Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cairns in summer

I'm about to make my first mid-summer trip to Cairns, a place I've loved visiting in the past, although admittedly those trips were in winter and early spring. And yet I'm excited by the prospect of heat and humidity that apparently makes even Brisbane seem mild by comparison.

On Friday 16 February, I'll be speaking about the sagas, Iceland, and Saga Land at a lunch held at the Shangri-La Hotel. And then over the weekend I'll be heading up to Atherton to run a series of workshops on the theme of writing fiction that is drawn from lived experiences and the people we know. 

The workshop series is called The Artful Life: From Memoir to Fiction, a title I've borrowed from a university course that I lecture.

Here's a short description of the kinds of things we'll be covering:

It's often said that you should 'write what you know.' But what does this really mean? How do you turn lived experience into a basis for fiction and nonfiction works? This series of workshops will instruct you in elements of creative writing practice that relate to both forms, while helping you think about the often very productive relationship between your experiences and your creative outputs. How, for instance, might you base a character in a novel on a real person in your life? What are the limits on the writer of nonfiction in telling what they feel is their story? Are writing techniques (like plot, dialogue, character) the same in fiction and nonfiction? And how do you know whether your experiences are actually interesting to others, and worth sharing with a wider audience?


Interviewed by Fiona Sewell, ABC Cairns

Kuranda Train Station, 2004
Kuranda Canoe Hire, 2004

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Drawing to write: Haukadalur, Westfjords

Remembering the Westfjords in winter.

How on some days the darkness isn't so much in the sky but in the blue earth of the mountains, standing above what seems a second shoreline of late autumn green. The fjord frozen at its beach sides, and black along the shallows. The grass blown flat into thick mating that folds across the first ledges in the blue rocks.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Festival season

Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking part in writers' festival sessions being held around the country. Many of the events will be about Saga Land, but I'm sure conversations will widen out from there.

Friday 16 February: Cairns Tropical Writers Festival lunch

Saturday 17 - Sunday 18 February: Atherton writers' retreat

Saturday 24 February: Saga Land at Perth Writers' Festival

Sunday 25 February: Storytelling event at Perth Writers' Festival

Saturday 3 March: Saga Land at Adealaide Writers' Week

Sunday 4 March: Mud Club lunch, Penny's Hill Winery, McLaren Vale

Thursday 16 - Friday 17 March: Somerset Celebration of Literature workshops

Friday 16 March: Somerset Celebration of Literature dinner


Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

First Days Saga Land

Saga Land, a book I've co-authored with Richard Fidler, has been out for around three weeks now, and over that time Richard and I have been travelling the country for interviews, talks, and performances of the saga stories that we feature in the book.

About a year ago, we were in Iceland writing the winter parts of the book. Since then, Saga Land has moved rather quickly through the various tasks of writing to editing, and now to publishing and promoting a book beautifully produced by HarperCollins/ABC Books.

Our first trip to Iceland was in summer, when there isn't really any night to speak of. Then, the darkness of an Icelandic December, and now it's out in the blue light of Australian spring. On our book tour, much of the time that we've spent talking about the book has been inside radio studios or quiet, darkened performance spaces. It's as though Saga Land always steps between shadows and light, winter and summer.


Church of All Nations, Carlton
We began in Melbourne, on ABC breakfast TV, in an interview with Jon Faine on his Conversations radio program, and then a book talk at the Church of All Nations in Carlton. Then to Adelaide for shows at Elder Hall and Burnside Library, and to Sydney for a series of bookshop events. Rather as in the book, during our talks Richard and I take turns in narrating parts of our Iceland travels, while in Queensland we gave return performances of the Icelandic Sagas show that we performed last year -- again at The Powerhouse Theatre, and also this time at the Empire in Toowoomba.

