Snapshot 2014: Angie Rega

angie regaANGELA REGA is a school librarian who spends her days telling stories and reading to teenagers. She has had long love affair with folklore, fairy tales and furry creatures but often falls in love with poetry. She drinks way too much coffee and can’t imagine not writing. She keeps a very small website here: angierega.webs.com

 
 

1. Many of your stories have been based in folklore and fairy tales. What draws you to work with these stories?

Both folklore and fairy tale are as important to me as my morning coffee.

I was raised in migrant story-telling household where nobody finished a sentence in the same language. My grandmother couldn’t read so she would tell us stories. My sister and I were the first people in our family to get a secondary and tertiary education; this was a big deal for us but as the written word took over and so does the language and the world you live in, so much of how I was raised is now forgotten in terms of language and how meaning is made. I think this is why I am still deeply entrenched and in love with that oral tradition that stems from folklore.

Folkore and folk tales contain disappearing histories. Fairy tales delve into experiential archetypes. This is what draws me to these stories, I guess. I go to them for comfort, for understanding, to make sense of the world, and sometimes, just to be entertained.

 
2. In one of your most recent stories, ‘Shedding Skin‘ (Crossed Genres), your heroine and the object of her interest, if not desire, are a shapechanging dingo and crow. Is the idea of transformation important to your work? Ideas of body image and identity are probably things you see often as a school librarian …

The idea of transformation is important to my work. The shedding of skins, feathers and scales appear all deal with, in essence, a return to the true, authentic and instinctual selves. Working as a school librarian I’m also often intrigued at how it is these tales of transformation that draw teens like magnets. I think it is because these tales deal with personal identity and body image in a symbolic and metaphorical way.

Transformation tales are, in essence about deep truths. I guess they keep reminding us to be honest with ourselves. As we get older, this becomes harder and harder to do. Guess that is a benefit of working with teens on a daily basis. They keep you honest, authentic, true and open.

 
3. Your beautiful book The Cobbler Mage came out last year in two languages. In what ways do you find your heritage appearing in your work? Do you have anything similar coming up (what’s next?)?

Thank you for the lovely compliment! The Cobbler Mage came out in English and Italian and may also be translated into French given its setting and subject matter. I was very moved to read the Italian translation of the text because Italian was my first language whereas now I barely use it all. It was a strange experience reading my story back in my first language!

I don’t have anything similar coming up next – I’ve written the first of a series of short stories about ‘totem girls’ and I’m working on a novel that is not speculative but deals with the Australian migrant experience, exile both self-imposed and imposed by another force, and the dispossession of personal memories and reconciliation in family dysfunctional relationships.

Although, having said that, I do have a few stories drafted set within the Cobbler Mage’s world that may get pulled out of the drawer and given a spit-polish.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I have loved quite a few stories recently not all speculative but all Australian. My top five for the moment would be:

  • Christos Tsolkias’s novel Barracuda because Tsolkias gives a voice to the Australian migrant experience and reading his work over the years validated my experiences in so many ways.
  • Questions of Travel by Michelle De Krester.
  • Juliet Marillier’s short story collection Prickle Moon published by Ticonderoga Publications.
  • Janeen Webb’s collection, Death at the Blue Elephant, published by Ticonderoga Publications.

  • My dear friend, Suzanne J Willis’s short story ‘No.34 Glad Avenue’, published by Fablecroft in One Small Step which will be appearing in the anthology Time Travel: Recent Trips by Prime Books edited by Paula Guran.
  • And of course, I adore ANYTHING written by the amazing Angela Slatter who writes some of the most lyrically dark fairy tales I have ever read. My favourite collection being The Girl With No Hands.

     
    5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

    I have tried the e-book thing – as a school librarian it is a great motivator for getting hesitant readers to engage with a book. You know, give them a gadget and they’re sold.

    For me, personally, I am a romantic at heart – my love for books is in volumes (pardon the pun). Bound within that is my love for the three dimensional object the book. I like the way a book smells and how a once very much loved book feels. And I like the fact that if I deeply love a book, and want to say how much I love the story, then I can hold it close to my chest and press it against my heart. Sorry! I am a hopeless romantic!

