Monday Musings on Australian Literature Special: a Book Giveaway

Actually, the exciting thing is that this is not A book giveaway, as I have TWO books to give away. And, not only are there two books, but the books are signed by multiple authors! Intrigued? Then read on …

The invisible thread, by Irma Gold

Cover (Courtesy: Irma Gold and Halstead Press)

As many of you know this year is Canberra’s centenary. And, if you’ve been reading this blog, you are sure to have seen a mention or two (or more) of the gorgeous centenary anthology, The invisible thread, edited by Irma Gold. If, however, you don’t know what I’m talking about, click on the following links to see my post on its launch, my review, or my description of the beautiful Woven Words event inspired by it.

Hands up if you’d like a copy. Well, now’s your chance. The gorgeous, generous Irma has two copies of the book that have been signed by over 30 of the (still living) authors as well as by the editor (Gold) and the illustrator (Judy Horacek) … and has apparently been wondering what to do with them. To my astonishment, she asked me whether I would like to run a giveaway through my blog. Would I what?

The give-away is being timed to coincide with the last of the many events Irma has organised to promote the book – AN EVENING OF READINGS at the Paperchain Bookstore here in Canberra on Wednesday 28 August. It’s free but RSVPs are requested. Do consider going if you are in town. It will be great.

So to the giveaway:

Eligibility:  The giveaway will be open to Australian and international readers, with ONE copy to go to an international reader, and ONE to an Australian reader. I will use a random number generator to identify the winners.

How to enter: Leave a Comment on this post, and state which country you live in so I can place you in the right giveaway group. I’d love to hear why you’d like to have the book – but it’s not essential.

The fine print: Entries will close at midnight AEST on 31 August. If you win, you must email me with a postal address by the deadline that I advise in the post announcing the winners. I will redraw a new winner if the deadline isn’t met.

I can’t thank Irma enough for this offer … and hope those of you who lurk here won’t be too shy to enter.  This is a booklover’s treat that doesn’t come around often.

Irma Gold and Craig Phillips, Megumi and the bear (Review)

Irma Gold Craig Phillips Megumi and the bear book cover

Courtesy: Walker Books Australia

Now here’s something different at the Gums! I don’t, as you’d know, make a practice of reviewing children’s literature, though I have done a few cross-over adult-young adult novels. So, when Irma Gold and Craig Phillips’ children’s picture book, Megumi and the bear, landed in my letterbox a week or so ago I was challenged. Not only is it a picture book, but its cover – featuring a child and a bear making snow angels – suggest that it has little to do with Australia. Why should Whispering Gums make an exception for this book?

Well, the reasons are twofold. Firstly, I’ve reviewed two works by Irma Gold before (her short story collection, Two steps forward, and the anthology she edited, The invisible thread) and so was intrigued to read something different again by her. She’s one hard-working, versatile author, which I think you have to be if you want to make writing your career. Secondly, while it’s not set in Australia – usually something has to be Australian for me to make an exception – it is set in Japan. At least, Craig Phillips’ illustrations were inspired by his observing a little girl playing in the snow in Hokkaido. I love Japan – and have been to Hokkaido. Exception made!

Now, with two mid-late twenty-something children, I’ve not read a picture book for a long time but, as I picked this up and read it, a whole pile of memories of loved books came back, but first, the story. Like most picture books, its narrative line is simple – a young girl, Megumi, meets a young bear in a forest and they become good friends, playing together again and again until one day the bear doesn’t appear. Megumi is sad, and goes into the forest every day, to wait … until eventually she starts to forget and goes into the forest with her friends … It’s a lovely story about friendship, loss, time and memory.

Craig Phillips’ water colour illustrations are delightful – clear, uncluttered and colourful within a restrained palette. The bear and Megumi’s feelings are nicely conveyed through their facial expression and movement. Irma Gold’s text is also clear and simple, but not simplistic, with a nice use of repetition, “But the bear doesn’t come”, in the central section. The narrative is well-paced, keeping the story moving while providing time to consider (and feel) what is happening. The text is visually appealing. The topic sentence on each double-page spread is presented as a wavy line using an italicised font, with the following sentences in straight-lined plain text. This adds a lovely touch of whimsy to the presentation – and, I suspect, could help the out-loud reader get into a rhythm.

