Recent reads: Gibson, Strahan, Kiernan, Abbott

I’ve been slack, sneaking in a bit of reading and not passing on the goods. So here’s a quick summary of yarns I’ve read lately (outside of last year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge) that have made me happy:

william gibson book the peripheralThe Peripheral, William Gibson (Penguin/Viking 2014): Gibson time travels, from the economically bereft American South to a socially bereft future London, where climate change has wrought its sneaky damage and only tech has saved humanity — at the price, perhaps, of its humanity. The book needs its own review — there are plenty out there, and this one by Keith Stevenson tags a bunch of my responses (yeah, the tracking device, way too convenient) — but suffice to say, I love Gibson’s writing. Here’s a protag who is perhaps slightly under-equipped to handle the situation in which, tired and lonely though not alone, he finds himself; here’s another who is coping very well with it, thanks, due to her smarts, and those family and friends in dangerous places. There was little tension, though, and the happy endings all round left me a bit meh, but the ride was comfortable (but not safe — Gibson does not err on the side of over-explanation, bless, though some of the sentence fragments actually jarred me from time to time) and the view deftly drawn and suitably gloomy in all the right places. Makes me want to read Neuromancer et al all over again.

fearful symmetries anthology editor ellen datlowFearful Symmetries, Ellen Datlow (ed) (ChiZine 2014): I helped Kickstart this tome and it was money well spent; a solid bunch of spooky yarns. One, though, blew my socks off; it dispensed with linear narrative in a way that made my head spin — that it was partly set in New Orleans probably helped, sure, but wow: ‘Ballad of An Echo Whisperer’ by Caitlín R Kiernan floated my boat like few other short stories I read last year.

 

fearsome magicsFearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (ed) (Solaris, 2014): One of the strongest anthologies I read last year, with not even a handful of yarns that made me go ‘meh’. While magic was the core theme, the variations to be found within are wide and wonderful: faery magic, science as magic, high fantasy, urban fantasy. Strahan has conjured a strong field for this table of contents and they cast quite a spell.

 

die a little by megan abbottAnd finally, I should be reading, oh, dozens of books right now, I guess, but sometimes you just gotta go for a safe, enjoyable read. A palate cleanser, for want of a more charitable description. One where you know the voice and the world will immerse you, the writing will thrill you, and the story will be worth your investment. And so it is I have picked up Megan Abbott’s Die A Little (Simon and Schuster, 2005). It’s another (early) of her period noirs, in which a school teacher and her policeman brother get caught up with a femme fatale with a shadowy past. I’d probably still pick Queenpin as my favourite so far — I note I am behind in Abbott’s catalogue *sigh* — but I love the voice and the use of a chapter-free progression of scenes told in the first person from a rather cool cucumber. I’m halfway through and the dressing’s just hit the salad and I can’t way to see who dishes up the just desserts …

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015

Australian women writers challenge 2015February already, so I’m behind! This year I’m signing up again for the Australian Womens Writers Challenge, in which a whole bunch of readers seek to ensure Australian women writers are in their to be read piles, and report back. I’ve chosen the Stella level — read four, review three — which I only just managed to exceed last year (on the review front). And this year, I’ve got a whole bunch of first-year PhD reading to compete with the leisure reading as well, so wish me luck.

Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil: fertile ground indeed

foreign soil by maxine beneba clarkeI still can’t decide which of Maxine Beneba Clarke’s short stories I found more affecting: ‘David’, the lyrically told story of two women whose pasts and futures meet on the simple yet potent device of a bicycle; or ‘Shu Yi’, one of the most powerful examinations of racism running downhill I’ve encountered.

Those two stories are the heart-punching standouts in Foreign Soil (Hachette Australia, 2014), an extremely strong debut collection from the Australia poet of Afro-Caribbean descent, who comes to publishing through the portal of poetry.

Certainly, the quality of the prose suggests a writer who is concerned with language and its evocative potentials, whether writing in first person or third, common English or dialect. It’s a tour of the world — Africa, the Caribbean, the US, Sri Lanka, the UK, Australia. Two of my favourite destinations was the bleak view of the 2011 Tottenham riots in ‘Harlem Jones’, the Southern atmosphere of ‘Gaps in the Hickory’, but all show a tangible sense of place.

