The Year of Ancient Ghosts: haunting stuff

year of ancient ghosts by kim wilkinsThe Year of Ancient Ghosts (Ticonderoga Publications, 2013) is the first collection for Brisbane writer Kim Wilkins, who has more than 20 books to her credit.

Her work spans children’s, YA, adult dark fantasy and horror, and women’s lit, but this collection of five novellas — two previously unpublished — is firmly rooted in fantasy. It’s damned impressive, too.

It opens with the titular story, a touching tale in which a wife and mother takes her young daughter to a remote Scottish locale, there to discover more about her husband’s past and the supernatural traditions of his home.

The other new story in this collection is the final one, ‘The Lark and the River’, a beautifully rendered description, inspired by an actual place, of the collision between Norman monotheism and Celtic paganism, with our heroine caught in the middle.

australian women writers review challenge logoIn the middle, one novella presages a long-awaited and yet-to-arrive traditional fantasy story in which illicit love threatens a realm; another revisits Arthurian myth, again with a focus on the heroine in Bathory-hot water; and the third also happens in the contemporary world, but with Norse gods involved — the Kiwi television show The Almighty Johnsons came to mind when reading this one.

Character is queen in these stories, the fears and ambitions of the heroines pulling us through the realistically rendered worlds. Wilkins’s love of Norse and Celtic history comes to the fore in the small details so unobtrusively but effectively used in the setting, opening a window into the life of her societies and the challenges her characters face.

The two new stories are perhaps the most emotive, dealing as they do with heartfelt loss, and the emotional world as dutifully, smoothly rendered as the physical one.

I can only hope Wilkins gets to that high fantasy novel sooner rather than later.

  • This is my sixth review as part of the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge — the first was Glenda Larke’s Havenstar; the second, Krissy Kneen’s Steeplechase; the third, Christine Bongers’ Dust; the fourth, Alison Croggon’s Black Spring; and the fifth, Courtney Collins’s The Burial.
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  • AWWNYRC#10: Duet by Kimberley Freeman

    This is the tenth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, which completes the exercise, though probably won’t be the last to fit the category this year*.

    Duet

    by Kimberley Freeman

    Hachette, 2007, ISBN: 978 0 7336 2177 2

    duet by kimberley freemanWhen the author of Duet — her first entry into the world of the depressingly named women’s literature field as a writer — announced the sale, she told me I’d hate this book. I bought it anyway, taking confidence in the fact Kim’s fantastical work was consummate and, besides, Hachette had whacked a ‘love this book or your money back’ sticker on the front.

    That offer has no doubt expired by now, but it doesn’t matter, because I didn’t hate Duet. It was, however, an eye-opener.

    This is the genre of the big tell, it seems, with motivations and feelings writ large — this is the genre of emotion, after all. And what a rollercoaster it is.

    Two women who look so very much alike — one English, one German — share a false identity that propels them both into the spotlight, where both discover that fame and even fortune don’t deliver on their promise.

    Angie, born poor and living rough, is discovered by music producer George who crafts her a pop career in the 1970s. It’s not so much sex, drugs and rock’n’roll as just the prescription pills, exacerbated by an abduction.

    As Angie goes into rehab, George has had the good luck to stumble across Ellie, Angie’s lookalike with a brilliant set of operatic pipes, who is more than happy to escape rural poverty for a shot at the bigtime as Angie’s doppelganger.

    The path to the charts has been anything but smooth for both women, but more setbacks are in store for all involved. There’s amnesia, marriage of convenience, thwarted love, all revolving around a slowly unveiled family secret that both destroys and resurrects.

    Watching the characters manoeuvred through the various stages of life to finally arrive at the climax is a pleasure, as each change of fortune sets them up for the next with all the assuredness of dominoes.

    There’s a little sparkle to enliven the text, too, thanks to phrases such as ‘the Seine dreaming of the ocean’, and some delightful springboards to end chapters as the mystery of the duo’s past unfolds.

    Set against exotic backdrops in Europe as well as an isolated Greek island and the Australian coast and outback, it’s a global tour of ambition, regret and desire. This is a romance, so of course true love will out, but it’s all about the how. I was a little disappointed at just how neatly the boxes were ticked off by the final page, even if there were casualties along the way, but I am a cynical non-breeder so that disappointment should be expected.

    While Duet is certainly outside my usual reading ground, I quite enjoyed this dip into the unfamiliar, thanks in large part to the twists and especially the Gothic influences to kept me interested.

    * The final 10 has turned out a little different to the plan. C’est la vie.