Saga Land set (pic Matt Howard)
Rehearsals at the Empire Theatre, Toowoomba (pic Richard Fidler)

From behind the projection screen, Powerhouse Theatre (pic Jane O'Hara)

Sofdu unga astin min
Elder Hall, Adelaide

With Richard and Hannah Kent, Adelaide (pic Matt Howard)
I adored this book. Kári Gíslason and Richard Fidler have gathered together a wondrous compendium of Iceland's best sagas, both old and recent, and woven these together with their own experiences of that storytelling nation. Each folktale, each account of warring 12th century families, is presented as part of a wider tapestry of story, including those of the authors' lives. Saga Land is testament to the power of all sagas, as a means of connection and self-realisation. A tremendous achievement.

- Hannah Kent

Dymocks Tuggeranong, ACT

Fuller's Bookshop, Mornington Peninsula
Best new nonfiction, November, Indie bookshops

Top 10 Australian independent bookshops
During our book tour, we've given quite a few interviews, links to which I've started to gather here. They include Richard Glover's interview on his Sydney Drive program, and Rebecca Levingston's touching response to the book when we spoke to her for Weekends Brisbane. I like talking to people about the books I've written, although I admit it also has the uncanny feeling of flying out of a quiet winter and then landing thousands of miles away in another season altogether.

At the same time, the first reviews and reader responses have begun to appear, opening the pages and letting in their own light on what we've described in Saga Land.


Fidler and Gíslason embarked on a journey to Iceland with two purposes: to make a radio documentary retelling some of the sagas from the places where they happened, and to discover whether Gíslason really is descended from Sturluson. Saga Land records their two trips to Iceland, one in summer, and one in winter. The radio program went to air in 2016 and is now a podcast.

The book is divided into four parts, with Fidler and Gíslason taking turns to tell the story. Both have a gift for bringing the country to life on the page, with the vivid descriptions of the extraordinary landscape, from glaciers to fiords, setting the scene. The sagas themselves – graphic descriptions of fierce blood feuds – are told in crisp, unemotive prose, giving them a powerful sense of immediacy. They are woven skilfully into the narrative of the road trip, as are references to historic events that have taken place in Iceland, including the famous meeting between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986.

A fascinating insight into Iceland's little-known history and literature, and a compelling story of one man's quest to reclaim his identity.

- Nicole Abadee, "Three Best Books of the Month," Australian Financial Review

Saga Land Christmas tree, Dymocks Sydney

Burnside Library, South Australia

Route 372, Brisbane

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Saga Land Tour

Saga Land, a book about Iceland, its sagas and mysteries that I've co-written with my friend Richard Fidler will be published on 23 October.

Richard and I will be giving talks and performances to celebrate the book's launch:

23 October, 6:30pm: Church of All Nations, Carlton

25 October, 6:30pm: Elder Hall, University of Adelaide

26 October, 10am: Burnside Library, South Australia

30 October, 6pm: Avid Reader, Brisbane

31 October, 7pm: Greengate Hotel, Killara

1 November: Kirribilli Club, Sydney

2 November, 6pm: Glebe Books, Sydney

3 November, 1pm: Stanton Library, North Sydney

4 November, 12pm: Dymocks Sydney

8 November: Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane

9 November: Empire Theatre, Toowoomba

24 November, 6pm: Brisbane Square Library

30 November: Grand View Hotel, Cleveland

7 December, 6:30pm: Riverbend Books, Brisbane


Hope to see you there!

(Pic by Luke Henery)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hinterlands and Understories

I've recently had the pleasure of launching two books, Hinterland by Steven Lang (UQP, 2017) and Understory by Inga Simpson (Hachette, 2017). They are rather different works, the first a novel of manners, the other a nonfiction work of nature writing. But they're connected by their setting in the hills and valleys inland of Queensland's Sunshine Coast, and a desire to figure place as a key element in storytelling.

I gave speeches at both of these launches, edited versions of which are given below.



This book is, in many respects, one about place – or, places, and the way in which different places can influence one another; how they come to develop a kind of conversation about influence and exchange: about whether to accept changes that come from outside our immediate surroundings, changes that are sometimes forced onto us; and about how we communicate our own, local points of view, character, desires to the wider world. How we might come to influence them with our stories and points of view.

