Friday, March 24, 2017

Writers [on Writing]: Susan Sontag



"...to write is to practice, with particular intensity and attentiveness, to the art of reading."
                                                                                                   
                               Susan Sontag, Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as Needed



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Story in The Year's Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2015 Ed. Liz Gryzb & Talie Helene

It's a privilege to have a story in the latest volume of The Year's Best Australian Fantasy & Horror Ed. Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene. Love the cover illustration. 
Kudos to Ticonderoga Publications – apparently it's the first time an Australian Year's Best genre series has run to 6 consecutive single-year volumes. The in-depth review of the field is of great historical value too; and the additional Recommended Reading List contains a treasure chest of stories to hunt down.
These anthologies are a showcase of not only the horror and fantasy genre but also Australian short fiction in general. The table of contents says it all.
The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror, 2015 comes in an exquisite hardcover edition along with paperback and ebook, and will be available February/March 2017 (Amazon & Book Depository and elsewhere). Pre-orders are available via indiebooksonline (see the Ticonderoga website). 
The below is from Ticonderoga Publications: 
The latest volume in our award-winning Year's Best series, The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015 is weeks away. Editors Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene have selected 31 incredible stories, over 150,000 words, from Australia and New Zealand published in 2015.

In addition, the volume features an indepth review of the genre in 2015 and a recommended reading list.
The stories are
  • Joanne Anderton, “2B”
  • Alan Baxter, “The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner”
  • Deborah Biancotti, “Look How Cold My Hands Are”
  • Stephen Dedman, “Oh, Have You Seen The Devil”
  • Erol Engin, “The Events at Callan Park”
  • Jason Fischer, “The Dog Pit”
  • Dirk Flinthart, “In the Blood”
  • Kimberley Gaal, “In Sheep's Clothing”
  • Stephanie Gunn, “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth”
  • Lisa Hannett, “Consorting With Filth”
  • Robert Hood, “Double Speak”
  • Kathleen Jennings, “A Hedge of Yellow Roses”
  • Maree Kimberley, “Ninehearts”
  • Jay Kristoff, “Sleepless”
  • Martin Livings, “El Caballo Muerte”
  • Danny Lovecraft, “Reminiscences of Herbert West”
  • Kirstyn McDermott, “Self, Contained”
  • Sally McLennan, “ Mr Schmidt's Dead Pet Emporium”
  • DK Mok, “Almost Days”
  • Faith Mudge, “Blueblood”
  • Samantha Murray, “Half Past”
  • Jason Nahrung, “Night Blooming”
  • Garth Nix, “The Company of Women”
  • Anthony Panegyres, “Lady Killer”
  • Rivqa Rafael, “Beyond the Factory Wall”
  • Deborah Sheldon, “Perfect Little Stitches”
  • Angela Slatter, “Bluebeard's Daughter”
  • Cat Sparks, “Dragon Girl”
  • Lucy Sussex, “Angelito”
  • Anna Tambour, “Tap”
  • Kaaron Warren, “Mine Intercom”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reading and Writing Review 2016


Reading

My 35 reads in 2016 delivered some great works, including a couple that I'm sure will remain all time favourites. I also finally succumbed to lifelong pressure To Kill a Mockingbird, not a bad thing mind you, it's as good as the preachers claim. 

I'm happy to provide further comment on any of the below reads. 

Books Read (bold: published in 2016)

East of Eden John Steinbeck                                                                                                 

Nights at the Circus Angela Carter                                                                                       

The White Tiger Aravind Adiga                                                                                

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee                                                                            

The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes (novella)                                                      

Ragtime E.L Doctorow                                                                                               

Nutshell Ian McEwan (novella)

Butcher's Crossing John Williams

The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque Jeffrey Ford

The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean David Abulafia (history)

The Wasp Factory Ian Banks

The Pearl
John Steinbeck (novella)

The Daughter Pavlos Matesis

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Six ed. Jonathan Strahan (anthology)

The Lightning Tree Patrick Rothfuss (novella from Rogues ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)

The Leaf in the Wind of All Hallows Diana Gabaldon (novella from Songs of Life & Death ed. George R.R Martin & Gardner Dozois)

