fiction …

It’s been a busy week, what with getting ready for our road trip to Port Macquarie, and then doing said road trip, so reading has been slowed down somewhat. However, that doesn’t mean that things literary have been forgotten.

Why write fiction?

Anos Irani, The scribeLike most of you who read this blog, I expect, I’m always looking out for discussions about what literature is all about, particularly from the writers who create this things we read. This week, I listened to a couple of interviews with authors, and loved what they had to say.

I’ll start with Anosh Irani whose latest novel The parcel I reviewed a few days ago. In an interview on Canada’s CBC, he said:

I had to tell the truth. For me that was the most important thing. Tell it in the form of a story but make it as truthful as possible.

Fiction is a beautiful way to get to the higher kind of truth.

There’s a difference between facts and truth. Factual information is what I learned when I did my research but truth can be an emotional truth; it can be a spiritual truth. These are things that you can arrive at through fiction, that’s why I love the novel. […]

The idea for me when I write a novel is to find what is human in the worst kinds of experience. […]

There are questions that the reader will also ask that have no answer and that is the whole point that sometimes there aren’t any answers. […]

I think literature should make us a little uneasy, a little uncomfortable, it should cause a shift in our unconsciousness because only when we are disturbed will we go in search of something [and he then refers to great novels like Rohinton Mistry’s A fine balance, Albert Camus’ The outsider and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as examples. Yes!]

SNAP, I thought, because the previous day I’d heard Richard Fidler interview Richard Flanagan, and Flanagan too had talked about truths and about questions without answers:

Novels are something we go to because they remind us that implicit in each of us is a universe of possibilities, some better, some worse […]

It’s said now that reality has outstripped fiction, and that fiction can’t deal with this new reality, but […]

I genuinely believe in the novel as one of the great spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic traditions and at its best it speaks to fundamental truths about the human condition. It’s not that it has answers but … it asks the necessary questions we need to ask, of ourselves and of our times.

As you will probably guess, I love this idea of novels’ role being to ask us questions without necessarily providing the answers. Irani certainly does it. He presents some complex if not discomforting moral questions, and leaves the reader to think about how to react. His only request, I’d say, is for us to react with humanity, to not be quick to judge (particularly if we haven’t walked in those shoes.) Sometimes, as he says, there are no answers.

MUBA (Most Under-rated Book Award)

The Invisible War book coverWhile on the road, I did check my Twitter feed every now and then, and one that caught my attention came from the Small Press Network (SPN). It announced this year’s MUBA award shortlist. I have written about these awards before, and have read the odd nominee, but this list comes completely out of left-field for me. The books are:

  • Briohny Doyle’s The island will sink (Brow Books, an imprint of Lifted Brow magazine): a debut novel that sounds like it’s in the dystopian cli-fi tradition
  • The invisible war: A tale on two scales (Scale Free Network): a surprising-sounding graphic novel for young adults set in the first World War and about bacteriophage that fights dysentery! This book has won educational publishing awards, but I guess is unknown/underrated in the general realm.
  • Susan McCreery’s Loopholes (Spineless Wonders, whom I’ve mentioned before in a post on Specialist Presses): a collection of micro-fiction about family life and relationship – no piece is more than 250 words
  • Christina Kennedy’s Horse Island (Zabriskie Books): set around Tuross Lake in NSW’s south coast, a beautiful part of the world only about three hours drive from me. This book chronicles Kennedy’s commitment to native Australian plants.

What a fascinating bunch. The winner will be announced next month.

How we read …

Another thing readers like me like to read about is how other readers read. I don’t mean what they read, or how many books they read, but how they actually read. This can include things like whether they write marginalia or not, or how many pages they read before they give up on a book, or whether in fact they ever give up a book once started. Consequently, I loved this from a Canadian blogger I love to visit, Buried in Print. It’s from her review of a book by Sarah Dunn called The arrangement, and she writes:

And when I say ‘entertaining’, I mean I chuckled aloud several times and paused more than once to let the book settle into my lap so I could enjoy the idea of the scene described.

I related to this. I often do the same. Not just for funny scenes, but for moving ones, or gorgeously written ones that I want to let soak in. It slows down the reading of course – but, when you are moved (to laugh, cry or wonder), you are moved, and you don’t want to rush that, do you?

Monday musings on Australian literature: MUBA 2013

Last year I reported on the inaugural MUBA – Most Under-rated Book Award. I hoped that it would continue, because it brings to our attention good books that somehow slide under the radar, mostly because their authors are less known and/or their publishers are small.