I’d to talk a bit more about place now. It’s a touching point between my own work and this book, and certainly it’s one way of reading Hinterland.

I arrived in Australia as a teenager, and I’ve been driving up the scenic hill road to Maleny pretty regularly ever since. It was one of the first places that I was taken to visit when my mother and I migrated from Europe in the 1980s. I recall that we climbed up the road quite slowly in a long, white Ford Falcon 500 with its windows down. I sat in the back seat; the engine noise got louder as the car strained a little, but the air outside cooled as well, freshened, and then at last we reached the crest of the wave, and a winding road that we followed until we arrived at a damp, wooded car park which was at the entrance to a rain forest walk. We were going to do the track, and in a moment I’d have my first ever encounter with leaches.

It looked like the entrance to another world, one hidden by a high canopy and revealed only in the shots of light that made it through. But there was also something quite familiar to me here. I’d spent my early childhood in Iceland and England. To me, the Glasshouse Mountains seemed connected by their shape to the volcanic island of my birth. And, nearer to us on the other side of the road, I saw pastures where dairy cows were grazing, very much as in the rolling farmlands of Cheshire, from where I’d just arrived.

And yet no doubt the reason I’d been brought to Maleny, was actually so that I might experience the distinctiveness of this place: how this hinterland environment was different from the landscapes that I’d come from, different from those of the coast, too –that is, the Australia I’d been expecting.

But through it all I recognised something deeply familiar, more so than the surface terrain. I saw that this was a kind of island. Before we walked into the forest, I sensed that I’d arrived at a place apart, away from the greater wonder of Australia: rather like Iceland and Britain are islands apart from the Continent.

I’ve been talking about Maleny. That’s because I think that’s very probably the place we’re reading about in this book, a small town in the Sunshine Coast hinterland; although, Steven has given it the name Winderran.

But as crucially we’re reading about a town that has this powerful sense of its apartness about it. The hinterland is home to a community that either all know each other, or grew up together, or are at least spatially aware of each other – and perhaps more acutely aware of change as a result being such a constant in each other’s lives. There are well-established families with long reputations to protect. And new arrivals, who are needed, but who may disrupt the patterns of life, customs. However well-meaning these new people are, they sometimes seem more like pirates, for they take away the certainties of the old ties and family connections.

Ideas can be pirates, too. Or, more to the point, government proposals can be. Much of the tension in this book comes because of a proposed damn that threatens to engulf farms and forests, and at the same to time sweep away much of the community’s sense of self-determination. The town doesn’t need the damn; the demand comes from the outside, and really the need of the coast. Suddenly, the village of Winderran is being told to change in order to meet the demands of the world beyond it. It’s being made to look different.

The literary result of this threat, of course a real one, is here a rich type of work that’s called a novel of manners, or novel of manners and morality – some way into the book, Steven does hint to us that this is the kind of story he’s telling, with a reference to the genre. This, then, is in a way a nineteenth century novel – not old-fashioned, but very definitely a study of how a particular community deals with key ethical issues of its age, here water, and how that community reveals itself through its reactions to that issue.

The hinterland is separate, but if it does form a micro-climate, it’s also one where the elements are familiar to us all: entrepreneurs running a little wild without much clear sense of purpose; muscular Christianity with perhaps too much sense of purpose; counter-culture and protest; illness – time and again, characters are understood by the way they cope with physical decline. There’s even a writer in this book, although it has to be said he’s not the most likable of the cast: he’s more or less thrown in his writing in order to pursue a career in politics. How could he?

And the cast is large one. It’s there to give us a full portrait of the town, and the range of manners to which it bears witnesses. But ultimately it is two people, a nurse called Eugenie and a newcomer, Nick, who form the most important setting of the book, its ultimate island, if you like – the one that two people manage to make when they look for each other, and look out for each other, and find a space together, even among a crowd or in a busy village life. This is a book filled with many places in that village: the hall, meetings, creeks, dinner parties, empty roads at night, a surgery, and then also the private world where people at least try to keep the rest of the village out.

