Vampires on the radio

the big smoke by jason nahrungEarlier today I chatted with ABC Ballarat 107.9’s Prue Bentley about Australian vampires, fast cars — and how freakin’ cold it is!

Producer Gav McGrath has posted a (stammer-free!) summary of the radio broadcast here.

It’s taking two of the things I love – the Australian landscape, and vampires and the gothic more broadly – and trying to make them fit together

The Dangerous Bride, by Lee Kofman: sex, love and belonging

the dangerous bride by lee kofmanThe Dangerous Bride (MUP, 2014), by Lee Kofman, is a memoir of exploration: of relationships, of place, and of self. It’s candid but polite, and the prose shines with description and metaphor.

It tells Kofman’s story of, as a child of Russian Jews, coming to Australia via Israel. In Tel Aviv, her generation of young people lived life as though there was no tomorrow, because in a land of bombs, that was the case.

Melbourne was a sanctuary, with its bookshops and cafes and galleries — once she’d got the courage to explore, English not being her native language and the city filled with strangers. (The Dangerous Bride is her first book in English.)

Overtaken by wonder, I vigorously, like a young horse, clacked my platform shoes upon the wide, friendly sidewalks. The public transport that operated during Shabbat, the cheap sushi, the absence of cockroaches — all these luxuries the locals took for granted filled me with joy. I was amazed at how in Melbourne even police cars drove by quietly. After a while, whenever their sirens did sound, I no longer thought about bombs.

Kofman’s exploration of Australian society and landscape is a strong vein in this memoir, but the focus is on her sexual identity: is it possible to have a successful non-monogamous relationship? She gets caught up with an Israeli known in the book simply as J, who chases easy money in property and business. Escaping him, Kofman ends up with Noah: they have a loving marriage but one lacking in intimacy.

Australian women writers challenge 2015Kofman turns to ‘famous dead people’ for inspiration: Anais Nin (the movie Henry and June was a watershed for her), HG Wells, Iris Murdoch. And she travels, to interview swingers, ‘hunters’ (couples who pick up sex partners), polyamorists, open marriages. She’s looking for the key to maintaining a relationship while still satisfying all-round needs of desire, intimacy, identity.

The book shifts, the chronology of her time in Australia, the changing relationships and eventual second, stable marriage interspersed with flashbacks to relationships past. In particular, the awkward relationship with J takes some unravelling. There is room for rumination on the nature of love and relationships, society’s expectations versus natural impulse. She analyses the non-monogamy of others, looking for the reasons of success or failure, and trying on the templates to see which one best fits her experience. She visits modern social theorists, elements of her academic studies shining through. Arthur Rimbaud’s contention that the poet ‘consumes all the poisons in him’ is a theme.

The honest self-awareness of Kofman’s voice makes this an engaging journey of exploration, at the end of which Kofman has found a comfortable understanding with her new country and — at least for now — her new love.

  • This review is part of my commitment to the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
  • Day Boy by Trent Jamieson: this is vampire fiction

    day boy vampire novel by trent jamiesonThis is Day Boy (Text, 2015), by Brisbane writer Trent Jamieson. Hot off the press. A hot read, too.

    Set in an isolated Australian country town, the story is told by adolescent Mark, entering his final period as Day Boy to the vampire Master Dain. This is in the time after the war, when the vampires rule what’s left of humanity: the Council of Teeth lurks in the bowels of a mountain fortress, casting a long, terrible shadow over Masters and humans alike. There are elements of Trent’s Roil in this, in the flitting, elemental vampires, the evocative descriptions of this place of light and dark and intrigue. Against this backdrop, what comes next for Mark as his tenure as Day Boy approaches its end?

    (T)ime is running down. There’s a city calling me, and I’ll see it if I’m lucky but I’m feeling my luck run thin, feeling old too. Choices heaped ahead of me, and I feel so ill-equipped to make them.

    From these eternal power brokers to their worship of the Sun to their love of music, the culture is beautifully realised. So too is the town of Midfield, modelled we’re told in the acknowledgement’s on Jamieson’s former rural home town of Gunnedah. Life in the dust and heat and storms goes on, despite the toll of blood and obedience.

    But it is Mark’s relationship with Dain that is key here, a paternal exploration, a coming of age story. It is affecting stuff. There are women here, but a few, primarily Mary and her daughter Anne, but this a book about boys and men, their rivalries and cruelties, and the love of fathers and sons. (As the Wheeler Centre on Monday night, Jamieson said he had an idea for a story showing this side of this world. Fingers crossed it might one day see the light.)