     
    2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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    THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

  • Snapshot 2014: Jack Dann

    Jubilee-HJACK DANN is a multiple-award winning author who has written or edited more than 75 books, including the international bestseller The Memory Cathedral. His latest anthology, Ghosts by Gaslight, co-edited with Nick Gevers, won the Shirley Jackson Award and the Aurealis Award. He is the publishing director of the new imprint PS Australia. Forthcoming in August 2014 from Satalyte Publishing is the first e-book edition of Jack’s retrospective short story collection Jubilee: more titles from Satalyte soon to be announced. A collection of Jack’s holocaust stories entitled Concentration will be published by PS Publishing in the United Kingdom. In her introduction to the volume, critic and scholar Marleen Barr writes: ‘Dann is a Faulkner and a Márquez for Jews. His fantastic retellings of the horror stories Nazis made real are more truth than fantasy.’
    You can visit Jack’s website at www.jackdann.com, and follow him on Twitter [@jackmdann] and Facebook.
     

    1. This year marks 20 years since you came to Australia. What has been the biggest change in the speculative fiction scene here over the course of that time?

    Man, 20 years doth go fast! I can hardly believe it. Off the top of my head, I think the biggest change is the general integration of our writers into the international science fiction scene. The relative isolation of the 1990s is gone and the great talents of Australian authors are appreciated as a matter of course.

    The other great change, perhaps the greatest, is technological: the shift to electronic publishing, which affects writers and publishers worldwide. The paradigm seems to be shifting from publisher-pays to author-pays, and many middle-range writers are making even less money than before. And the ‘gatekeepers’ have virtually disappeared: by that I mean that virtually anyone can get published online and in print-on-demand format. However, it has become almost impossible for many of these writers to gain any kind of an audience and be taken seriously.

    Previously writers sent their work to established publishers and in a sense went through an apprenticeship: the traditional journey from form rejections to written notes at the bottom of rejection slips, to acceptance letters … and payment for the work. That’s how many writers over time learned their craft. That’s how I leaned the craft. This kind of publishing certainly still exists and is vital, but it exists within a much larger chaotic environment.


     
    2. At the national science fiction convention Continuum X in June, you ran a workshop for writers about how to write professional fiction. What’s your top tip?

    I’m going to do a cop-out here because I did a five-minute video for a master class I conducted for the Queensland Writers Centre. It points out what I believe writers need to do to write ‘readable’ fiction. As an old buddy of mine from Louisiana used to say: ‘I don’t chew my cabbage twice.’


     
    3. With a whole swag of your back catalogue being re-released in digital format by Satalyte Publishing, what’s next for the Dann oeuvre — both as a writer and an editor?

    Well, the wonderful Stephen and Marieke Ormsby are releasing my retrospective short story collection Jubilee with a new cover by Nick Stathopoulos, one of my all-time favourite artists. The next release will be one of my novels: we’re still deciding which one, but the time between releases will be short. To quote Satalyte: ‘Jack is back!’

    And I have a new collection coming out from PS Great Britain, which Pete Crowther bought, called Concentration. It’s a collection of my Holocaust stories with a terrific introduction by author and critic Marleen Barr. How’s this for an extracted quote?:

    In Jack Dann’s Holocaust visions, ‘imagination is used to enrich reality, not to escape from it’. His ‘invented, alternate worlds’ are related to the ones Faulkner and Márquez create. But Yoknapatawpha and Macondo are not Jewish neighbourhoods. Dann is a Faulkner and a Márquez for Jews. His fantastic retellings of the horror stories Nazis made real are ‘more truth than fantasy’.


     
    4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

    Ah, that’s a loaded question! Okay, most recently read work I loved: The Year of Ancient Ghosts by Kim Wilkins and Black Mountain by Venero Armanno.


     
    5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

    Actually, given my responses above, I must say that the fluctuations of the publishing haven’t influenced what I write … or the way I write. I sit with a notebook or a laptop on my lap and try to capture those incandescent images and narratives flashing in my head.

    As to the second part of your question, as you know I’m spearheading PS Australia, an Australian imprint of the UK-based PS Publishing. I anticipate bringing some wonderful work into print in fabulous folio-style slip-cased limited editions.

    As to writing: if all goes according to plan (he says, propitiating all the various gods), I’ll be writing the next book in my Dark Companions series (the first book, in progress, is called Shadows in the Stone). And, man, there’s so much I want to do: stories, novels, collections, anthologies. I do so love this insane, future-shocked business of being an author. It’s like standing on a motorcycle with one foot … and travelling at a cool 150mph!

     

    2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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     THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

    Snapshot 2014: Australia’s speculative fiction scene

    2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot
    The Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot has taken place four times in the past 10 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it’s grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish!

    In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, I will be part of this team blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

    Last time, in 2012, the Snapshot covered nearly 160 members of the Australian speculative fiction community – can we top that this year?

