Northerly Summer 2019

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northerly Byron Writers Festival Member Magazine | Summer 2020


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Contents Summer 2020 Features 010 Audio satisfaction The best literary podcasts to tide you over the holidays 012 South sea stories Jenny Bird examines the literature emerging from the Pacific Islands 016 The year in YA Polly Jude picks out the best in this year’s YA novels 018 Skin deep Q&A with local poet Peter Mitchell about his recent book, Conspiracy of Skin 024 Northern exposure Colleen O’Brien offers a reappraisal of Scandinavian noir

Regulars 002 Chair’s note 003 News & Events Festival office move, Meet the Agent initiative, honours for local writers and more 006 Feature poet Two poems from Gareth Jenkins 008 Notes from the Festival Markus Zusak interviewed by Katinka Smit 014 From the Reading Chair Laurel Cohn’s new column considers the art of critical reading 020 Book reviews Kathy Gibbings on Act of Grace by Anna Krien and Katinka Smit on The Gift of Life by Josephine Moon 026 Workshops 028 Competitions


northerly is the quarterly magazine of Byron Writers Festival. Byron Writers Festival is a non-profit member organisation presenting workshops and events year-round, including the annual Festival. LOCATION/CONTACT Unit 2/58 Centennial Circuit, Byron Bay P: 02 6685 5115 F: 02 6685 5166 E: W: POSTAL ADDRESS PO Box 1846, Byron Bay NSW 2481 EDITOR: Barnaby Smith, CONTRIBUTORS: Jenny Bird, Laurel Cohn, Kathy Gibbings, Gareth Jenkins, Polly Jude, Colleen O’Brien, Katinka Smit, Robyn Sweaney BYRON WRITERS FESTIVAL BOARD CHAIRPERSON Adam van Kempen SECRETARY Russell Eldridge TREASURER Cheryl Bourne MEMBERS Jesse Blackadder, Marele Day, Lynda Dean, Hilarie Dunn, Lynda Hawryluk, Anneli Knight. LIFE MEMBERS Jean Bedford, Jeni Caffin, Gayle Cue, Robert Drewe, Jill Eddington, Chris Hanley, John Hertzberg, Fay Knight, Irene O’Brien, Jennifer Regan, Cherrie Sheldrick, Brenda Shero, Heather Wearne MAIL OUT DATES Magazine is published in MARCH, JUNE, SEPTEMBER and DECEMBER DESIGN & PRINT Kaboo Media Summit Press ADVERTISING We welcome advertising by members and relevant organisations. A range of ad sizes are available. The ad booking deadline for each issue is the first week of the month prior. Email DISCLAIMER The Byron Writers Festival presents northerly in good faith and accepts no responsibility for any misinformation or problems arising from any misinformation. The views expressed by contributors and advertisers are not necessarily the views of the management committee or staff. We reserve the right to edit articles with regard to length. Copyright of the contributed articles is maintained by the named author and northerly. CONNECT WITH US Visit Sign up for a membership. Stay updated and join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

We acknowledge the Arakwal Bumberbin People of the Byron Shire as the traditional custodians of this land. northerly SUMMER 2020 | 01

Chair’s note A very warm welcome to this Summer edition of northerly as we hurtle towards the end of another year. As I write this, our community and communities up and down the coast and inland of New South Wales and Queensland are reeling from the unprecedented destruction of recent bushfires, fuelled by drought in country as dry as I’ve ever seen it. In moments of tragedy and adversity, we invariably see the best of our communities and human nature as people band together and help each other where needed, putting their own needs to one side. And while our sense of community and community spirit is illustrated in these times, I am also reminded of the catastrophic failure of some of our leaders to be visionary and in front of the game, rather than reactionary, when it comes to the challenges of drought, bushfire and climate change. It is now more than twelve years since Professor Ross Garnaut led the first of the Climate Change Reviews, examining the impacts of climate change on the Australian economy – and nearly thirty years since the First Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released. As you know, some of Australia’s and indeed the world’s most eminent scientists have appeared at our various Festivals over the years, bringing with them explorations of the changes and challenges that the world is facing – which are again illustrated by recent events on the driest continent on Earth. We will continue with our mission of education and dissemination of knowledge in the hope that science and common sense will ultimately prevail. As we head into the summer, I’m looking forward to working my way through some of the books that I’ve managed to acquire through the year – many of which I’ve read bits and pieces of pre- and post-festival – as well as catching up on some old classics. I’m also anticipating leaving work alone for a few weeks before we return in January to start preparations in earnest for the 2020 Byron Writers Festival. And in other news, after many years in our Jonson Street Festival office we are moving to new premises in the Arts and Industrial Estate at 58 Centennial Circuit. Once set up it will be the creative hub that we have been dreaming of for some time – a place where the Festival community can all come together in one place to continue the mission and vision of the Festival. We’ll be up and running there from early February, so look forward to seeing you. To all of our members, readers, writers, storytellers, supporters – all of you – a very happy and relaxing summer break and happy reading over this time. Adam van Kempen Chair, Byron Writers Festival

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Margin Notes News, events and announcements from Byron Writers Festival Meet the Agent Do you have a finished manuscript for which you want professional feedback? Are you not sure if your manuscript has commercial potential, or what more needs to be done before you submit to agents or publishers? Are you looking for professional editorial advice on how to improve your writing? Are you wondering if you should pitch to USA or UK agents, or look within Australia? This is a rare opportunity for a dual faceto-face consultation with two industry professionals: literary agent Alex Adsett and editor Shel Sweeney. Together, Shel can provide editorial advice on your manuscript, and Alex can provide publishing strategies and market insights. This unique opportunity will take place early in 2020, so keep an eye on the Festival website for more information about applying for an assessment. Only one assessment is permitted per author. To avoid misunderstanding, this is

a manuscript consultation, and not a submission for agency representation.

Office move After a number of successful years in the familiar Jonson Street office in the heart of Byron Bay, Byron Writers Festival is relocating its headquarters to the town’s Arts and Industrial Estate, to the west of the CBD, at 2/58 Centennial Circuit. The new premises will be a hub for the creative and administration teams, and will also host workshops, StoryBoard events, the Festival Board and much more. We look forward to welcoming members and readers to this new space, and embarking on this exciting new chapter for Byron Writers Festival. The relocation is expected to be completed by February – meaning that this year’s Christmas Party will still take place at the old office, on Wednesday 4 December, from 5pm to 7pm.

Drewe scoops Colin Roderick prize

that included Gail Jones and Trent Dalton, among others.

Northern Rivers author Robert Drewe has won the $20,000 2019 Colin Roderick Literary Award and the H T Priestley Medal for his short story collection The True Colour of the Sea.

The Colin Roderick Award and the H T Priestley Medal are presented for the best original book published in Australia in the previous calendar year that deals with ‘any aspect of Australian life’.

Drewe won the award, with a prize of $20,000, from a shortlist of five

Leigh Dale, chair of the judging panel, said that Drewe’s collection

‘encompasses Australian experiences past and present, portrayed in moments that are sad, serious, and poignant.’ She added, ‘There is a bleaker, sparer sensibility here, in contrast to his previous poetic style. The language is clear, unpretentious, used with great precision and nuance.’

Industry recognition for Lambs of God The Foxtel adaptation of local author Marele Day’s novel Lambs of God has received a massive fourteen nominations at the 2019 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards. The mini-series, which screened earlier this year, has been nominated in categories including Best Telefeature or Mini Series, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Costume Design and others. Several members of the cast have also been recognised. Sam Reid was nominated for Best Screen Actor and both Essie Davis and Ann Dowd were nominated for Best Screen Actress. Damon Herriman northerly SUMMER 2020 | 03


Cover story

Lambs of God: From left, Essie Davis, Ann Dowd and Jessica Barden

This issue’s cover artwork comes courtesy of Robyn Sweaney. Sweaney was born in Melbourne and currently lives in Mullumbimby. She excavates the complexities of place by responding to the suburban mundane of Australian environments. Her paintings of tightly refined homes and streetscapes function as repositories of identity – aesthetic incarnations of the belief that structures influence human behaviours on emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels. More recently, Sweaney is revisiting the still life. In the painting Summers past she has painted an arrangement of collected ceramics and dry coastal foliage. In these works, she is interested in creating not merely picturesque still lifes but synecdochal representations of place. These objects physicalise fragments of place by being displaced – pried from their original residence and recontextualised as presences from another time and place. Sweaney has been a finalist in major awards including in the Wynne Prize, Sulman Prize, Portia Geach Memorial Award, Moran Portrait Prize, Salon Des Refusés, Tattersall’s Landscape Prize, Fleurieu Art Prize, Mosman Art Prize, Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize, Paddington Art Prize and the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Prize (JADA). This year she was awarded the Trustees Watercolour Award in the Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW. Her work is held in public and private collections throughout Australia.

was nominated for Best Guest or Supporting Actor. The awards ceremony takes place on 2 December. Visit for the results.