All this made it an enjoyable read – but what I enjoyed most was how it reminded me of other childhood loves, my own or ones made with my kids. The idea of a child playing with a bear brings to mind, of course, Winnie the Pooh. This is not at all a Christopher Robin and Pooh-like story but it plays into that notion of a friendship between children and bears. Going into the forest to play with a wild creature recalls Sendak’s Where the wild things are. Our bear here is not a wild thing – he’s sweet and small – and Megumi and the bear may not engage in wild rumpus, but they do have fun in the forest away from adults. And, this next probably sounds even less likely, but I was also reminded of the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon“. Again a completely different story and theme – and in fact quite the reverse in that here it’s the animal which goes missing – but both explore a friendship with “other” that is made and then lost. Hmm, now I think about it, these connections are pretty loose, but isn’t this partly what reading is about? Enjoying, remembering, connecting, making our own paths through literature and its meanings for us?

The thing is, whatever you make of it, Megumi and the bear is a gorgeous book that I can imagine loving to share with a grandchild, if I had one!

Irma Gold and Craig Phillips (illus)
Megumi and the bear
Newtown: Walker Books Australia, 2013
ISBN: 9781921977909

(Review copy courtesy Walker Books Australia)

Woven Words: What a night!

Chanel Cole, Nishi Gallery (Photo: Katherine Griffiths)

Chanel Cole, Nishi Gallery (Photo: Katherine Griffiths)

As we were driving home from Woven Words, the most recent event associated with The invisible thread anthology, it occurred to me that the evening, which blended words with music, was rather like a three movement musical composition. It went a bit like this:

  1. Sara Dowse‘s bright and slightly quirky allegro
  2. Alex Miller‘s intense adagio
  3. Alan Gould‘s cheeky scherzo.

The event took place in an intimate venue in Canberra’s newest inner city precinct, New Acton, which, I understand, is positioning itself as an arts hub. Even before a fire in mid-2011 set the area back, there had been some lovely musical evenings in Flint, one of the precinct’s restaurants. The Nishi Gallery, though, is a very recent player on the block, so recent that I’m not quite sure what its long-term plans are. Last night, however, it became a delightful space in which a gathering of, guessing here, about 100 people heard three great authors read from their works, bookended by music (mostly) chosen by them and performed by local professional musicians. It was, in a word, a blast.

Sara Dowse text

Sara Dowse (Courtesy: NewActon.Com)

After some pre-show piano music performed by Adam Cook, Allegro started with the gorgeous Chanel Cole singing Kurt Weil’s “Speak Low” accompanied by Cook. Sara Dowse chose this because it was the theme song of Ava Gardner‘s film, One Touch of Venus, which is the title of Dowse’s piece in The invisible thread. In it she describes a weekend she spent with Ava Gardner when she was 7 and Gardner about 24. An unusual choice perhaps for a Canberra anthology, but the anthology isn’t solely about Canberra. Dowse’s piece is about those moments in your life in which you learn something precious and lasting. Her time with Gardner provided one of those moments for her. Her movement finished with another jazz piece performed by Cole and Cook, “Old Devil Moon”.

At question time I asked her how someone with such strong creative drive – she sings, writes and paints – ended up working in bureaucracy. She was, for those who don’t know, the first head of the Office of Women’s Affairs which was established by our new reformist Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, in 1972. Her answer was perfect: They were very creative times, she said.  Can’t argue with that. They were.

Alex Miller

Alex Miller (Courtesy: NewActon.com)

After a short break, it was time for Adagio, my least favourite movement when I was a young music-lover. I was impatient, wanted something faster, with more beat. Now, though, I’ve learnt to enjoy and love the slow and the opportunity it provides to dwell. Tonight’s Adagio provided exactly that … It was bookended by Adam Cook playing the “City of Carcosa” by Larry Sitsky and the CSO (Canberra Symphony Orchestra) String Quartet playing Samuel Barber’s elegaic “Adagio”. Alex Miller has a love-hate relationship with Canberra, mostly the latter it seems! He earned a polite but forgiving (I think) hiss from the audience when he said that no-one chooses to live in Canberra. Wrong! However, he also said that he felt privileged to be involved in the event.

Miller suggested that writers would like to write music, that music manages to express something that writers never quite achieve. Now that’s something for us to ponder. Has it to do with music being the universal language I wonder? Would all writers agree? He talked about writing – about the importance of voice, about the imagination and the act of “imagining something into being”. How to write his novel, The sitters, from which he read, came while he was sleeping on a plane flight between Los Angeles and Sydney. It is about a portrait artist, and explores the nature of “art” and the relationship between artist and subject. The reading ended on:

It’s a story not an explanation.