    To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done:

    And you can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

    Only Lovers Left Alive: pollution is a real pain in the neck, yeah


    only lovers left aliveJim Jarmusch takes the long, slow road to a vampire movie aimed squarely at what happens when you use up resources, but yet, there will still be music.

    Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) features Eve (Tilda Swinton), well read and generally wonderful, reconnecting with her significant other, Adam (Tom Hiddleston). She travels from Tangier, leaving behind good old mate Christopher Marlowe — played with the usual aplomb by John Hurt — to Detroit, where the collapse and abandonment mirrors Adam’s depression. Adam’s a muso of modest but enduring renown, and things are looking all right for the reunited lovers until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up to rock the boat with her over-eager, insatiable consumerism.

    Because things are already tense for the children of the night, with the blood supply as tainted as the environment. Resources are getting scarce. The good stuff is in demand. And the food chain, and decency, are such fragile things.

    It’s a slow-burner, shot almost doco style as Adam and Eve drive through derelict suburbs, living their lives in splendid and not-so-splendid isolation.

    The vampire culture is wonderfully (under)drawn, with its own peccadilloes and gentle in-joke references. Living in the shadows, observers trying to find safe ways to interact, to leave a mark, however anonymously … the settings mirror the desolation, even Tangier — necessarily by night — an empty place where people offer only what is not needed. And the leads capture the mood perfectly. Swinton’s nuanced performance is a delight, and Hiddleston has the disaffected rock star air down pat.

    It’s crafty, too, how at least one certain prop never gets to satisfy the Chekhov law, although perhaps that’s a Jarmusch law. Along with the music, of course.

    As the predators prowl the decaying streets, the message is there in the coyote howls: nature will have its way, so we’d better look after it.

    Neil Jordan’s Byzantium: delicious!

    byzantium, vampire movie posterNeil Jordan made Tom Cruise look good in Interview with the Vampire, but Byzantium is even better.

    Saoirse Ronan chews up the celluloid as a 16-year-old vampire, on the run with lusty Gemma Arterton, who looks in her period flashbacks as though she just stepped out of a classic Hammer Horror movie (and indeed, there’s a nod to Hammer’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness in the film).

    Writer Moira Buffini has delivered a script that these two actors totally inhabit, Ronan with subtlety and tender beauty, Arterton a force majeure of hedonistic pragmatism. The familial relationship between the two, of freedom vs control, change vs habit, of nurture and protection, is a joy to watch as Ronan’s Eleanor stretches her 200-year-old adolescent wings.

    In the background is the threat of a patriarchal order who don’t like women rocking their boat, with events set in motion by Johnny Lee Miller as bounder and cad, and Sam Riley as an understated hero-figure.

    The casting is superb, the sets suitably atmospheric, and there are nods to vampire forerunners in Ruthven and Carmilla. The vampirism here is well drawn and consistent, drawing on a Caribbean version called a soucriant (read more in this excellent New York Times review).

    The story is kept simple and is simply told, set to a soundtrack of classical and folk songs, and gorgeously presented by Jordan and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, allowing us to bask in the beauty: to sink in its warmth like Bathory into a bath.

    Definitely in my list of the best vampire movies.


    Tucking in to the Grampians

    The Grampians isn’t just about the stunning mountains, native forests and picturesque pastoral scenes. The region, centred around the spectacular national park about three hours west of Melbourne, is also ideal grazing country for visitors, too, as we found out last weekend on a trip organised by Grampians Tourism.

    I love the Grampians in the cooler, off-peak months, when the trails aren’t as crowded and you don’t get baked when you’re out and about. Plus, there’s the fireplaces, perfect for a welcome home tipple after a day of touring, hiking or just lounging.

    Mt Langi Ghiran winery

    Mt Langi Ghiran winery and cellar door


    Our first port of call – or shiraz of call, if you like – was picturesque Mt Langi Ghiran winery, a mere 15 minutes through gum tree-lined rural roads off the Western Highway at Bayindeen.

    The cellar door is set on the edge of the vineyard with ranges framing the scene, and the wine is exquisite. This is shiraz country, and Langi produces an awesome line-up, with solid body and lots of pepper. There’s also cabernet, riesling, some sparklers and a refreshing pinot gris, but the shiraz really sets the tone for a great weekend getaway.

    Grampians Estate cellar door

    Grampians Estate cellar door

    On previous visits to the region, we’ve turned off at Ararat, but this time we’re ushered further along the Western Highway to the township of Great Western, handily located between Ararat and Stawell. There are three cellar doors to sample – two of Australia’s oldest wineries in Seppelt and family owned and run Best’s, and the boutique Grampians Estate, whose espresso signs and medal-winning reds attract 7,000 visitors a year.

