Friday, 14 April 2017

New story ... a Winner!

It's been a while ... And, yes, I have been busy.  But here is something that won't take long for me to put up, or for you to read.

One of my short stories Telling a Weed from a Flower is the winner of an online competition run by Field of Words.  I am thrilled and honoured, and grateful to Field of Words for their continuing support of emerging writers. Congrats also to Julia Thatcher for her runner-up story, Insomnia. 

You can read my story here:

To read Julia Thatcher's story go to:

Monday, 9 January 2017

"The Yellow Wallpaper" and me

I came to literary theory and creative writing courses late. I had written as a teenager—the usual angst-filled poetry, maudlin short stories—but my adult life was mostly about working and paying bills, with very little time for writing. Then I had children, became a stay-at-home-mum, and suddenly I had some free time again. I went to writing courses, which gave me both confidence and inspiration, and after that I bumbled along independently—but with no success. I was producing work, but I didn’t know where to send it, and when I did it was always rejected. Something is missing, I thought. Could it be a creative writing degree? Is this something I should be considering?

At the end of my first undergraduate year, I won my first short story competition. Two years later, I won the university’s undergraduate writing prize. Since then I’ve been short-listed in comps, and published in a number of literary journals. I won’t go on. Whether I can attribute all this to one creative writing course is debatable, but what I can say with conviction is that university taught me many things, including to be disciplined. When friends phoned to ask me for morning coffee, I declined. I said I was working, and quickly learned not to take offence when they said, “Working? What are you doing?” “Writing,” I said. “Oh, that,” they said, as if I had told them I was doing needlepoint. I watched how other writers worked. I listened in class, I learned, and I read, and I read. I read stuff that I would never ever have read on my own, including things I didn’t even like, and I am a better writer for it.

I’ll be the first to agree that literary theory can be as dull and tedious as a writer stuck indoors on a rainy day without a computer … but it needn’t be. With the right teacher, literary theory can speak to you. It did to me. From the walls. The piece of writing was “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I read it twice before the lecture, and didn’t get it. So what, I thought, a woman and some wallpaper. The lecturer went into it in depth. She started with Freud and psychoanalysis. Then she moved on to how the narrator discerns a ghostly woman in the sub-pattern of the wallpaper, how the narrator’s quietly going mad, trapped by her domestic life and her marriage, and so forth and so on. I was awe-struck. Oh, I remember thinking, Oh. Hooley-Dooley. Look what you can do with words!  It wasn’t the proverbial penny dropping. It was a radiant light shining where before there’d been gloom and murk. It had never occurred to me that you could say one thing, but mean another. That you could hide secret messages within your writing. That, in quoting another literary work within your own, you could reveal the ending. Ian McEwan does several spectacular things in Atonement, and this is one of them. He mentions W. H. Auden’s poem Musée des Beaux Arts—about life going on in the face of suffering, and Icarus, the boy who fell from the sky—signalling to the reader that there will be no happy ending to this narrative. Literary devices such as intertextuality; stream of consciousness; the unreliable narrator; and theory such as psychoanalysis; postcolonialism; eco-criticism; all these should be learned to appreciate how good writing works.

As an aside, I’ll concede it’s possible that Barthes, Foucault, Woolf et al aren’t relevant to all writers. Commercial writers, for instance. I know at least two who have achieved publishing deals without any background in creative writing courses and, Whoo Hoo, I say, because they are my friends. But I will still argue that commercial writers are better writers for knowing the nuts and bolts of writing.

My point is, why assume you don’t need a degree to be a writer? Why should being a writer be any different from any other career? In today’s writing world, where publication is on knife-edge, book sales are wildly unpredictable, and even publishers can be surprised by what readers want—witness the explosive popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, picked up by mainstream publishers only after its unexpected self-published success—you need every iota of help you can get. I think it also comes down to this: how badly do you want—not to write—but to be a writer? And not just any writer, but a good writer? If you really want to be that writer, surely you will make it your business to find out everything there is to know about your craft? 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Learning new tricks ...

