Tag Archives: Byron bay writers festival

A wandering tale – finish my story to win a 5 night holiday

6 Aug

If you’re heading along to the Byron Bay Writers Festival and you wouldn’t mind a 5 night luxury holiday then this ‘finish the story’ competition is for you. All you have to do is pop along to the Elements of Byron tent and register, read the beginning of the story which I’ve written and then write a 500 word ending within 2 weeks of the festival. The details of the competition are here. And that picture is me in the setting of the story.

Author Lisa Walker at one of the Elements of Byron sites for A Wandering TaleI’ll also be on two panels at the festival, ‘Meet the Locals’ at 9am Saturday and ‘Pathways to Publication’ at 4pm Sunday. Hope to see you there!

This is how the story starts…

I wake from a dimly remembered dream. There was a whale. And a rainbow. As I drink my morning glass of water and lemon juice it comes back to me. The whale had blown a rainbow out of its spout. I wash my glass in the sink. The image delights me.  

On my train to the city I ponder the dream. It was a sign, I decide. I need to do something inspiring. Go somewhere that will lift my spirits. I fold my newspaper as the train pulls into Town Hall. I have it – I will go whale watching. In Byron Bay.

The idea dances in my head as I jostle my way up the stairs. Byron Bay – it must be twenty years. Had I really partied on a beach-front roof as lightning forked across the sky then stripped off and run naked into the sea?  I shoulder my bulging handbag as I push through the turnstile. It’s hard to imagine now.

That evening after dinner I buy flights on impulse in a mid-winter sale and pick a place on the internet. It looks beautiful – nestled next to the beach, amongst paperbark forest and wetland. Perfect. I book for three nights – Ruby will love it. I imagine us bonding again as whales leap in front of us. We had so much fun together on that whale-watching trip to Nelson Bay, six years ago when she was ten.

Ruby has been so moody since the divorce. Even when she’s home she shuts herself in her room and barely speaks to me. I miss her – this holiday will be my chance to get to know her again.

Optimistic and full of a sense of wonder – my review of ‘Nest’ by Inga Simpson

28 Jul

 

Inga-Simpson-Nest-230x350‘She was trying to capture the wild – the essence of leaf, flower and bird.’ Jen, the protagonist of Inga Simpson’s book, ‘Nest’ is an artist, a drawer of birds. After a relationship breakup and her mother’s death, Jen returns to the town she grew up in. There, she regenerates her patch of land and draws the many birds attracted by her birdbath.

 

Jen leads an isolated life. With the exception of her young pupil Henry, who she is teaching to draw, she has little social contact. It is through Henry that she learns a girl from the town has gone missing. The loss of Caitlin brings back memories from Jen’s past and another missing child, Michael.

 

The mystery of the missing children provides a dark undercurrent to Jen’s simple life on her property. As we get to know Jen we learn more about the hurts she is holding inside. Returning home requires her to come to terms with her own history, in particular the disappearance of her father. Revelations fall one on top of the other as the story unfolds.

 

One of the delightful things about this book is the way it immerses us in the natural world.  Inga is an accomplished nature writer and her love of wild places comes out through her character’s observations. The birds and the bush are described in warm detail – ‘The limbs of the brush-box tended to horizontal, like a reaching arm, and their leaves were large and flattish. They not only held the sunlight, but emitted a glow of their own, as if illuminated from within.’

 

Jen is a complex character whose relationship with Henry is touching and authentic.  A lover of nests and tall trees, she learned to climb into the canopy with her former partner, Craig –  ‘… once up in the mist, among salamanders and lichens and liverworts barely seen by another human being, she had found her tree legs.’

 

Like Inga’s previous novel, ‘Mr Wigg’, ‘Nest’ is a gently told book, written in simple, evocative prose. Despite the missing children, it is optimistic and full of a childlike sense of wonder at our world.  The story plays out at a steady pace with the lost children adding a page-turning backbone.  Reading ‘Nest’ left me with a hankering to curl up a tree and have the wind blow me to sleep.

 

Inga Simpson will be appearing at the Byron Bay Writers Festival this weekend. Read more about Inga here.

