An ekphrastic outing: Covid 19, Lake Wendouree and photographer Ian Kemp

Artwork on invitation is detail from timber furniture by Neale Thompson, showing in SHAC & CO

Last year, as Ballarat stumbled from one set of pandemic restrictions to another for the second year in a row, Lake Wendouree became an important outlet for us. We’ve always been drawn to the Botanic Gardens and the lake, where the turn of the seasons is in on full display and there’s an overriding sense of calm: birds, trees, water. During peak Covid, having the lake within our permitted 5km radius was a blessing, a place to walk and to breathe.

So when photographer Ian Kemp last year invited me to write a response to his beautifully composed, atmospherically processed photographs of the western side of the lake – an area largely comprised of Fairyland and ‘the lagoon’ – I had no hesitation in agreeing,

Ian and I had worked together before, in organising collaborative ekphrastic exhibitions combining the forces of the Soldiers Hill Artist Collective and Words Out Loud, but this was our first creative collaboration.

During our harshest period of lockdown in 2020, Ian used his one hour of permitted exercise a day to capture the mood of the time, his monochromatic images, printed on aluminium, showing immense depth even as they fade away at the edges, capturing a sense of isolation, transition and, yes, tranquility.

You don’t need to know the lake to sense the emotion of Ian’s images, but seeing the familiar locale rendered in such a different way focused my response and encouraged me to pay new attention to the area and my relationship to it. The mood of the photographs triggered my response, the essay ‘Hours in Fairyland’, which directly references some elements of the images while expanding outwards to a broader context of pandemic, nature and climate change.

The original concept was entitled Making landscapes…one hour at a time, featuring a range of Ian’s images and my essay, and now there is to be an outing: one of Ian’s splendid photos (at 900mm x 1300mm, it’s seriously striking), ‘There is rapture in solitude and space’, and my words are part of the exhibition SHAC & CO.

The exhibition, involving SHAC members collaborating with others artists, in on show at the Mercure Ballarat Hotel and Convention Centre, Main Road, Golden Point, from 20 June to 31 July 2022. Free entry. The official launch is on 23 June at 6.30pm. I can’t wait to see what my fellow artists have cooked up!

Spare Parts wheeled out in style at A Touch of the Terrors

Spare Parts wheeled out in style at A Touch of the Terrors

Chuck McKenzie reads short story Spare Parts by Jason Nahrung at YouTube

Chuck McKenzie aka Uncle Charles has been doing a wonderfully entertaining series of readings of spooky stories – he has crossed the 30 mark – and now it’s my turn.

‘Spare Parts’ is one of my first published stories, back when I was active in Brisbane’s Vision Writers group and we put out an anthology of members’ work. (2003 – heady days!) It was reprinted in 2011.

Chuck succinctly, knowingly, describes the story thus:

In this dark vision of the near future from Jason Nahrung, cloning technology provides the rich with a steady supply of compatible transplant organs. Healthy hearts, Undamaged livers. Fresh lungs. Finally, anything that threatens your quality of life can be replaced.

Anything.

With that kind of description, I reckon I’d pay him to do my book blurb!

You can wrap your ears around it at A Touch of the Terrors!

2022 Calendar of Australian Literary Events

calendarThere are plenty of events already hitting the 2022 calendar of literary events, with some postponed from the Covid disruption of the past couple of years – more strength to them! As I wrote last year, with hit-and-miss results, here’s hoping the new year runs smoothly, with plenty of chances to gather in person to celebrate writing, reading and spoken word. Updates, notifications and corrections to the calendar are appreciated.

Infectious Hope – for better and verse

Maybe hanging around with the Words Out Loud crowd, when that was a thing, has rubbed off on me, because here comes a poem!

The curtain has been raised on the cover for Infectious Hope, a 47-poet anthology curated by Canberra-based Silvia Cantón Rondoni that aims to inspire and comfort amid the storm that is Covid-19.

