Archive for May, 2012

Hey, I’m going to be appearing in two Emerging Writers’ Festival events this week. I’m insanely happy that it’s EWF time – one of my favourite times of year – and I’m very sad that it’s outgoing festival director Lisa Dempster’s last year. Lisa has brought an incredible amount of energy and unparalleled digital smarts to the enterprise, and I’m pretty excited to see what she does next.

But anyway, come see me in:

Get Money, Get Paid!

6:00 PM, Thursday 31 May 2012
Rue Bebelons
267 Little Lonsdale Street (Gmaps)

Writers can – and do! – get paid. But not always. And not always the same amount as their peers. Why? Pay rates vary across the industry and different kinds of writing – and writers – are valued in different ways. Our panellists discuss the inequities of the industry and how writers can educate themselves to get money, get paid.

With Elmo Keep, Bede Payne and Andrew Crook

The Pitch

2:00 PM, Saturday 2 June 2012
The Wheeler Centre
176 Little Lonsdale Street (Gmaps)

How to pitch & who to pitch it to.

The Pitch has been one of our most successful events over the past three years… and this year it’s going to be bigger and better than ever!

Featuring an expert panel of editors and publishers to give you no-holds-barred tips and advice about how to successfully present your work.

We’re also shining a spotlight on creative writing journals, where many writers jump-start their literary careers.

With time for Q&A, this is one mega pitching session you don’t want to miss.

With … everyone (seriously, it’s big)

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Please note I resisted the urge to call this post ‘Bring Up the Motherf***ing Bodies, Bitch’ (though said urge was merely displaced by the urge to put it in a prefatory explanatory note).

Just did a speedy little review for Readings of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. People often ask me if they should read Wolf Hall, and I always say ‘Yes, you should, really’. It’s incredible – Mantel is capable of the most comprehensive and vivid characterisation, and creates action stations out of what we often think of as dead Year 8–level History. Bring Up the Bodies is almost as good; nothing can really match the breathtaking confidence and inventiveness of the first Cromwell novel, but its successor is a worthy one. Review reposted below.

P.S. Very relieved to have a copy with the incredible British cover, rather than the insipid US cover. The whole point of this book is that it creates new portraits and ways of seeing these historical characters, duh.


There’s a story in the historical character of Thomas Cromwell, or several. But one only needs to read the Wikipedia version, eyes glazing over with boredom, to grasp what a significant achievement Hilary Mantel has wrought with her gripping, complex Cromwell novels: first Wolf Hall, and now its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

Of course, we know what history has to say about Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith who made his way into the service of Henry VIII. Wolf Hall, however, was a hugely successful exercise in garnering sympathy for a man whom history has often painted as a villain.

Bring Up the Bodies begins where Wolf Hall left off. It is the summer of 1535. Henry VIII has not long been married to Anne Boleyn, but his gaze has already strayed to quiet, unassuming Jane Seymour; he wishes to have his marriage to Anne annulled. Anne, changeable and increasingly wary, is plotting, threatening Cromwell’s life and also England’s tenuous peace – for the royals are losing standing with the nobility and the English public, and there are others who want to rule.

It is a delight to return to Mantel’s Cromwell, whose quick mind and giant intellect are wonderfully framed by the novel’s present-tense narration. As Secretary to the king, Cromwell is hardworking and incisively strategic, but he can also estimate a man’s wealth by looking at his clothing and he’s good with his fists. His assessments of others are always sharp and illuminating: through his eyes we see a childlike and increasingly deluded Henry, and multiple dissolute courtiers who trade insults and secrets.

There are no tedious attempts to recreate the language of the era: instead, the fresh, direct prose Mantel used to such effect in Wolf Hall again carries the action here. Dialogue is pointed and often surprisingly funny, and its content is always the basis for some new stratagem (‘I am not a man with whom you can have inconsequential conversations,’ says Cromwell at one point). Thanks to this masterful treatment of language, the characters are so vital it seems their actions could alter history, that the march towards Cromwell’s fall from Henry’s favour (to be chronicled by Mantel in a future novel) could possibly be diverted by these versions of themselves.

Despite the short timeframe covered in the novel – just nine months – Bring Up the Bodies does drag in its middle section. And although she is never opaque about Cromwell’s more brutal decisions and actions, Mantel’s overtly sympathetic portrayal of her subject occasionally feels overstretched, particularly when set against his extreme political pragmatism.