This is my fourth review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.

 

Innocent desire clashes with the wider world – My review of ‘Deeper Water’ by Jessie Cole

27 Jul

cov_deeperwater (1)‘They say every hero has to leave home, but what those first steps are like I’m yet to know,’ reads the first line of Jessie Cole’s second novel, ‘Deeper Water’.  Jessie draws us at once into the distinct and unusual world of her protagonist, Mema. Already we can intuit that this is a novel about awakening.

Mema lives with her mother in an isolated valley in northern New South Wales – a place of green hills and flooding creeks. Home schooled and naive for her age, Mema has an almost pagan attachment to her land, to the creek that runs through it and the animals –native, feral and domestic – which it supports.

Men are always passing through Mema’s world, only the women stay. Her four brothers and various fathers are long since gone, swallowed up by the wider world. But when she rescues a stranger whose car has been washed off a bridge, just like that everything changes. Even though the stranger, Hamish, is the most ‘passing through’ of men he captures Mema’s interest. A tentative longing builds for Hamish and what he represents – the outside world.

Despite the beauty of Mema’s creek-side home, it is no rural idyll. Their local town has an ugly side and the ‘knowns and the unknowns’ in Mema’s past form a darker undercurrent to the story. Mema’s relationship with Anja, a wild girl who grew up sleeping in a tree hollow, also adds tension. Threatened by the addition of Hamish to their tight friendship, Anja creates ripples that spread in unpredictable directions.

Like Jessie’s first book, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’, this novel is distinctive for its careful observations that bring us into Mema’s world. Mema listens to the chickens’ ‘morning clucks’ and imagines her siblings’ fathers ‘washed up like survivors of a shipwreck, lost and beaten by the waves.’

The writing is candid about the pain of first love and longing. But this is not only a story about sexual awakening; ‘Deeper Water’ also explores environmental themes with a light-handed touch. Hamish, an environmental consultant, clashes with Mema over his views on cats and cane toads. Gender relationships are also questioned – when seeing Anja, Hamish comments on her beauty. But Anja is many things, Mema thinks, and beautiful is only one of them.

‘Deeper Water’ is a sensuous portrayal of what happens when innocent desire clashes with the hardened edges of the wider world. Mema will linger in your mind for some time after you close the pages.

 

‘Deeper Water’ will be launched at the Byron Bay Writers Festival this Friday. Read more about Jessie here. 

This is my third post for the Australian Women Writers Challenge
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Night Calls (a short story)

27 Jun

The dream is always the same – a spinning marble.

He extricates himself from his tangled sheet. The sun is dipping behind the hills. “Time for work.”

The terrier pricks its ears at the sound of his voice.

Feet to the cold lino, he stands and inspects the map taped to the wall.

The red pins move further south each year – south and west. Woodenbong, Evans Head, Casino, Kyogle. These are the invasion fronts.

The enemy is getting better – more cunning, faster moving. It even has longer legs. “I think we can hold ‘em, Rusty, but there’ll be no slacking off.”

The dog wags its tail across the floor.

His bushy, grey eyebrows drop – the prognosis is dire.  “Twenty native animals almost gone for good – and that’s just this valley.”

Picking up on his tone, the dog climbs to its feet. Like its master, its hair is thinning, its legs creaky.

“Lucky we’ve got all night, ‘ay?”

He doesn’t sleep when it’s dark – hasn’t done for thirty-eight years. He’s tried, but it never works.

A sun-spotted hand shifts a pin. Picking up a pen, he circles the area for tonight’s operation. “Goin’ up the range tonight, Rusty.”

It’s a good night. A gentle rain taps on the tin roof. “Should be a decent catch.” He opens the fridge to check the storage – a lump of cheese and half a litre of rancid milk leaves plenty of room. “No worries there, mate.”

Flicking on his torch as he steps onto the verandah, he cocks his head – listening for the call.

Brrrrrr, brrrrr…

The males are calling. It’s like the dial tone of a phone in the rainforest.

Brrrrr, brrrr – is anyone there?

The dog trots behind him, pressing its nose into his leg before jumping into the front seat of the ute.