Dark Emu for the small screen Bruce Pascoe’s seminal work of non-fiction, Dark Emu, is to be adapted into a television documentary series by Sydney production company Blackfella Films. 04 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

appreciated by all Australians, and in the hands of Blackfella Films, and director Erica Glynn, this significant story has the power to change that.’ The ABC’s head of Indigenous, Kelrick Martin, said ‘The significant contribution and unique, rich culture of Indigenous Australia is largely taken for granted in this country. Dark Emu offers a revelatory context for future generations of Australians and ABC Indigenous is proud to work alongside Bruce Pascoe and Blackfella Films to correct these stereotypes.’

The series will air on the ABC, with Pascoe involved in the writing along with Jacob Hickey. Penny Smallacombe, Screen Australia’s head of Indigenous, said, ‘Dark Emu promises to be one of the most important documentary series the Indigenous Department has funded. It’s a chance to challenge the myth of pre-colonial Indigenous Australians being just hunter-gatherers. ‘We have sophisticated systems and knowledge that isn’t

Dark Emu was published by Magabala Books in 2014. Pascoe has been something of a regular at Byron Writers Festival in recent years.

Lucashenko wins Queensland Premier’s Award Melissa Lucashenko, acclaimed author and an undoubted highlight of Byron Writers Festival 2019, recently won the major prize at this year’s Queensland Literary Awards for her novel Too Much Lip.


LAUREL COHN Editing and Manuscript Development ~ Manuscript assessment and development ~ Editorial and publishing consultations ~ Mentoring ~ Structural and stylistic editing ~ Copy editing and proofreading

Congratulations to Therese Spruhan on the publication of The Memory Pool (NewSouth Books). ‘A joyful, moving, nostalgic and original take at what it means to be Australian. Dive in!’ – Robert Drewe

“I wanted to say thank you for your input to eventually getting a publisher and the crucial part your course on synopsis writing played. It was in that course that I realised I needed to hone my theme and the focus of the book, and was when I came up with the title.” Therese Spruhan 02 6680 3411

The awards ceremony took place in early November, with other winners on the night including Ellen van Neerven, Sarah Holland-Batt, Karen Foxlee, Debra Adelaide and Alison Whittaker.

northerly seeks writers As we head into a new year and a new decade, northerly, the official publication of Byron Writers Festival that is published four times a year, is seeking a fresh crop of contributors to write book reviews, essays, opinion pieces, features, interviews and more. Anyone interested can email northerly is also seeking new partnerships with potential advertisers going into 2020. The magazine offers a range of options for ads and a number of discounts and deals. For further information on advertising, email

Photo: Lyndon Mechielsen

Lucashenko took out the prestigious Queensland Premier’s Award, and the $25,000 that comes with it. The book also won the 2019 Miles Franklin Award.

New Dalton novel on the way Though still basking in the afterglow of the extraordinary success of his debut novel Boy Swallows Universe, Brisbane writer Trent Dalton (above) has announced the upcoming publication of its follow-up. All Our Shimmering Skies is an historical novel set in Darwin in 1942 that follows ‘motherless Molly Hook, the gravedigger’s daughter’ who, along with her travelling companions, actress Greta and

fallen Japanese fighter pilot Yukio, is seeking out a sorcerer who can put a curse on her family. The publisher said in a statement, ‘All Our Shimmering Skies is a story about gifts that fall from the sky, curses we dig from the earth and the secrets we bury inside ourselves.’ The book will be published by Harper Collins imprint, Fourth Estate, in June 2020.

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Feature Poet: Gareth Jenkins The crossed roads Spotted gum skinned bark drifts red-brown of kangaroo tail hardwood terraced floor sanded lacquered back. Speckled-brown of egg shell orange-red-brown of hot coal smacked clean of black blonde-brown of sandstone sediment. Mustard-brown of kitchen Perspex splashback orange-brown of that Mini Cooper S burning Bridge St nearly airborne through the crossed roads. A thousand thousand years these roads been trailing—crossing green-brown with moss holes bored perfect precision drill bits been through there.

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The point She plays a ruined piano her back

the shape of a violin

muscles rolling

notes evolving with every pressure—her neck lists

breaching itself on the point of a hundred discarded breaths.

She plays three hours

the curve of her spine as she dances her fingers


her hands

make half-forgotten movements

half remembered signals decomposing signs.

Gareth Jenkins’ first fulllength collection of poetry, Recipes for the Disaster, was published by Five Islands Press in 2019. He’s the editor of The Toy of the Spirit (Puncher and Wattmann), the first publication of collected writings by Australia’s greatest Outsider Artist, Anthony Mannix. More at northerly SUMMER 2020 | 07

Photo: Hugh Stewart


Notes from the Festival: Markus Zusak When Markus Zusak was writing his internationally bestselling novel The Book Thief (2005), his latest book, the long-awaited follow-up Bridge of Clay (2018), was already an idea gnawing its way forth in his mind. Thirteen years of diligent labour and patience later, he finally brought it to fruition. Zusak appeared at Byron Writers Festival in 2019 and spoke with Katinka Smit about Bridge of Clay’s inspiration and the Herculean effort of its writing. 08 | SUMMER 2020 northerly


What is it about the scope and landscape of childhood that compels you to write from there? It’s a time in your life where you’re at your most vulnerable, your most stoic and most heroic, in a way. So maybe that’s why I’ve concentrated on that kind of terrain. I see it as a kind of width. And I think because I made big decisions at that age – I decided I wanted to be a writer. But also, you don’t really get to choose what you write; the writing chooses you, in a way, because your experiences choose you as well. I’m also really interested in the idea that we are who we are, and we start becoming who we are, long before we are even born. There are stories in us that come from our parents and where they come from and where their parents come from. When I was fourteen and fifteen, I was really attracted to hearing those stories, from my mum and dad. Is that an unconscious driver to Clay’s situation in Bridge of Clay? There are two main parts of Clay’s nature and character that come from me. The first one, he loved his mum and dad’s stories and had a love for story. The second one is, he trains, and that’s how I feel, I’m always training. I didn’t know I was going to do that. I sat down and planned everything as meticulously as I could, but then those things start to come out. That’s the beauty of writing.

the book; in order for Clay to get faster, he needed people to try and stop him. Then I realised I was giving the characters nicknames that reminded me of The Odyssey and The Iliad: ‘the fast-running Achilles’, ‘the resourceful Odysseus’. But I had already decided that the mule was going to be called Achilles. When I thought of the nickname of Penelope ‘the Mistake Maker’, that was when I wrote the sentence, ‘She came from a watery wilderness.’ That phrase ‘watery wilderness’ is often repeated in The Iliad. It just really appealed to me in terms of Clay’s development as a character and where he was going, the tragedies that were a part of his life – the tragedy that had been and the tragedy that was to come. It just felt right. I started to think I was taking this character on a heroic journey. This was the other big thing: I wanted to use The Iliad and The Odyssey because I feel like we all feel we live these dull suburban or rural lives. But we all fall in love. We all have people die on us. We have a bigness to our lives. Maybe it’s not there all of the time, but it is there. And we keep those things, we carry them with us always. So that was the idea that Clay is building all of those things into his bridge. And that idea of trying to make something great, one beautiful, great, perfect thing.

When did The Iliad and The Odyssey come into the story?

