Saturday, May 18, 2019

Characters real and imagined

One of the challenges of writing creative nonfiction is conceiving the people in your story as characters. These people exist and often you know them personally. How can they be a function of a story rather than their actual selves?

But, just as with fiction, a story won't work well unless the characters are conceived as part of its crafting. Even though they are real people, they also need to be imagined. Otherwise, the reader will find it hard to connect with them, no matter familiar they are to you.


Monday, March 4, 2019

Reviewing

In the last four of my creative writing classes, I've turned my attention to reviewing.

Reviewing allows us to engage critically with the art form that we practice. By extending to other art forms, we can also extend our writing into new areas, and develop writing techniques that best suit them.

That is -

Creative writing class 9: Review structures in book reviews



Creative writing class 10: Reviewing through context in food reviews



Creative writing class 11: Subjectivity and objectivity in music reviews



Creative writing class 12: Analytical summaries in film reviews




Sunday, March 3, 2019

NSW Premier's Literary Awards


I'm delighted to share the good news that Saga Land has been shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction, part of the 2019 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards.


The other books shortlisted for this prize are:

Tracker by Alexis Wright

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia by Billy Griffiths

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie.




The winning book will be announced at the Awards night on 29 April 2019.



Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Memoir 2: The Promise of Iceland

Over the past few creative writing classes, I've given some thought to common elements in creative nonfiction and memoir.

Creative Writing 8 takes my first book, The Promise of Iceland (2011), as a specific example. In particular, I aim to illustrate how that book establishes a question early on, and the way in which it functions as both a story of what happened and a representation of how I remember the events it describes.




Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Memoir

The topic of my creative writing class 7 is the memoir form, and in particular how memoir is both a representation of the past and also of how we remember.

That is, in memoir we have the opportunity reflect our ways of remembering in the form of the work.

My next class will develop this topic further, when I'll look at the structure of my own first book, The Promise of Iceland.






Sunday, January 13, 2019

Establishing questions in creative nonfiction

Works of creative nonfiction often begin with an author's explanation of how the work came into being, and with the development of an opening question that will frame the piece as a whole.

In Creative Writing Class 6, I ask why this is: what is the function of such questions? Certainly, they are one of the features of creative nonfiction that distinguish it from fiction writing, which tends to be much less direct in expressing its aims.

In the second part of the class, I turn to four techniques for introducing such opening question:

1) an explanation of the background to a project,
2) a short opening narrative,
3) the broader social context of the work,
4) an appeal to shared experience.


More here:



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Creative Nonfiction


In my fifth creative writing class, I propose a working definition of creative nonfiction that I'd like to take with me into the next few classes, when I'll look at different types of this form of writing and some of the techniques used in each.

Creative nonfiction involves the use of fictive or imaginative techniques to write about things that have happened, that is, with the truth claims of nonfiction.

It can sometimes feel as though there is a contradiction in this, especially when the creative elements of a work seem to bring it very close to fiction. But the contradiction - or perhaps complication is a better word - is also at the heart of how such writing affects us and brings its subject matter to life.

More here:



Monday, December 10, 2018

Charts


It's been lovely this week to see Saga Land reappearing in the History bestseller charts - a year on from the book's original publication date in October 2017.

Last September, the soft back edition of the book came out. It has the same sensational Oetomo New cover design as the hardback, but with a white background.

The soft back edition of Saga Land
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This week's Top 10 History books (source: The Age)




Friday, December 7, 2018

Establishing Theme


In the creative writing classes I've been putting together on YouTube, I've earlier discussed story conception, opening paragraphs, and the story elements of first chapters.

In Creative Writing Class 4, I give some thought to how theme might be established in a story. My more specific question is how we might begin to develop the theme of a work fairly early on, without guiding the reader too heavily about how we conceive of the story.

The term theme refers to the central idea of a work. This sounds fairly straightforward, but of course there is nothing particularly straightforward about determining or communicating the intended central idea of a work. One of the joys of literature is that it often suggests many different ideas, and the meaning of works usually change or develop over time.

In fact, theme may be an aspect of a creative work that is best left in the hands of the reader: the literary and social context of a work, and the individual interpretations of readers, will often suggest theme without the writer having to do all that much.

