Friday, 4 May 2012

Mini Miles Franklin Reviews

The Miles Franklin short list was announced yesterday afternoon at 2 o’clock. The baker’s dozen long list was reduced to five titles of which I have only read (and adored) two as well as a couple from the long list. It would, of course be lovely to have read them all but that is not to be the case this year.
  Animal People by Charlotte Wood is noticeably absent from the short list, it seemed to be a no-brainer for inclusion. It is a sharply drawn and incisive narrative condensed into 24 hours in the life of Stephen who wakes us to a steaming Sydney morning determined to break up with his girlfriend. The momentum of his decision is the driving force of his day, but the Dalloway-esque detail fuels it.
  A delightful inclusion is Favel Parret’s Past the Shallows. First time novelist Favel’s ties with the ocean are clear in this book, which is set in the deep, cold South of Tasmania and follows the young sons of a fisherman, Harry and Miles. There is little warmth in this austere, masculine world and while at times I felt a little emotionally manipulated it is told with clarity and deserves its place on the short list.Here's my review of Past the Shallows from Radio National's Book Show last year.
  Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears is also a wise inclusion. This book made me want to sob. It brims  with the intensity of a tempered love story. An extract of this intense and luminous work was published in Island 127, alongside 'For Gillian: feather, fire bracken and vomit,' an essay by Brian Camden about travelling to Venezuela with Gillian as she sought shamanic insight and healing for the MS she suffers.
  Anna Funder's All That I Am and Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse I may or may not get to in this reading lifetime – but Tony Birch, I will. It’s exciting to hear about an author when they turn up on an acclaimed shortlist. Blood, was described on as “a novel suffused with the primal bonds of family, and heart-beating suspense" on ABC Radio National's Book Show last year.
  Congratulations to all of the authors – and may the judges’ decision ruffle feathers, be applauded, furrow brows and start conversations.
PS We launched Island 128: Digitalism this week - and it was a great night!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Greens Are Dead. Long Live the Greens.

Bob Brown resigned as leader of the Australian Greens earlier today.
  The recent Green Oration featured a song cycle;  words and music written by Bob Brown  that ended in a sing along involving the audience, who had both words and music supplied to them amongst a ream of pamphlets and stickers as they arrived in Hobart’s beautiful colonial town hall.
  The song followed a visionary and – some might say ‘out there’ speech from Bob that celebrated the 40th anniversary of the world’s first Green party and discussed how extraterrestrials may view this earth and the rapacious use of its resources. It also showcased the best and worst of this man, the leader of the Australian Greens since 1996 and the Tasmanian Greens before that. It showed his big picture thinking, his intellect, eloquence  and his compassion – as well as referencing ET.
  Brown has been a visionary leader, though the nuances of his party’s thought and policy is easily lost in the black and white reporting of our 24 hour news cycle. Though he is surrounded by a strong team of staff and senators, it remains to be seen what his resignation will mean for the Greens in the lead up to the 2013 election. He is, after all, the most recognised face and voice in the Green movement in contemporary Australia. In the face of the petty leadership kerfuffles of the other major parties, the Greens have been resolute in their support of Bob. Christine Milne, who will take over the leadership, is similarly respected amongst the Green movement, though she lacks the charisma of the man affectionately known as ‘Sir Bob’ amongst supporters.
  The very reasons that Brown is respected and admired by so many have left him open to criticism from conservatives. He speaks his mind, he questions development, he suggests reform that will not benefit the purses of a few. He is openly gay, he writes poetry.
  Brown, quoted in ABC’s live blog of his resignation, said "I am sad to leave but happy to go. It is good knowing that the Greens have such a depth of talent and experience lined up for leadership - I could only dream about that a decade ago."

The Greens are dead! Long live the Greens!

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Poison Tasters

It’s a common enough thing. Chatting about the weather, waxing lyrical about the changes in our mountain’s colour, texture, mood. From the window of the Island office, set in a leafy Sandy Bay street, I can tell you that the mountain is looking damn fine. It’s Autumn so the air is pretty crisp, the sun is shining for what might be the last time until October, and students are milling around the streets basking and scurrying in equal measure. We have the nod from the mountain, all is sunshine. There is work to do.

And the work for the moment is the slush pile. For every magazine, especially a long-standing one such as Island, there is always the bulging slush pile. The silently lurking reams of submissions sent in from around the world waiting for rejection or acceptance. Friday 2pm the reading begins. It’s #slushhour, so we Tweet and Facebook the commencement and get to work. 