I like that … it sounds simple but packs a lot.

Alan Gould

Alan Gould (Courtesy: NewActon.com)

The final movement, Scherzo, belonged to poet-novelist Alan Gould. It started with CSO String Quartet performing Percy Grainger’s “Molly on the Shore”. I noticed Gould’s head, up front, bopping away just like mine. Gould read several poems starting with “The Roof Tilers” which I mentioned in a recent Monday Musings. I love that poem. Gould was an engaging reader, introducing each poem with some background. He read his most recent poem “A Rhapsody for Kenneth Slessor” and “Sea Ballad“. And concluded with two flamenco inspired poems, first describing the challenge of replicating in poetry a flamenco rhythm. He read “Flamenco Rehearsal” and “Flamenco Pair”, at times toe-tapping the rhythm as he went. Appropriately, Gould’s movement ended with guitarist Campbell Diamond performing two Spanish pieces, “Junto al Generalife” by Joaquín Rodrigo and (appropriately) “Finale” by Antonio José.

When asked, at the end, whether a sense of dislocation was important to being an artist, Gould, also a model shipmaker, said that for him it was more a sense of being “oceanic” which he described as “being at home in the unstable element”. That may be why I’m a reader not a writer!

The evening was beautifully em-ceed by ABC 666 Radio announcer, Genevieve Jacobs. She was a charming presenter who engaged well with each writer. And she managed her high heels on the tiny stage with great courage!

The evening had a few little challenges. The microphones did not properly work for the singer who opened the evening, the seats were a little hard after three hours, and the venue has just one all-purpose toilet. These were minor. Far more important was the wine! As an Anything-But-Reisling girl, I do hope a choice of white wine is offered next time …

Seriously though, it was a delightful evening. The writers were generous, the musicians superb. Irma Gold, editor of The invisible thread, is doing a stunning job of exploring and exposing the invisible threads that connect the anthology to other arts, to readers, to Canberra. It’s exciting to be part of it.

POSTSCRIPT: With thanks to Dave, of NewActon.Com, for the images.

Irma Gold (ed), The invisible thread (Review)

The invisible thread, by Irma Gold

Cover (Courtesy: Irma Gold and Halstead Press)

I even get nervous when I open a book, you know, for the first time. It’s the same thing, isn’t it. You never know what you’ll find, do you? Each person, each book, is like a new world … (from Mark Henshaw’s Out of the line of fire, in The invisible thread)

At last, you may be thinking, she’s going to review the whole book. At least, I hope that’s what you’re thinking, because this book deserves a dedicated review rather than the scattered posts I’ve done to date. The book I’m talking about is, of course, Canberra’s centenary anthology The invisible thread.

The aim of the anthology is a little different to that of Meanjin‘s special Canberra issue, which I recently reviewed. While its editor, Sanders, wanted to offer “a taste of Canberra”, Gold’s aim was to present “literature of excellence” from writers, past and present, who have had a significant relationship with Canberra. For her, Canberra is “not the headline act” but provides “the invisible thread” linking the writers to each other and to the rest of Australia. In her foreword, Robyn Archer, the centenary’s Creative Director, puts it this way:

Many of the pieces are not about Canberra, but they reveal a diversity of interest and style among writers in this region, and thus reflect the unique nature of a city which is located rurally, but positioned nationally.

In other words, The invisible thread is not a parochial apologia for Canberra but an intelligent presentation of the city’s and thence the nation’s cultural, political, social and interpersonal life. The nation’s concerns are Canberra’s concerns – at both the macro (war, indigenous-non indigenous relationships, the environment, and so on) and the micro (birth, marriage, death, and everything in between) levels. You would be hard-pressed as an Australian, or even as an international citizen, not to find something in this book to interest and move you.

Reviewing an anthology is tricky though, and this is particularly so with The invisible thread because it comprises highly diverse pieces – poems, short stories, essays, and excerpts of novels and non-fiction works.  The pieces are not grouped by form, like the Meanjin issue, but in a more organic way intended to take us on a journey in which, editor Irma Gold writes in her Preface, “each work is allowed to converse with those beside it”. And so, in preparation for my reading group’s discussion, I went back to the start and read the book in the order presented. What a pleasure that turned out to be because I did indeed discover added meanings that weren’t necessarily apparent from the dipping-in-and-out approach I had been using.