Do you think the initial premise of a boy wanting to ‘build one beautiful, great and perfect thing’ was a stumbling block to the writing?

I had Clay training right at the beginning, almost like a games element, the brutality of the beginnings of sport. I remember a year 10 teacher saying, ‘If you want to win a race on grass, you train on sand.’ This idea comes out in

Absolutely. When you’re writing a book about a character in pursuit of perfection it’s almost like, how dare you not pursue that in the writing of it? I worked and reworked the first chapter over and over for years to get it right. And

even now I look back, yeah it is over-worked, it is laboured. It’s my biggest criticism of the book. What you want to do is go to a huge effort and give a book absolutely everything, but then when someone picks it up and reads it, it should appear effortless, to a degree. But I think the effort shows. I think you can feel the effort. On the other hand, that’s how Clay lives, in a constant daily struggle. I did want readers to be there in his struggle, how he feels every single day. He’s working all the time, training, to find that thing that he needs to do. He’s torn between forgetting the past and wanting to hang on to it. Has growing up in a bilingual family linguistically influenced the way you write? I think because of the mishmash of dialects, I saw words as something amenable and workable, something to be moulded and pushed into shape, you could just make new things. Little kids do it, play with words; writing is one of the places where I get to play with words. It’s actually what rescued this book: on the first page Matthew says, ‘I went back to an old backyard in an old backyard of a town.’ Generally, editors will say you shouldn’t have those two repeated, but that’s why it should be done. Now we’re just playing. It sounded right. It just felt right. And then he digs up this typewriter and says it was ‘perfect, pirateless treasure’ and of course the word ‘pirateless’ is total nonsense. But it’s the right word. I mean, why not? ‘Guileless’, ‘useless’, why not ‘pirateless’?

Bridge of Clay is published by Pan Macmillan

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Literary listening: Podcasts for the summer From Australian-focused author interviews to discussions of avant-garde poetry, the world of literary podcasts is a rich and diverse selection, ripe for diving into over the long hot summer to come. Here we pick out some of the best.

The Garrett Hosted by Astrid Edwards, The Garrett focuses on the craft and process of writing instead of being dictated by the commerce and demands of the publishing industry – it doesn’t, for example, focus on single books or feature writers promoting something new. While extremely refreshing in this way, the podcast is arguably more tailored for Australian writers learning their art more than the casual book lover. The Garrett was founded in late 2016 and is produced in Melbourne, with Edwards taking over from the previous host Nic Brasch in 2018. Recent interviewees include Anna Krien, John Marsden, Ali Cobby Ackerman and Peggy Frew. Each episode is also, helpfully, accompanied by a full transcript.

In Our Time Over the last twenty years, In Our Time has become a veritable BBC institution, and is the only podcast on this list that is also a radio show (Australia can look to Radio National’s The Book Show and The Book Shelf for its own radio/ podcast crossover). Beginning on the airwaves in 1998, this Melvin Bragg-hosted forum has taken on a new lease of life since the dawning of the age of the podcast, as its time limitations have been expanded and each episode joins a freely available archive that now numbers more than 800. Not all episodes cover literature, with things like history, philosophy, theology and science also in the mix, but notable recent literary podcasts have taken in Robert Burns, Edith Wharton, Federico Garcia Lorca and Mary Shelley. Every 10 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

week, Bragg is joined by three leading academic authorities on the subject at hand – not that their expertise shields them against Bragg’s insistence on clarity and relevance, and barely-contained disdain for waffling and pretension. If rigour and discipline is what you want from podcasting, then In Our Time is for you.

Talking Words This podcast, presented by iconic Sydney bookshop Better Read Than Dead, is pretty much brand new – only a handful of episodes have so far appeared. Those episodes, though, have featured some pretty impressive names: Bri Lee, Tyson Yunkaporta and Patti Miller have all been on. Hosted by Olivia Flynn and produced by Lucy Hayward, Talking Words promises to pride itself on its diversity and its depth, and is devoted to oral storytellers, memoir writers, fictional autobiography and even reference works. New episodes appear every Wednesday.

PoemTalk There is simply no better poetry podcast available than PoemTalk, which is produced by the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, in partnership with PennSound and The Poetry Foundation. Hosted by the formidably clever poetry expert Al Filreis, these monthly episodes usually feature three poets or critics discussing a single poem – usually from within the last hundred years (though Whitman and Dickinson


have popped up too). The podcast began life in 2007, with some particular highlights including episodes on Robert Lowell, Ed Dorn, Kathy Acker, Erica Baum and Charles Bernstein. As accessible as it is provocative, the format and tone of PoemTalk should be a blueprint for all literary podcasting.

KYD Podcast Podcasts from Melbourne’s Kill Your Darlings independent online literary magazine incorporate its broader monthly KYD First Book Club initiative, and therefore feature interviews with emerging authors, while they also have occasional themed podcasts, such as ‘Handmaids and Influencers’, ‘Speculative Fiction Showcase Sampler’ and others. What I like about these podcasts, and KYD generally, is that they choose books and/or emerging Australian writers that generally I have never heard of. Recent podcasts, for example, ran interviews with Ruby Hamad, Yumna Kassab and Nina Kenwood. KYD podcasts push me out of my baby-boomer generational bubble and help me engage with young Australian writers. Access is via the KYD website and you can either listen through your browser, on Spotify or through the SoundCloud app. The podcasts run anywhere between thirty and forty-five minutes. And just in case you’re wondering, the name Kill Your Darlings riffs off a William Faulkner quote: ‘In writing, you must kill all your darlings.’ Jenny Bird

Byron Writers Festival Many of the sessions at Byron Writers Festival are recorded. Some are broadcast live and some are broadcast on ABC Radio over the ensuing months. These recordings allow both those who were there and those that weren’t to experience the vibrant debate and insightful comment on offer at the Festival each year. Festival podcasts can be found online in one place for free at a convenient Soundcloud page, with approximately twenty available from the 2019 Festival and many from years prior to that. Listeners can hear sessions featuring the likes of Bruce Pascoe, Yann Martel, Lemn Sissay, Michelle de Kretser and many others.

And the rest… Although podcasts about books and literature are increasingly ubiquitous, there are plenty of diamonds in the rough. Publishing houses themselves have, inevitably, jumped on the bandwagon, with Penguin and Vintage both producing notable podcasts. Alternatively, a number of the world’s leading journals or magazines have taken to the audio game, including the New York Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books. Other podcasts, such as the impressive Backlisted, are devoted purely to one strand of literature: in their case, re-appraising and celebrating novels from decades (or centuries) past.

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Oceanic feeling: Writing the Pacific Two years on from the publication of an acclaimed landmark anthology of writing from the Pacific, Jenny Bird considers the ongoing vibrancy of contemporary literature from a region under threat from many sides.

So vast, so fabulously varied a scatter of islands, nations, cultures, mythologies and myths, so dazzling a creature, Oceania deserves more than an attempt at mundane fact; only the imagination in free flight can hope – if not to contain her – to grasp some of her shape, plumage and pain. — Albert Wendt, ‘Towards a New Oceania’, 1976

Despite what the tourist brochures suggest, the Pacific of the twenty-first century is anything but pacific. Perhaps it never was. Imagine an ocean that covers one third of the surface of the Earth and contains 25,000 islands populated by people who speak over 1,200 vernaculars – around one quarter of the world’s languages. Empires have drawn their colonising lines across Pacific maps since the 1600s and continue to do so. Climate change threatens whole nations, as does globalisation, militarisation, tourism and development. Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti, editors of Black Marks on the White Page (2017), describe writing from the Pacific as disruptive, as ‘radical acts of transgression, of forcing others to see us in all our complexity and wonder.’ Consider, for example, Marshall Islander Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, who read her poem ‘Dear Matefele Peinam’ at the United Nations Climate Summit Opening Ceremony in New York in 2014. The General Assembly gave her a standing ovation. Many wept. Her video performance of the poem went viral on social media. In the poem a mother speaks to her baby daughter. Here are two excerpts: dear matafele peinam, I want to tell you about that lagoon that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise

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men say that one day that lagoon will devour you they say it will gnaw at the shoreline … they say you, your daughter and your granddaughter, too will wander rootless with only a passport to call home

But the mother promises her daughter that: no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals no blindfolded bureaucracies gonna push this mother ocean over the edge … We are drawing the line here Because baby we are going to fight

The lineage of post-colonial Pasifika and Maori writing stretches back to the 1960s and 1970s when eleven South Pacific nations achieved independence. Indigenous writers of that time include Samoan Albert Wendt, Maori Patricia Grace, Papua New GuineanVincent Eri, Maori Witi Ihimaera, and Fijian Jo Nacola. These first-wave writers began to explore indigenous literary aesthetics through which they could reanimate pre-colonial cultures and identities. Since those early days, Pasifika and Maori writers have continued to both employ and subvert European literary forms, genres and styles to their own ends whilst refusing to conform to any universal ‘Pacific’ aesthetic. Many have won Commonwealth literary awards, providing international recognition for their work.