Calling it slush is not a comment on the quality of the submission, as One Might Think and as @adam suggested in response to our tweeterature. We are the poison tasters. We gladly open ourselves up to unknown material, hopeful of finding the jewel amongst the chaff (and I’m sorry for the mixed metaphors, it’s been a long and turgid day at the mill. There I go again).

 The term slush pile has its own Wiki entry, and we are not to be blamed for the terminology, though, when first faced with the 726 email submissions (Island can no longer handle hardcopy submissions) calling out for review, the term wading, wallowing seem more than appropriate. Slush is not far off in my mind. My favourite terminology for the day, however, was thanks to Review of Australian Fiction @AustFiction calling us the almost adorable name 'slushpuppies'. Awwww.

So, it gets into the first half hour of being 'slushpuppies' and Dale, our sturdy young editor, has found a possible ‘yes’. And so early on, too. It gets added to the acceptance list.

Have we piqued your interest yet? If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re either interested in reading other people’s writing, or in having other people read yours. There is Islet for emerging writers, and its parent, Island, to which you can submit your works.

Recently, Dale made a call-out for submissions through Twitter. This is the way the world now works. It is time to accept it. If you are one of the hopeful please get thee online and DM Dale (direct message, not deep and meaningful, though the two are not mutually exclusive). If you’re wanting to rise above the slush and stand out, there is a way to do it. This doesn’t make the quality of your writing better, just makes us look at it quicker. Twitter is also the place to go for tips on what Island is looking for in upcoming submissions, and hints on deadlines and other essentials.

If you read the submission guidelines, which are readily available on the Island website, you will already be ahead of the game, in our eyes. Also, time was, when writers wanted to get into the writing game they would storm the newspaper stands to get copies of the magazines they wanted to submit to, they would subscribe, they would read, read, read. It’s a age-worn adage, but it’s true. You have to put your money where your mouth is, and support the business.

Here’s another thing. So many pieces are so similar in theme it’s really hard to make them stand out one against the other. Here are the slush hour top five for the day:
Communing with nature
Communing with the weather
Walking Your Dog
Death of your ‘insert family member here’

 It’s an invigorating thing, and I feel privileged being the first to read the works of so many writers around the globe. The most exotic one for today was from Kenya, but there were many more ranging from down the street in South Hobart, to Brisbane, to Washington DC.

 It’s a hard old business and we’re hoping to keep supporting writers, particularly Tasmanians, for a long time to come. So please keep reading, keep writing, get in touch with us on Twitter and Facebook and let us know what you’ve read recently which touched your world, your mind, or any other body parts you care to mention.

Lesley at Islandia
Image courtesy of Dale, named with tongue in cheek 'Island in the Sun'. Guess what it's a picture of.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Between the Lines: Reading the Italic Font

Hannah Schürholz submitted a poem to Islet that caught my editorial eye- though I was initially, unsure/unconvinced about the use of italics in her work. I responded to her submission by asking about these italics. She wrote an erudite and impassioned email in response, poetically endorsing and explaining the use of the italic font. She convinced me, changed my mind and I am glad to publish both her poem and her accompanying essay on Islet. You can read the essay below and her poem 'Between the Lines' here.

Between the Lines: Reading the Italic Font

Hannah Schürholz

Umberto Eco, in his beautifully evocative terms states that contemporary art “sets out to stimulate the private world of the addressee so that he can draw from the inside himself some deeper response that mirrors the subtler resonances underlying the text” (1989, 9). It is the infinity of the text that resides in the many constituents of our writing. The text is manifest in its inter-, hyper-, meta-, and contextual formations, always changing and developing, conversing with and establishing other stories in the process of reception, interpretation and association. I have always been infatuated with the possibilities a text offers – a fabulous pool of ideas that we, as writers and readers, continuously delve into, re-creating and responding to worlds that unfold behind the tiniest fragments – rainbow-coloured pebbles of the imagination. We all bring our own stories and memories to a text that we read, turning the words into a piece of ourselves. We become painters of our own landscape, inner and outer, exposing and being exposed in delicate acts of wording, phrasing, highlighting, structuring, eclipsing feelings that tell without imposition, incite without obligation and seduce without domination. Often it is not a script itself that stirs our creativity and triggers our memory but certain words, phrases, the format or its punctuation. Every creative text is re-written through the reading process and thus receives its idiosyncratic value for the reader as writer and the writer as reader.