    We don’t have time for the veteran wineries with their tempting underground cellars on this visit, but we do get to stop at Grampians Estate’s inviting cellar door – it’s kid-friendly, with a shady veranda for taking in a cheese platter and a drop of the local, and offers a bit of a wine education as well with a short tutorial ($20 a head).

    A relative newcomer on the block although its vines date back to 1870, 20-year-old Grampians Estate specialises in shiraz, ranging from the top-of-the-line The Streeton Reserve to the not-too-sweet Rutherford Sparkling that has garnered about half the estate’s awards 30-odd trophies. Find also pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling, amongst others, and a tasty Rutherglen topaque.

    steel cutters cottage, great western

    Steel Cutters Cottage, Great Western


    Great Western itself is otherwise a whistle stop, slated to be bypassed, but there’s a new B&B that hopes to change that – certainly, the Steel Cutters Cottage will be ideally positioned once the truck traffic is moved away from the front door.

    This century-old two-bedroom cottage, once the home of the town’s blacksmith, has been renovated in a mix of old and new. Owners Rohan and Marlene Erard aim to provide a gourmet B&B experience, and have installed a catering-quality two-oven modern kitchen to do their produce justice – they plan to expand the operation in future, using the kitchen to cater on-site for dinners.

    Rohan had a meal of lamb shanks in the oven when we arrived, the table set, the fire lit; all we had to do was finish off the polenta he’d prepared and dish up the meat and beans, washed down with a local drop, naturally.

    The provided DIY brekkie consisted of bacon, eggs, tomato, mushrooms, fresh bread, cereal: noms.

    Toscana Olives

    Toscana Olives

    The approach towards Halls Gap, the hub of the Grampians, offers several scenic routes from Great Western, but there’s no rush: not with Toscana Olives and Deirde’s restaurant next door at Laharum Grove.

    Toscana is a family operation, producing extra virgin olive oil sold pure and with infusions such as garlic, herbs and lemon. Also available at the farm store are hand-picked table olives, honey from the farm’s hives, shiraz and balsamic vinegars, and complementary local products such as hand-made soaps and sauces.

    Our host, Greg Mathews, tells us we’ve missed the production by a couple of days as they wait for a technician from Italy to install a new centrifuge – all processing is mechanical, ensuring the farm retains its organic status. But the emus have started the picking early, not that the family begrudges the visitors their share.

    Deidre's restaurant, Laharum Grove

    Deidre’s restaurant, Laharum Grove


    Further down a dirt road, January bushfires have blackened a large proportion of Laharum Grove’s olive orchard and it’s a heart-breaking sight, but Deidre Baum is defiantly philosophical as she predicts it will take up to five years for the crop to be back in full swing – they’ve got some serious pruning to do to help the salvageable trees recover. ‘It could’ve been worse,’ she says, ‘and now I’m putting everything into this.’

    ‘This’ is her eponymous restaurant, barely six months old, built in a former storage shed, the metal walls and concrete floor offering a rustic-industrial backdrop to very fine seasonal fare: a duck breast and beetroot salad for Kirstyn, and lamb with winter vegetables, couscous and tzatziki for me, a shared, divine dessert of semifreddo and rhubarb with vanilla cotton candy, washed down with Langi Ghiran shiraz and a coffee for the road.

    We go over the range to get to Halls Gap, passing through devastated areas – ash-covered ground, stark black trunks, road signs bubbled and blackened by heat – that speak to the ferocity of the bushfires, but as we wind through the national park the forest is largely untouched – while Halls Gap was evacuated, the town was unscathed, although tourism was hit hard, and some trails and sites remain closed.

    Grampians Chalets. Pic: Kirstyn McDermott

    Grampians Chalets. Pic: Kirstyn McDermott

    At the well-appointed Grampians Chalets, a short walk from the heart of the township, new owners Kay and Peter Rankin are enjoying the change of pace from their previous life in Sydney hospitality. The site has eight self-catering chalets: five two-bedders andee deluxe for couples. Prviously e’d had of the family cabins and found it quiet and comfortable, but this time we are in a deluxe: one large timber room with a spa and gas heater. The porch overlooks a pond populated with ducks and a heron, and in the paddocks yonder, a large mob of kangaroos graze. The roos come into the town’s yards at night, a perfect reason not to go driving after dark. How fortunate it’s just a toddle down for dinner – if only the footpath was better lit. Luckily, there’s not a lot of traffic, and we go roadside, delighting in the sight of a kangaroo and joey nibbling on an unfenced garden.