Novels such as the Man Booker Prize-winning The Bone People by Kerry Hulme and Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider use myths as allegories for cultural empowerment in contemporary settings. Albert Wendt’s Black Rainbow is a dystopian novel of nuclear toxicity and neo-colonial violence. Tongan/Fijian writer Epili Hau’ofa’s Tales of the Tikongs employs the Tongan tradition of ‘talltales’ to tell satirical stories about the impact of modernity and development on small island villages. Fijian-Indian writers Satendra Nandan, Subramani and poet Sudesh Mishra write about the Fijian-Indian experience. Alan Duff’s gruelling novel Once Were Warriors exposes domestic violence, drugs, alcohol and suicide in an urban Maori community. Feminist writers challenge gender politics. A lively poetry scene flourishes online through websites such as Pasifika Poetry Web and Blackmail Press Poetry e-zine. Hawaii-based TinFish Press has an online store of Asia/Pacific publications. Some Pacific writers switch between English and indigenous languages with the effect of pulling readers into local vernaculars and rhythms of speech, reminding the reader that most Maori and Pasifika are multilingual, and that these stories are for them. Anahera Gildea writes in her short story ‘Cicada Cingulata: The Bird of Rehua’: She left him. Kawhena with her rolling gait and massive puku, walked away from her ahi kã and her tãne and her kãinga. For herself she could do nothing, but for her baby she could raze heaven.

A major focus of ‘writing back’ has been rebutting the distorted representations of the Pacific and its people found in Western literature since the 1800s and perpetuated by the ‘Hollynesia’ film and television industry. The Pacific is populated with castaways and Man Fridays, American sailors, cannibals, mutineers and compliant bare-breasted women. In the great sea novels of Melville and Conrad the ocean serves as a symbolic canvas upon which men in boats enacted epic quests of masculinity and empire. In the poem ‘Guys like Gauguin’, Selina Tusitala Marsh (New Zealand-born poet of Samoan, Tuvaluan and European ancestry) pulls apart the representations of Pacific women as dusky exotic objects of white male desire. Here is the first section: Thanks Bougainville For desiring em young so guys like Gauguin could dream and dream then take his syphilitic body

downstream to the tropics to test his artistic hypothesis about how the uncivilised ripen like paw paw are best slightly raw delectably firm dangling like golden prepubescent buds seeding nymphomania for guys like Gauguin

A good place to begin to explore the writing of the Pacific is Black Marks on the White Page. Published in New Zealand in 2017, it includes short stories, poems, novel excerpts and visual art from a thoughtfully curated collection of canonical first-wave and awardwinning writers alongside as yet unpublished writers. The dedication invites the reader to a talanoa, a conversation where the stories do the talking: For all who walk, carve, talk, dance, chant Paint and sing the pacific into the future A talanoa awaits you Welcome – join the kõrero

Black Marks on the White Page is published by Penguin.

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From the Reading Chair: Critical reading for writers In the first instalment of a new series on the nuts and bolts of writing, local editor and writing expert Laurel Cohn asks the question: can you become a better writer by becoming a better reader?

All good writers are readers. All good writers are readers. They read extensively within their own genre, as well as beyond it. Some writers fear that if they read books that might be like their own, they will be unduly influenced. They are right, and they are wrong. We all learn through a process of mimesis, imitation. Influence plays a significant role in how we fashion ourselves and our creative outputs. That is not a bad thing, but an important and necessary part of learning. We are always learning from the stories we consume, whether we are conscious of it or not. But it is wrong to fear the influence of other writers; reading the work of others is a way of understanding the craft and helps you develop a range of technical skills and aesthetic ideas that will support the expression of your own voice. Imitating others may be 14 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

just part of the process, but in the end, you will find your own voice – informed, as it inevitably will be, by the voices of others. The more you write, the more you become aware of how others do it, and you begin to notice what works and what doesn’t work in books you read. As a developmental editor, I spend much of my time reading works-in-progress and thinking about what is required to take the manuscript to the next level. I apply my analytical skills to the task, with my ‘problem-solver’ hat firmly in place. Of course, I read for pleasure as well as for work. Whether I am starting a new manuscript or a new book, I read with curiosity and an open mind. As I read I look out for things that surprise me, that move me, that bore me, that intrigue me. Yes, I love it when I am completely hooked and swept up by a story,

but then I step back and think about why I am so absorbed. What is it about the chapter endings that make me keep reading late into the night? Why does the dialogue feel so rich even though not much is being said? Why don’t I find this character convincing? What is it about the rhythm of the words that makes the sentences sing? Why is my attention flagging? Engaging in a text in this way is what critical reading is all about. Rather than being ‘critical’ in terms of judging something as faulty or flawed, it is about being attentive and bringing a level of awareness into the reading experience to sharpen your focus on the craft. You can read a favourite author, revisit a favourite book, pick up a recent release in the genre you are writing, turn to a recommended book you have been meaning to read, or find something put out by


a publisher you are interested in submitting work to. Or go for an essay or short story. You can look broadly at how the work succeeds in delivering its intent, much like a review. Or you can focus on specific elements of storytelling, such as characterisation, dialogue, voice, pacing, point of view. What exactly does the reader learn about a new character when they are first introduced? How does the writer convey setting and mood through dialogue? What is the effect of varying sentence lengths on the reading experience? How does the writer weave backstory into the opening chapters? How does the writer balance action and exposition? How does the writer pull in and out of different points of view? You might want to focus on an aspect of your own work you are unsure about. I worked with a

memoir writer who was struggling with what to put in chapter one and, more importantly, what to leave out. So she went away and read the first chapter of half a dozen memoirs noting how the writers engaged the reader and set up the story. This helped her enormously in determining how she would go about that allimportant first chapter. So critical reading is valuable in helping you understand the craft of writing, and as a problem-solving tool. There is another important benefit to critical reading that is often overlooked. To develop your work to a publishable standard, at some stage you will need to stand back from the work and see it as a

whole in order to evaluate what is and isn’t working, and to diagnose whether the structure is successful. This isn’t easy, as the overall effect of a work, the structure in particular, can be hidden by a focus on events, characters, style and other specific story elements. You need to look hard, and you need to practice looking. Reading the works of others gives you the necessary practice to sharpen your critical reading abilities so that you can apply this type of lens to your own work and improve your draft. As Stephen King says in On Writing, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’

Laurel Cohn will host a Byron Writers Festival Workshop on Critical Reading for Writers on March 14. For further details turn to page 27.

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The colours of youth: 2019 in YA 2019 saw the #LoveOZYA movement gather plenty of momentum (both online and offline), with young adult (YA) fiction by Australian authors gaining increased recognition across the literary world. Amid this growing push to read local authors and support the burgeoning YA scene in Australia, YA writer and northerly book reviewer Polly Jude picks her favourite novels of the year.

Zombie apocalypse

Dystopian sequel


Highway Bodies by Robert Newton

Rogue by A.J. Betts

What I Like About Me by Jenna Guillaume

In the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, a group of teen misfits struggle to survive in a new world that doesn’t make sense to them. The power is out, mobiles don’t work, they have no idea what is going on and there’s no one coming to help them.

In Betts’ previous novel Hive, we discovered Hayley living in a weird futuristic world where the elders controlled everything. Now in the thrilling conclusion, Hayley has escaped the hive and is exploring a whole new world.