Let me give an example. The anthology opens with an excerpt from war historian CEW Bean’s Anzac to Amiens, itself a condensation of his Official history of the first world war. I knew of Bean but had not read his history. I was surprised by his use of imagery, such as this:

And out on every beautiful fresh morning of spring come the butterflies of modern warfare – two or three of our own planes, low down …

After another war-related non-fiction piece, the anthology segues to a short story (“The Good Shoppers”) by Lesley Lebkowicz, which is about her refugee parents, now old and shopping in the supermarket but still affected by the Holocaust, and then to two poems about age (Judith Wright‘s “Counting in sevens” and AD Hope‘s “Meditation on a Bone”). The “conversation” encouraged by this sequence is complex and, I expect, different for each reader. For me, the juxtaposition suggests an irony: “war” steals “age” from many of the youths sent to it. This is just one small example of the sorts of “conversations” Gold has set up in the anthology. Considering them as I read the book added another layer to an enjoyable reading experience. I like reading that challenges my brain on multiple levels.

Compiling an anthology involves, obviously, selecting what to include. It must be hard enough to choose poems, short stories and essays, but what about writers who are best (or only) known for novels or non-fiction books? They can only be represented through excerpts, but there is the risk that these cut-down pieces will be less satisfying to read. Alternatively, of course, they might encourage us to locate the full work and read it. The Bean example above is an excerpt. There are many others, including those from Kate Grenville’s Sarah Thornhill, Jack Heath‘s Third transmission, and Roger McDonald‘s When colts ran. I have noted many to follow-up, which tells you how I found the excerpts overall!

A trickier challenge, probably, is that of representing diversity – not just regarding chronology, subject-matter, tone, and form or genre, but in terms of the writers themselves, such as their gender, or whether they are of indigenous, migrant or other minority background. What emphasis should be given to these in the selection process? And, anyhow, should the writer’s background be highlighted? I’m not sure what Gold and her committee decided about this but the anthology, while primarily representative of the majority culture, is not exclusively so and probably reflects the writing community it drew from.

This is not the last you’ll hear from me on the anthology. It is much too delicious, much too rich, much too full of “luminous moments”* for me not to continue to draw from it. I’m possibly – probably? – biased, but I believe this book should be on every Australian bookshelf and, without disrespecting Irma Gold’s hard work, I’d say it doesn’t really matter whether you read it in its original order or just dip into it as the spirit moves you. What would matter would be to not read any of  it at all.

Irma Gold (ed)
The invisible thread: One hundred years of words
Braddon: Halstead Press, 2012
256pp.
ISBN: 9781920831967

* from Marion Halligan’s essay “Luminous moments” which concludes the book.

Monday musings on Australian literature: ACT Writers Showcase

It’s been a good week for literature in the ACT. Not only was the UC Book Project announced but on Thursday, our centenary anthology The invisible thread was launched.

Irma Gold, The invisible thread

Irma Gold, editor, at the launch of The invisible Thread

The launch was a well-organised event: it found the perfect balance between formality and informality, and didn’t run too long! The book was launched by writer Felicity Packard, best known as one of the award winning writers on the Underbelly series. She spoke entertainingly about the invisible threads – people, places, events – between her and the book. It was nicely and appropriately done. She was followed by four readings from the book, three by authors Blanche d’Alpuget, Adrian Caesar and Francesca Rendle-Short, and one by Meredith McKinney, daughter of Judith Wright. Being of a certain age, I related to the fact that Wright’s and Caesar’s poems both dealt in some way with age. Editor Irma Gold concluded the launch with the usual thanks … and the whole was emceed by local radio announcer Alex Sloan. The venue – the New Acton courtyard – was perfect for the warm spring evening. It was a treat to be present.

The invisible thread, by Irma Gold

Cover (Courtesy: Irma Gold and Halstead Press)

Irma has also been interviewing many of the still-living authors included in the anthology. The interviews – and the stylish book trailer – can be seen on her You Tube channel. Well worth checking out during those hazy lazy post-Christmas days if you don’t have time now. Nigel Featherstone whom I’ve reviewed is there, as is the exciting poet and rap artist Omar Musa, as is the new-to-me poet Melinda Smith, as is … well you get the point. More interviews are to be added weekly over the next couple of months.