In this, I was reminded of a poem by John Donne. In his work, ‘The Sun Rising’, the poet makes fun of the sun for thinking that it illuminates the world. Doesn’t it realise that the world has been contracted to a single room, the one he shares with his life, a location of its own, governing all. This is a kind of fantasy, of course: there is no perfect isolation, no one place where the sun has done its work if it but rests there. I learnt this from going back to my birthplace of Iceland, a country that stood apart from the rest of the world for a long time, and more or less fell in love with its separateness. Being separate can create a feeling specialness, and over the years Icelanders have learnt to make fun of their exceptionalism, even if they still believe that the sun need only shine there in order for it to shine everywhere.

But these days, when I visit Maleny, it’s with the warm memory of the first time I went up, and recognised and really enjoyed the separateness of the town and its environment. As in Reykjavik and I’m sure in many other places like it, the slight air of isolation has created intensity and energy, and Steven’s book responds to that energy, and very faithfully I think, reproduces it as a portrait, an island study revealing many colours, weathers, and tracks.

The last couple of times I’ve visited I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting with Steven at literary events. He’s an important part of the cultural life of the town. Sometimes, as I read the book, I found myself looking for him in the characters, and wondering which aspects of his life have found their way into their depiction. When we write about other people, especially fictional people, we have to give a lot of ourselves.

What’s most important now, of course, is that this book is now leaving its inland island home and voyaging outwards, towards readers curious about how this remarkable region thrives, and fights, and loves. In this book we are very much invited into the town of Winderran, and we’re asked to meet the people there as we would, I think, meet them in life: each made up of good and bad qualities, complex people, neighbours who are sometimes good to have around, but not always good to have around.



This is a captivating work, and also a book about quiet moments, about place, about stillness: we’re in a cottage, we’re hearing about years spent living among trees that surround it, and Inga’s desire to understand and protect these trees, the habitat they form, and to honour the country that she lives in, including the many stories that the country holds: Indigenous stories, stories of European colonization, the stories the plant life, and of course her own.

The chapters of Understory form a kind of woodland – a very varied one. Each chapter is named after a variety of tree found on her property. These chapter titles turn out to be thematic as well as botanical: we learn about each particular species, but alongside that we also learn about how trees can, in a sense, speak or help us to speak – and so how in this way join the story of those who live with them. Inga’s curious about the natural world that surrounds her, and observant, too: she reads voraciously, but she also watches life as it develops its own patterns around her, its own chronology and tempo. She is drawn to that, and wants to include something of this new chronology in how she lives.

As Inga writes about her experiences, she becomes a more astute observer, too. In this way, the book celebrates a symbiosis between reading, writing, and living: breathing it in so that we can express ourselves. We get to walk through the forest with Inga, with her as a kind of fellow student, but we also learn about the difficulties of the choice the she and her partner make when they leave the city. This book doesn't complain, but nor does it shy away from the realities of building a kind of retreat.

I expect we all have our own ways of retreating from… what, the world, the routines we’ve gradually accepted as normal and sane, enough. Or, we all have our own ways of finding retreat. Maybe that’s better than the verb. Retreating sounds a little too much like leaving, or running away in the middle of a battle. This is book isn’t about that kind of retreating, it’s not escapist; it's about moving towards the world, not away.

As a beginning, this means moving to the ten-acre property that Inga and her partner buy. It’s their family’s own retreat. She and N, the name that Inga gives to her partner and the other major person in this book, are looking for change: from jobs that don’t quite fit them, from crowded city housing, traffic noise, concrete. But more so than leaving these things, they’re on the move towards a fuller writing life.

To start with, Inga seems a little concerned about what she’s leaving behind. The cottage has some problems, and she’s going to be a long way from her gym. But she soon realises that the work of maintaining a property of this size will make up for missed workouts. Setting up in a new place is demanding in many ways: it puts a strain on those jobs in the city now a long commute away; living in the country makes it hard to even keep a job. It creates a new family dynamic. But, still: who wouldn’t swap crowded urban living for trees, wonderful bird and animal life, and a little bit of distance from all this rushing we do?