Summer holidays with your number-one crush should be heaven. But Maisie Martin’s summer holiday plans get all mixed up. Now she’s in the beauty pageant she has despised for years, defying her parents and risking friendships that mean everything to her.

They’ve lost everything and everyone they loved. Now three groups of teens, with varying queer and non-gender-conforming identities, join forces in the resistance to take on the zombies in the rugged Australian landscape. Highway Bodies is a fast-paced zombie thriller that will appeal to most YA readers, especially the reluctant ones. It has enough gory fight scenes and zombie bashings to appeal to YA boys and reluctant readers. Highway Bodies explores non-binary identity and belonging. Allen & Unwin / 208 pp / RRP $19.99 16 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

On Maria Island, Hayley is confronted by her difference and new threats she didn’t even know existed. She must come to terms with her decision to escape the world she knew and find a way to survive in the new world that’s just as terrifying as the one she fled. This sequel will appeal to readers who loved the first book and need to see this story through. Pan Macmillan / 368 pp / RRP $16.99

Maisie has struggled with body shape and self-esteem her whole life. She soon discovers that there’s more going on, that the adults in her life don’t always have it together, and that first romances come in all different shapes and sizes. What I Like About Me is a cute coming-of-age rom-com that will appeal to younger YA readers, especially girls, and their mums. Pan Macmillan / 256 pp / RRP $16.99


Love the planet

Tear jerker

Crossing cultures

Sky by Ondine Sherman

Promise Me Happy by Robert Newton

The Honeyman & The Hunter by Neil Grant

After her mum’s death, Sky moves in with her aunt and uncle. Sky experiences culture shock as she moves from her city home to the country. Sky is struggling to fit in and be true to herself. She’s dealing with the loss of her mum and the old life she had.

When Nate is released from juvie, he’s got to get used to life on the outside. After eighteen months inside, he needs to adapt to life without the rules and structures he’s become used to. He’s also struggling to get used to life without his mum. His uncle, Mick, offers Nate a job and a new start.

Sixteen-year-old Rudra Solace lives between two worlds. HalfAustralian and half-Indian, he struggles to fit in with an Australian culture that always sees him as foreign.

She’s researching the local chicken farm for a school assignment when she discovers they are treating their animals inhumanely. Sky faces some difficult decisions that aren’t going to make her popular with the local cool girls. Sky will appeal to younger female YA readers as they explore the ethical issues around animal cruelty and personal choice. Pantera Press / 252 pp / RRP $18.99

Tartan-wearing Gem has also had a hard life. Gem takes Nate under her wing and introduces him to a new possible future, living and working on the river. Just when he thinks life isn’t so bad, Nate learns life doesn’t always have a happy ending. Brace yourself, if you don’t cry in this one, you have a heart of stone! Promise Me Happy will appeal to older YA girls.

When his Indian grandma shows up, everything is about to change. Ancient family secrets are revealed, and this past binds his Australian and Indian families together. Rudra must travel to India to right the past and change the future. The Honeyman & The Hunter is a coming-of-age story. It is beautifully written, exotic and will appeal to all YA audiences – it is equally accessible and a great read for the non-YA audience as well. Allen and Unwin / 288 pp / RRP $19.99

Puffin / 282 pp / RRP $17.99

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Skin graft: An interview with Peter Mitchell The poetry of Lismore writer Peter Mitchell is a poignant and visceral meditation on illness, grief, mortality and loss. In the wake of his latest chapbook Conspiracy of Skin, which was recently highly commended in the Wesley Michel Wright Prize 2019, he looks back over the events and impetus that gave rise to his new work.

Can you describe how these poems emerged and the personal experiences behind them? The poet Anne Sexton observed, ‘Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.’ For thirty-six years, I’ve listened to the soul of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), listened as it has written and writes its luminous, shattering letters on my body’s coordinates. For all these years, I’ve crafted representations of these intimacies. But firstly, some background. In the mid-1990s, I attempted a memoir, describing the day-to-day living with my viral friend. The initial attempts failed, the reasons why unknown to me. With more years passing, it wasn’t a matter of time healing, but more of time revealing. By the 2010s, the time for memoir was right. In between these failures, the poems evoking these experiences emerged. Due to the slipperiness of my memory, I don’t remember the actual triggers for their development, for their presence in my life. Perhaps the poems 18 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

emerged organically; perhaps the memoir provoked their formation.

writing. In turn, Conspiracy of Skin was published.

In 2009, a poetry chapbook, The Scarlet Moment was published with Picaro Press. Nine of the poems in it evoke my stay in 17 South, the AIDS ward at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst for two weeks in June 1992. The title poem, ‘The Scarlet Moment’, describes a tumour rising ‘like a bushfire sun/edging the morning grey’ on the back of my tongue. It was diagnosed as a NonHodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Which other poets were inspirations?

In the late 2000s, I wrote a few more poems. By this time, I had a better grasp of how to write poetry and more coherent ideas of how I represented living with HIV. The wish for a collection of poetry with HIV as the theme was always a creative impulse through the following decade. By the mid2010s, I was alternatively writing a memoir, Fragments Through the Epidemic and a poetry chapbook, Conspiracy of Skin. Each form of writing stimulated the other. In 2018, I did a poetry mentorship with Mark Tredinnick. This was and is a huge stimulus to my poetry

Just Kids and M Train, both memoirs by Patti Smith, were inspiring. Indeed, I find her whole career inspiring; I consider her a role-model. She also writes poetry. Other poets? Pablo Neruda, Mark Tredinnick’s poetry, Les Murray, Dorothy Porter, Judy Johnson. I read poetry as randomly as a male satin bowerbird collects blue objects to decorate his bower. Sometimes voracious, sometimes occasional; I read anthologies and individual collections. How did Mark Tredinnick help to craft these works? Years previously, I attended two poetry and one non-fiction workshop conducted by Mark. Through these, I was aware of his skills, knowledge and reputation. In 2017, I entered a poem, ‘The Book of Night’ in the Adrien Abbott Prize. Mark was the judge. The poem was awarded a Highly Commended. Mark wrote me a


warm-hearted, praise-worthy message in response to it. From this, I asked him about being a mentor to me with poetry. We arranged it through the writing network he is a member of and the rest is history. During our mentorship, I submitted a bunch of poems then he suggested edits and we teased them out. This to-and-fro process occurred several times over twelve months. Conspiracy of Skin was completed, as well as the scaffolding for a full collection, tentatively titled, Love That Dares Speak its Names. Can you describe how poetry allowed you to come to terms with your experiences with illness and treatment? My crafting of these poems enabled the construction of distances, both temporal and metaphoric, from these distressing experiences. The initial failures at writing memoir to represent this suffering showed that not enough time had passed. As more years elapsed, then I started creating some of the poems.

Then the metaphoric comes into play. In describing a tumour on the back of my tongue as ‘a red dawn’ in a reworked version of ‘The Scarlet Moment’, this rewrites this bodily malfunction and, in turn, constructs a further distance. The striking image becomes a therapeutic tool and memorialises the emotions, memories and body parts that comprised that specific body damage. It follows that I live with these better. I can talk about the incidents described in Conspiracy without getting upset. Also, I am more comfortable at funerals and know what and what not to say to people living with cancer. How important to you are the formal qualities of a poem, and how they play with space, line breaks, patterns and other technical elements on a page? When I write free verse, some technical elements are always important to me. Most notably, these are verse structure, spacing and line length.

I favour two-lined or three-lined verses. I experiment with this particular element, trying different stanza arrangements on the page then deciding on the one I prefer. It is a mysterious and intuitive process. I tend not to analyse it and go with the flow. Imagery, simile, alliteration and metaphor are equally important. The use of line breaks, stopped lines and enjambment are the technical elements I’ve had the least knowledge about. After the mentorship with Mark, I now have a greater appreciation of their use and application as well as their effects, like dramatic impact. A goal for the future is sitting down and reading the oeuvre of a poet. Then I’ll choose a poem, forensically examine it for its features and incorporate this into my writing practice. A second goal is the exploration of traditional forms like the sonnet and pantoum.