    beer taps at Kookaburra Hotel, Halls Gap

    Kookaburra Hotel

    At the Kookaburra Hotel, owners Rick and Vonne Heinrich are staging yet another makeover – they’ve been at the bar and bistro for nigh on 35 years, and have made it renowned for its quality food. The renovation – the business was formerly the Kookaburra Bar and Bistro – is a week from being finished when we visit. The couple are introducing a lounge area for a more casual dining experience, but there’ll be no compromise with the menu: we enjoy a three-course meal of duckling risotto, a lamb rack with steamed veg and potato bake with an amazing herb and honey sauce, and mango, lime and coconut sorbet, all washed down with local pinot and a coffee for the stroll home. Rick’s not just a dab hand in the kitchen – he’s made the table tops and bar from reused hard wood, and they look spectacular.

    Jason at Basecamp Eatery, Halls Gap

    Jason at Basecamp Eatery. Pic: KMcD


    Down the street, Jason Ralph has returned to his home country after working most recently in hospitality in Melbourne, to open the Basecamp Eatery. It’s a funky space, delightfully visually busy with chalkboards and coffee bags, and has a range of quality café tucker on the menu: pizzas, burgers, fish and chips, handmade gourmet pies, kebabs, and a breakfast including toast with jam, pancakes, and the brekky burger — it’s filling, with beef pattie, egg, bacon, hash brown and more. Mine is accompanied by a freshly squeezed juice and excellent coffee.

    Jason has plans to expand the business and slowly turn the focus to, as the name suggests, outdoor health and exercise, and there’s an area out the back just waiting to introduce a range of fitness activities to go with the splendid food and natural environment of the park.

    Sparrows Cafe, Beaufort

    Sparrows Cafe, Beaufort

    On the way home, we stop over in Beaufort, a charming highway town on the eastern edge of the Grampians tourism regions and also in line to be bypassed as the two-lane extension creeps ever westward.

    At Sparrows, on the main road, self-trained cook Cameron dishes up a range of tasty treats, from homemade sausage rolls to a delightful duck dish, meatballs with tomato sauce and a yummy hint of thyme, and cauliflower and ricotta fritters. Good coffee and chai, too.

    The day we’re there, a bevy of young waitstaff are kept busy throughout the café’s three rooms – Sparrows started as a veritable hole in the wall about three-and-a-half years ago but has expanded to take in all the space of a former car garage, and the décor is a wonderful mix of old signs, mismatched chairs and pastel-coloured timber doors.

    We don’t need dinner when we get home, and I’m kind of missing those wood and gas fires. Luckily, now we’ve moved to Ballarat, the Grampians is even closer!

    More Grampians pictures

    Farm land near Mt Langi Ghiran

    Farm land near Mt Langi Ghiran

  • Another, shorter version of this article appeared in the Herald Sun on 28 June 2014.

  • Intruder: a dog can be a girl’s best friend

    Intruder by Chris BongersBrisbane writer Chris Bongers has the knack of keeping it down to earth, even when it’s something as horrifying as waking to find a home invader in your room.

    In Intruder (Random House), Bongers uses the terrifying incident to unveil and transform the secluded life of 14-year-old Kat.

    Kat lives at home with her piano-playing, bakery-working father, with both of them haunted by the death of her mother.

    The shadow of the child welfare department hangs over them after an earlier incident, and next door lurks the ‘witch’, the best friend of her mother who has given Kat reason to distrust her.

    The intruder is a catalyst for Kat to examine her family and her beliefs and to take charge of a life lived on autopilot. Along the way, she finds new allies: a good-looking lad at the dog park, and her new defender, an ugly but endearing mutt called Hercules.

    Bongers does a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life with all their foibles; her descriptions of Herc and his interaction with Kat are priceless.

    There’s a lot of charm in this yarn, mixing humour and tension in a believable scenario that unearths home truths and serves up a warning about the dangers of jumping to conclusions. It also contains a message of the power of family and trust to overcome even the most dire of situations.

    Kat and dog might not be superheroes, but they make a winning pair.


    australian women writers challenge logoThis is the fourth of my reviews in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. signed on for four, but it’s only June, so let’s push on and see what else I come across …
    Previous reviews:

  • The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke
  • The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, by Ambelin Kwaymullina
  • Peacemaker, by Marianne de Pierres