Well, to be honest, probably I wouldn’t. Or, better said: I wouldn’t manage it very well.

I love cities and all the noise. I’m not very handy, and, I have to admit, a bit afraid of chainsaws and power tools. But of course I get it, and in this case I get it because Inga allows us into her life, her desires and hopes, her story. This is a generous book, because it’s looking at the world generously. Her cottage is just a cottage in the forest, but, as Inga puts it, “it isn’t what is there, but what we see. It’s what we bring to a place, and what it gives us.”

Clearly, for Inga this is where she should be living. As much as escaping the city, she’s moving towards a world that is right for her. She begins to read nature writers, and realizes that in her writing she is joining a community of writers who have sought out something similar. Other forms of retreat develop. Some of these are less than straightforward. When the property next door comes up for sale, Inga and N are desperate to buy it. They’ll have to borrow a lot more money, but doing so will allow them to begin a writer’s retreat, where they might create a place for people, like them, who wants to write more.

At this point, the year is 2008, the banks are enormously confident and very willing to lend money – what could possibly go wrong?

I think this must be around the time I first met Inga. I’d just come back from a few years living in Iceland, and I’d begun a lecturing job at QUT. Inga was finishing her PhD in creative writing, and I was part of a final panel that read her thesis just before it was submitted. What came through then, as now, was Inga’s ability to pair creative writing techniques with different, searching kinds of inquiry.
Inga manages this movement between styles and modes of address very fluently. The book is an interplay of past and present, intimate perspectives and expansive ones. But the techniques she uses are not there for their own sake; the writing is never showy: they serve the work, one that subtly combines reflection about the writing life with botanical observation, family, philosophy, and a story of the ten years that follow the purchase of the cottage, and the writer’s retreat next door.

Across the years, it becomes apparent that what we’re really reading about is the strange and often strained, but magical, task of trying to create what you want, what you protect and nurture: literature, the natural environment, relationships – and memory, too.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Words & Music

I've started a YouTube channel featuring songs that I've written and recorded over the years. I've always written music, and during my twenties I worked as a musician, paying for my postgraduate studies in saga literature with gigs around Brisbane. 

When last living in Iceland, some ten years ago, I became good friends with musician Halldór Gunnar Pálsson, and his brother Önundur, a sound engineer. Together we recorded songs in a little summerhouse in Tungudalur in the Westfjords, including the song, "Rain on the Sea".

Other songs were recorded and mixed in Flateyri, a tiny village in the Westfjords where Halldór Gunnar and Önundur grew up. Önundur had converted an old fish-oil storage tank into a studio. Other times we used the local community hall, and its slightly out-of-tune piano, as for "Into Cold Water", which features the piano at the very end.

"Rain on the Sea" and "Into Cold Water" are the first two songs that I've posted on the channel. I wrote the words to both, and did the singing, too. Halldór Gunnar co-wrote the music.

There'll be more of our songs, and others, to follow.

Önundur and Halldór Gunnar, 2007

With Önundur, 2007

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Shepherding in the Westfjords

(An old poem just found.)

I came to the Westfjords to work harder, get in shape, save money;
just the usual things – except, perhaps, to visit Gísli Súrsson’s murder site –
but I didn’t think I’d be shepherding
with men in ski pants and fishermen’s jumpers.
One of them is five hundred metres up the side of Arnardalur, Eagle Dale,
with three white dots who remember summer’s freedom
but still run themselves into the farmer’s yard,
where we, the chasers, meet later for legs of lamb with rhubarb jam.
“Hold the line,” yells a man, “and keep close to the river,
while I take the small rise on the other side”;
the river is the only clarity in a valley of bog, fog, and blueberries,
the company of sheep still two hundred metres away.
But one old dear, apart from the others on a spit of stones,
looking like a torn pillow on cheap barbecue legs,
stamps me to be gone, to leave the winter to herself alone,
spare her my good will.
I huff, yelp, and whoosh in reply, step closer, jump, walk around,
I look friendly and jolly and hold my ground,
I tell her that the others have gone ahead; she kicks,
no, yes, no, come on!


