Short stuff

Melbourne stand-up comic and Age columnist Catherine Deveny was sacked from her newspaper for inappropriate Tweeting during the Logies ceremony. I remember when email first arrived and everyone was shooting off emails impulsively and then feeling chagrined at the things said. Now we’ve developed an appropriate language for emails and make sure we check them for “tone” before sending. I wonder if Tweeting doesn’t have this yet, or whether it’s built into the form not have it. And is it also part of the reduction of wordage to fit into modern (fast) life? Is that why short story contests now specify a word length of 1,500 words, or even shorter, the so-called short, short stories of 700-800 words. The ABC’s Radio National has asked for “celebratory, thoughtful, descriptive, creative works that engage with the human/avian relationship” for its Birdland project. The word length – 300. Don’t we already have a creative short form that often runs to that length, and isn’t it poetry?

Orange Prize for fiction shortlist

It must be the prize season:

  • Hillary Mantel, Wolf Hall
  • Rosie Alison, The Very Thought of You
  • Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna
  • Attica Locke, Black Water Rising
  • Lorrie Moore, Gate at the Stairs
  • Monique Roffey, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

Miles Franklin shortlist

Lovesong, by Alex Miller
The Bath Fugues, by Brian Castro
Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey
The Book of Emmett, by Deborah Forster
Truth, by Peter Temple
Butterfly, by Sonya Hartnett

The Australian newspaper reports that Alex Miller let fly at the announcement do about the low profile of the Miles Franklin blaming Kevin Rudd for putting big money into the “Prime Ministers Award, which gets no publicity and will probably disappear when someone else becomes prime minister”.

He said the money should have been put into the Miles Franklin then Australia would have one premier award and not “a gaggle of prizes that people – and writers – would pay increasingly less attention to. Various Premier’s Literary Awards, for example, were essentially irrelevant”.

Miller seems to hold the Booker prize up as a role model. Whatever you think of the Booker it’s got publicity down to a fine art. But it also makes literature into a “winner takes all” roulette wager.

I agree the Miles Franklin Award has cache and should be promoted more (but, like the Booker, book sales here DO go up for the MF winner) but isn’t it also better to have a range of smaller (and regional) prizes to share the sunshine?

See the article in The Australian  and also the A Pair of Ragged Claws blog comment here

On another controversy, it’s good to see the women back (if only comprising 33%).

Review – The Anatomy of Wings Karen Foxlee

UQP 288 pp

This novel is set in an unnamed mining town which we can take is based on Mount Isa where the author grew up. It’s the 1970s, Jenny Day is ten year’s old and something terrible has happened to her older sister, Beth. Jenny thinks the how and why of Beth’s death lies in a box of her belongings their mother has hidden away. Of course it’s not that simple and we follow Jenny’s childish attempts to make sense of things as she goes back over the last year of Beth’s life. Jenny is on the cusp between childhood and a more grown up view of the world and the author beautifully evokes Jenny’s love for her family and her sister, and her perplexity at what happens. She is torn between the fanciful romanticism of her grandmother and the prosaic reality of her mother, between her own safe world and the world of the ‘bad’ girls in town that Beth’s involved with. Some of what happens is confronting but the lyricism of Foxlee’s style and the wonderful character of Jenny make this an enjoyable book to read. The author beautifully recreates the poignancy of leaving the simplicity of childhood behind. She also has a marvellous eye for the details of small town life, as well as for the harsh beauty of the outback.

The Anatomy of Wings won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (South East Asia and South Pacific Region) and the 2008 Dobbie Literary Award for first published woman writer.

But a cover I love is …

The image of Carmel Bird’s Child of the Twilight is from a work by Victorian photo-artist Samantha Everton. Vogue Living describes her work as: Everton now shoots her magic realist worlds while approaching her art as a director might visualise a theatrical film set. The images slide the viewer into a hyper-real colour-saturated world.


APA book design awards

The shortlist in the Best Designed Literary Fiction Book category includes: (Plus The China Garden see previous post)

For general fiction best book design are (plus American Rust which I’m not incuding):

A True History of the Hula Hoop, Ransom and Valley of Grace are the fiction finalists for Best Designed Cover.

I think the Andrew McGahan cover is lovely and I also like Good to a Fault which stands out in the bookshop but I can see Ransom has a wonderful simplicity as does The China Garden. We await the results!

Miles Franklin 2010 Longlist

  • Lovesong Alex Miller
  • The Bath Fugues Brian Castro
  • Jasper Jones Craig Silvey
  • Sons of the Rumour David Foster
  • The Book of Emmett Deborah Forster
  • Siddon Rock Glenda Guest
  • Boy on a Wire Jon Doust
  • Figurehead Patrick Allington
  • Parrot and Olivier in America Peter Carey
  • Truth Peter Temple
  • Butterfly Sonya Hartnett
  • The People’s Train Tom Keneally

The shortlist is announced in April and the winner in June.

The China Garden wins Jefferis Award

The China Garden by Kristina Olsson has won the 2010 Barbara Jefferis Award ($35,000) for ‘the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society’.

UQP notes: When her mother dies, Laura returns to her coastal hometown. At the reading of the will, Laura discovers that her mother had a child that she adopted out. She also bequeathed a painting to someone who is a stranger to Laura. These revelations completely shift Laura’s understanding of her mother. Her life becomes entangled with the lives of Cress, an older and respected member of the community, Kieran, Cress’ intellectually disabled grandson, and Abby, a teenaged girl who has become friends with Kieran.

The judges said: ‘The title refers to Angela’s garden and its broken pieces of china. This evocative image suggests that beauty can be created from what is broken and apparently irretrievable, but also the danger and sharpness of buried secrets. … Without feeling the need to resolve every absence or mystery, Olsson gently suggests that it is always possible to make new things out of the past, however fractured or painful.’

The other finalists were: The Lost Life, Steven Carroll, Swimming, Enza Gandolfo, The World Beneath Cate Kennedy and Headlong, Susan Varga.

Review – The Owl Killers

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland, Michael Joseph 2009

The Owl Killers is a medieval thriller set in the early thirteen hundreds in a small village in South East England. Into this closed world where Christianity and paganism are in uneasy co-existence, come a group of Beguines from Bruges. They set up a community of women on land they have inherited near the village. Not surprisingly when disease and famine beset the village, the Beguine women are easily demonised as causing the misfortune. Despite fearing the women the villagers still surreptitiously bring their sick to the Beguinage, under the cover of night, to be healed. To complicate matters a fraternity of masked “Owl Masters” terrorise and extort from the villagers, and there is evidence that a pagan monster called the Owlman is preying on victims in the area.

The story is told through the points of view of five characters: Servant Martha the leader of the Beguines, a morally compromised priest, Father Ulfrid, Agatha the disgraced daughter of the local landowner who joins the Beguines, Beatrice, another of the Beguines, and a small village girl, Pisspuddle. The device of five different voices allows Maitland to build up the story from both the villagers’ side and from point of view of the Beguines, withholding vital pieces of information along the way to keep the reader guessing.

The novel has fantasy elements — the flesh-ripping Owlman, a “witch” with second sight, a wild forest girl who can control the weather — but these are explainable by the superstitious beliefs of the time. Maitland is also adept at portraying medieval life in all its smelly, gory detail.  From this mixture she weaves a fast-paced, tense, intriguing story. It might get bogged down in places with too many strands in play but for the most part I couldn’t put the book down. The Owl Killers will appeal to historical fiction fans who like their stories dark and to fantasy buffs who don’t mind a dose of reality.