Says the publisher:

Infectious Hope is a call out for positivism and resilience during lockdown and isolation. Editor and poet Silvia Cantón Rondoni has curated a poetry anthology that includes a spectacular range of diverse poets from around the globe, and focuses on their insights and strength during the pandemic.

A poetic vaccination of the soul, and a reminder that we are in this together and are stronger than we know.This anthology contains the creativity of 47 poets, including luminaries Fiona Wright, Joe R. Landsdale, Isobelle Carmody, Roz Kaveney, and Linda D. Addison, as well as an introduction by Lee Murray.

The book is due out on 1 November 2021, with preorders now available.

So that’s that, then

Here’s a photo I prepared earlier, when I thought I was leaving my employment at the Herald and Weekly Times in October, 2019. Not so back then.

But now, here we are, my last shift behind me, at least for the foreseeable.

This would have marked my 32nd year in newspaper journalism. How the industry has changed since I first walked through the door of the Maryborough Chronicle as a fourth-year cadet journalist, my first job after leaving uni.

Am I leaving it or did it leave me?

There’s more that could be said, but … nah. Tonight, I’m out of words, in print or otherwise. A big dip of the hat, though, to those erstwhile colleagues who made the journey what it was. Good journos, good photographers, good artists. Good people. Great people. Colleagues and friends.

Unlike some of them – many of them – I’ve been able to leave on my own terms.

Anyway, looks like I’m out of the newspaper game. I know, never say never … I’m looking forward to having my nights and my weekends back, but man, I’m gonna miss the team.

2021 Calendar of Australian Literary Events

calendarThe 2021 calendar of Australian literary events is showing plenty of signs of life as the community dusts itself off from the devastation and chaos of 2020. Here’s hoping the new year runs more smoothly, with plenty of chances to gather in person to celebrate writing, reading and spoken word. Updates, notifications and corrections to the calendar are appreciated.

Oz Is Burning ebook now available

The ebook version of Oz Is Burning is now available, with a print version to follow.

The anthology, from B Cubed Press, is centred on Australia’s horror bushfire period of 2019-20, and supports wildlife charity WIRES.

The book features stories and poems ranging from the darker side to the optimistic, and some leaven the volume with touches of humour, too. No prizes for guessing where my ‘Wollemi Dreaming’ falls in that spectrum.

Here’s the full table of contents:

And Gaia Screams by Ann Poore
Across the Ditch by Clare Rhoden
Burn, Burn! by Almas Alexander
Red Sky at Morning by Sue Bursztynski
Fires of the Heart by E.E. King
Pay Back by Alex Isle
By the Grace of God by Harold Gross
Should Fire Remember the Fuel by Kyla Lee Ward
Welcoming the End by Aura Redwood
Beef by Zena Shapter
The Last Wish by Lauren E. Mitchell
Wollemi Dreaming by Jason Nahrung
Firestorm Sounds by Suzanne Newnham
Red Sky, Blue Dream by Jack Dann
Infestation by Paula Boer
Writing on the Wall by Gillian Polack
Dire Insurance by Jared Kavanaugh
Divorce by Donna J.W. Munro
Inconvenient Visitor by Lucy Sussex
Burning Hearts by Eleanor Whitworth
Harvest by Narrelle M. Harris
A Town Called Hope by Silvia Brown

A prize for Watermarks, the thesis

It is an absolute thrill to be able to share the news that my PhD thesis, (short title) “Watermarks”, has been awarded the Aurealis Awards Convenors’ Award for Excellence.

The award, to quote the Aurealis website:

is awarded at the discretion of the convenors for a particular achievement in speculative fiction or related areas in that year that cannot otherwise by judged for the Aurealis Awards.

This award can be given to a work of non-fiction, artwork, film, television, electronic or multimedia work, or one that brings credit or attention to the speculative fiction genres.

To be more accurate, I guess, it was the exegesis that received the award, as the creative component was not included; the judges considered the non-fiction element of the thesis only.

