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Review of Birch’s Blood by Rebecca Harcourt 20 October 2013

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ony Birch is the author of three works of fiction - Blood (2011) - shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award, Father’s Day (2009), and Shadowboxing (2006).He was born in inner-city Melbourne, into a large family of Aboriginal, West Indian and Irish descent. On 8th and 9th of October 2013, UNSWriting and the Creative Practice Lab in the School of Arts and Media, UNSW hosted two events with acclaimed writer Tony Birch. Here is my own response, learning and experiences of these events intertwined with reading his novel Blood. Any mistakes or misinterpretations of Tony’s writing and practice are my own! Compelling, gritty and intrigue. Listening to author Tony Birch is inspiring. No airs about him, his voice is compelling as the narratives in his short stories and novels. He takes you there with his attention to detail, the nuances of his characters so alive they jump out at you from the page, together with the day to day realities of the landscapes they inhabit. You are there with his characters, witnessing their actions, each moment in time, the tension, nitty gritty realities

which are constructed to immerse you in the presence of their lives. Tony makes the grease, sweat and fat fall off the page, imbuing the reader with enactment as in his novel ‘Blood, where you can feel the potency of the soft toy, with ears sewn on again lovingly as Rachel rescues it yet again; you can feel the crackling of the car as its reduces to travelling 30km an hour on the freeway ‘til it stalls and disintegrates. Echoing the human banishment you feel for both the kids and their mother as they leap and escape; continue to get entangled in a world riddled with horrific ordeals whilst they draw on their own resilience, grasping at whatever actions are needed to survive. However repellent and fearful we may be for their lives, we admire their strengths knowing others who would have unravelled at a hundredth of their trials. Transporting the reader with the sounds, smells and sights, adds to the tension, built from the contrasts of the lapses in time - realities of unknowns, uncertainties, lacklustre moments where the reality of Jesse, our narrator’s life and his younger

sister unfold, sucked from the sharp realities of their mother’s actions; rejections come fast with a certainty in knowledge of persistence she neither lets go of them in her life, Jesse, our narrator, her son, acknowledges he and his sister are a needed inconvenience at best. Photographic landscapes, we see a face of an angel in a graveyard, taken years before, depicts one of the initial stimuli for Tony Birch’s novel Blood. Shaped by his own experiences Tony Birch navigates the world of his stories through the practice of exploration, stimulation of place with visual documentation, enactment of physical tasks and interaction, observations of spoken language and determined practice of daily hard work, revisions, writing in the early hours of the morning a space where he can breathe work into his writing, knowing well his daily patterns where he can thrive in his workplace as a writer. Redemption his word he reveals underpins his body of work. Starting from his ‘known’ he encourages us to identify our key, a word which places our writing – I’m compelled by the fluency of his flow the way he encapsulates with humour, humanity and the beat of his narrative the necessary stakes in his working premise(s). Like his characters- people, places and the world they inhabit at times restricted to confined space to reveal and responds to the shapes in which their circumstances are revealed as they pull and punch to shift on in their lives. Tony shares a number of his techniques with fluency, grace and states its task. Such as the lino of the action, confined to a boxing match as revealed in a play he wrote translated into the world of a later short story. He stays both with Page 1


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the known, familiarity of a moment, an object and action revisited to reveal something more. The soccer ball down the Yarra River, the way it escapes can be typified to yield a new strand, direction following its journey. Relinquishing the hero model, the Hollywood beat depicted in un-truisms. Far greater to observe the father who walks past the burning house, a child locked in, not his own, a stranger and find out what this father, who took himself home, did next. Uncovering the circumstances, thinking of an ordinary human being, whose reasons are fortified through recognisable human traits, actions and circumstance; feelings, habits, contexts we may ourselves wish to dismiss only to discover they are keepers within. We may fey the hero who did not flee and rescued the child releasing the need for us to engage with uncomfortable truths, going on a journey which transcends the familiar beats of the known constructs of the fairy-tale where the hero and child survives for all to celebrate with the twist and turns following apace. Many times we can misdirect our

writing, taking a turn that fails to reveal the compaq we desire. We can’t trick practice, the test of time, dedication to refining our craft, following our rhythms and breaths with the songs of our place, time and worlds. Working hard, resisting the cheats of taking off, flagging the compunction to write even amongst the harder times where it’s easier to resist. A few hours a week, an hour each time, consistently week by week will quickly outwit the sporadic marathon writing sprees. Your voice or ‘theirs’- ‘she’ or ‘he’,’ indirect’,’ direct’: you find your own way, unpack what’s authentic to your voice and not lazy truths with which you equip your narrative to ebb and flow. Emotional responses, key to Tony’s work in his writing and class. Defining your dramatic objectives a practice to review and refine. Knowing the conventions you retain or flounce and understand why. Recognise and embrace your influences: film, story, objects, place, conversation, image, own experiences, observations, crime, political tracts, history, keepers of place, responses

to lives, words, music, song, you own your choice. Practice your place, identify your way, strengthen your task. Stay open to learningembrace its place with your craft of hard work diligence and space. Test the known, encourage the growth, expect the rejection and jubilations, consolidate your amour without denting the creative play to trace your own place. It was truly a privilege to have time to encounter Tony Birch, a writer who generously and openly gave of his time to share transparently his practice here at UNSW. Thank you. Rebecca Harcourt is Editor of Nura Gili News and Program Manager of Indigenous Business Education ASB here at UNSW. Tony Birch was a guest of UNSWriting on 8 and 9 October 2013. You can listen to a podcast of Tony Birch’s talk in Io Myers Studio at the UNSWriting webpage: https://sam.arts.unsw.edu.au/aboutus/our-school/unswriting/

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Review of birch's blood