More here:






Thursday, November 29, 2018

First Chapters


In my third creative writing class, part of a suite of short guides to writing techniques, I offer some thoughts on first chapters.

The first chapter of a work is usually the one that receives the most attention and editing. There's also a temptation to cram rather a lot inside it, for after all we want to establish the story and put everything in place.

In the clip below, I ask how we might use story elements in the first chapter to indicate the kind of work we're writing, and to give a sense of its initial narrative problems. And, I have a look at the first chapter of the book I'm reading at the moment - William Boyd's Love is Blind.




Thursday, November 22, 2018

Opening paragraphs


In my second creative writing class, I look at the question of how to write opening paragraphs that reflect the goals of the creative work as a whole, in a way gives them an immediate purpose in the story.

I suggest six possible approaches.

Naturally, there are many more, but hopefully the examples I give from the work of others help to illustrate the potential use of:

1) context,
2) situation,
3) setting,
4) character,
5) voice and time, and
6) explanation:





Thursday, November 15, 2018

Writing Classes


I've begun posting a series of short creative writing classes on YouTube.

The first of these is on the topic of story ideas, in which I offer five possible ways of generating new stories.

Sometimes, story ideas come to us without us having to work very hard. Robert Louis Stevenson, for example, famously claimed that Jekyll and Hyde first appeared to him in a dream. Maybe that was better than admitting to having consciously dreamt up its events.

In any case, on occasion we might need to produce story ideas, which in the video I suggest we might do by:

1) asking a question,
2) expanding on earlier work,
3) using place as a start,
4) trying a new form or genre, and
5) finding objects and events that contain stories.

The first video:

Friday, September 28, 2018

Helgafell

I've spent the last few days at the farm of Helgafell, which is on Thorsnes peninsula in mid-west Iceland.

The farm has lots of sheep and produces excellent lamb, and there are two huts by the pond (or, small lake) that you can rent. The view from them is over the water and, to the right, towards Helgafell mountain (or, hill), which was first described in the medieval Icelandic Eyrbyggja saga as an entrance to Valhalla. The area was dedicated to Thor.

Later, the hill and the property around it acquired a Christian significance. Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, whose life story is given in Laxdæla saga, ended her days here as Iceland's first nun. At the very beginning of the Christian period, the local chieftain Snorri goði built one of Iceland's first churches on the land once dedicated to Thor.

I've loved being here, and walking around the property and the extraordinary countryside around it. The farm is surrounded by lava fields and fissures, and volcanic stubs that seem to climb up from the bays nearby. Today, as I write, it's blowing a gale and hardly weather to go looking around. But on other days I've had wonderfully still conditions, and a good chance to watch the changing colours of the farm without having to rush back inside to get warm.





My map of the Helgafell farm

Some more thoughts here:


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Haukadalur

I've spent the last couple of weeks travelling in Iceland on the trail of two medieval sagas - The Saga of Gisli and Eyrbyggja Saga. The two works are closely connected by geography, as well as by a couple of the characters who exit the terrible events of one saga only to be cited in the occurrences of the next.

My journey's taken me first to Haukadalur, a valley in Dyrafjördur in the Westfjords which I've visited a few times before but never stayed at for more than a few hours. This time, I rented a cottage in the valley that used to serve as the local pre-school, now converted into a holiday home.



I spent some days walking: up into the valley itself, but also around other farms and places mentioned in The Saga of Gisli, such as: the site where the local assembly used to be held; Undir Hesti, where Vésteinn (Gísli's best friend) lived; and, Gemmlufallsheidi, where Vésteinn famously decided to ride on to the autumn feast being held by his friend despite a warning to stay away.

The streams running to Dyrafjodur in Gemmlufallsheidi
When I left Haukadalur, I drove on a slippery mountain road south to Tálknafjördur, where one of the saga characters came from: Asgerd. The fact that she's from this particular fjord isn't a big deal in the saga, but the more I read this work the more concerned I've become with its precise geography. So, I went and found rather lovely beaches braced by great blocks of mountain cliffs. Asgerd's farm was, as in many parts of the Westfjords, wedged along the rather thin strip of usable land.

Tálknafjördur
Throughout the trip so far, I've been struck by the interchange of inhospitable country - heaths, volcanic mountains, and cliffs close to the sea - and suddenly-appearing pastures.