Conspiracy of Skin is published by Ginninderra Press

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Love and mercy Act of Grace By Anna Krien Review by Kathy Gibbings

Anna Krien is the author of award-winning nonfiction works, Night Games (following the rape trail of an Australian Rules footballer) and Into the Woods, a work of investigative journalism looking at the battle over old-growth forests in Tasmania. Act of Grace is her first published novel. Meditating on the title, I realised I didn’t understand what is meant by grace. I just knew that my (radical, socialist, Methodist) aunt didn’t hold much truck with it. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘a privilege or concession that cannot be claimed as a right’. Or, on a more religious note, according to the United Methodist Church’s website (, ‘Grace can be defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it’. I’m starting to get a sense of it, and maybe to understand my aunt’s objections. For her, I believe, humans had a responsibility to act in ethical ways. Perhaps she felt that grace was letting us off the hook. Krien alludes to this late in the novel when she writes of her character Nasim, ‘To the authorities, she was a Baghdad mother who had found herself on the receiving end of the Australian army, her mewling baby lost, their compensation an act of grace.’ 20 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

Perhaps Act of Grace is asking us to consider using grace when we come to judge other people’s actions: when their survival is at stake, when they are impacted by trauma, when there are no good choices. The main protagonists in the novel are Toohey, a veteran who has fought in Iraq; Robbie, the daughter of an Aboriginal father and a white mother; and Nasim, who grew up under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Through their personal stories, Krien challenges the reader to consider the repercussions of colonisation and dispossession, issues of asylum seeking, and the impact of Australia’s military actions overseas. The writing is assured and engaging, the characters and their relationships draw us into their circle, and there are great descriptions of landscape and setting. Krien describes West Gate Bridge as ‘like a sauropod, a long grey tail of concrete and steel arching up into the sky, its back stretching over the water, and then, lazily, a neck curving its way to the ground.’ She also paints a picture of multicultural Melbourne: Nasim breathed in the men, their familiar odour of sweat, thumbed newsprint, fermented vinegar and chickpeas. She took in the women, their woody perfume, with notes of rose. At stalls; people selling dimpled copper bowls, ladles; in nut and legume shops, there were plastic containers of Baharat,


baskets of Babylon dates, tall bottles of rosewater and cranberry molasses. One shopkeeper had placed a halved pomegranate on his counter, its red jewels glinting.

The book is experimental in form. My uncle (husband of aforementioned aunt), once made a short film, titled Contrapuntal, when he came to visit our farm in the school holidays. In the film, I danced around, my brother careered madly pushing a toy pram, one cousin wandered soulfully with a guitar, the other pushed a wheelbarrow. We lived in flat country so there was a big field of vision, and we wove in and out of the screen, one person cross-cutting another, and the camera would chase their trajectory for a while. In music, a contrapuntal form introduces multiple melodies that are equally important, rather than a single melody that is given more weight. Act of Grace mirrors this style. Each of the stories are strong and are developed independently, until gradually they are interwoven. This is an interesting textural device, but I would have liked the connections to be made sooner – for too long it felt like a series of unconnected short stories. And on occasions when the characters eventually met, new and distracting material was added in; for instance, the story of Robbie going to

Central Australia to work on an Aboriginal community, seemed one tale too many. Krien plays around with structure within sections as well. Recently I attended an excellent workshop, Understanding Story Structure, hosted by Nambucca Valley Writers Group. Facilitator Dr Laurel Cohn stressed the important role that structure plays in building the punch and impact of story. In the first chapter, Toohey, his partner Jean and son Gerry, are on a road trip across the outback. The story is told non-chronologically, intermingling scenes from the inside the car, the war, Melbourne, a chicken farm. It contains flashbacks and flash-forwards. The choppedup nature of the narrative creates confusion, and dissipates some of the tension and menace. Structural issues aside, Act of Grace is an important novel on the Australian landscape, international in scope and ambitious, taking on big and multifaceted themes. And it also reminds us that we all need a little grace sometimes, even if we don’t always deserve it. Black Inc. / 336pp / $32.99

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A second chance The Gift of Life By Josephine Moon Review by Katinka Smit

It’s a common story in the pages of women’s magazines around the country – the lucky organ recipient who would have died without the transplant. But we never really hear about the life of the donor, or their families. Australian author Josephine Moon’s latest novel, The Gift of Life, explores the lives of Gabrielle, the heart recipient, and Krystal, the grief-stricken widow of Evan, whose heart beats in Gabrielle’s chest. Moon’s initial fascination with the subject of organ transplants began twenty years ago after watching The Phil Donahue Show, in which American heart transplant recipient Claire Sylvia described waking up with cravings for chicken nuggets. She tracked down her donor’s family and found out that the man had eaten chicken nuggets just before he died. The idea of something experiential being transferred between deceased donor and organ recipient intrigued Moon. ‘Cellular memory’, as it’s termed, is reportedly a common phenomenon, particularly with heart transplants. The idea functions as a central plot hinge in the book, which is part drama, part mystery, part romance. In Gabrielle’s case, she inherits Evan’s sommelier ability and has developed a nose for coffee. Her café is 22 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

the focus of her romance with her roaster/barista and it is also the place where she first encounters Krystal, who has by chance discovered Gabrielle’s transplant date. Krystal is tortured by the circumstances of Evan’s death and is desperately seeking answers, hoping Gabrielle might hold them. And it turns out she does, with Krystal’s sudden appearance awakening the troubled conscience beating within her. An uneasy relationship between the two women develops, resulting in a quest that requires both protagonists to exorcise a few personal demons along the way. The inner-city Melbourne setting, with its emphasis on fashionable living, is a recognisable, familycentred, suburban world that most Anglo-Australian readers can relate to. Characterisation is dependent on these surface circumstances to a large degree, which may isolate some readers and perhaps annoy lovers of literary fiction, but Moon’s intention was to provide a non-threatening entrance point into the topic of organ donation, citing fiction as ‘the only time when you get inside somebody else’s mind.’ The novel will be regarded as mainstream fiction among most readers. Organ donation is a large and complex subject matter, with deep tentacles attaching to every part


of a human life. Moon admits she left much of it out, such as the long wait for an organ and the eventual operation and enormous parts of the health and life journey of a transplant recipient – for the sake of narrative, these things did not make the cut. Instead, these are woven in small threads through Gabrielle’s psychology and back story with her kids and ex-husband, and much of the depth of the organ donation process is compressed into Krystal’s flashbacks. Importantly, Krystal’s traumatic experience of donating her husband’s organs while he lies brain dead in intensive care highlights the need to know, definitively, within our own families, everyone’s wishes around organ donation. Organ donation in Australia is an opt-in process through Medicare, but a donor’s wishes can still be vetoed by the donor’s next of kin. Tellingly, most families who know that their loved one wanted to donate their organs do follow through on their wishes. But many families who only find out in the hospital end up cancelling their dying relative’s wishes. Krystal bemoans that she and Evan never discussed it; she felt bullied by his relatives into making the decision, a position no one would want to find themselves in.

The inevitability of death is not an easy subject to broach in our society. Perhaps we are superstitiously warding it off by not speaking about it, perhaps we don’t want to contemplate the void of grief that losing a loved one suddenly opens up. Or perhaps, like Josephine Moon suggests, we’re just not ‘death savvy’. We don’t have, like in some traditions, open wakes with the corpse, or intricate death rituals of bathing bodies or stylised, culturally defined grieving rites. ‘We don’t get taught about death,’ says Moon. ‘It’s all hidden away. It’s so shocking when it happens because we don’t see it.’ The Gift of Life opens a door into the difficult reality of organ transplants while still providing an escapist read. Book club notes and questions will facilitate conversations among members, but it’s a good book to share with your relatives too. Hopefully the reality of a transplant as depicted in the novel would never strike, but it can only be reassuring to know what everyone wants should the necessity arise. The Gift of Life may end up being a transformative book, for somebody. Penguin / 384pp / $32.99

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Melting pot: The politics of Nordic Noir With ‘Nordic Noir’ now a firmly ensconced literary genre within the Western canon, Colleen O’Brien examines the political background to this Scandinavian mode of literature and how its social concerns have evolved over the decades.