    The Night Train comes and goes, its cargo unladen, its whistle calling out, and I’m still awake. Still thinking. Thinking. Thinking.

    When I tumble to sleep, it’s a lean sort of thing, no meat or fat to the bones, just a gristle of drinks not drunk, of girls not kissed, and a tall man, with a taste for civility who’s disappointed with what he raised.

    The larger story unfolds through episodic chapters — ‘nothing happening until it does’ — with some events feeling almost as asides, others showing Mark’s maturation, all illustrating life under vampire rule, the wildness outside of town, that favourite Aussie trope of dangers lurking in the bush.

    The structure and format are intriguing: three sections, short chapters, folios restricted to page numbering and even then not on the opening pages of chapters. As though the typography is kept as dry and spare as the land around Midfield.

    The story is interrupted by five excerpts, each in the voice of a Midfield Day Boy talking about his Master, just short drops of back story and character, bolstered by equally short and pointed italicised drop-ins from Mark, adding texture to the world.

    Jamieson’s prose is not so spartan; it is considered, poetical but not verbose or purple. It is a joy. Day Boy is a joy.

    Queensland spotlight at Wheeler Centre

    Trent Jamieson reads from  Day Boy.

    Trent Jamieson reads from
    Day Boy.

    I caught the Wheeler Centre’s Next Big Thing: Spotlight on Queensland event on Monday night. It reminded me of those heady days of Queensland Writers Centre’s Wordpool, cramming into a sweaty bar to hear a mix of established and upcoming writers bare their work. Community-building. Great stuff. (see Whispers, Queenslanders)

    On Monday, in the intimate and rather spiffy surrounds of the Moat Bar and Restaurant in the Wheeler Centre’s basement (happy hour: BONUS!), four Queenslanders took the stage.

    Bri Lee reads at the Moat in Melbourne.

    Bri Lee goes a’hunting.

    First off the block was Bri Lee, reading a narrative non-fiction piece published in Voiceworks, about her experirence on a hunting trip. Descriptive, self-aware, highlighting the dichotomies of the experience and the hunter.
    Sally Piper reads from Grace's Table in Melbourne

    Sally Piper shares Grace’s Table.

    Sally Piper was up second, reading from her 2014 debut novel, Grace’s Table (it was great to catch up with Sally, following her profile interview for WQ last year). Sally read two excerpts, highlighting how food — its preparation, serving and consuming — provided a window into the shifting structures of a family. The novel takes place in the course of a meal — a second novel is being shopped around now, so keep an eye out.

    Trent Jamieson reads from Day Boy in MelbourneMy old mate Trent Jamieson brought the vampires to the table, with a suitably chilly section from his brand spanking new novel Day Boy. The short chapter, its cold theme sympathetic to the chilly night outside, was everything you expect from a Trent story: atmospheric, literate, touching. And in this case, just a little spooky, too; it gave me an undertone of Let the Right In One, perhaps a little of that wonderful scene from Wuthering Heights when the ghostly child is seeking entrance. I HAVE THE BOOK! Thanks to Embiggen Books, who were selling copies of the readers’ work. The Brisbane launch is TOMORROW (25 June).

    Sarah Holland-Batt  reads from The Hazards in Melbourne

    Sarah Holland-Batt reveals
    The Hazards.

    Poet Sarah Holland-Batt read from her hot-off-the-press second poetry collection The Hazards, the four poems showing broad subject matter gathered from her travels, an eye for landscape, emotional resonance.

    Excellent curating, highlighting a great mix of talent, who all read well — not always easy with clinking glasses and background conversation to contend with.

    The Wheeler Centre’s Next Big Thing event is held monthly.

    Wine time at Heathcote

    Armstead Estate, at Lake Eppalock

    Armstead Estate, at Lake Eppalock


    On our third visit to Heathcote, home of some of my favourite reds this side of the Barossa, we actually got out to some cellar doors.

    Previously, we hit the three in the main street — one is a Hub for the region, so there’s a selection of the local offerings to be had there. This time, with the benefit of a three-night stay and superb winter weather, we ventured forth from our base at Cranford Cottage (I’ve extolled its virtues previously, and these remain undimmed (indeed, they come with additional ‘resident’ kangaroo, and egg rings *wink*); a three-nighter is the minimum to really gain the benefit of this bucolic B&B). Being invited to join a Friday-night soiree and meet some of the locals, including winemakers, all friendly to a fault, just added to the impetus to make the most of the weather — and the wine.

