Tag Archives: workshop

Friendship at Forty – my review of ‘Tiddas’ by Anita Heiss

3 Mar

tiddas coverI jumped at the chance to read Tiddas, because while I have read Anita’s memoir, Am I Black Enough for You? I had not yet read any of her women’s fiction. Anita, a proud Wiradjuri woman, has created a whole new genre in fiction — Koori chick-lit. Her novels are about smart, urban, Aboriginal women who like to shop, but are also socially aware and deeply rooted in their culture.

With Tiddas, she departs from her four previous novels about footloose singles by introducing us to a group of women on the cusp of forty. The title of the book means ‘friends’ and the story revolves around five tiddas who grew up together in Mudgee, but have found their way to Brisbane.

The action in the story takes place over about a year and uses the device of a monthly book group meeting as a marker for the changing seasons and lives of the five. The nature and value of female friendship is the thematic backdrop to the way each tidda deals with the central issues in her life.

There were so many things I enjoyed about this book. Having grown up in Brisbane, I loved the setting — the river, the joggers at Kangaroo Point and the gorgeous jacarandas that feature on the cover. The tiddas, Izzy, Veronica, Xanthe, Nadine and Ellen are well-rounded and despite, or maybe because of, their faults they are all likeable and fun to be around. On one level this is a study of issues relevant to all woman of this age — sex, fertility, career and relationships. But the book also gives an insight, through the tiddas, into Aboriginal culture and politics. Izzy, for example, aspires to be Australia’s Oprah, while Xanthe is a cultural awareness trainer and Ellen a funeral celebrant. I found the tiddas’ journeys realistic — their friendship waxes, wanes and sometimes falters. As in life, not everyone gets tied up with a ‘happily ever after’.

Tiddas is a warm-hearted book, which delves gently into both personal and social issues in a way that feels intrinsic to the story. I became involved in the lives of the tiddas and read the book quickly, finishing it with a sense of having been enriched by some lively and intelligent company.

Those of you who live near Byron Bay are lucky because Anita Heiss will be in our town soon… 

I will be discussing Tiddas with Anita at the Byron Bay Library on March 14 5.30pm for 6.00 (Phone 6685 8540 to book) and she is also running a workshop on writing women’s fiction on March 15 (see www.nrwc.org.au).

You can find out more about Anita and the Byron Bay event here. 

This is my first post for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge

Vivid and sensual – The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie

1 Nov

the pagoda treeThe Pagoda Tree is the first novel by journalist Claire Scobie, whose previous book was a travel memoir, Last Seen in Lhasa. Here, Scobie turns her gaze from Tibet to India.

The novel is set in 1765 and is the story of Maya, who is destined from birth to become an Indian temple dancer or devadasi. Scobie’s inspiration to write the book came from a visit to a temple in Southern India. Here she saw the names of 400 dancing girls engraved upon the 11th century walls. From this starting point grew Maya’s story.

Highly trained in dancing, music and love-making, the temple dancers were married to the God Shiva and often became courtesans of powerful men. Devadasis had a level of control over their lives not given to other Indian women and were the only women taught to read and write at the time.

Mentored by Palani, a powerful devadasi, Maya becomes a dancer of rare beauty and skill. But while she is destined to be given to the prince, the turbulent times cast her adrift. Set during the British colonial era, the book shows the effect of the occupation on Indian traditions.

Maya’s dancing captivates the Europeans as well as the Indians. In Madras she forms a risky liaison with a young British trader. This clash of cultures drives the story. Her lover, Thomas, is torn between his desire for Maya and his ‘true life’ waiting for him back in England. His choice is complicated by the birth of their daughter, a girl with no status in either culture.

This carefully researched novel provides an insight into Indian culture. The title of the story refers not only to a temple but also to a common expression among the British of the time. ‘Shaking the pagoda tree’ was a term for making quick, easy money. The cruelty of some of the British colonial practices forms a backdrop to Maya’s story.

Scobie says that researching the story was hard due to the lack of historical records about the dancing girls. In writing The Pagoda Tree she sought to bring their untold story to life. This is a vividly told and sensual novel which will be especially enjoyed by those with an interest in India.

For those in the Byron area, Claire Scobie is conducting a workshop on travel writing in Byron Bay on the 7th of December. See www.nrwc.org.au

My blog seems to have become strangely popular in Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago of late. So if you’re reading this from there – a big hello to you! I’m glad to be getting to some exotic locations, if only in spirit. 

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!

I’m sorry, Madam, but your novel is picaresque

12 Mar

A few months ago I received a rather long report from my publisher in regard to my next novel. I can now share with you that it will be called ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsais’. Probably. Titles are funny things, but that’s another story…

The length of the report was scary enough, but there was one section in particular that had me worried. ‘Your novel is picaresque.’

Picaresque! Oh no. I must have looked like that painting ‘The Scream’ by Munch. It can’t be. Please tell me it isn’t true. Eventually I calmed down enough to Google the word. Here is what I found.

‘of or relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero. Usually satirical.’

    I’d never thought of my heroine as being like that. Appealing, yes (hopefully), but rough and dishonest, no. Well, maybe just a little. I Googled more and found examples such as Don Quixote and Huckleberry Finn described as picaresque. At least I was in good company.

As I looked into it further, I realised that a lot of chick-lit could actually be described as picaresque. Rather than following a traditional three act – beginning, middle and end structure, it relies on the charm of the    protagonist to carry the reader through their rough and tumble life. Bridget Jones’s Diary is a classic example.

It’s funny how once your mind is open to a word it starts appearing everywhere. Almost every novelist I read now seems to be described as picaresque.

Who have you heard described as picaresque lately?

 

If you would like to learn more about picaresque fiction (among other things) I am running a workshop called ‘Beyond Sex and Shopping: Writing fiction that sells’ this Saturday – the 17th of March in Byron Bay. Contact the Northern Rivers Writers Centre.

Finding my Mojo (and other serendipitous events)

28 Feb

I think every writer has them – moments when life imitates art in a way which raises hairs on the back of your neck. Coincidences multiply until you start to feel that the act of writing is almost magical – a prediction of events to come.

I have been struggling away for over a year now, on a novel about a woman who loses her mojo. I feel like it has been the hardest of my novels to write (I have written five previously), but perhaps I always feel like that. Perhaps the act of finishing a novel is like childbirth and you instantly forget the pain that came before.

Yesterday, to clear my head, I went down to the beach for a swim. I threw down my bag and noticed next to it an abandoned dog collar. The tag on the collar read – you guessed it – mojo. I FOUND MY MOJO. Perhaps I have been on the north coast too long, but I find this, like, totally amazing.

This is not the first time I have had this type of rather woo woo experience. Another scene in this novel requires my mojo-less heroine to visit the Big Redback in Brisbane. I wrote this scene before I went there, adding a garden gnome, which I described in some detail, to serve the needs of the story.

I got to the Big Redback, had a bit of a look around, and was just about to drive off when I saw it – hiding shyly among the ferns – the gnome just as I had already described it.

And wait, there’s more! Those of you who have read Liar Bird – check out this link. If you haven’t, hold off so you don’t spoil the story.

Have you had any similar bizarre cases of life imitating art?

 

I am running a workshop called ‘Beyond Sex and Shopping: Writing fiction that sells’ on the 17th of March in Byron Bay. If you are interested, contact the Northern Rivers Writers Centre.