What technique works better to enhance and literally embody this possibility than what we actually see on the page: the form of the letters and the contrast of the ink on the page. I remember the fun I had as a girl in perfecting my handwriting and playing with the spaces on the page, carefully balancing letters and sentences in spontaneous compositions of bright colours, different styles and sizes of individual words and phrases. And even now, having grown out of that phase and entered the widely uninspiring world of computerisation, I still find immense pleasure in playing with the purely visual and combining the materiality of the text with its transcending qualities. It is here where the written and the oral, matter and metaphor, illusion and reality meet and blur that the text is most sensitive to conversations that exceed what is merely obvious. The digital font we use today is a powerful device, deriving from callographic artistry – a prominent ancient artform in both Eastern and Western cultures. The cursive or italic font dates as far back as the fifteenth century. It links the word to the voice and thus combines the world of print with the old tradition of orality. Intonation becomes central to the story and the voice holds its power. It makes us aware that there is more to be discovered, more than one meaning to be considered and negotiated. And to me, it is italics that best signify the vocal complexity and subversion inherent to written intonation, the written voice that directs us beyond itself and reveals its own death in the birth of others.

What the italicised words in my poem Between the Lines signify is the poly-vocality inherent to the written word, which is not static but shifts and floats, offering new stories every time it is looked upon. The highlighted words allude to the many counter stories that may lie hidden behind the official writing propagated to the world – stories of suffering, exploitation, abuse and deceit that are not given the space for open articulation. The words in italics function as stimuli and suggest that we as readers have the imaginative power to look behind the façade of dominant systems and set these other voices free. It is both a personal and a political act of liberation, literally and metaphorically underlining an awareness that is necessary: to hear the whispers of the text and follow them, seeing through the textual face and reading the evocations rooted beneath. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I wanted to introduce a bit of a visual rhythm to the lines and allude to the stories inherent to what is perceived as “different” in cultural contexts but what might not be so different after all. By fixing the reader’s eyes on the italicised words in the poem, I wish to encourage them to see the fluidity of this act of direction and start deconstructing the poem by finding different combinations themselves, hence opening up the poem and maybe retrieving their own voice in its ambiguities.
Eco, Umberto. The Open Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Hannah Schürholz is completing her PhD in Australian Literature at La Trobe University, Melbourne.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Guest post from Lyndon Riggall: Get to Robert McKee

His students have gone on to write stories as diverse as Sex and The City, Toy Story 3 and The Fighter, and include talents that range from William Goldman and Geoffrey Rush to Joan Rivers.  John Cleese has attended his course three times.  A few years ago, when Australia’s most popular children’s author Andy Griffiths was visiting the bookshop where I was working, I asked him if he had any advice for me, and perhaps I should have guessed what the answer would be.
“Get to Robert McKee.”

At the time I had no idea who McKee was, but after thorough research it became pretty clear that, as far as Hollywood was concerned, McKee was where it was at. He is  a ‘script doctor’ - he fixes stories and has made a living teaching people the craft of good writing.  He tours the world delivering his lectures - before my seminar in Sydney he had presented them in France and later in the year he was planning to head off to Russia.

Writing seminars are an expensive enterprise.  For me, the costs exceeded a grand to find accommodation and make it to four days of 9-hour sessions.  Luckily, it was worth every cent.  My writing has always been about the short-form.  If I had written a novel prior to the seminar, I would have, without a doubt, begin with a short story, then written another short story, and then another, attempting to string these smaller chapters together into an overall narrative.  McKee has corrected this method out of me.  The writing, he says, is the easy part.  The hard part is crafting a good story, a meticulous structure that turns up and down in such a way that the audience or the reader never tires of it.  To create an entire world of words, to keep ahead of the audience at every step and leave them begging, this is the art of the real writer.

McKee is often criticised for teaching a ‘formula’ for writing.  He’s defended his reputation for years, and rightly so.  He doesn’t teach ‘formula’, he  teaches  ‘form;’ the classical design structure that most narratives take.  Of course there are exceptions, but these exceptions are always marked by their knowing deviation from the classical design.  Regardless of what you wish to write, knowing the telltale signs of a good story is paramount.  It was impossible when listening to McKee not to recall my favourite pieces of work and align them with the structure.  No surprises - they fit perfectly.