The Inheritance of Loss Kiran Desai

The Man Who Bridged the Mist Kij Johnson (novella)

At the Edge Ed. Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray (anthology)

Rogues ed. Gardner Dozois & George R.R Martin (anthology)

Songs of Love & Death ed. Gardner Dozois & George R.R Martin (anthology

The Company Articles of Edward Teach Thoraiya Dyer (novella)

The Maze Panos Karnezis

Coming Through Slaughter Michael Ondaatje (novella)

The Natural Way of Things Charlotte Wood


All the Time in the World E.L Doctorow (collection)

The Noise of Time Julian Barnes

The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins (YA)

The Stone Gods Jeanette Winterson

The Angaelien Apocalypse Matthew Chrulew (novella)

Fugue for a Darkening Island Christopher Priest

Diamonds from Tequila Walter John Williams (novella from Rogues ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)

Carnies Martin Livings

Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad  (novella)

Flaubert’s Parrot Julian Barnes

Reading Highlights and Standouts

Novel Highlights

I could have easily listed another dozen here. Ragtime by E.L Doctorow, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, The Daughter by Pavlos Matesis, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and Butcher's Crossing by John Williams, for instance, were all fab reads and, as mentioned, there were many more.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Arguably the best novel I've ever read. And I say this even though there is an unusual flaw in the novel: a sporadic first person voice intrudes at times, it's invasive and difficult to ascertain why it's used. Yet such is the scope of the work that this doesn't matter. Steinbeck incorporates melodrama, mystery, suspense, while also exploring villainy and heroism, love and hatred, loyalty and betrayal. What I think surprised me most was the humour and wisdom which came from the Irish and Asian characters. It's a wonderful exploration of not only the topography of Salinas Valley, but also the broader American identity, including the way it was morphing at the time. Wisdom in East of Eden comes from both within and from outside the traditional White experience. The new 'foreign' American migrant is extremely influential, to go along with the American drifter, and the more sturdy generational farmer. A true masterpiece.




Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Another now all time favourite. I loved The Bloody Chamber, but Nights at the Circus is even better. After a delightful start, the initial interview with the winged-wonder Fevers begins to grow ponderous, but after that Angela Carter really makes her mark here. The prose is rich and incredibly witty. Carter has such an incredible command of syntax and language that it's playful fun all the way through. I'd rate the work as the heir apparent to Virginia Wolfe's Orlando, yet Nights at the Circus surpasses Orlando: the language enjoys a few similarities, but Carter manages to keep it forever fresh, her structure and characters more alive and entertaining, and the narrative far more enticing. Nights at the Circus is a visionary work and a stellar achievement. The winged heroine Fevers is one of the all time great protagonists, her metaphorical dichotomy of being a winged landlubber is reflective of her dichotomous nature on so many levels. Like East of Eden, a masterpiece.



To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

No need for a lengthy comment on TKAM as everyone else has before me. I loved the fact that it wasn't a super tight narrative, but lightly meandered about. The voice of Scout, a combination of reflection and nostalgia, along with an innocent and honest childlike voice, works incredibly well. Deserves its critical acclaim. Harper Lee sadly passed away midway through my reading.




The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Although it won the Man Booker Prize, Adiga has come under severe criticism by those who say The White Tiger doesn't have the maturity or lyrical grandeur of novels by other Indian writers such as Rohinton Mistry, Kiran Desai or Salman Rushdie. The issue I have with these critics is that Adiga isn't trying to be poetic or lyrical - it's comparing apples with oranges. This is dark cartoonish humour and a scathing attack on capitalism, class inequality and corruption. The anti-hero – or some may say the villain – is fiercely intelligent, but also has a violent and wayward moral compass, yet this anti-hero takes on the unjust class system. As a reader we uncomfortably barrack for this morally corrupt, ambitious, intelligent, 'half-baked' psychopath for trying to move beyond his station as an 'Invisible' – one who originates from the poverty-stricken 'Darkness'. This work is dark, incredibly funny and a real page turner. It's a remarkably successful satire.