But, these are not, really, the point of today’s post. At the launch Irma announced another initiative associated with the book – wow, that woman has worked hard. It’s the ACT Writers Showcase, a website dedicated to, obviously, showcasing writers from the ACT. Irma explained at the launch that the anthology includes only 70 of the 100 plus writers considered for it. The showcase is an attempt to ensure that all writers are noticed, promoted and, most importantly, receive the due they deserve. Irma, herself, for example, is not in the book – but she is in the showcase.

Authors can be located via the search box or the writers’ index. There is a brief bio and list of publications for each author, and an excerpt of their work. I’m told this is a pretty unique site – but, whether it is or not, it’s not only a great resource for readers but also makes a significant contribution to documenting “all that’s past and what’s to come”* in ACT literary culture.

Are you aware of any similar initiatives in your corner of the world?

* from “A Valediction”, by Adrian Caesar

Monday musings on Australian literature: Canberra’s centenary

The invisible thread, by Irma Gold

Cover (Courtesy: Irma Gold and Halstead Press)

In 2013 Canberra, Australia‘s national capital, will celebrate its centenary. A whole raft of events and activities has been planned to keep us busy and buzzing all year – and I look forward to them – but for me, a reader, one of the most exciting projects inspired by the centenary is The invisible thread. It’s an anthology of fiction, non-fiction and poetry by writers, past and present, who have had an association with Canberra.

Some 75 writers are represented. Seventy-five! Even I, with my now rather long history in the capital, am surprised by the number, which perhaps gives you a hint to the meaning of the title. Robyn Archer, the Creative Director of the Centenary, writes in the foreword that much about Canberra is hidden or invisible but, she says, “just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there”. Like, for example, service stations! We do have them, contrary to popular opinion, we just like to keep them tucked away a little! Bill Bryson also noticed this feature of Canberra in his book Down Under. He wrote:

It’s a very strange city, in that it’s not really a city at all, but rather an extremely large park with a city hidden [my emphasis] in it. It’s all lawns and trees and hedges and a big ornamental lake [Lake Burley Griffin] – all very agreeable, just a little unexpected.

Hence The invisible thread!

Now, I haven’t yet read the book, having only acquired my copy last week, but I’ve given it a good look. And within its pages I’ve found many friends – personal and literary. Some are writers I have reviewed in this blog over the last three years or so, namely Francesca Rendle-Short, Alan Gould, Geoff Page, Alex Miller, Nigel Featherstone and Marion Halligan. Others are classic writers I’ve mentioned in various posts, particularly the Monday Musings series. These include some wonderful women, Judith Wright, Rosemary Dobson, Kate Grenville, Miles Franklin and the collaborative team M Barnard Eldershaw. There are writers I’ve known for reasons external to their writing, like Michael Thorley and Sarah St Vincent Welch. There are young writers like the internationally published Jack Heath and rap artist Omar Musa, and older writers like historian Bill Gammage whose The biggest estate on earth won this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. And there are some of the grand men of Australian letters, like the poets AD Hope and Les Murray and the historian Manning Clark. If all these don’t tempt readers, I’m not sure who will, except perhaps those I haven’t mentioned!

The book is divided into four sections: Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards, Pts 1 and 2, and Looking In, Looking Out, Pts 1 & 2. Editor Irma Gold*, whose collection of short stories I reviewed earlier this year, describes the breakdown as “open-ended and kaleidoscopic”, and says that while Canberra features in the writings,

it is not the headline act. Rather, it supplies the invisible thread that links writers to each other, as one-time or full-time Canberrans, and to everyone who call Australia home. Like writers everywhere, the writers showcased here are looking both in and out, backwards and forwards, conveying the world through the lens of their experience.

Each of these sections is introduced with a delightful cartoon by Judy Horacek, one of my favourite cartoonists.

I plan to return to this book, when I’ve had time to digest it more, so I’ll finish here on a little anecdote. In 1988, some good friends and I started a reading group, one that will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. Our initial focus was Australian women writers, and so in those early years we read Marion Halligan, Kate Grenville and more. We were Canberra women readers. However, also in 1988, a group of Canberra women writers (which included Marion Halligan and was known as the “Seven Writers”) produced a collection of short stories titled Canberra Tales. Several of those writers are included in this anthology, including Dorothy Johnston. Johnston’s story in that collection, “The Boatman of Lake Burley Griffin”, is also in this anthology. Its opening sentence is:

To look at the lake, you’d think nothing dramatic, scarcely anything human happened there.