Hvammur on the northern shore of Breidafjördur (not far from where the Brjánslækur ferry comes in) is one such place, a fertile part of the coastline in-between the rock mountains of the Westfjords and the pink, sandy volcanic dunes further along the fjord. It's where Gisli's brother Thorkel lived after Gisli was outlawed, and where Gisli came to ask him for help while he was living on the nearby Hergilsey Island.

The present-day farm at Hvammur

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Some more observations here:


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Two songs

I've uploaded to YouTube two songs I wrote in the months before I made a return journey to Iceland in 1999, a big moment in my life that formed the highpoint of my first book, The Promise of Iceland (2011). The journey back came after a long period of thinking about how to best approach the complexities of my family life. There were secrets in Iceland that needed to be broken, and I knew doing so would affect how my family understood their lives, the past. It would change my life, too.

In the years before, music became an important part of how I settled things in my mind, how I thought it through. I played regularly in bars and cafes around Brisbane. Gigging, I found, was a bit like exercise - demanding, forcing you to look outside yourself, to be physical and part of the world. Music also helped me to express more solitary and private matters: what I wanted to do next, and in what spirit. My songs seemed to me to always contain elements of two worlds: what I had in Australia and what I thought I might find in Iceland.

Shelter

Driving home that night the moon was bright
just about as bright as I can recall
Wouldn't take a poet to realise the meaning
the meaning of it all




Holding the light

My mind is flying
I can breath, I can breathe, I breathe
The sun opens her eyes onto my back
I can fly

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Setting, Added

Earlier this year, I was interviewed at the Sydney Writer's Festival alongside my co-author Richard Fidler about our book, Saga Land. Our interviewer was Tony Birch, a leading Indigenous writer based in Melbourne - Tony's works include Ghost River, an evocation of the multiple and layered lives of Melbourne's Yarra River.

And, more recently, I took part in a panel on travel writing at the Byron Writer's Festival, there interviewed by Michael Williams, who is the Director of Melbourne's Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas.

Both interviewers were interested in the ways an author becomes a participant in the culture and landscape they write about. Tony asked us about how Saga Land seeks out the settings of the saga stories. This is a central aspect of the book, but also one that I find difficult to explain very precisely. Why it matters to visit the places where stories are set. If and how it changes the telling.

I can say that we use location of saga stories to structure the book, by narrating stories and parts of stories when we arrive at certain settings. For example, when we are at Thingvellir - the site of the first Icelandic parliament - we tell the story of how Hallgerd and Gunnar (from Njál's Saga) met. Gunnar was walking through the grounds of the parliament when he saw Hallgerd, and asked if they could sit down together to talk.

But in fact the saga itself is fairly bare in its description of the setting, or that of other major events in the book. As is common in these works, the focus is on people and action. Farm names are always given, travel routes sometimes, and the origin of names is often included. But the saga authors spend very little time on landscape, atmosphere, or the physical aspects of the scenes that are being described.


A podcast of our session at the Sydney Writer's Festival 2018

In fact, one of the things we do in Saga Land, and that many travel writers to Iceland have done before us, is add setting, or explicitly pair saga narratives and modern forms of setting that owe more to travel writing and the novel than to the sagas themselves.

In the case of the chapter on Gunnar and Hallgerd, we frame the saga story with quite descriptive sections about arriving at Thingvellir and, after the saga story ends at Gunnar's farm of Hlidarendi, about the south of the country nearby. We tend not to add these extra elements of setting to the story parts themselves, but rather as brackets around them.

In this way, I suppose setting becomes as much about something that's shared between the original stories and the modern journey, as it is about the effect of the topography of the sagas. The result acknowledges that your visit to saga settings creates new impressions that are joined to the original impact of the story.

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The Byron Writer's Festival session is available on Soundcloud.


With Brigid Delaney and Eddie Ayers at a session on travel writing at the 2018 Byron Writer's Festival
(Photo: Natalie Foord)


Friday, August 17, 2018

Teaching as learning

I've long found teaching to be one of the best ways of learning. I've taught creative writing and literature at QUT in Brisbane since 2008, and before then I held teaching positions at other universities and schools.

Teaching doesn't require you to be unequivocal or to have perfectly formed ideas. The reality is that sometimes you're only just ahead of the students in your preparations. But it does prompt you to articulate questions clearly, and to express your thoughts in ways that are approachable to others. I use the term approachable because your thoughts are really the beginning of a dialogue, not the conclusion of a point that you're trying to make.