As I am writing this, the gunning down of Muslims at prayer in a New Zealand mosque is fresh in my mind, and in the news. I had intended to focus on race and ethnicity in this article on Nordic Noir, and this terrible incident makes this focus even more relevant. Nordic Noir is a genre of crime fiction that burst onto Western bookshelves with the publication of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in English in 2008. In Scandinavian countries, it is regarded as beginning in the 1960s with the Martin Beck series by the left-wing writing couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö of Sweden. The genre includes crime fiction from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Greenland and Iceland. My image of these countries is of socially democratic, tolerant societies. However, in these novels the authors peer under that public layer to expose dark secrets and hidden hatreds. Themes include an intolerance of other races, refugees and immigrants; white supremacy; memories of World War II; the expansion of the European Union; the proximity of Russia and the upheavals in the Baltic states. The protagonists are deeply 24 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

disappointed in their politicians and believe society is deteriorating. The aspect of this that most surprised me, from the novels, was that the level of animosity towards other races and nationalities began as early as the 1990s, when Russians and Eastern Europeans were demonised. In later novels, those from Africa and the Middle East are viewed with suspicion. The Nordic countries’ relationships with Germany are of course coloured by World War II. In Mads Peder Nordbo’s The Girl Without Skin, (Denmark, 2017) set in Greenland, the author opens the book with local elections and explores the animosity between Greenlanders, Inuits, Faroe Islanders and Danes. The Danes are regarded with contempt and hatred by the other three, and the Danes in turn view the others with arrogance as being ‘backward’. When Henning Mankell was writing his Wallander series he hoped to highlight the growing racism, xenophobia and antiimmigration feeling in Sweden. His The Dogs of Riga (Sweden, 1992) depicts the collapse of the Baltic states and the oppressive actions of Russia. The Russian minority

in Latvia, where the book is set, opposes the nation’s push for independence and are regarded as bandits by the Latvians. Wallander observes the growing fear in Sweden of the increasing presence of the Russian mafia, which the novel’s protagonists link with the KGB. As he investigates, Kurt Wallander comes to understand what fear and oppression can do to people. Even though many of the novels reference Russia, it is particularly in this novel that the overbearing presence is in the direct foreground. Mankell’s Faceless Killers (Sweden, 1991) portrays prejudice against refugees arriving from Poland; it also portrays a camp for refugees from Africa and the Middle East that had been the subject of cross burnings, rocks through windows and later a horrific murder by two white supremacists. Wallander shows his prejudice when he thinks, ‘I really hope that the killers [of an old farming couple] are at that refugee camp. Then maybe it’ll put an end to this arbitrary, lax policy that allows anyone at all, for any reason at all, to cross the border into Sweden.’ Wisely, he kept this opinion to himself. As the story progresses, Wallander


develops more compassion and understanding for these desperate people. Throughout the book, there are opinions and debates about refugees and immigrants from a range of countries. To Australians, Russia is a distant enemy of the state and is not seen in the same way because it is not next door. This feeling of fear and memory permeates most of the Nordic Noir I have read, and also extends to ex-Soviet Bloc countries. In Australia, our memory of World War II is of a past and distant war. In the Nordic countries, it is a close memory with people still affected by it. During World War II, the Danes resisted attempts by the Nazis to deport Danish Jews and indeed went to great lengths to hide them or to help them across the sea to Sweden. The Swedish declaration of neutrality had been respected by the Germans, but Norway and Denmark were occupied. Much Scandinavian crime noir harks back to this era. Larsson, who worked on an antiracist magazine as he wrote his crime novels, portrayed virulent Nazism in The Girl With The Dragon

Tattoo (Sweden, 2005), his first novel in the Millennium series. Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s ambition was to create a portrait of a corrupt modern society. As Jonathan Franzen says in the introduction to the English edition, ‘The book is fuelled by the tension between the dystopic vision of its authors and the essential optimism of its genre.’ The authors depict the exploitation by landlords of Turk and Algerian workers. A particularly odious character hates three categories of people: foreigners, teenagers and socialists, and says he would escape to the mountains ‘if it weren’t that the whole of Lapland is lousy with Lapps.’ The authors deal with difficult subjects with great whimsy. The Blind Goddess (Norway, 1993) by Anne Holt depicts ‘darkskinned people as apprehensive with hands damp with perspiration after hours of waiting to be told their fate in the Police Immigration Department.’ The Blinded Man (Sweden, 1999) by Arne Dahl references Central European and Russian refugees. The unfortunate term ‘svartskalle’

or ‘blackhead’ is used to refer to people with dark hair – those from the Middle East. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Dept Q series, set in Denmark and first published in Denmark in 2007, has an ensemble cast which includes a Muslim ‘cleaner’, Assad, who doubles as an investigator. The main detective, Carl Morck, has a thrumming low-level misanthropy which permeates all his interactions. Although racism is part of this, Morck nevertheless comes to appreciate Assad. But this doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t racist, having made an ‘exception’ of one Muslim. Woman With A Birthmark (Sweden, 1996) by Håkan Nesser describes how ‘a racist gang had run amok through the immigrant district… and caused a certain amount of damage.’ A racist teacher is viewed with opprobrium by his colleagues when he tells a student ‘to go to hell. Or back to the country he came from, wherever that was.’ Most Nordic Noir is socially conscious crime fiction that includes protagonists who not only grapple with racism, but also sexism and political corruption. northerly SUMMER 2020 | 25







10.00AM - 1.00PM

10.00AM - 4.00PM

10.00AM - 1.00PM

Byron Writers Festival Office

Byron Writers Festival Office

Byron Writers Festival Office

$60 / $50*

$120 / $100*

$60 / $50* Many successful writers use journaling as a doorway to access their creative spirit. Daily writing can help make sense of thoughts and emotions that otherwise may go untethered. It also helps the mind with linkages, making valuable connections between thoughts and ideas. Writing about thoughts and emotions somehow brings them into the light, into clarity. Participants will walk away with an understanding of when, how and what journaling can be for them. You will learn about the many different types of journaling and methods used by writers and creatives, and how to start practising your own style of journaling. Vicki Bennett is the author of twentyeight books in several different genres and has been writing a journal for over twenty years.

You have been working away at your brilliant manuscript and now feel it is ready to share with the world. This half-day workshop will give you strategies for writing a distinctive submission that will get your work noticed by agents, publishers, competition judges, and residencies. Through discussion, class work and feedback we will focus on developing a professional approach to submitting manuscripts, identifying what makes your work distinctive, a tagline, a synopsis and a cover letter. Suitable for writers of fiction or narrative non-fiction. Marele Day’s four-book Claudia Valentine series won her a Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award for crime writing. Her bestselling literary novel, Lambs of God, was published to international acclaim and is now a major TV miniseries.

For workshop details and to register visit 26 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

The novella has often been seen as an enigmatic in-between form, adrift between the short story and the novel. But, at a time when readers have never had more inputs, novellas might be a perfect fit. And, with a good understanding of the form and the right tools, they can be deeply rewarding to write. Nick Earls has taken three years of PhD research into twentyfirst century novella writing and publishing (for his award-winning Wisdom Tree series) and distilled it into one day of key information and exercises exploring contemporary novella craft and markets. Participants will work on the development of a characterbased novella, applying the key features of the novella as tools. This process will examine how to develop and reveal the protagonist in a novella, use of detail, managing plotlines, and managing the scope to get the most out of the form.




10.00AM - 4.00PM

Byron Writers Festival Office

Byron Writers Festival Office

$100 / $90*

$120 / $100* All good writers are readers. They read extensively within their own genre, as well as beyond it. We all learn through a process of imitation, and influence plays a significant role in how we fashion ourselves and our creative outputs. Reading the work of others is a way of understanding the craft and helps you develop a range of technical skills and aesthetic ideas that will support the expression of your own voice. The key is to read critically, to read like a writer. This workshop is designed to sharpen your critical reading abilities. In the workshop we will read a range of excerpts. Specific exercises will focus on different story elements that are relevant to both fiction and narrative non-fiction writers, such as voice, backstory, openings, chapter beginnings and endings, point of view, setting and description.