Anthology Highlights

I won't include the anthologies I've stories in due to bias.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Six ed. Jonathan Strahan

Like any anthology, not all stories were to my taste, but when you discover several are up there with the best you've read, then it certainly counts as a highlight.

Very strong stories include: 'All That Touches the Air' by An Owomeyela, 'A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong' by K.J Parker, 'The Dala Horse' by Michael Swanwick, 'The Corpse Painter's Masterpiece' by M Rickert, 'The Paper Menagerie' by Kevin Liu, 'After the Apocalypse' by Maureen F. McHugh, 'Underbridge' by Peter S. Beagle, 'Relic' by Jeffrey Ford. 'The Invasion of Venus' by Stephen Baxter, 'The Catastrophic Disruption of the Head' by Margo Lanagan, 'The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted from the Great Book)' by Nnedi Okorafor, and the novella The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson is a strong and gentle moving story of engineering, love and change.

And then there are the absolute greats. I don't often do this, but I'd written a review on Goodreads, so I can dedicate a little time to each via the old cut and paste:

'White Lines on a Green Field' by Catherynne M. Valente is a wild, magical, animalistic portrayal of leaving year. The especially strong, evocative narrative voice howls out to readers in a tale of mythical and symbolic wonder.

'What We Found' by Geoff Ryman is another diamond. The story immerses the reader into the strong socio-cultural world of a Nigerian family. It successfully explores class and cultural rivalry, along with gender and family power relationships, all within the various substructures of Nigerian society. I'm now on the hunt for more of Ryman's work.

'Old Habits' by Nalo Hopkinson is a work that I've read before (along with 'Tidal Forces' by Caitlin R. Kiernan) in the anthology Eclipse Four, also edited by Strahan. This has to be one of the most underrated stories of our time. Set in the consumerist setting of a shopping mall, those who have died there only feel –in a sensory manner– when they relive their deaths each day, which they aptly label 'being on the clock'. These damned souls also occasionally prey on one another to sense briefly what it is to be 'human'. Entrapped within the mall, the characters come from a variety of marginalised societal groups.

Can the gay protagonist (a loving father with a witty sense of humour) step out of this purgatorial comfort zone into the dark unknown outside of the mall; and by doing so take his own leap of faith to be a better being? Utterly fantastic.

'Steam Girl' by Dylan Horrocks is a stunningly beautiful and emotional story about escapism and friendship. Horrocks pulled me in and never let me go. Pathos and pothos abound here. It also has this especially insightful line on the narrative craft: 'Some writers write to escape from reality. Others write to understand it. But the best writers write in order to take possession of reality, and so transform it.' Beautiful, isn't it?

'Restoration' by Robert Shearman is a fresh and cynical story that reminded me of George Saunders at his offbeat best. A couple are lost to time but not to love as they restore enormous paintings portraying single years in history. A quirky, ingenious tale by a superb writer.




Rogues Ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

A concept which appeals to me as I've always loved rogues in my escapist reading. It's a fun anthology, but it also has some real substance too.

Four more standouts (rest mentioned on Recommended Reads Short Story Reads of 2015 ) include: ‘The Caravan to Nowhere’ by Phyllis Eisenstein, ‘The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives’ by Lisa Tuttle'The Lightning Tree' by Patrick Rothfuss  and ‘How the Marquis Got his Coat Back’ by Neil Gaiman. 'Now Showing' by Connie Willis is very good too.




Disappointments

Only two major ones this year. I'm a fan of Julian Barnes: his novel Arthur and George (my favourite of his works) along with his novella The Sense of an Ending, I'd happily recommend to any reader, but Flaubert's Parrot reads more like an academic exercise, as a result it is stiff, stilted and difficult to connect with. Mind you, Flaubert enthusiasts may think otherwise.

And the canonical Heart of Darkness just reaffirmed that there are so many gems outside of the supposed canon. Other than being able to chew the fat about Conrad's novella with fellow readers, and provide context for other texts (particularly films), reading it was a waste of time - unless you're up for a critical reading. Even Conrad claimed it was one of his lesser works.

Then again, the canon's TKAM truly impressed...