To try and cram four massive days of lecture material in this blog post would be both impossible and an insult to McKee’s remarkable course, which imparted valuable wisdom not only about writing but life itself.  Certainly the 36 hours I spent in that lecture hall were among the most engaging I have ever had the pleasure to attend – at no point did I wish it would end sooner, which is no mean achievement in itself.   McKee is seventy, and while his energy seems to have no intention of flagging, it is certainly possible that he may retire soon.  For those interested, a good substitute to the lecture series would be to purchase a paper copy, and the audiobook of his text Story: Substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting.  If like me, the concept of the long-form fiction leaves you feeling unprepared, or if you have written a full work but feel that it’s missing something – McKee’s your man.  I firmly believe that no-one can teach you how to write - but the features of good writing can be taught, and moreover are a vital lesson to learn if you hope to create wonderful stories that make their mark, and one day prove your worth as a master of the craft.

Lyndon Riggall is a young writer and student, living in Hobart and studying English and Classical Literature at the University of Tasmania.  He tries to divide his time equally between writing works for pure enjoyment, and for rigorous artistic worth, but often can't remember which pile is which.
He can be found on Twitter, or at his blog A Quick Word

Monday, 17 October 2011

Guest post from Lesley Halm: The best things in life are free, but sometimes you have to pay for them.

The following blog post tells more of the story of Iteration:Again the geographically and creatively wide ranging public art exhibits we spoke to Sarah Jones, project manager and curator about earlier in year. You can listen to that interview here.

Going to 146 Elizabeth St in Hobart to speak to artist John Vella and curator Jane Stewart about Best Practice, their work for Iteration:Again, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d read the blurb, but what greeted me at the door was a sign that read
‘The best things in life are free, but sometimes you have to pay for them’. The room was a mess of art works which appeared to have been strewn around the floor, holes cut out of them, surrounded by workbenches and tools, debris and sad, deflated balloons. This was John and Jane’s slice of Iteration:Again, a work that was curated overall by David Cross. Iteration:Again spanned over four weeks in September and October, with works all around Tasmania in public spaces. The pieces changed (reiterated) each week.

What follows is the essence of a long conversation I had with Jane Stewart, curator and the artist curated John Vella their thoughts about Best Practice, and Iteration: Again. The words are John’s, unless otherwise specified.

The idea?
Getting people to think laterally about art and experiencing it in places that aren’t galleries, essentially. Because the works are changing every week you’re having to think of transformation within the context of the experience. That is particularly unusual.  It can take a lot of effort to assimilate.

The four iterations, or changes?
The changes are accumulative.  The four iterations of my work: first stage: a market stall where people get a helium balloon which is a voucher for a free piece of my art.  The three following iterations involved cutting out circular pieces of my previous artworks.  It is like reactivating an archive of my practice. Layered into this is the fact you can either purchase them, or get one free each week with a balloon voucher.  What are these things actually worth? It is seeing what the public response is, whether the message is getting out, whether the balloons are getting picked up.  It is making it richer.

The space?
A big thing about this is that it is halfway between a studio, a workshop, a gallery. Locked between something sophisticated and tacky, something precious and trashed.

(Jane) That’s where the energy comes from. It’s not just a gallery, it is the foyer for Arts Tasmania, a funding body. So if you want to think about value and art and money, there are layers built into that.  When the spruikers are here on the Friday and Saturday we get people coming in and looking at the work who have no idea why they’re looking at it and who aren’t familiar with contemporary art. It’s shamelessly commercial.

(John) Some people came in and bought some pieces knowing full well that it would be free the next day. That $500 means a hell of a lot, but not in a monetary sense. 

The dialogue?
 I am becoming increasingly interested in subjecting artwork to experiences. Whilst some people would say I was damaging them, I am actually adding to them. That really excites me.  I want to keep trying things like this. The ongoing thing is putting people in touch with each other.  Everyone who gets an artwork gets photographed holding the artwork, which has been signed. The photos are then sent to them. It is an official process. The people who are getting the artworks are then being put in contact with each other so they know who has the other pieces of the same artwork.

The Conception?
This project has evolved as a response to another project which I did for CAST called HANGBANG (nightshift) where all of my works were subjected to a situation where they could be destroyed or chipped, broken. It came about as an idea of reiteration.  How would I reiterate works that I had already made? Sure, you could photograph or copy them, but what would it mean to actually send them out and get them to break apart in a very orchestrated way?  Because I don’t know the answers to those questions I thought it was the right thing to try. For me, the most interesting artworks are the ones where I’m not sure. I was feeling pretty sick in my guts last week to see what would happen.  It turned out amazing.

