My literary week (3), mid-winter 2016

Today pretty much marks the middle of winter for us downunder, and what an unusually cold and wet winter it’s been, at least in my city. We’ve had more rain than usual, and we’ve had snow, which is rare for us though not unheard of. Our average July maximum is around 12-13°C but this last Wednesday it barely made it to 7°C. No wonder, as I write this, I am en route to slightly warmer climes, on the New South Wales central coast, where we expect to experience temperatures of 18-22°C in the coming week. Whew. But, none of this relates much to my literary week, so on with the show …

Kibble Award Winners

The winners for the Kibble Literary Awards for life-writing by women were announced this week. I’m thrilled that Fiona Wright’s honest, moving collection of essays, Small acts of disappearance (my review) about her experience of an eating disorder, won the Nita B Kibble Literary Award, which recognises the work of an established Australian woman writer.

Lucy Treloar’s historical fiction novel, Salt Creek, won the Dobbie Award for a first published work by an Australian woman. I’m yet to read it, but as it’s been shortlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin Award I would like to try to fit it in. You can check out Lisa’s review at ANZLitLovers.

Both these books were shortlisted earlier this year for the Stella Prize. As happy as I am about Fiona Wright’s win – it’s an excellent book – I did have a secret little wish that Elizabeth Harrower’s A few days in the country, and other stories (my review) would win. She hasn’t been recognised nearly enough.

Helen Garner on mothers and daughters

Helen Garner, Everywhere I lookI am currently reading Helen Garner’s beautiful collection of essays, Everywhere I look. A review will follow soon-ish – that is, as soon as I finish the book instead of  soaking up some sun. In the meantime, I’ll share a quote from her essay about her complicated relationship with her mother. Helen, born in 1942, was the eldest of 6. She writes:

When, in the street, I see a mother walking with her grown-up daughter, I can hardly bear to witness the mother’s pride, the softening of her face, her incredulous joy at being granted her daughter’s company; and the iron discipline she imposes on herself to muffle and conceal this joy.

This brought tears to my eyes.

New ways of telling stories

Finally, I want to share some ideas I heard last Saturday from ABC Radio National’s Future Tense program. It explores change from all sorts of angles. In this particular session they interviewed three novelists about new forms of story telling. My comments below are based on some quick notes I made at the time, while I was doing some housework. I haven’t had time to listen to it again, but you can do so at the link I’ve provided if you’re interested.

First off, and the least “controversial”, was Australian author Nick Earls on his recent series of novellas. Wisdom Tree. (Lisa has reviewed the first two at ANZLitLovers.) Novellas aren’t new of course, but Earls sees them as meeting the needs of contemporary readers (though he believes that big books will never be completely replaced) and as having excellent podcast potential. The thing that interested me most about this interview, however, was his requirements for a good story: it must be authentic; readers must be able to connect with the characters (he didn’t say we must “like” or even “engage” with them); and there needs to be something at stake that will interest the readers and make them want to read on.

Next was Naomi Alderman, an author-cum-video game developer from London. She argued that video games are the new “story form”. I was fascinated by this, partly because of recent discussions I’ve had with Son Gums. He has always loved stories. In his primary school years, he got into comics, alongside his love of “chapter books”, but by his late teens, comics and graphic novels had become his main fare. He never, though, really got video games the way his friends did – until very recently! Now in his early-thirties, he’s come to them quite late. I was surprised, but the reason he gave was the new style of story-based games. If I hadn’t had these conversations with him, I may not have connected quite so quickly with Alderman. Anyhow, she also gave her story requirements: the characters must be real; the worlds created must be coherent, in that the players must be able to imagine humans in them; and there needs to be meaningful themes like justice, revenge, freedom. In conclusion, though, she said quite categorically that if you want to understand story culture today, you must understand games and the way they use storytelling.

Finally, we heard Sydney novelist Mike Jones on virtual reality. He has created a piece of crime fiction called VR Noir. It premiered at this year’s Vivid festival in Sydney. I was interested in his idea that we tend to choose what we read/see/experience on the basis of what “choose to feel”. In other words, when we look at a selection of movies at the local cinema, we choose what to see on the basis of what we want to “feel”. I think there’s a lot of truth in that, though I’ve never quite thought about it that way. VR feeds into this “experiential” need, he says –  the “reader” (“user”) is put into the story and experiences it from within. VR, he said, draws from both video games and interactive theatre, and is still very new.

Do you think our story-telling (story-reading) needs have changed in our modern digital, interactive, connected world?