Publications

I'm happy to have played a part in the anthology At the Edge Ed. Lee Murray & Dan Rabarts. My story 'Crossing' has been mentioned as a standout in The New Zealand Booksellers Blog, along with the leading NZ magazine The Listener. Nice to see other stories regarded as standouts elsewhere too – the reviews highlight a variety of different stories – I think this indicates the broad range of stories, their varied mood and genre, along with the overall high quality of the anthology's offerings.

My story 'Lady Killer' from Bloodlines ed. Amanda Pillar will be in a Year's Best soon. The ToC hasn't been officially announced yet – I'll post it up when it does.

A lengthy opinion piece in The Guardian on McGowan's promise to legalise cage fighting in WA if elected. I'm following up with a longer piece with sports concussion experts in the US. I'll keep those interested updated.

I have a novella publication locked in for next year too.

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season. Eat, drink and love.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Recommended Short Stories from my 2016 Reading

I read 130 stories this year, including many fabulous ones. This list is always a mixed bag in terms of the variety of genre – some are what Graham Greene would call ‘entertainments’ and others not. But if they’re on the list, I loved them. It's a bit of an unusual list in that it's just the short stories I've read this year rather than those published in 2016. As I'm not a critic or reviewer, I feel no pressure to read the very latest. 

I could have added plenty more from At the Edge too, but I’m always hesitant with publications I’ve works in.

 I’m now 50 stories in to That Glimpse of Truth. 

Several other recommended reads from Rogues can be found in last year's list.  

Happy to provide further comment on any stories listed below. 


28 Fantastic Short Stories from my 2016 Reading: A Celebration of Short Stories. 

‘Steam Girl’ Dylan Horrocks (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                                                           

‘What we Found’ Geoff Ryman (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                                                                 

‘Restoration’ Robert Shearman (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                                                                 

‘Wakefield’ E.L Doctorow (All the Time in the World)                                              

‘Edgemont Drive’ E.L Doctorow (All the Time in the World)                                      

‘Gimpel the Fool’ Isaac Bashevis Singer (That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Stories Ever Written ed. David Miller)                                                                      

‘Guests of the Nation’ Frank O’Connor (That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Stories Ever Written ed. David Miller)                                                               

‘A House on the Plains’ E.L Doctorow (All the Time in the World)                          

‘White Lines on a Green Field’ Catherynne M. Valente (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                              

‘The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives’ Lisa Tuttle (Rogues ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                                                                                            

‘How the Marquis Got his Coat Back’ Neil Gaiman (Rogues ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                                                                

‘Relic’ Jeffrey Ford (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                                                                                                
                                                                                   
‘The Invasion of Venus’ Stephen Baxter (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)

‘Assimilation’ E. L Doctorow (All the Time in the World)                                           

The Caravan to Nowhere’ Phyllis Eisenstein (Rogues ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                                                                               

‘The Dala Horse’ Michael Swanwick (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                                              

‘After the Apocalypse’ Maureen F. McHugh (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                                           

‘Fleet-Footed Hester’ George Gissing (That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Stories Ever Written ed. David Miller)                                                                            

‘A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong’ K. J. Parker (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                                       

‘The Paper Menagerie’ Ken Liu (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)  

‘Street Furniture’ Joanne Anderton (At the Edge Ed. Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray)                                                                               

‘The Urge’ Carlington Black (At the Edge Ed. Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray)           
                                                                                                                                    
‘The Island at the End of the World’ Paul Mannering (At the Edge Ed. Dan Rabarts & Lee Murray)                                                                                                          
 
‘Catastrophic Disruption of the Head’ Margo Lanagan (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                             

‘Underbridge’ Peter Beagle (The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Six ed Jonathan Strahan)                                                                                       

‘The Badger Bride’ Angela Slatter (Live Reading)                                                        

‘Hurt Me’ M.L.N. Hanover (Songs of Love and Death Ed. George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois)                                                                                                  

‘The Rocking–Horse Winner’ D. H Lawrence (That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Stories Ever Written ed. David Miller)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Writers [on Writing]: Jane Smiley


Yes, I thought, a novel is a spot where language, movement, feeling, and thought gel for a moment, through the agency of, let's say, a particular volunteer, but it is not an object or a possession. It is an act of love.