Students should feel that they can come towards your ideas with their own. For me, that approach has allowed me to better understand what I want to achieve as a writer, but as importantly what some of my weaknesses as a writer have been. Being able to identify common issues in the work of others becomes a powerful way of identifying them in your own.

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Not too long ago, I was asked to sketch out some of the key ideas and terms that we use to teach creative writing at QUT. It really is only that - an opening sketch - but one that offers a sense of how a dialogue about writing techniques might begin.



Film by Nicholas Martin and Tom Francis, November 2017
Produced by Courtney Pedersen/QUT Creative Industries

Friday, August 3, 2018

The memoir spectrum

Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to review and teach a number of works of memoir and autobiographical fiction, and in some cases interview the authors. Some of this work has come about because of teaching: I have a unit called The Artful Life: From Memoir to Fiction. In other cases, encounters with these books and their authors have come as part of festival panels I've moderated and reviews I've written, mostly for Australian Book Review.

I've noticed that many of the questions people have about memoir are tied to authors' fidelity to lived experience. Has the author presented a very subjective account of events? Perhaps, even invented material? Is the the story a faithful one?

One response to these questions is to say that all narratives are inventions of a kind. As soon as a story is shaped into artistic experience, it becomes a textual representation rather than reality. But that doesn't quite do justice to the question, which is really about the nature of that representation rather a naive wish for absolute accuracy.

*

In the subject that I teach, I approach the topic from the point of view of the creative techniques that are being used, and discuss these questions in terms of a spectrum of literary devices rather than a division of absolutes, one that would have fictive work on one side, truthful writing on the other. I have to admit that, in my own nonfiction, I do aim for a high level of factual accuracy, as high as I can manage. But I find that this spectrum-based approach to creative techniques in nonfiction allows for a less black-and-white analysis of memoir and it impact, and one that ties creative techniques to the narrative personality of the writer.



*

Books I've taught in The Artful Life include Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed In Flames, Helen Garner's This House of Grief, Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Only one of these books (Winterson's) is presented as a novel, but they share a very noticeable use of literary devices that work to create richness, and to support theme and impact.

Didion's book performs, at a formal level, the very content that she's describing: the work circles and sometimes avoids a central death scene in something like the way Didion both faces and avoids the reality of her husband's death. Garner's book, which is a true crime novel, adopts a number of features of fictional crime writing, especially in her use of characterisation and what's sometimes referred to as "police procedural". Boo's work, also about a criminal case (although very much in terms of the setting and lead-up to it) features the novelistic use of point of view and internal, highly subjective characterisation. Eggers's study of his relationship with his brother after the death of their parents mixes many literary forms, I think partly as a way of resisting sentimentality and some of the other conventions of the genre known as bildungsroman, or, in this case, künstlerroman (a novel of the early life of an artist)Winterson, meanwhile, has spoken about the non-linear nature of her novel, one that adopts both a very realistic tone and also moments that might be better described as mythical and fantastic.

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In interviews that I've conducted with authors of memoir, I've noticed that they, too, imprint their life stories with their personalities as writers - the books express their way of representation, as much as what they want to say. Lloyd Jones's A History of Silence is an intricately-structured account of secrets in his family: the structure is his way of representing (in the book's form) the intricacy of family history.

Jessie Cole's Staying is notable for its use of a lyrical voice that we might associate with fiction. Meanwhile, when I spoke to Annie Proulx about her memoir Bird Cloud, I was struck by the way in which she constructed the narrative as a series of stories that surround the property at the centre of the book. And, quite recently, I interviewed debut novelist Trent Dalton about his fictional but heavily autobiographical work Boys Swallows Universe. It mines his childhood experiences of growing up in suburban Brisbane while using an intensely subjective voice of fictional first person narration, which tends to be more immediate and open than first person as it's used in nonfiction.


What each of these books suggests to me is that, in the case of memoir and autobiographical fiction, we can read both the content and the form as different aspects of autobiography. Each expresses the author's personality: how they tell a story as well as the story they have to tell.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Swimming Lessons

I recently published an essay about the relationship between swimming, writing and migration. Although I'm always writing about Iceland from here in Australia, and writing about my birthplace as a presence in my life, I sometimes manage to forget that I'm a migrant.