Clarke inhabits her characters, whether a Sudanese refugee, a Louisiana family, militants on the edge, a hairdresser isolated and out of her depth. Most of the protagonists are people of colour.

I was prepared to say it was the first-person tales that carried the greatest emotional impact, but then I hit ‘The Stilt Fishermen of Kathaluwa': a boy flees the Tamil Tigers, psychologically and emotionally scarred by his forced indenture with the rebel group, only to end up in Villawood detention centre. It’s a timely, telling portrait of the inept bureaucracy and general heartlessness of Australia’s failed refugee policy, delivered with all the tenderness that policy lacks.

While the stories are diverse, they are linked through empathy and understanding, an ear for dialogue, stirling prose.

Clarke won the Victorian Premier’s Unpublished Manuscript Award of 2013 for this collection. The last story, ‘The Sukiyaki Book Club’, opens a window on to her career through its clear meta content as a writer receives rejection letters for stories remarkably similar to those here.

‘We feel Australian readers are just not ready for characters like these,’ reads one rejection.

What a sad indictment of those readers, or the publisher’s perception of them; what a victory that Clarke held the line, that — hopefully — this collection proves that naysayer wrong.

Read more about the collection and Clarke’s writing in this SMH article and more about the collection at Sydney Review of Books.

australian women writers challenge logoThis is the sixth and last of my reviews in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.
Previous reviews:

2015 Calendar of Australian Literary Events

calendarSure, it’s only October — Halloween, in fact — but with many of the marquee literary festivals having already booked in their dates for next year, it seems worthwhile to put up the 2015 calendar of literary events. Plan ahead, my friends!

It’s quiet in November and December, naturally; why muddy the waters with next year when you have still to run this year’s event? Check out the 2014 calendar for the schmoozing yet to be had.

As always, updates, notifications and corrections are appreciated!


Getting published … a blog series

the darkness withinNicole Murphy (also writing as Elizabeth Dunk) is running a series of posts at her blog about how writers were first published. It’s yet another reminder of how diverse the routes to getting that first book out are, and how varied are the reasons that people want to get published.

One of the bumps in the road my first novel, The Darkness Within, suffered was a switch of editors between the structural and the copy edit. I enjoyed working with Dmetri, found his advice and feedback highly useful, and would’ve liked to have seen the project through with him. I’m chuffed to be working with him again on my next novel, The Big Smoke, coming out mid next year. It’s also worth noting Dmetri is running a workshop on horror writing later this month for Writers Victoria, encompassing general techniques as well as the peculiarities of the genre.

You can read more about The Darkness Within‘s detours, as Nicole so nicely puts it, at her blog.

But wait, there’s more Snapshot 2014: Kyla Lee Ward

Kyla Lee WardKYLA LEE WARD is a Sydney-based creative who works in many modes. Her latest release is The Land of Bad Dreams, a collection of dark and fantastic poetry. Her novel Prismatic (co-authored as Edwina Grey) won an Aurealis Award for Best Horror. Her short fiction has appeared in Ticonderoga Online, Shadowed Realms, Gothic.net and in The New Hero and Schemers anthologies, amongst others. Her work on RPGs including Buffy the Vampire Slayer saw her appear as a guest at the inaugural Gencon Australia. Her short film, ‘Bad Reception’, screened at the Third International Vampire Film Festival and she was a member of the Theatre of Blood repertory company, which also produced her work. In addition, she programmed the horror stream for the 2010 Worldcon. A practising occultist, she likes raptors, swordplay and the Hellfire Club. To see some very strange things, try www.tabula-rasa.info

 
1. You’ve recently had a poem published in a new journal, Spectral Realms (amongst others), and have been reading at live events. How is the market for poetry from the dark side?