Jane Smiley, A Reluctant Muse Embraces His Task and Everything Changes


Thursday, September 29, 2016

UFC article in The Guardian, some background info. and additional comments

My opinion piece in The Guardian on Mr McGowan's promise to legalise cage fighting if elected was always going to cause a stir. Any writer taking on an industrial behemoth like the UFC expects this. I actually admire the athletes and what they are capable of, but this is about more than that - it's about people's long term health, the human cost and the cost to the community.

I'd like to personally thank Robert Reid from the Australian Medical Association (WA) for his ongoing support, communication and information; the editor of The Guardian, Lucy Clark for her work on the piece, and my wife for the medical papers on concussion and brain disease (not linked to the article).

This was a relatively long piece for The Guardian. I'd like to thank them for publishing it - it's a brave move as the UFC and MMA lobbies have passionate fans.

With this genre there are cuts due to word limits (the subtitle was The Guardian's too). I respect their decisions as they know the medium and the nature of the internet far better than I do. I've supplied some dot points below.

  • my wife is a rehab doctor who has worked in Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) and also studies it. I didn't mention this in the article but I have room to here. She directed me to numerous articles on the subject of concussion and brain atrophy and also brain trauma. Doctors in the ABI ward are deeply disappointed by McGowan's promise. I've just listed a couple of medical research articles that my wife sent me, which are worth pursuing - but there is a heap out there on the long term effects of brain trauma and concussion: 
  1.  David E. Ross, Alfred L. Ochs, Jan M. Seabaugh, Michael F. DeMark, CaroleR. Shrader, Jennifer H. Marwitz & Michael D. Havranek for the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative have written about progressive brain atrophy in patients after mild traumatic brain injury
  2. James H. Cole, PhD, Robert Leech, PhD, and David J. Sharp, PhD, for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative have written about the prediction of brain accelerated atrophy after traumatic brain injury  
  • MMA causes brain damage. There is brain shrinkage in both boxing and MMA (boxing slightly higher), but what most articles (outside of medical journals) don't cover is that concussion also has strong links to brain atrophy in the long run. I'm not concentrating on deaths, I'm concerned about the human cost in the long run and the cost to the community. 
  • Concussion has been strongly linked to long term brain disease and long term brain atrophy.  The danger is that these effects appear years, often decades, later ( the medical and neurological journals are clear on this - the two papers referred to earlier are a good start if you're interested in the latest research). MMA has more blows to already unconscious people than any other sport: an incredibly high average of 2.6 head strikes to already unconscious fighters. 
  • Without the Cage, the MMA is currently on the wane here in WA. It has not gone underground. It's just dwindling.
  • I'm not the one calling for a ban on the cage (the subtitle of the article is misleading) - I can't as cage fighting is already illegal in WA. Opposition Leader, Mr McGowan, however, has promised to make it legal if elected. This comes after meetings in Perth with the UFC executive Tom Wright. Wright has also assured a UFC fight in Perth if the sport is legalised. I'm calling on McGowan to not legalise the cage.
  • The move to legalise the cage over East just fuelled the sport. The fact is the less people involved the better for all. So the 'Safety' call regarding a cage is not at all true.
  • I do care about a range of other issues like the environment,  a more compassionate refugee policy, egalitarian values, wildlife, education, the arts etc. I've chosen to write about this as I've an uncle who worked with 'punch drunks' as a GP (boxing), my wife works in medical rehab... and most importantly, I don't want McGowan introducing a bloodline-injection into the sport via his promise to legitimise the cage. He's trying to pull the wool over our eyes. 
  • McGowan's actions, fuelled by business interests and UFC dollars, run contrary to Labor's traditional prioritisation of Health. The Australian Medical Association strongly condemn the move. The science on concussion and the sport is irrefutable - both short term and long term. The figures over East condemn the move. AMA (WA) and its President Dr Andrew Miller justifiably condemn the move.
I appreciate that this topic may polarise people. Conversation and debate and dialogue are always welcome. I'm happy for all your comments to be put up over at The Guardian but I won't be open for comment here as I rarely view my blog and won't have the time to reply. All the aforementioned points are just to provide further context for those interested.