His first catch of the night is a big one – twelve centimeters. Hand inside a plastic bag he grasps the toad, knots the bag and drops it in his bucket. He gets back in his car, drives slowly down the dirt road.

The mountains rise above him – dark forest stretching all the way to Queensland. Two eyes shine in the headlights. He pulls over – another hopping hunchback. It would be easy to swing the wheel – to flatten it, but that’s not his way. You need to check it’s not a native. It can be hard to tell who’s who and what’s what on a dark night.

A quick grasp, a knot and it’s in the back with the others.

He never knows when it will happen.

A twig snaps behind him.

Instantly he’s back there – heart thumping, hands sweating – every shadow a potential enemy. The forest crowds him. A damp smell of rotting wood rises to his nostrils.

The only way to live is to kill.

            They’re only farmers.

            They’re growing rice for the enemy.

The dog whines, pulling him back.

What was it the Vietnamese said – the core of the body is not the heart, but the stomach?

Your stomach is chopped to pieces.

            What does that mean?

            You are in anguish.

There could be something in that. He still can’t stand the smell of Asian food – would choke on even one grain of rice. When in town he crosses the road to avoid the Thai restaurant.

He pulls out his map and the names blur, shift – are replaced by other names …

Maybe he should have moved somewhere more open – cleared plains. But this is what he knows. If he has a place in this world, it is these mountains.

            If he has a place.,,

It takes ten minutes for his heart to settle.

Back home he updates his records – sex, location, size – then puts his catch in the fridge. In the morning when they’re asleep he’ll move them to the freezer. There’s no need for cruelty. They’re just creatures out of place.

            Destroying without intent.

             Wrong country, wrong time, Mister.

Pulling more thumbtacks from a bowl, he pins them to the map. If there’s a strategy to their invasion he’ll work it out eventually.

Six whiskies into the night the clock hands meet at the top of their circuit. He lifts the phone.

Brrrrr, brrrr…

Calloused fingers touch the numbers, but he doesn’t dial. He imagines a phone ringing in a house in Melbourne he’s never seen. His eyes linger on their photo.

I can’t live with you like this anymore. You’re scaring Becky.

            I’ll get better, just give me time.

            It’s been twenty years – how much time do you need?

“Sometimes I wonder, Rusty, how things might have turned out if I’d been born one day later.”

The dog’s milky eyes regard him steadily. It’s heard this all before.

He pictures a hand digging into a barrel; pulling out the marble with his birth date on it. “Or one day earlier…”

If he hadn’t become a creature forever out of place.

Brrrrr, Brrrr…

He replaces the phone gently. “Come on Rusty, still six hours ‘til dawn.” Picking up his torch, he stumbles into the night.

Beside his path a barred frog glistens in the torchlight, its skin golden between the stripes.

Ok, ok, ok, ok, it calls.

The dog is well-trained. It cocks its ears, but doesn’t move.

Ok, ok, ok…

But without the marble – perhaps he wouldn’t be here… and someone needs to do it. “It’s alright, mate,” he murmurs to the frog. “I’m here now. We’re going to stop them.”

 

This story was the winner of the Byron Bay Writers Festival Short Story Award in 2008 and was originally published in the Northern Rivers Echo. I just came across it again and thought I’d pop it up here. 

Lighthouses and Shipwrecks – my review of ‘Coast’ by Ian Hoskins

20 Jun

Coast-A-History-of-the-New-South-Wales-Edge-by-Ian-Hoskins-610x734In these days of sea-change and the fight for sea views, it’s hard to imagine a time when we shunned the beaches. But our obsession with the coast is a relatively recent one, according to historian, Ian Hoskins. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, our national identity was much more closely linked to the rolling plains and mountains. The early colonists, Hoskins says, avoided living near the beach.

Hoskins has set himself quite a task – to write the first history of the entire NSW coast. Hoskins’ first book, ‘Sydney Harbour: A history’ won the history section of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards in 2010. In ‘Coast’, he now sets out to explore our relationship with this 2000 kilometre stretch of shore.

In delving into this subject Hoskins covers a broad territory. Chapters include natural and indigenous history, colonisation, convicts, fishing, lighthouses, surfing and the sea change phenomenon. He points out how as we journey along our coast, we can see traces of all the uses that have come before. Aboriginal fish traps and lighthouses have given way to coastal mansions.

The chapter on the people and politics behind the growth of harbours and shipping makes for fascinating reading. As shipping grew in the colony, so did the shipwrecks. By 1921 1300 vessels had been wrecked on the NSW coast, many disappearing without trace. These disasters led to a call for the coast to be ‘…illuminated like a street with lamps.’ The first lighthouse keeper was established at South Head in 1818 and by 1901 twenty-two lighthouses shone along the NSW coast.

Lightkeepers had to be hardy in these remote locations.  Being a lightkeeper, Hoskins says, was ‘a curious mix of the freedom that comes from inhabiting a near-empty landscape and the regimentation that follows such responsibility.’ His stories include that of the plucky lightkeeper at Cape St George, who took to shark fishing to support his eleven children.   It does seem an enviable lifestyle from the vantage of these overbusy times. But even in the late 1800s a visitor to Montague Island noted that, ‘These people are contented enough, and perhaps there are few of us in the bustling crowd, surrounded with problems that are driving the world crazy, as happy as the residents of this lonely sea-girt island.’

‘Coast’ is a beautifully laid out book with many colour and black and white photos, maps and paintings adding to its charm. Written in a readable style and researched in incredible detail through primary and secondary sources, it will satisfy even the most avid coast lover.

This review initially appeared in Inside History.

I’m looking forward to chairing a panel on lighthouses with Ian Hoskins and ML Stedman, author of ‘The Light Between Oceans’, at the Byron Bay Writers Festival in August.

Hanging on to the glow – three days of peace, love and words in Byron Bay

8 Aug

Well another Byron Bay Writers Festival has come and gone, but the glow lingers. Something magical happens when you get a bunch of writers and readers together. As the smart and funny David Astle said (see video) it was like we were all part of a giant Jamboree of people who cared about words and ideas. And the sun shone!

intimacy I was privileged to share a panel talking about intimacy with Mary-Lou Stephens, Graeme Simsion and Susanna Freymark. And also a panel called ‘Chick-lit, mass market am I literary enough for you?’ with Anita Heiss, Ed Chatterton, Colin Falconer and Moya Sayer-Jones. We had a lot of fun, as you’ll see on the video. The laughter at the start is for Ed Chatterton’s story about the humiliation of sitting next to Michael Robotham in the signing tent. We writers are sensitive folk.bbwf 2

I also loved hosting the Pitch Perfect Panel on Saturday morning, where five emerging writers pitched to some of the finest minds in the Australian publishing industry. I’ll eat my hat (that’s an in-joke for those who were there) if we don’t see at least one of those authors published before too long. I also enjoyed being one of the ‘Hypatia’s Hell Raisers’ in the Stella Prize Trivia night which celebrates Australian Women’s Literature. I now know that Hypatia was the first well documented female philosopher, astronomer and mathematician. I think I only answered one or two questions, but I’m sure I gave the impression it was more, which is absolutely the main thing!stella

Other highlights included Justin Heazlewood’s striptease and pole dance (see video) and hearing Denise Scott talk about her father dressing up as a clown at her sixteenth birthday party. A surprise favourite was John Elder Robison, who had fantastic photos from the seventies, when he was a roadie with Kiss and Black Sabbath. And there was so much more, but… you’ll just have to watch the video.

I am over in Fremantle next week for the Elizabeth Jolley Conference and will also be at the RWA fancy dress cocktail party on Friday. Fancy dress is not one of my strong points, but I do have a sailor hat. Hope to see you there.

 

Dark Fairy-tales – ‘The Wild Girl’ by Kate Forsyth

19 Jul

WildGirl_COVERKate Forsyth has written over twenty books for children, young adults and adults. Her latest novel, ‘The Wild Girl’ is the story of Dortchen Wild, who was the childhood sweetheart and, later, wife of Wilhelm Grimm, one of the Grimm brothers of fairytale fame. Dortchen has been credited as the source of many of the stories in the Grimm brothers’ fairytale book. Forsyth says that she was enchanted to learn that Wilhelm married one of his key storytellers, a girl who grew up next door, and that is when she decided to write Dortchen’s story.

Forsyth has blended the known facts of Dortchen’s life with fiction to produce a compelling tale. Set in Germany during the Napoleonic Wars, The Wild Girl is both a love story and an insight into a tumultuous time in history. Dortchen’s brother Rudolf is sent into Russia as part of Napoleon’s army and few return as winter catches them on their retreat.

While Dortchen is in love with Wilhelm from the moment she meets him as a girl, a happy ending is a long time coming. Dortchen’s tyrant of a father forbids her marriage to a poor scholar with no prospects. The legacy of his treatment of Dortchen lingers after his death, keeping the lovers apart.

Historical fiction is not my usual fare, and I did find the scene setting a little dense first up, but I was soon engrossed. The story is both well researched and skilfully told. Not only a story about fairytales, The Wild Girl is an epic tale of love, loss and families. Scattered with accounts of dark tales like, The Maiden with no Hands, it is no wonder that it gave the author nightmares.

It was interesting to learn how the Grimm’s fairytales evolved from a scholarly recounting to something lighter and more suitable for children. The dark and frightening original stories are echoed in Dortchen’s own life, but Wilhelm’s retelling of the story Many Bits of Fur offers her a gift — a chance to break free of her past.

Forsyth is currently undertaking a doctorate on fairytale retellings. The afterword where she talks about how she came to tell Dortchen’s story after reading a psychological study on the therapeutic uses of fairy tales to help victims of abuse is fascinating.  This complex story offers satisfaction on many levels.

 

This is my 7th review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge

Not long now until the Byron Bay Writers Festival. The pre-festival workshop program is looking very exciting. I will be running a workshop on the 29 July and will be part of a panel for ‘Nuts and Bolts’ on Thursday 1st August. On Friday 2nd August I will be on a panel called ‘One is the Loneliest Number’ with Susanna Freymark and Graeme Simsion  and will be attempting to remember everything I ever knew about Australian Women’s Literature at the Stella Trivia Night. On Saturday, I’m hosting Pitch Perfect and am on a panel with Anita Heiss, Martin (Ed) Chatterton and Colin Falconer. Phew. 

On Sunday, I rest. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Finding joy in simplicity – My review of Mr Wigg

1 Jul

mr wiggMr Wigg is an enchanting new novel by Queensland author, Inga Simpson. Set in 1971, the story takes place on Mr Wigg’s farm in South-West NSW. Here he grows a range of stone fruit, listens to the cricket on the radio, bakes with his grandchildren, reminisces about his life and works hard on a secret project.

‘Mr Wigg had squandered his life’ reads the first line of the book. And for some it might seem so. He has led a quiet life on the farm with his wife, Mrs Wigg, who died a few years ago. He has no great achievements to show for himself, just his orchard and his family. His son thinks it’s time he moved into town.

But Mr Wigg has a special relationship with all the fruit trees in his orchard and each has its own personality and quirky ways. The younger trees, the peaches and nectarines, tend towards silliness, while the older trees are wiser but sometimes impatient. Rhubarb, meanwhile, is characterised by a lack of manners. ‘Rhubarb’s speech was crude, and muted by soil.’

Things even get a bit saucy in spring, when the pears and apples get taunted by the trees which don’t need cross-pollination. ‘His books didn’t have much to say on the sexuality of fruit trees. Mr Wigg figured it was best to keep quiet until the storm of pollen had settled.’ Who knew that life on an orchard could be so intriguing?

Simpson tells us the story of an ordinary man in an extraordinary way, casting a light on the little events that make up a life. Whether it is meeting Mrs Wigg at a dance, making strawberry tarts with the children or telling mythical and magical tales about fruit, each moment is beautifully rendered. The outside world intrudes from time to time; his neighbour’s son is drafted for the Vietnam War and the Springbok’s tour is cancelled after protests.