Market? No one is actually buying poetry, from any side. It’s been squeezed out by the current attitude that paying for any kind of creative work is an imposition, especially online. Stephen King comments specifically on this loss to poetry in Doctor Sleep. I even heard that Les Murray, whom I studied at school (and incidentally, such works as ‘A Victorian Hangman Tells His Love’ are very dark indeed) was having trouble finding a publisher for his most recent collection, and he’s a Living National Treasure. Which reveals that poetry is still being written. I have always found poetry to be something you have to write, if you had any choice in the matter, you would obviously do something else. Poetry is being written, and if you swing by the websites of the Pedestal Magazine or Abyss & Apex, you may read some excellent freestyle verse. Jenny Blackford‘s superb ‘Their Cold Eyes Pierced My Skin’ first appeared in Pedestal #74. If your taste is more formal, I can only recommend that you snare a copy of that excellent new journal from Hippocampus Press. Issue #1 features Leigh Blackmore, Margi Curtis, Danny Lovecraft and David Schembri, as well as myself.

One of the few potential advantages of poetry in the current climate is that poetry can be a performance art. I have performed at conventions, and at the Masked Bard’s Ball thrown by the North Sydney Live Poets Society. I’ve been investigating other potential venues, such as libraries and the more outré cabarets around town, so we shall see.
land of broken dreams by kyla ward
 
2. Your work in progress (The Castle), which I believe has just had ‘the end’ written on the first draft, fancies a castle in Australia – something that a few people have actually built over the years. How are you using your fictional castle in the Australian setting?

Ruthlessly. People have been seeing castles in Australia for a long time – First Fleeter Daniel Southwall diarised his impression of ‘… superb buildings, the grand ruins of stately edifices …’ in the cliffs of Port Jackson. But castles, as natural historical products, don’t belong here and by implication, neither do all the things that go with them, like chivalry and feudalism, and a certain attitude towards your neighbours. To really bring a castle into an Australian setting, a lot of other things have to change and some of these changes are wonderful, others dreadful. I See The Castle is about this effort of imagination and its consequences. But being contemporary urban fantasy, it also about discovering that people you know are actually hideous monsters or possessed of inhuman powers, setting swords and spells against guns and cars, and a soupçon of ill-advised romance.

 
3. Your story ‘Who Looks Back?’ opens the Shotguns vs Cthulhu anthology from Stone Skin Press (2013). Why is it, do you think, that Lovecraft’s world continues to have its tentacles in writers’ minds?

Because ‘The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.’ When we shall be required to build castles once again.

Seriously, have you seen Luc Besson’s Lucy? Even with the nostalgia and racism – actually, especially with them – the Old Providence Gent isn’t getting any less relevant. The symbols he provided us are only growing more potent. This is worrisome.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I adored Anna Tambour’s otherwise indescribable novel Crandolin. Fantasy? Travelogue? Recipe Book? If the latter, is it a recipe for Crammed Amphisbaena, cabbage soup, or LIFE? Only you can decide! I also enjoyed Walking Shadows, the sequel to Narrelle M Harris’s The Opposite of Life. Her unique take on vampirism and the incredible characters she draws from it go up to 11 here. And while we’re on the subject, Kim Wilkins‘s ‘Popular genres and the Australian literary community: The case of fantasy fiction’ (Journal of Australian Studies, Vol 32 #2, 2008) is very fine indeed.

 
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?

The changes have not affected the way I work, just my daydreams about where that work will end up. Having a novel downloadable for $3 from a website just doesn’t have the same gloss as copies on a shelf in a flagship book shop. But perhaps that’s just me, sitting in my castle and preparing fresh vellum by the light of tallow candles. It has been interesting of late, having all this work come out in beautifully produced anthologies that are only available overseas. A Twenty-First Century Bestiary will be out soon, and I’m told they’re doing a hardback run. But to the best of my knowledge, no one in Australia stocks Stone Skin Press and this is doubtless part and parcel of the way our book shops are vanishing. Which is part and parcel of the whole payment thing. In short, I don’t know what I’ll be publishing/writing/reading five years from now: I just have sad, sad doubts I will have bought it from a book shop.

Having said this, I do sincerely hope that other people will be reading the novels I’ve just completed, in whatever form becomes the new standard of professional publication.

 
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: