Tag Archives: jessie cole

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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Hanging out with the Asia-Pacific Writers in Singapore

26 Jul

merlinda bobis ap writersLast week I had a whirlwind trip to Singapore and back and my head is still spinning. I was there for the Asia-Pacific Writers and Translators (AP Writers) annual conference. This was the first time I have been to one of their conferences, but I don’t think it will be the last. Mixing with such an eclectic and talented group of writers from around the region is highly addictive.

 

 The attached pictures were taken by Tim Tomlinson and show: Myself and Merlinda Bobis on the ‘Links and Fragments’ panel and the  readers at the ‘Author Showcase’. Clockwise from top left: Renee Thorpe, Tony Birch, Qaisra Shahraz, Suchen Christine Lim,  Menka Shivdasani, Marc Nair, Aaron Lee, Agnes Lam, Myself, Merlinda Bobis and Jane Camens. You can find out more about these writers here. 

The AP Writers Executive Director, Jane Camens, invited me to sit on a panel called Twisting the Truth: Truth in Fiction, Lies in Non-Fiction. Also on this panel were Aussies David Carlin and Liz Porter and Indian author Shreekumar Varma.

I also felt privileged to chair a panel called Links and Fragments into Narrative Wholes. What can be done when a novel gets stuck? On this panel were Tim Tomlinson from New York, Nury Vittachi from Hong Kong and Filipino/Australian author Merlinda Bobis. Here are the hot tips: Tim says read around the topic, Nury says set yourself a deadline and Merlinda says dance!

The readings at the conference were a definite highlight. They were so varied, like a meal of delicious morsels. It’s hard to pick favourites, but I did love Merlinda Bobis, putting her tip above into action with her one woman play based on her novel ‘Fishhair Woman’ which I have just read and loved. My friend Jessie Cole also read from her beautiful new book, ‘Deeper Water’ which is released on the 1st of August.

Discovering all these wonderful writers from the Asia-Pacific has been an amazing experience. If you are interested to learn more about AP Writers you can find them here. Their next conference is in Manila in 2015.

 

A big thank you to Jane Camens for inviting me and to the Australia Council for the Arts for sponsoring my trip.

Cheeky and enlightening – my review of ‘Mullumbimby’ by Melissa Lucashenko

14 May

mullumbimbyMullumbimy is Melissa Lucashenko’s fifth novel and is, as the name suggests, set in northern New South Wales.  The protagonist, Jo Breen, is an Aboriginal woman who uses her divorce settlement and the money she earns mowing grass at the Mullumbimby cemetery to buy a block of farmland. She sees this as her own way of reclaiming Bundjalung country and the process of returning her land to health is deeply satisfying.

Jo’s life is already complicated by her artistic and moody teenage daughter and becomes more so with the arrival in town of an outsider, Twoboy. Twoboy and his brother are down from Brisbane to initiate a land claim which stirs up a hornet’s nest of conflicting interests in the area. Jo is reluctant to get embroiled in what promises to be a messy fight. Twoboy, however, is dreadlocked, devastatingly handsome, heterosexual and apparently single. This is practically a miracle as far as Jo is concerned.

Jo also has to come to terms with her new neighbours, including the farmer Rob Starr, who wears expensive boots and erects fences where none seem needed and Granny Narrung, an Aboriginal Elder who Jo initially dismisses for her old-fashioned and uptight Christian ways.

The book is full of cheeky humour and witticisms, such as when Jo first sights Twoboy coming out of a bookshop and immediately wants to rush in and find out what he bought, ‘… hoping – please, oh please – that it wasn’t Armistead Maupin.’

I enjoyed the way Lucashenko used Bundjalung words throughout the novel. This added richness to the story and a glossary at the back provides a handy reference. Jo is troubled by how little she knows about the spirituality of Bundjalung culture and is wary of the looming peak of Wollumbin. ‘She knew Wollumbin was strong men’s business, and to be avoided at all costs.’ The difficulty of maintaining Bundjalung culture and links to land is an ongoing theme throughout the book. The fraught issue of native title is also handled with honesty and insight.

This book can be enjoyed simply as a well-told yarn, but particularly for those of us who live in this area, it is so much more. Mullumbimby offers a window into the living Bundjalung culture and the meaning of the Country which I found both moving and enlightening. It is also a page turner – highly recommended.

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

Literati on the Gold Coast is on this Friday and Saturday! I will be talking about ‘Character Care and Maintenance’ on Friday with Jessie Cole and Paula Weston and on Saturday I join a lovely cast of romance writers – Helene Young, Anna Campbell and Keri Arthur on ‘A Course of True Love’. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you.

Would your book group like to do ‘Liar Bird’?

3 Mar

Well, it seems like only yesterday, but it’s been over a year since ‘Liar Bird’ was published. My new book’s come along and pushed it right out of my mind. It took a lovely recent review by Peta –Jo to remind me that, hey, not everyone’s read it yet.