In 2012, I had read one of the four short-listed books, Irma Gold’s Two steps forward (my review), but it didn’t, unfortunately, win. This year again, I had read one of the four short-listed books, Merlinda BobisFish-hair woman (my review). But, before I announce the winner, here is the shortlist:

  • Merlinda Bobis’ Fish-hair woman (Spinifex Press)
  • Ginger Briggs’ Staunch  (Affirm Press, which published Irma Gold’s book)
  • Annabel Smith’s Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot (Fremantle Press)
  • Anna Solding’s The hum of concrete  (MidnightSun Publishing)

The judges for this year, according to its sponsor SPUNC, included book reviewer/writer Stephanie Campisi, bookseller/poet Ben Walter, and writer/bibliotherapist, Estelle Tang. SPUNC says of the shortlist that:

The shortlisted writers represent four of the original and worthy voices to be published by independent Australian publishers in the 2012 calendar year. These books show excellence in their genre and demonstrate quality of writing, editorial integrity, and production. They have been overlooked for other prizes and have not generated the sales they deserve for any number of reasons other than the great quality of the products.

And the winner is – ta da – Merlinda Bobis’ Fish-hair woman. As I said, I haven’t read the others though I do have Annabel Smith in my reading sights. However, I was highly impressed by Fish-hair woman, which is a challenging but rewarding read, and so am thrilled for her. It’s a timely win too as Merlinda Bobis is a Filippine-Australian. As Spinifex Press director Dr Renate Klein said in their Press Release on the award:

At this time when the Philippines is experiencing a humanitarian disaster on an epic scale, I’m pleased that a kernel of something positive has happened this week. Merlinda is a Philippine Australian writer who has shown how much she cares for the Philippines and its people, and I know this award means so much to her.

It is fantastic, but not surprising, that Fish-Hair woman captured the judges’ attention; it deserves a much wider audience, and this award will definitely assist in attracting more readers to the book.

So, huge congratulations to Bobis and Spinifex – and let’s hope it results in more sales.

Have you read any books in the last year or so that you believe are under-rated? Do let us know in the comments and give them a plug!

MUBA and Patrick White awards for 2012 announced

I don’t make a practice of reporting on awards  – many of the big ones get pretty good media coverage anyhow – but every now and then something catches my fancy … and so here I am today …

Most Underrated Book Award

Apologies to those of you waiting on the edge of your seats to hear the winner of the MUBA, or Most Underrated Book Award, that I heralded a few weeks ago. It was announced on November 8th, the day after I returned from eight days away, and I simply missed it.

The winner is (was!) Wayne Macauley’s The cook.

Congratulations to Wayne Macauley and the three runners-up, Peter Barry, Irma Gold, and Jess Huon. Please check the SPUNC page which lists the books and how you can purchase each one in both print and electronic format. As SPUNC says, they would all make worthy additions to your Christmas shopping list.

Patrick White Award 2012

Patrick White (if we exclude JM Coetzee who received his award when still a South African resident) is Australia’s only Nobel Laureate for Literature. He won that award in 1973, and in 1975 he used the proceeds to establish the Patrick White Award. His goal was to advance ‘Australian literature by encouraging the writing of novels, short stories, poetry and/or plays for publication or performance’. It tends to be given to writers who have made a significant contribution to Australian literature but whom the judges feel deserve further recognition. Recent winners include poet Robert Adamson (2011); multiple award-winning novelist, David Foster (2010); novelist and short story writer Beverley Farmer (2009), a favourite of mine but I haven’t read her for a while; and poet and translator Geoff Page (2001), whom I have reviewed here.

This year’s winner is Amanda Lohrey. I have read her but not since I started this blog. The judges praised the quality of her fiction – the most recent being her novel Reading Madame Bovary – for the moral and ethical dilemmas she explores and for her prose style which ‘has developed a distinctive grace and lucidity in expressing these complex issues’. The judges also commended her role in developing the creative writing program at the University of Technology Sydney, and her work as an essayist.

Thanks to the AustLit blog for information on the Patrick White Award.

The Most Underrated Book Award 2012

A short post! I have just read on the SPUNC site that Kobo is sponsoring an award to highlight books that were released by independent publishers and members of the Small Press Network (SPUNC) and that did not receive wide recognition.

The shortlist for the inaugural award was announced this week, and the titles are:

The award apparently recognises both the publisher and author. The winner will be announced, the SPUNC announcement says, on 8 November at the opening of the Independent Publishing Conference during a special gala night and literary debate at the Wheeler Centre.

Good on Kobo I say. Books published by smaller presses are often overlooked in the major literary awards partly, I presume, because the authors usually aren’t well enough established to be noticed and partly because small publishers don’t have the marketing clout and distribution networks to get their books out to enough readers and reviewers. I hope this new award will help raise the profile of the authors and their hardworking publishers.

* I have a soft spot for Irma Gold, and not just because I’ve read and enjoyed her book. She lives in my city, and is currently coordinating the production of, and editing, The invisible thread, an anthology of works “by writers who have an association with the Canberra region”. The book represents a major literary contribution to Canberra’s 2013 Centenary Celebrations, and is planned to be the focus of many literary events over the coming year. Watch this space!