Monday, December 12, 2016

Saga Land (the book)

I'm delighted to announce that Richard Fidler and I have signed a contract for the publication of Saga Land, a book that has developed out of a four-part radio series about Iceland that he and I made last year. Saga Land (the book) will be published by HarperCollins/ABC Books in late 2017.


I'm writing this post in Reykjavik, where Richard and I are now doing further research for the book. We've spent less time on the road, and more time in town, than on our last visit. Most days, we write until afternoon and then go for a walk to find somewhere to eat, or to buy local lamb or haddock to cook ourselves.

But last week we drove to Snaefellsnes, for a second time in pursuit of Gudrun from Laxdaela Saga, whose story we told in the radio series. That time, we didn't get to see Helgafell, the farm where Gudrun ended her days - quiet days that she spent in prayer and contemplation as Iceland's first nun. Where her son Bolli came to ask her a question, one which I think must have been on his mind for a very long time before he asked it: which of the men in her life did she love the most?

I was worst to the one I loved the most, was all she'd say in reply.

Helgafell today

In the radio show, I talk about how I love Gudrun, and how I want those who hear her story to love her, too. I've felt that way towards Gudrun since I first read the saga twenty-five years ago, and the feeling has only strengthened over time. Gudrun causes the death of the man she loves most. The reader of Laxdaela Saga is not made to love her: the author does not manipulate us in that way. But, for all that, there's a tender recognition of her spirit, and her wound.

And yet, during this trip, I've realised I don't know what she looks like. My image of her must be of my own making, for in the saga she's described in terms of her virtues rather than appearance:

She was the loveliest woman in Iceland at the time, and also the most intelligent. Gudrun was a woman of such courtliness that whatever other women wore, they seemed like mere trinkets beside hers. She was the shrewdest and best-spoken of all women; and she had a generous disposition.

That's all we get, and I would love to have more detail: her hair colour, her height, perhaps a sentence about her eyes.

But then maybe it doesn't hurt not to be told.


It's early evening as I write, and time to cook the lamb I bought earlier today. It's been dark since around 3:30, but I've been in Reykjavik for nearly a month now, and I think I'm getting used to it, or rather getting used to only having a kind of combined sunrise/sunset for what gets called light.

In fact, it never fully becomes day, just as the sagas never fully reveal what's going on inside the minds of their characters. The sun climbs just above the horizon, and stays there, as though that's all the light you need. The right light for a journey to Helgafell, and into Gudrun's last days.

A view from the apartment towards the State theate

At Berserkjahraun (Pic: Richard Fidler)

With Richard Fidler (Pic: Kari Bergsson)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Iceland again

Iceland again,
and the dark, white light of November.
Frost scratches at the path.

On the balcony,
a screen against my neighbour's railing
wakes me
until I wedge it still.

In the dark, the wind is like homesickness,
callow, a first trip away.
But now, in the slim streets of daylight,
something to push against.

Like Iceland again,
pushed into the Atlantic,
and still taking its first steps out of the sea.

Monday, September 5, 2016

In Conversation with Michael Collins

The program of the 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival has been released. This year I will be in conversation with Irish novelist Michael Collins, discussing his new novel The Death of All Things Seen (Head of Zeus/Harper Collins, 2016).

The full program of the festival is available here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Publication Paths

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing four alumni of Queensland University of Technology, where I teach creative writing and literary studies, on the topic of 'how to get published'.

The panelists were Sarah Ridout (author of The Chateau), Brett Michael Orr (The Bureau of Time), Melina Mallos (Catch That Cat), and Cass Moriarty (The Promise Seed). We talked about their quite varied paths to publication - experiences of writing and publishing that naturally reflect their different lives and career paths.

As I said at the start of the session, asking somehow how they got published can feel a little like asking them their age. It's a bit awkward, for most authors face their share of rejection before getting a break in the publishing industry.

