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.