Mr Wigg is poignant, a little sad, but having the still quality of a meditation. It says on the cover that this is, ‘A novel that celebrates the small, precious things in life.’ And so it does. Quietly contemplative, Mr Wigg is about simplicity; taking joy in the moment and each day as it comes. Turn off the computer and read slowly with a peach to hand.

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Inga Simpson will be appearing at the Byron Bay Writers Festival 2-4 August.

This is my sixth review for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. On a related note, I have been co-opted onto the panel of the Stella Trivia Night at the Byron Bay Writers Festival where I will be quizzed about my knowledge of Australian Women’s Literature. Scary stuff but should be a fun evening with lots of audience participation.

And for anyone interested in unleashing their inner chick-lit goddess, I’ll be running a half-day workshop on Monday 29 July as part of the Festival. Learn how to find humour in everyday situations, make your dialogue sparkle and give your character’s sex lives a little more sizzle. Come on, you know you want to…

Here’s hoping the rain abates before the marquees go up!

Lights, camera, um… (coming out in Byron Bay)

6 Aug

Well, I’m starting to recover from the excitement of the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Highlights for me:

–   Rubbing ink off Isobel Carmody’s face in the book signing tent.

–   Sitting next to Tom Keneally in the book signing tent. I was able to reminisce briefly about the fact that I taught him cross-country skiing back in the late ‘80s. He says he can ski properly now and just got back from Vaile. Tom Keneally is like Peter Pan – he never ages.

–  Participating in the debut author’s panel with Amanda Webster, Shamus Sillar and Jessie Cole. Such a lovely and receptive crowd and a varied group of authors. Amanda Webster made me cry, Shamus Sillar made me laugh and Jessie Cole had me in awe at the quality and impact of her writing. A special thanks to those two lovely ladies who couldn’t decide whose books to buy afterwards and so bought them all – we love you!

–          Panel-wise, I especially enjoyed seeing climate change campaigner Anna Rose and chatting briefly afterwards. Anna was excited to learn that I’m currently writing a romantic comedy about climate change. I was excited to learn that her book Madlands, is practically a romantic comedy itself – it ends in a wedding!

What else? John Marsden drinks Coke Zero, Hannie Rayson can put on lipstick without a mirror, Andy Griffiths has the biggest book signing queue, Leanne Hall gets into character by crawling around on soccer fields at night, and I still haven’t met Martin Chatterton, even though he lives in the same small town as me.

And I think that might be about it for my brushes (and lack of brushes) with literary fame and glamour. Now I can retire with relief back to my cave.

Photo: Debut authors before the panel

Do I really need to ditch the tracksuit?

31 Jul

This year I decided to take a year off my community relations job in order to focus on my writing. Being a full-time writer sounds kind of glamorous. To me it evokes an image of a sultry looking woman in black beret, a cigarette holder hanging out of her mouth as she bangs away at her keyboard in a funky cafe. That woman may be out there, but she isn’t me.

As I write this I am wearing tracksuit pants that seem to have the remains of last night’s dinner on them, I haven’t washed my hair for at least a week, I am drinking Coles brand green tea and I haven’t shaved my legs since, um…  Too much information? Sorry.

I suspect that many writers are like me – we sink into total slobdom when not required to make appearances in the world. Which brings me to the Byron Writers Festival.  I have attended at least ten years of the festival, and this year for the first time I will be on the other side of the platform looking out. Yay!

I’m looking forward to it, but it also strikes me as being a strange thing – to herd a group of people who are more used to conversing with imaginary friends than real people onto a stage. While writing requires inappropriate thoughts to be shared – it’s called honesty – other forms of communication don’t always call for this. Perhaps this is what makes writers’ festivals good entertainment. Often you are watching someone who is totally unpractised saying whatever comes into their head. It can be refreshing.

So anyway, I’m planning to wash my hair in a couple of days and shake the dust off a nice frock. I think I might have some lipstick stashed away somewhere. And as for what comes out of my mouth? We shall see…

 

Catch me looking well groomed (or at least clean) at the Byron Writers Festival 1.15 Friday and 10.45 Sunday.