    Just up the road is Downing Estate, and OMG, the humble cellar door — essentially a garage under the house — belies the quality of the wine. We scooped up very well priced ’07, ’08 and 2011 shiraz, had a chat with vintner Bob and played ball with his dog Max.

    Fishing, Lake Eppalock, from Armstead Estate

    Fishing, Lake Eppalock, from Armstead Estate

    Then we chugged to the other side of town, out to the shore of Lake Eppalock, to take in the lakeside splendour of Armstead Estate. The cellar door is in an old hut near the 1865 homestead, with fire, cheese and olives, and again the wine was hard to resist — even a Marsanne came home with us, this riesling-style white earmarked for a hot day and a cheese platter. A cab sauv and a Roxy’s Paddock shiraz rounded out the souvenirs. There are plans afoot to add B&B cottages, and what an addition they would make to this already ideal picnic spot.

    We’d run out of puff so skipped Sanguine Estate and its enticingly labelled Kindred and Progeny reds (players of Vampire: The Masquerade will understand the temptation, as if the quality of the vino wasn’t enough): got to save something for next time.

    We did, however, keep up the tradition of a meal at the Willow Room — Kirstyn had venison and I had barra, both dishes brilliant — but were a little dismayed to see the business and building up for sale. Here’s hoping the tradition of fine food and top service continues!

    Morning mist at Cranford Cottage, Heathcote

    Morning mist at Cranford Cottage, Heathcote


    I can also report that the gravel drive up to the Mt Ida lookout is not rewarded by an unrestricted view: perhaps best seen from the porch with a tipple.

    Among the region’s many events, two to keep track of are the Heathcote on Show in June and the Wine and Food Festival in October. Or just pop out on a spare weekend: it’s little more than an hour from Melbourne.
     

    Sunset at Cranford Cottage, Heathcote

    Sunset at Cranford Cottage, Heathcote

    More pictures

    Cherry Crow Children: rich pickings

    cherry crow children by deborah kalin
    Cherry Crow Children is the twelfth of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press, with a thirteenth and final volume to come. This most recent volume, by Deborah Kalin, is well worth the wait.

    Kalin is a fellow Melbourne writer with two fantasy novels and a handful of short fiction to her name; this volume of four stories is a strong addition to her bibliography.

    These stories are of endings, and of secrets, and of quests, each situated in isolated and harsh settings that encourage a certain bloodymindedness and limited vision. To go delving in these locales is to risk much. Discovering can be dangerous, even lethal. Perhaps best not to explore this terrain if one is feeling blue.

    In ‘The Wages of Honey’, a man looks for his cousin in a fractured mountain village; ‘The Briskwater Mare’ has a young woman tied to her fate for the apparent good of a town; ‘The Miseducation of Mara Lys’ tells of clockmakers and the price paid for pursuing their secret workings; and the titular story is one of a forest folk who risk the wilds for a crop of drug flowers.

    Australian women writers challenge 2015The settings are engagingly, succinctly drawn, with customs and seasons and economies adding depth to the worlds as the characters navigate the social currents. One cannot help but rail with Kalin’s protagonists as they are caught in the eddies. The stories draw longer, the worlds deeper and darker; the forest denizens of the eponymous final story are wild and amazing.

    As each story unveils its mysteries, as each protagonist pushes the boundaries and pays the price for their investigation, the assured prose is the measured constant.

    This twelfth of the Twelve is a high point in a consistently high field.

    Get your Aussie vampires here

    alison goodman launches the big smoke by jason nahrung

    Picture courtesy of Alison Goodman

    Home again from the Continuum convention in Melbourne, at which there was much catching up, some learnin’ and some launchin’.

    Always good to reconnect with the clan, and very appreciative indeed of those who were able to make the launch for Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke — my Aussie vampire duology. So great to have them out in the world!

    Alison Goodman did the launch business with aplomb — just look at that hat! Here’s a quote from her speech:

    The Big Smoke is based on the old European vampire lore, but given a new bright Australian slant. These vampires wear a permanent sun squint and a pair of sunglasses. The book pulses with hot weather, hot blood and hot vengeance.

    For more info, or to snaffle a copy for the vampire-lovin’ reader in your family, check out the Clan Destine Press links below! (edit: worth noting the books are also available at Amazon, Booktopia et al)