The essay, written for an anthology celebrating the 70th anniversary of the University of Queensland Press, is an attempt to remind myself of that - how I moved here as a teenager, and what it meant to live in a very different place.

And of an odd but, for me, very real connection between the countries that exists in the water. Shared rhythms of swimming and writing.

The anthology is available here and from other bookshops. A full list of my publications here.








Friday, July 6, 2018

In-between


The months since the publication of Saga Land last October have been intensely busy. My co-author Richard and I travelled widely in Australia to talk about the book - at festivals, industry nights, on TV and radio, and at local workshop and bookshop events.











At the same time, I've taught three subjects at my university, and, with a colleague, started a new seminar series called On the Terrace. It's about contemporary issues in creative writing. For the first seminars, our guest speakers have been authors Anita Heiss, Nick Earls, and Rohan Wilson; poet Sarah Holland-Batt, arts producer Jane O'Hara; and broadcaster Sarah Kanowski.






But despite all this busyness, the past months have also felt like months in-between; that is, between finishing one big thing and properly starting another. This is when writing, to me, feels like sketching, and almost like watching one's thoughts rather than following them.



And then, quite suddenly, it changes. The writing is real and takes you with it. To Iceland, in fact. In September, I travel back to the mid- and north-west of the country, as in Saga Land in pursuit of people who lived there a thousand years ago, but now with rather different writing goals: to produce a novel.

The book takes place at two farms. I hope to spend most of my time walking around them, and the countryside nearby. Following this book begins by following in the footsteps of those who lived here a long time ago, and getting around as they might have.




Saturday, March 24, 2018

Wildlife of Berlin

On Thursday 22 March, I had the pleasure of launching Philip Neilsen's new book of poetry, Wildlife of Berlin at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane's suburb of West End.

Here's an edited version of my introduction to the book.

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I have a few things I’d like to say, a short speech. But I’m not sure about its structure. Or, rather, I feel there may be some steps backwards and forwards. But perhaps that suits this book, and the ways in which it steps backwards and forwards across times, places, and images. And, in more careful ways than I’ve managed here, brings them together.

I think Philip and I first met when I was a PhD student, around fifteen years ago. I had long hair and wore check pants. I knew Philip’s name the way, as a student, you know the names of established writers: as a voice, really – a poet. Even though I was a literature student, that still seemed a distant thing, an idea as much as a person.

But the person I met was also a teacher, and I was becoming one of those. Teaching was something I understood as being more than an idea. It was about people, and the pulse of a room, pacing your thoughts, perhaps even the metre, rhythm, and the music of the spoken word. Teaching was about taking note, observing, and speaking really only if you had to. It was also about paradox and incongruence, for I saw that a good class often brought together ideas that were usually kept apart. In that way, a classroom could be a hospitable place, like a poem.



Philip’s poems, I thought, had those qualities, as well. Or so it seemed to me when I first began to read them. My early sense of Philip was shaped by having met him in his role as a teacher. An early sense, as I say, but it’s hard to shake first impressions of this kind, and over time they’ve grounded my reading of him as a person, but more especially tonight, my understanding of his poetry. Over the years, I’ve come to know Philip through a sense of how teaching connects curiosity about life to our conversations with other people, and especially our students.

That’s something of our shared past, mine and Philip's, although I’m very sorry to say that these important exchanges haven’t appeared anywhere in this collection. It’s just as well that I’m here to tell you about them. It’s not as though Philip doesn’t know the hazards of leaving people out. Towards the close of this book, we read about a review, written twenty-four years ago, a “black catty” review that hacks at another of Philip’s books. Why? The reviewer was, no doubt justifiably, upset that he had not been included in the book in question.

That person, we read, now wants to be friends with Philip on Facebook. Twenty-four years have passed, after all. If he can’t be in a book of written lines, cannot he not, now, at least be in Philip’ Facebook timeline.

For a moment, the poet allows us to feel the pressure of the many years that have passed. The enduring pressure of harsh words exchanged long ago. And the pressure of the things the poet has said and regretted. That we may have said in our lives, as well. But then, happily, we also hear the tap on the keyboard that confirms the friend request.