    Previous Challenge reviews:

    Queensland Literary Awards finalists announced, plus some writerly advice

    queensland literary awards logoThe Queensland Literary Awards short-lists have been announced. How wonderful to see how the community rallied to support these awards when the Queensland Government couldn’t be arsed. As the LNP rips the state apart looking for spare change and some cheap point-scoring, something has been built. Even the Courier-Mail ponied up some cash, brilliant given the chaos that Murdoch’s empire is in at the moment, slashing jobs wherever they can be found to slash — latest on the line, photographics. But the good news — well done, y’all!

    The press release is here and the short-lists here. Yay Margo Lanagan, with Sea Hearts in the, ahem, YA section!


    Elsewhere, some good advice, especially that from Dr Kim!

    China Mieville, at the Edinburgh international writers conference, quoted in the Guardian’s round-up:

    Our job is not to give readers what they want, it is to try to make readers want what we give.

    Kim Wilkins, on being distracted from your work by, um, writing this blog post:

    reframing your internet procrastination as wandering away from your work can really help

    And Marianne de Pierres shares productivity tips over at Louise Cusack’s place, my favourite being: persevere. Something of a personal mantra.

    Writerly roundup

    While I was up north, exciting things have been happening. For instance:


    Midnight and Moonshine

  • Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett have revealed the cover of their collaborative collection, Midnight and Moonshine, and now available to order ahead of its November release. It is very, very pretty — the art is by Kathleen Jennings, recently short-listed for a World Fantasy Award, as was Lisa for her solo, debut collection, Bluegrass Symphony. The stories will be awesome. It deserves to be under many Christmas trees and on many book shelves.

  • Kim Wilkins has started a writing advice page on Facebook. Kim, or Dr Kim as she’s affectionately known to many of her students, has a knack for making the writing process understandable and desirable. Her tips column in WQ magazine was exceptionally popular, so plug in!

  • The embers of the Borders bookstore meltdown are being stoked this month with the online business rebranding itself as Bookworld and offering free postage.

  • And check out the awesome writing talent on the guest list at November’s Supanova in Brisbane and Adelaide!


    Meanwhile, Ego Likeness have released a new single. This band give great ear worm; I can’t wait for the new album to land.


  • Words of writerly wisdom

    Recent common sense from writers wot know:


    Two-million-word writer Kim Wilkins:

    Write the fucking fiction! Don’t write blogs and marketing plans and twitter yourself in front of everyone in hopes of building a platform. Write the fucking fiction FIRST. The rest is just white noise until you have a good finished product. And it must be good.

    Read the rest here. It’s fucking gold. You can have a ‘cosy chat’ with Kim at the Brisbane Writers Festival on 9 September.


    Justine Larbalestier, whose blog is informative and entertaining, on YA writers doing it for the money:

    If someone really decided to become a YA novelist solely to make big money then they’re an idiot with incredibly poor research skills. Choosing to write novels—in any genre—as a path to riches is about as smart as buying lottery tickets to achieve the same.

    And to complete the trifecta, Joe Abercrombie offers an overview of planning, something I’m going through at the moment with a similar process to this:

    I’ll know the setting and the rough plot for each part, some idea of what each point of view character needs to do, but usually I only plan the first part in any close detail, working out exactly what each chapter is going to contain.

    Abercrombie and Wilkins are guests at GenreCon in Sydney in November, which should be a hoot.

    Brisbane launch for Salvage, and other Queensland events

    Salvage by Jason NahrungI’m very pleased to announce that Salvage will be enjoying a few days in the sun in Queensland.

    On Friday August 10, Kim Wilkins will be launching the book at Avid Reader in West End. It’s a free event, there will be wine: 6pm for 6.30pm, we get kicked out at 8pm. RSVP to Avid by emailing events AT avidreader.com.au or drop me a line and I’ll pass it on.



    On Saturday August 11, I’ll be on a panel at Logan North Library‘s Science Fiction and Fantasy Month with the inimitable Angela Slatter and Kirstyn McDermott, discussing all things dark and spooky: a snapshot of Australia’s dark fantasy and horror scene with plenty of market advice. The panel is 1.30-3.30pm so there’s plenty of time for questions and a chat. It’s free, but rsvp to the library on 3412 4140.


    And a heads up for folks on the Sunshine Coast: on Monday August 13, Caloundra Library is kindly having me in to present a talk about Salvage, landscape and Australian vampires, and I’ll backing up on Tuesday August 14 to do the same at Noosa. At this stage, it’s looking like 10am at Caloundra and 4pm at Noosa, but those times are to be locked in: let me know if you’re interested and I can keep you updated, or check with the libraries closer to the date.

    I’m particularly happy to be able to take Salvage to the coast, given that the book was written on Bribie Island and is so anchored in its setting — one not perhaps expected of a vampire story, even one that’s a little left of centre. Salvage will be available at all events, or can be found at select bookshops — ask your local! — or at the publisher’s website for $15 + postage, or direct from me if you’d like a signed copy.