The thesis, minus the creative component, is available to read at Academica.edu. In short, again borrowing from the AA website, the thesis

examines the benefits of the application of science fiction approaches and tropes to climate fiction with the aim of breaking down barriers to understanding climate change and adopting mitigation measures. In particular, it looks at mosaic fiction, and examines three Australian texts – Things We Didn’t See Coming (Amsterdam), Clade (Bradley) and Nightsiders (Isle) – as case studies that draw on the mosaic form and SF to create affective and effective climate fiction

Unfortunately, I had already made plans for the night of the awards (25 July 2020) when the date was announced, and it never occurred to me to send in an acceptance speech on the off-chance. My apologies, and gratitude, again to the hardworking crew who make these awards happen. And heartfelt thanks to my supervisors at The University of Queensland for their brilliant support, my wife for putting up with a PhD student in the house, and all those others who helped ferry me along the journey. The award is a lovely postscript to a challenging and rewarding endeavour.

I’ve been to so many Aurealis Awards nights because they are such a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of Australian speculative fiction, and just catch up; I’m especially bummed to have not been (tele)present at the one ceremony where I actually won something!

Do check out the full list of finalists to get an idea of what’s happening in the field; it’s a great reading list.

Manuscript and editing services available

The new financial year seems an auspicious time to hang out my shingle in the editing arena.

Helping writers with their manuscripts is something I enjoy and have skills in, and with newspaper journalism going down the gurgler, now is a good time to diversify.

The awarding of my doctorate in creative writing (UQ, 2019) has encouraged the expansion of my freelance editing work.

This builds on a 30-year career in newspaper journalism, much as a sub-editor with skills in grammar, punctuation, spelling and clarity of expression, and a decade of providing editing and manuscript services to professional bodies, publishers and fiction writers. My own experience as a published writer further informs my practice.

You can find out more here.

Wollemi Dreaming – a new story

Wollemi pines. Picture: NPWS via AAP

Yes, for the first time since finishing the PhD, I’ve written — and sold — a short story. Whew.

‘Wollemi Dreaming’ was written in response to a call-out for an anthology called Oz Is Burning, by US publisher B-Cubed Press, with a brief of a fire-related apocalypse/post-apocalypse setting.

The theme of this anthology struck a spark, and it landed in tinder: images of the Black Summer bushfires still burning at the time this story was written and the incredible efforts of specialist firefighters in protecting the unique Wollemi pine stand in New South Wales; climate change; and crimes against our First Nations peoples. It’s not so hard to imagine the hubris of the wealthy privileged preying on the desperate to destroy part of our natural world that others risked their lives to save. But this story lets nature defend itself.

Here’s the full table of contents, which includes a couple of pals — huzzah!

And Gaia Screams by Ann Poore
Across the Ditch by Clare Rhoden
Burn, Burn! by Almas Alexander
Red Sky at Morning by Sue Bursztynski
Fires of the Heart by E.E. King
Pay Back by Alex Isle
By the Grace of God by Harold Gross
Should Fire Remember the Fuel by Kyla Lee Ward
Welcoming the End by Aura Redwood
Beef by Zena Shapter
The Last Wish by Lauren E. Mitchell
Wollemi Dreaming by Jason Nahrung
Firestorm Sounds by Suzanne Newnham
Red Sky, Blue Dream by Jack Dann
Infestation by Paula Boer
Writing on the Wall by Gillian Polack
Dire Insurance by Jared Kavanaugh
Divorce by Donna J.W. Munro
Inconvenient Visitor by Lucy Sussex
Burning Hearts by Eleanor Whitworth
Harvest by Narrelle M. Harris
A Town Called Hope by Silvia Brown

Cover to come, and the anthology to be available this year, with a portion of the profit to go to a bushfire charity: [update: WIRES]. Bravo, B-Cubed. I look forward to seeing the finished article!