It’s a satirical moment in an often wry and witty book, although in this collection it’s rare in its subject matter of writers’ rivalries. Many of the poems share this Facebook-moment’s insistence on the everyday, the now, and how the now seems always to be in the business of expanding the past.

But this book places itself very happily within poetic traditions and the work of others. The first long conversations I had with Philip were about poetry, especially about W H Auden, a poet we both love, and I think Auden’s extraordinary line, “the crack in the tea-cup”, which appears in this book.

I remember we talked about other poets, too, who also show up in the collection as an ancestry shared by all readers and students but also, I think, as a hoped-for audience for the book. Whatever years have passed, twenty-four or one hundred; however mortal poets may be in reality, Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Larkin, and Judith Wright, Auden, are here and being asked to listen, if they can, because many of the poems seek out their ways of remembering and seeing.

Like those writers, Philip has produced a work that demonstrates how observation becomes part of a quiet form of instruction: sometimes directed outwards, as in a classroom, but very often internally towards the poet.

In Wildlife of Berlin, this is expressed in contradictions, in wit, self-effacement, but above all in searching and allowing it to be the goal rather than a road to a final answer. There isn’t merely an acceptance of doubt and paradox. These things are insisted upon, and chiefly by way of incongruity, the strange confluence of ideas that marks conversation.

This verse, about a failing love affair, is from “Red-capped Robin – Long Pocket, Indooroopilly”: 

          The last time you were an hour late.
          I sat with the bird and the flotsam,
          living in the moment, which smelled
          of vinyl seats and soap.

In “Marienplatz – Munich”, the poet is told that “possessions, like regrets, are ridiculous”. And he sees them: “swarm like starlings, / exclamation marks without a sentence”. In another poem, we meet Lady Chatterley. Once, after she has made love to Mellors, she hears “the cold stone of blood / tut tutting at the top of the hill.”

Such observations have the effect of slowing time, what in one poem Philip also calls “time slips”; and, in another, the “urge to collect and catalogue / this pageant, to slow it down.” The poems meet this urge, and the past is given a seat and, in a sense, is confirmed as part of the class, the everyday, the present. It nestles into the everyday: the vinyl seats and soap.

Poems become like rooms; and, as Philip writes:

          Rooms still imagine themselves as thinking spaces,
          classes still have epiphanies which come
          and pass, well-lit, like a night train.
          A tutorial becomes a bird of paradise.


A couple of days ago, I took Wildlife of Berlin to a class, and read out this verse from it.

          To start this tutorial I have a question:
          how many of you have had a broken heart:
          the shy ventricle and pink aorta parted
          and pulped like a smashed melon?

I have to say my class looked quite confused and perhaps even a little frightened. Did I really expect them to reveal their broken hearts? No, I didn’t. They laughed, relieved. And, then, that became our discussion: what we are expected to reveal, and how that becomes part of the stories we create.

Even though we no longer work together very often as teachers, this week Philip's poetry began a discussion in one of my classes. It was about observation, acuity, and, for me, it was about the way your poetry is a companion of curiosity, just as teaching can be.

Earlier, I mentioned a line by Auden, part of a verse which Philip quotes. The verse is from the poem “As I Walked Out One Evening”:

          The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
          The desert sighs in the bed,
          And the crack in the tea-cup opens
          A lane to the land of the dead.

In Philip's book, the quote is given at the beginning of a poem called “Polar Bear Noir”, which also features this line about the aurora borealis: “a lime green wave of northern lights / hugs me like a heartbeat monitor.”

These lines stay with me because their strangeness, how they are at the once reaching for the sky and for hospital equipment. And for their memory of Auden, who also walked through streets looking for the past, and distant places, in the everyday present.

But somehow these are also lines that I detect from the kinds of conversations we’ve had over the years, and that I expect Philip has had with many of the people here tonight, and of course with many of his students. Like me, I’m sure they wish the very best for this book. It is a remarkable collection: pleasurable, intelligent, and generous. 

A book of poetry that welcomes the reader and converses with them.




Friday, March 9, 2018

Nominations

Over the last few weeks, it's been lovely to see Saga Land nominated for a couple of national book awards.

The book is currently on the shortlist of the Australian Indie Book Awards, and just now has been longlisted in the Australian Book Industry Awards.




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?

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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

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Hope to see you there!

East Stage, Adelaide Writers' Week