And, as it happens, I do have a couple of boxes of ‘Liar Bird’ sitting in my lounge room. So, I thought, to celebrate its first birthday I would offer book groups a special deal. Here it is:

Your group can buy ten copies of ‘Liar Bird’ for only $100!

(additional copies $10 each, free shipping within Australia, add $2 per book for shipping overseas).

So, if you think your group would enjoy following the adventures of disgraced PR girl Cassandra as she flees to the country and encounters a man who has a very sexy way with maps, drop me a line.

 

And for those in the Byron Bay area, it’s not too late to join Jessie Cole, Susanna Freymark, Jesse Blackadder, Sarah Armstrong and myself in conversation at the Byron Bay Library at 5.30pm Monday night (that’s tomorrow).  Please book though, on 6685 8540.Liar Bird cover small

Death stalks us from behind at the Brisbane Writers Festival

10 Sep

One of the highlights of the Brisbane Writers Festival last weekend was seeing Chris Turney talking about Antarctica. My interest in Antarctica is spurred on by the fact that I am currently writing a novel set in that location. This is a bit of a challenge considering I have never been there. I live in hope!

Chris has just written an account of the 1912 season in Antarctica which saw no less than five expeditions set out on a journey of scientific discovery.

Famously, of course, the Norwegian team led by Amundsen won the race to the South Pole, with the British expedition led by Scott getting there one month later and perishing on the return journey. Also on the move were a German team, a Japanese team and an Australian team, led by Mawson.

Antarctica, Chris told us, didn’t even begin to be explored until 1820. Before that, it was just shown as ‘unexplored territory’ on the map.  Venturing down there, then, was the equivalent of space travel – a voyage into the complete unknown.

They gnawed on huskies, they spent the winter on a ship bound by ice, they were blown off their feet in blizzards… And despite all that, they brought back data which changed the face of science.

Antarctica has inspired some truly great lines. Who can forget ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ (Oates) ‘Food lies ahead, death stalks us from behind.’ (Shackleton) or ‘Great God! This is an awful place.’ (Scott).  It seems like the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration brought out the inner poet in them all.

The image below was taken by Frank Hurley. Hurley was a photographer on Shackleton’s expedition who dived into the icy water to save his photographic plates from their ship which was crushed by sea ice and about to sink. They don’t breed them like that anymore.

On a slightly less heroic note, anyone living in the Clarence has no excuse not to join Jessie Cole and myself at a library visit. On Friday 14th we will be at Iluka, Yamba and Maclean and on Tuesday 18th at Bellingen and Grafton. There will be refreshments (no huskies)! What more could you ask for?

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

Masculinity, sexuality and tenderness – ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ by Jessie Cole

19 Jul

A crashed car on a country road, a fragile young woman and man who collects broken things… These are the elements which introduce Jessie Cole’s debut novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Vincent is something of a drifter, a handyman on the cusp of forty, unpolished, but tender. From the moment he stops to help the young woman he finds sitting beside her crashed car, his life takes a new direction. Rachel, brittle and grieving, returns to Vincent’s house and a strange and intense relationship develops between them.

Vincent’s daughter Gemma is sixteen, and entering the unknown land of male and female relationships. She wonders how she can spend all night talking to a boy and then, ‘at school he acted like he’d never seen me before…’ Gemma has watched Vincent move from woman to woman in the town, always choosing ones with, ‘a half-crazy edge’.  ‘I used to wonder what it was about my dad that attracts these women… But lately I’m thinking maybe I should be worried about what it is that he needs from them.’ Gemma watches with apprehension as the dynamic between Vincent and Rachel changes.

The story is told from the alternate voices of father and daughter. Both voices are strong, distinct and totally authentic. There are some beautiful moments between Gemma and her father such as when Vincent tries to tell her how he feels about Rachel. ‘…I can never explain it, and the more I’d try the weirder it’d sound.’ All three characters struggle to communicate their feelings – the gaps between what they say and what they feel ring loudly.

Set in an isolated valley in the Northern Rivers, the novel explores themes of masculinity and sexuality, communication and miscommunication. In the style of writers like Tim Winton, it is a tense and gripping portrayal of the current that lies beneath relationships in the smallest of towns.

The theme of male violence also pervades the book. Vincent, though compassionate and principled, is quick to anger. I read the book with a knot of apprehension which grew as the story progressed. But what touched me most was its quality of transience. As Vincent reflects, lying next to Rachel, ‘I lay there, still and quiet, knowing that nothing lasts forever, but sort of hoping that it could.’

This is a novel you’ll read quickly and then wish you’d read slowly because you don’t want it to end.

 

This is my tenth review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

 

Join Jessie and I in conversation at Lennox Head Library 10.30am on the 24th of July or Lismore Library 5.30pm on the 26th July. Free events. All welcome.

Or, otherwise at the Byron Writers Festival 3-5th August.

Hope to see you there!