But how wrong you’d be …

Irma Gold (ed)
The invisible thread
Braddon: Halstead Press, 2012
256pp.
ISBN: 9781920831967

* To hear interviews with some of the anthology’s authors, check out Irma Gold’s You Tube page

Irma Gold, Two steps forward

Irma Gold's Two steps forward Bookcover

Irma Gold's Two steps forward (Courtesy: Affirm Press)

Irma Gold’s* Two steps forward is, apparently, the last release in Affirm Press’s Long Story Short series. I have reviewed two others previously – Gretchen Shirm’s Having cried wolf and Leah Swann’s Bearings – but, before talking about this book, I must say how much I love the books themselves. I am starting to read eBooks. I recognise they are likely to be the future and they do offer advantages over print books. They take up less space, for a start. You can change font size to suit your eyes. And, eReaders have inbuilt dictionaries which can be useful when you are reading while out and about (or are just too plain lazy to get off your seat to find the dictionary). But, this doesn’t mean I don’t like print books – especially lovely ones to look at and hold like this Affirm Press series. I like their slightly smaller size and their simple, clear, modern design. The three I’ve read also have very stylish monochromatic covers. There’s little, in fact, not to like about them.

Now, though, the book. This is one of those short story collections, like Swann’s Bearings, that has its own title rather than one drawn from one of the stories within. I like that – and the title of this book, Two steps forward, is a particularly clever one, because of course it immediately calls forth the complete saying “two steps forward one step back”. This concept works well for the stories in Gold’s book.

Irma Gold is a writer and editor. She has been published in various journals, such as Meanjin and Island, but this is her first published collection. Well done her, because it’s an engrossing collection. Gold’s writing is clear and warm, and she demonstrates in this collection an ability to handle a range of voices and points of view. There are 12 stories in the book: five are told 1st person, two 2nd person, and the other five 3rd person. Her protagonists are mostly women, but there are a few male voices too. The stories could be described as “scenes from a life” (well, lives, really). Her characters include a single mother hoping for love (“The art of courting”), an empathetic woman working in a refugee detention centre (“Refuge”), a father experiencing his first access visit, after two years, with his 8-year-old daughter (“Tangerine”), an emotionally-neglected teen girl living in a caravan park (“Sounds of friendship”), an old homeless man (“Great pisses of Paris”), and so on. The characters are authentic. You know who they are, what they feel, and what they are confronting:

You notice how thin your lips have become, how the flash of greasy fuchsia looks almost crude. You pull at the loose skin on your neck, and the spongy puffs around your eyes filled with lines, the skeleton veins of a dead leaf. (“The art of courting”)

I want to touch him, but the space between us is fractured. (“Refuge”)

I compose sentences in my head, but none of them work. (“Kicking dirt”)

Says they can’t afford to waste cash on stuff they don’t need, though apparently alcohol is essential. (“Sounds of friendship”)

There’s a painful vulnerability to her characters, as they confront their particular challenges, such as visiting a terminally ill friend (“The visit”), facing a miscarriage (“The third child”), or trying to reconnect with a young daughter (“Tangerine”). Their lives are finely observed, so much so, in fact, that you feel you’ve been there – even if you haven’t. Their triumphs, when they have them, are hard won.

I also liked Gold’s use of imagery. It’s apt, evocative, and is not overdone or pushed too far – which suggests careful writing, good editing, or both:

 A day leaking away with a spill of apricot. Air stung with lavender. (“The art of courting”)

… and Abby catches the cold-barrelled words Mick fires at her mother. (“Sounds of friendship”)

But it was all icing slathered over stale cake. (“The anatomy of happiness”)

The tone doesn’t vary much, but this doesn’t spoil the experience. The stories, overall, have a somewhat melancholic air, as the characters struggle to keep a forwards momentum in their lives ahead of a backwards one. And, there are touches of humour (mostly wry) and some occasional irony (such as a reference to our anthem’s “boundless plains to share” in “Refuge”) that provide relief.

Endings are always hard … at least that’s what E. M. Forster told us in Aspects of the novel … but Irma Gold has handled them well. Keeping with the title, most of her stories have more hope than not – but none are fully resolved. Like life really.

Irma Gold
Two steps forward
Mulgrave, Vic: Affirm Press, 2011
(Series: Long Story Shorts, 6)
192pp.
ISBN: 9780980790474
Also available in eBook format

(Review copy courtesy Affirm Press)

* I was tickled to note in her Acknowledgements that Gold spent some time at Varuna Writers’ Centre.