Finding writing too solitary or serious? Feeling stuck? Looking to be inspired? Then this workshop could be the one for you. A range of fun short writing exercises in a variety of styles for writers of all levels will leave participants feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to write. Hilton’s writing can be found in Grieve, The Examined Life, Pulse, Chrysalis, The Universal Doctor and More Voices. His play, Enduring Witness, has been performed in the USA and Australia. A film version of the play is used in medical education to facilitate end-of-life discussions.

*Byron Writers Festival members or students

northerly SUMMER 2020 | 27



Australian writers are invited to enter short stories on any theme to this competition, which offers the winner prize money of $1,000. Entries should not exceed 2,500 words with a deadline for entries of 13 December. Each entry must be accompanied by a $10 administration fee. For full conditions visit au/halporter2019


The Tom Collins Poetry Prize is one of Australia’s most prestigious poetry prizes, with first place taking $1,000, second prize $300 and third prize $100. The competition’s entry deadline is 15 December, with the winners announced in February. Each entry is $10, with a limit of five entries per person. Poems should not be longer than sixty lines. For full terms and conditions visit


The Calibre Essay Prize, run by Australian Book Review, is one of the world’s leading prizes for a new essay and is worth a total of $7,500. The competition is open to all essayists writing in English. Essays should be between 2,000 and 5,000 words on any subject and can be personal or political, literary or speculative, traditional or experimental. First prize wins $5,000 with second taking $2,500. Deadline for entries is 15 January and there is an entry fee of $25 ($15 for ABR subscribers). For more information go to prizes-programs/calibre-prize


This short story competition invites short stories of no more than 1,500 words on a theme related to some aspect of Australia, and suitable for readers aged sixteen or over. An award pool of $1,000 is on offer to the winners, while there is a $14 entry fee for one story, $26 for two stories, and $36 for three stories. Entries close on 19 January. For more information visit competitions/open-the-stringybarkshort-story-award-2019.html

NEWCASTLE SHORT STORY AWARD This competition invites short stories of up to 2,000 words on any theme. First 28 | SUMMER 2020 northerly

prize wins $3,000, second prize $1,700 and third prize $1,000. This year’s judges are Laura Elvery and Khalid Warsame. Entries close on 3 February and there is an entry fee of $16.50. For full details log on to newcastle-short-story-award-2019


This competition is open to Australian or New Zealand residents for short stories of up to 3,000 words with an island or island-resonant theme. The winner will receive a prize of $500 and anthology publication – a selection of other entries also will be published. There is an entry fee of $20 per story, with a deadline of 16 February. For further details go to


This UK-based competition is open to international submissions of short stories of up to 3,000 words in length. Cash prizes are on offer (ranging from £25 to £150) as well as optional critique of stories. Winning stories will be published online and in an anthology at a later date. Entry fee is £6 and the optional critique is £10 – entries close 29 February. For more information visit


There is a fifty-line limit for the 2019 WB Yeats Poetry Prize, which invites entries in an open style. Winner takes $500, with second and third winning $75. Entries are via email or post, with a deadline of 31 March. There is a fee of $10 for the first entry and $4 for further entries. Full details are available at


The Stuart Hadow Prize is an annual short story competition run by FAWWA in honour of Western Australian writers Lyndall Hadow and Donald Stuart. Each year the contest attracts high-quality entries from around Australia. In 2020, the first prize is $1,000 and a week of unpaid residency at Mattie Furphy House in Swanbourne. This year’s contest is open theme, with a maximum of 3,000 words per story. Entries close on 1 June and there is an entry fee of $15 per story. For further details go to

WRITERS GROUPS ALSTONVILLE PLATEAU WRITERS GROUP Meets second Friday of each month, 10am - 12pm. All genres welcome, contact Kerry on (02) 6628 5662 or email BALLINA/BYRON U3A CREATIVE WRITING Meets every second Wednesday at 12pm, Fripp Oval, Ballina. Contact Ann Neal on (02) 6681 6612. BANGALOW WRITERS GROUP Meets Thursdays at 9:15am at Bangalow Scout Hall. Contact Simone on 0407 749 288 BELLINGEN WRITERS GROUP Meets at Bellingen Golf Club on the fourth Monday of the month at 2pm. All welcome, contact Joanne on (02) 6655 9246 or email BYRON BAY MEMOIR AND FICTION WRITING GROUP Meets monthly at Sunrise Beach, Byron Bay. Contact Diana on 0420 282 938 or BYRON WRITERS Every Tuesday 10am to 12pm, Byron Bay Library. Contact the library on (02) 6685 8540. CASINO WRITERS GROUP Meets every third Thursday of the month at 4pm at Casino Library. Contact Brian on (02) 6628 2636 or email CLOUDCATCHERS For Haiku enthusiasts. A ginko (haiku walk) is undertaken according to group agreement. Contact Quendryth on (02) 6653 3256 or email COFFS HARBOUR WRITERS GROUP Meets 1st Wednesday of the month 10.30am to 12.30pm. Contact Lorraine Penn on (02) 6653 3256 or 0404 163 136, email: COFFS HARBOUR MEMOIR WRITERS GROUP Share your memoir writing for critique. Monthly meetings, contact 0409 824 803 or email CRU3A RIVER POETS Meets every Thursday at 10:30am, venue varies, mainly in Yamba. Contact Pauline on (02) 6645 8715 or email DORRIGO WRITERS GROUP Meets every second Wednesday from 10am-2pm. Contact Iris on (02) 6657 5274 or email or contact Nell on (02) 6657 4089 DUNOON WRITERS GROUP Writers on the Block. Meets second Tuesday of each month, 6:30pm – 8:30pm at Dunoon Sports Club.Contact Helga on (02) 6620 2994 (W), 0401 405 178 (M) or email FAW PORT MACQUARIE-HASTINGS REGIONAL Meets 1pm on last Saturday of each month, Maritime Museum, Port Macquarie. Contact Joie on (02) 6584 3520 or email Bessie on GOLD COAST WRITERS ASSOCIATION Meets third Saturday of each month, 1:30pm for 2pm start, at Fradgley Hall, Burleigh Heads Library, Park Avenue, Burleigh Heads. Contact 0431 443 385 or email info@ KYOGLE WRITERS Meets first Tuesday of each month, 10:30am at Kyogle Bowling Club. Contact Brian on (02) 6624 2636 or email LISMORE WRITERS GROUP Meets second Tuesday of the month from 6pm to 8pm at Communities Hub Art Space on Keen Street. Cost is $5 for Hub members, $7.50 for non-members. For more details phone 0410 832 362. MIDDLE GRADE / YOUNG ADULT FICTION WRITERS’ GROUP Meets monthly at 2pm on Sundays in Bangalow. Contact Carolyn Bishop at or 0431 161 104 NAMBUCCA VALLEY WRITERS GROUP Meets fourth Saturday of each month, 1:30pm, Nambucca. Contact (02) 6568 9648 or TAREE-MANNING RIVER SCRIBBLERS Meets second Wednesday of the month, 9am-11:30am, Taree. Call first to check venue. Contact Bob Winston on (02) 6553 2829 or email TWEED POETS AND WRITERS Meets weekly at the Coolangatta Senior Citizens Centre on Tuesdays from 1:30 to 3:30pm, NSW time. Poets, novelists, playwrights, short story writers are all welcome. Phone Lorraine (07) 5524 8035 or Pauline (07) 5524 5062. WORDSFLOW WRITING GROUP Meets Fridays during school term, 12:30pm-3pm, Pottsville Beach Neighbourhood Centre, 12a Elizabeth St, Pottsville Beach. Contact Cheryl on 0412 455 707 or visit www.

Are you passionate about the importance of stories, ideas and debate in shaping culture? We are.

Join as a member of Byron Writers Festival today to become part of an active and growing creative community of writers, readers and change-makers with year-round activities and benefits. The Byron Writers Festival Membership Drive kicks off 3 February 2020. To join or renew, head to:

*Existing members will be emailed renewal reminders in February 2020. All new memberships from December 2019 will go into our February membership drive prize draw

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