The Subversion?
(Jane)What is subversive about this artwork is the non-subversive aspect of it. So that very promotional aspect – the glossy fliers, the spruiker, and the flaunting – seems to be undermining the subversiveness. 

(John) It is designed subversiveness. It is shifting things in ways that aren’t familiar.  It’s a good thing.  The illogical dimension of art is what makes it rich.  It is that tension which is at the heart of the project.  It is that tension between the experience, the performance, the intangible, the ephemeral, the values - whether they are monetary or cultural – that can be placed on it.  That’s it really.

…But it wasn’t it.  After collecting my balloon, I went back and got my art piece and had it signed.  I filled in my form. I shook hands with John in an uncomfortably official moment and pondered my choice of artwork.  I wondered what I would do with it.  I still don’t know.  But I’m glad I have it, to stare at, to wonder over, to remember.  Who has the other pieces?  What is this thing worth to me?

The experience is far from over.

The beginning of the dialogue?

Lesley's bio:
She likes to think she's tough, like Tom Waits rolled in gristle, but she really a big wimp hiding behind a bustle of big words.  She also thinks there is such a thing as a 'bustle of words'. Books, poetry, stories, and the occasional article are what she chiefly likes to dabble in. She can be found on Twitter here.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Guest blog from Lyndon Riggall: Portrait of a Palace

The instructions Scot has given me to reach ‘The Rat Palace’ make me feel a bit like I’m about to enter a secret society.  In fact, they’re necessary.  The building itself is large but quite hidden, and I’m sneaking past church cars and construction signs to reach it.
It’s five-thirty on a Thursday night, and most of Hobart will be at home, listening to the inane chatter of a background TV and cutting up carrots to get started on dinner.  These guys are smoking and creating.  A couple of them have been there all day, the others have jobs and they sneak in and out – it’s a clear vibe from all of them though that this isn’t work.  This is a place of experiment. 
The Rat Palace has been variously inhabited by a number of Hobart’s artists since at least seven years ago.  You can see the layers of paint on every surface of the place, making the room itself an artwork - like a massive scale version of a kindergarten marble painting.  There is a history of risk trickling in multi-coloured blood down the walls - and it’s a history that Scot, Matt, Callum, Joel, Rob and Nicola are now part of.  It doesn’t stop at this floor either, and downstairs local bands come in of an evening and practice.  The Frustrations play some nights,” Rob tells me.  “Those are good nights to be here.”
For now, the CD player is playing Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Storm Coming’:  I could paint a picture with a pen, but a song will only scratch the skin, and there’s still places I haven’t been, because I know what’s in there is already in the air.
I take a look around the place.  One of the things I love about the environment Scot has set up with these guys is its variety.  In one corner there are detailed paintings of Victorian-looking gentleman in coats and cravats.  In another, a mannequin of Jesus is weeping black tears – the church next door caught through the window behind it.  Matt is working on some collaborative drawings, and is sketching a series of long green tentacles down the page.  I wonder as I’m looking around what some of the more aging, antiquarian population of Hobart might say about the place.  I feel like they would probably say it’s ‘angry’.  I don’t buy that though - sure, some of the paintings have a brief flash of the middle finger about them, (I catch one out of the corner of my eye subtitled ‘Facebook is God’) but the more I look around the place the more I start to feel that each generation gets the art it deserves, and these guys are capturing beautifully the chaos which we’ve had to learn to accept about modern life, rather than the false sensibility that defined art for so many generations before them.  Callum is a great example of this – he is slowly and meticulously drawing a massive pile of auto parts and abandoned junk.  I’m stunned by the detail, and have to remind myself that this is rubbish; it’s the stuff we’re ashamed of - that we discard - turned into something beautiful.
Scot tells me they’ll be doing a new exhibition downstairs soon.  It’ll be called If I’d had more bullets I would’ve taken Warhol with me.  Matt laughs.  “That just about sums everything up”. 
They promise they’ll fling me an email when they send out the invitations.
“You’ll know when it’s from us,” Rob tells me, “It’ll be in French.”
I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Lyndon Riggall is a young writer and student, living in Hobart and studying English and Classical Literature at the University of Tasmania.  He tries to divide his time equally between writing works for pure enjoyment, and for rigorous artistic worth, but often can't remember which pile is which.
He can be found on Twitter, or at his blog A Quick Word
Claire Needham, photographer, can be contacted through her website here and also on Twitter
Scot Cotterell's work is inter-disciplinary and concerned with responses to technology and media. His work uses sound, video, image and object to create environments that reflect upon cultural phenomena. His website can be found here.