Still, this is likely to be one of the most accomplished novels you read this year. Mantel has said of writing these books: ‘I felt such a burst of energy being lent to me by the character.’ Like Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies is patently enlivened by the author’s passion for Cromwell. As a result, he will be remembered not only as one of the great political figures of England’s history, but also one of the great fictional characters of this decade.

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May 13, 2012

If you’ve scanned The Age‘s ‘M Magazine’ today, you might have seen the ‘My Life as a Blog’ feature by the lovely Natalie Craig. Natalie got in touch with me to chat about 3000 BOOKS. You can read the article here; please enjoy all the ellipses, brought to you by my verbal diarrhea.

I did not hesitate at all to buy the latest issue of Meanjin. Three main reasons:

  • the cover, which features art by David Lancashire (which I hated at first, but then I realised it was bold, striking, and really different for a literary journal)
  • Gillian Mears’ essay on how her new novel, Foal’s Bread, came to be
  • Tom Cho’s looong story How can we reconcile the existence of suffering with the premise of a good and almighty God?

and three sub-reasons:

  • the usual reasons you buy literary journals: to be surprised and pleased by new discoveries, to enjoy genres that aren’t on high enough rotation in your reading spread (that means you, poetry), to support new and emerging writers, to be informed
  • other content that should not feel like it is being slighted in the least by appearing as a ‘sub-reason’, obviously that taxonomy was a mistake (I just love Tom Cho), including memoir by Melanie Joosten; a short ‘Perspectives’ piece by funnywoman Jess McGuire; poetry by Emily Bitto, who has written a couple of great pieces for Killings; a poem by Joe Dolce (yes, that Joe Dolce!); and a great collection of drawings by Oslo Davis completed during a residency at the State Library of Victoria
  • a picture of Gillian Mears standing up on the back of a horse.

I ripped right through this issue – except for the first piece, Ewan Morrison’s ‘Why Y Matters: Mapping the Coming Consumption Patterns of Generation Y’, which I originally thought was actually a journalistic enquiry into the coming consumption patterns of Generation Y but turned out to be a satirical essay about the coming consumption patterns of Generation Y. I feel like this has been done before, and I’d actually love to make a bazillion dollars from my fellow Gen Yers, so I felt a bit unsatisfied after reading this.

The two stars here were, of course, the Mears and Cho pieces. This issue of Meanjin was basically a big old entree for my main meal of Mears’ Foal’s Bread, which I read straight afterwards. I challenge you to read her essay, ‘Old Copmanhurst‘, and not want to dive headlong into the novel immediately. The essay begins:

Much exclamation occurs when people realise Foal’s Bread is my first novel in sixteen years. Sixteen years ago I was about to turn thirty-one. From this distance that seems inconceivably young and I was inconceivably bewildered that only horses understood that something horrible had begun to happen in my legs and feet.

My first encounter with Mears was ‘Fairy Death‘, in Heat 24. In that essay, Mears described her experience being photographed by Vincent Long for his ‘Red Balloon Project‘. Having had multiple sclerosis for 15 years by that stage, Mears wrote candidly and beautifully about bodies, sex and memory. Since reading that piece, I’ve had an almost superstitious approach to her writing; I kept an eye out for shorter pieces, but though I’d never read any of her books before, I didn’t want to start from the beginning. I knew the next one would be the one I’d read.

‘Old Copmanhurst’ is another characteristically straight-talking essay that charts the trajectory of Foal’s Bread, from its guilty inception (the idea of the novel needed to be concealed from Mears’ sister Yvonne, who had also writen a novel manuscript involving high-jump horses) to its sprinting eventual birth years later. Again, Mears writes lucidly about memory, the body and her love for horses – a real treat.

As for Tom’s story, I’m not sure I can do it justice. Much of what I enjoy about his fiction is the dry, unfussy approach to dizzily difficult subjects. (His delivery is also sometimes wonderfully bone dry.) Here, he writes about robots in the year 2240 trying to understand the nature and existence of suffering. It’s a great first offering in the ‘Meanjin Papers’ series, which showcases one longer piece per edition.

I have never held much truck with the notion that making content free online (as Meanjin does) will necessarily cannibalise sales of a print product. (Well, we’ll see once I finally get a smartphone.) But the relevant question there is whether the consumer finds value in having spent the coin on said content in any particular format, and I certainly did: there is no question that this is a fine specimen of a print journal – wonderfully curated, beautifully designed and a special kind of immersive experience.