I did something different recently. I wrote a short story for a competition based on a photograph. The photograph is one that was over all the newspapers earlier this year and which, for copyright reasons, I am unable to reproduce here. It was of a little boy on a beach. A little refugee boy in a red T-shirt, navy shorts and grey trainers who was washed up on a beach in Turkey. His name was Aylan Kurdi. You'll remember the picture. And the security guard, a tall man in black boots, who carried the little body to higher ground. 

The competition had a theme. It was "tidal". So, anything to do with water, the sea, beaches, etc. I knew this photograph would fit with the theme, but I had no idea where to start with the story.  What did I know about the refugee crisis, how did I feel about it? 

I used a character who was a bit like me, not strongly committed to any particular viewpoint, and I forced her to meet someone who was committed, who challenged her opinions. And made her reassess her life.  When I submitted the story I thought it still needed work, but my writing friends told me I'd succeeded in making it thought-provoking, if nothing else. 
 Anyway, I've been told that my story has reached the longlist - 17 entries were picked out of 245.  So it must have some merit. And I will keep you posted on its progress.

But I thought it worth mentioning here. It's something I might try again another day. As a writer I have sometimes been told that it's my job to bring topical issues to the notice of readers, but it's not something I've done before.  I usually steer clear of controversy. But now I feel just a little bit more confident. 


Friday, 16 September 2016

Going Down Swinging II

Once more, with feeling. This time the lovely people at Going Down Swinging have included me in their latest anthology, issue 37.   I am, as always, honoured and delighted to be a part of this stunning literary journal, and to be featured alongside poet and writing friend Rebecca Jessen, and Linda Brucesmith. 


Regretfully, I have been away from this page for too long, which doesn't mean I haven't been writing!  I did have a wonderful three weeks in Africa, but I have also written two short stories, which I have submitted to comps, finished my thesis on the house's role in Australian Gothic Literature and handed it in - a lengthy process in itself - got some more words down on my current work in progress, read a number of novels, and taken a thousand photographs.  I would like to say that I will be blogging here soon, but I don't want to make a promise I can't keep. Until then, a piccie from my travels ...


Monday, 20 June 2016

Going Down Swinging

A piece of my writing entitled "Love Letter" has been published online in the Australian literary journal Going Down Swinging. You can go here to read it. I am immensely grateful to the online editor for showcasing my work. 

Google Images

Friday, 6 May 2016

Dying in the First Person : Nike Sulway

I am honoured and thrilled to have been asked to read at the lovely Nike Sulway's book launch tonight (6 May). The launch is at Avid Reader, West End, Brisbane, and you can get all the details here. I will be reading from my manuscript Sargasso, which was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards last year, in the Unpublished Manuscript / Emerging Author category.  Part of being short-listed grants me the privilege of a mentor, who has gone over the manuscript with a fine toothcomb as they say. I am just grateful she has gone over it.  Anyway, I am working on the revisions, and the end is in sight.  Hooray.  

I have yet to read Nike's book, Dying in the First Person, but I am sooo looking forward to it.  You can be sure I will post a review.  Watch this space. 

And because I love the cover of the book so much, here's a preview.  Isn't it beautiful? 

And some words from the blurb (giving me goosebumps):

In gorgeous and incisive prose, Sulway conjures a haunting, moving story of the complex relationships and allegiances of family life, of silence and memory, and the power of words and the imagination to transform everything.


Friday, 29 April 2016

Margaret River Press Interview

Late last year I was honoured and privileged to be interviewed by Laurie Steed of Margaret River Press in Western Australia.  The interview is now up on their website.  You can go here to read it.  I've never won their short story competition, but have been shortlisted - three times now.  Next month they will publish a new anthology, Shibboleth & other stories, which includes my short story "Teacher".  

Margaret River Press provides a wonderful opportunity for emerging writers to be recognised and published in their anthologies and, as always, I am immensely grateful to them.