But the panelists spoke openly about the choices they'd made, from self-publishing online, working with community groups, studying creative writing and entering competitions, to what we might think of as more traditional avenues of submitting to publishing houses.

The discussion is available in full on YouTube.  

From left: Sarah Ridout, Brett Michael Orr, Melina Mallos, Cass Moriarty, me

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Writer's Forum Interview

An interview with me by Glynis Scrivens has been published in the August edition of Writer's Forum (UK)

Glynis and I discussed the relationship between memoir and fiction writing, a topic of strong personal interest that I also address in my "Novel and Memoir" course at QUT, where we look at some of the synergies and differences between writing novels and longer forms of life writing.

Interview, page 1 (click to enlarge)

page 2

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Outspoken Maleny

On Sunday 21 August, I'll be in conversation with Richard Fidler and Steven Lang as part of the "Outspoken Maleny" series.

Full details available here.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Cairns Tropical Writer's Festival

The program of the Cairns Tropical Writer's Festival 2016 has been launched.

The festival runs over the weekend of 12-14 August, and I'll be taking part in three sessions:

The full program is available here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ghost Empire Launch

On Friday 29 July, I'll be launching Ghost Empire (Harper Collins/ABC Books) by Richard Fidler at Brisbane City Hall's Kedron Room.

The book tells the story of a trip that Richard and his son Joe made to Istanbul in 2014 - a richly evoked journey into the Byzantine past, but as powerfully an exploration of the changing relationship between father and son. 

From Ghost Empire:

'When my son turned fourteen, we set out to explore the ghost empire of Constantinople. It was to be a coming of age adventure, of sorts. My ambition was that Joe and I would walk the entire length of the fabled Land Walls of Constantinople, from the sea of Marmara all the way to the Golden Horn: this was where the Roman Empire died in agony, in the most bizarre and dramatic siege in medieval history. Once you know the story of the Byzantine Empire, you can't help but feel its ghost pressing against you. You feel it in the crumbling walls. You become suffused with it as you stand under the golden dome of the Hagia Sophia. You hear its echoes in the shadows of the cavernous underground cistern of Justinian. The story of how Constantinople flourished into greatness and then expired in terrible violence is one of the strangest and most moving stories I know. I wanted my son to have that story too.'

To attend the launch, register here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Working with Words Interview

Last week, I was interviewed by Melbourne's Wheeler Centre for their Working with Words series. The centre grew up around Melbourne's successful bid to become a UNESCO city of literature. It aims to "provide a hub for the discussion, debate and practice of writing and ideas."

The interview with me is largely about the various influences behind my writing and practice. It can be found in full here.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

New radio & the sagas

On the back of strong demand, Brisbane Powerhouse has extended the Icelandic Sagas show that I'm doing with Richard Fidler to a second night, on 23 July 2016.

This live show builds on a radio series we made last year (broadcast in March 2016). Richard and I travelled to Iceland to tell stories drawn from the medieval sagas in the places where these stories were set. One of the questions that we took with us was how well these narratives might suit the formal qualities of radio and podcast. Another was how we could attempt to communicate a distinct sense of place, that is, one that contributed meaningfully to the impact and understanding of the stories.

I'm still pondering the answers to these questions, but I do think that saga stories are beautifully suited to the highly textural and often very intimate nature of new radio. This style of radio - exemplified by podcasts like Radiolab - combines elements of traditional storytelling and reportage, and is often able to combine quite different narrative styles and voices. And yet in its multi-modal nature new radio may also be able to echo something much older: the layered and polyphonic nature of the sagas as we've inherited them.

In any case, in July, at the wonderful Powerhouse theatre, Richard and I will get the chance to explore whether that approach can be extended to the stage. More details available here.

And a video snippet here:

Brisbane Powerhouse

Thingvellir, July 2015
The Powerhouse Theatre (pic:

Friday, June 3, 2016

Taking Five Interview

I was recently interviewed for the Australian Writer's Marketplace 'Take Five' series -- a collection of short interviews with authors. The focus was on my writing process, and aspects of the writing life more generally.

The interview is available in full here.