    In Victoria, I know that Notions Unlimited has three signed copies. 🙂

    Snapshot 2012: Jenny Blackford

    australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoJENNY Blackford gave up her day job in 2001, and has been writing ever since, in between spoiling the cat, cooking and gardening. With husband Russell, she lived 30 years in Melbourne before returning to her hometown of Newcastle in 2009. In the same year, she was a judge for the World Fantasy Awards. She has had 20 stories published: eight for adults and 12 for children, and four poems, plus the historical novella The Priestess and the Slave.

    Her latest publication is ‘The Dragon in the Tent’, a magical circus story, in The School Magazine, which has also recently accepted a cat poem, ‘Soft silk sack’.

    Her latest publication specifically for grown-ups was ‘The Sacrifice’, in Aurealis 47. Jenny’s website is www.jennyblackford.com and she blogs at Living in the Past.


    You’ve had some poetry published recently, after a long hiatus, and one ventures the new stuff is quite different to your first piece in Dolly all those years ago: what do you think has inspired you to not only return to poetry, but poetry of a decidedly darker (?) nature?
    As to what has inspired me to return to poetry -– the real question is why I ever stopped writing it. Apparently, I just gave up quietly in my final dispiriting years of high school. The poetry writing asserted itself naturally a few years ago and took a while to nose its way out into the world.

    And as to the alleged new darkness: not all my recent poems are dark. My poem forthcoming from The School Magazine is a fairly sweet little thing about a cat (though some might think ‘soft silk sack of bones’ has a slightly sinister edge). And my most recent poetry publication (in Star*Line 35.1 is another sweetish cat poem (though it does start with the potentially sinister ‘Gravity is stern as death’, and does ascribe uncanny powers to cats.) Hmmm…

    I wish I could find my copy of ‘Ti-trees Rising’, the poem that was printed in Dolly back in the ’70s, but it seems to have disappeared from my filing system. It’s about ti-tree scrub, but I do distinctly remember the words ‘reptilian silver’ and ‘the cold moon in the dark’, so there’s at least a smidge of a sinister edge there as well.

    Getting deeper: it’s true that the definitely dark ‘Mirror’ was my first poem for decades, but it’s based on memories from my teens. I was totally convinced that I saw someone else’s eyes looking back at me in the mirror, and I was terrified. Back then, I’m sure family and friends would have been horrified if I’d put all that fear and darkness into a poem. Now that I’m grown up, I’m allowed to.


    What is your approach to reinvigorating the age-old story of Medea? Is that what made you pick it?
    Modern people don’t tend to take Medea seriously as a Bronze Age priestess of Hekate, as a powerful sorceress, or as a goddess, grand-daughter of Helios, the Sun, but the ancient Greeks certainly did. She’s an amazing character, and the Bronze Age –- the era of the Mycenaean Greeks -– is my absolute favourite. Just imagine a glowing, golden-haired goddess-princess sitting on a throne carved out of rock crystal with golden monkeys inlaid on the back.

    I’d loved the story ever since I studied the 5th century BC Euripides play Medea (in Ancient Greek) as part of my degree in Classics. After all the modern retellings that concentrate on how ‘heroic’ Jason was, and what a monster Medea was to kill her brother and her children, I was astonished to see Euripides rip into him so cuttingly, and so appallingly accurately. Jason could never have brought the Golden Fleece back to Greece without Medea’s help -– but a few years later, he wanted to trade her in for a younger, better-connected princess (not foreign witch), and expected Medea to be happy about him providing a better future for their children! Euripides converted me to Medea’s side, and I want to convert everyone else.


    When you wrote The Priestess and the Slave, was your inner fantasist crying out to add fantasy elements or was 5BC fantastical enough?
    When Eric Reynolds (the editor/publisher of Hadley Rille Books) asked me to write him a strictly historically accurate novella set in ancient Greece, my first two questions were whether I could use Bronze Age Greece (no – it had to be Classical Greece, 5th century BC), and whether I could add fantasy elements (no — it had to be purely historical).

    I shrugged and got on with it. Once I started to write, it didn’t matter. Living inside the head of a slave girl in the plague years of Athens, or a Pythia in Delphi, was a strange and intense experience in its own right. And the characters believed totally in their gods, who are almost characters in their own right.


    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    So much -– but a few that come to mind are Tansy Rayner RobertsCreature Court trilogy, Alison Goodman‘s Eon/Eona duology, Kim Wilkins‘ novella (‘Crown of Rowan: A Tale of Thrysland’) in Jack Dann and Jonathan Strahan’s Legends anthology.

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    Aussiecon 4 seems hardly any time ago! Wasn’t it only yesterday? One very sad change, though, is the deaths of Sara Douglass and Paul Haines, both from cancer. Valete.

    * * *

    THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at: