It’s the end of the year and I’m running on empty, but I enjoyed Julie Koh’s collection of short stories, ‘Portable Curiosities’, released this year through UQP, so here’s a real short review because a) UQP is an awesome publisher and deserves all the coverage it can get, b) the book was good and c) look at the cover. Look at the COVER! Amazing .
I read this in one sitting, literally couldn’t put it down. This story of Evie, a teenager who joins a Manson-like cult in the summer of ’69, really drew me in with its incredible evocation of girlhood and adolescence in all its rawness. Interestingly, this story is less about the allure of Russell (the fictionalised Manson figure) and far more about ‘the girls’ that accrue about him. Evie is desperate to be noticed, to be loved, to be someone, and the girls – particularly their aloof quasi-leader, Suzanne – seem to Evie to offer her the sense of belonging and purpose she craves.
I feel like I must have missed something with this book, considering the almost universal praise it’s received! To me, everything about this book was fine. Not terrible, but not outstanding. Just fine. I read and watch a lot of crime drama so I guess I have fairly high standards? Don’t know! I did enjoy the way Harper created the vibe of a small country Aussie town though. I think that if you’re Aussie or have lived here for any length of time – whether you were born here or not – everyone, and I mean everyone, knows the danger of a live flame in the bush during fire season. Harper creates and draws upon our collective dread of the ‘dry’ really well and it felt real and convincing, as well as providing an eerie threatening backdrop for a set of pretty gruesome murders.
Bainbridge’s first novel written (it wasn’t her first published -it came out in 1972) is apparently loosely inspired by the Parker-Hulme murder case in New Zealand (which you may know from Heavenly Creatures, the Peter Jackson film) however the stories are only similar in so far as they both focus on young girls who intentionally set out to cause harm to an adult; in Harriet Said, though, the goal is not murder, but just really hardcore bullying and stalking. It’s weird and upsetting and sometimes violent.
A lot of readers are going to love this book, I’m sure of it. Set in early 19th century Ireland, it follows a bunch of women in a rural and highly superstitious community who believe that a baby with a disability is a changeling (a dupe for the real baby, taken by the fairies). Obviously this is a really disturbing narrative, and it gets more and more disturbing as the women turn to the local folk-magic-witch to help ‘get the fairy out’ of the child. It’s dark and oftentimes violent, but Kent also fleshes out the backstories of the women and the entrenched nature of the superstitious beliefs in the community, which creates a weird and powerful dynamic where on one hand you are repulsed by the characters and on the other can sympathise with them (in the sense that you can see they don’t know any other way of living).
A bunch of friends and family have been asking how they can read ‘Broad Hatchet’, my short story from the Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize. The edition that it’s printed in is 224, but you can just read the story and judge’s report online now, for free! Yay. If you really feel like forking out the print edition is available at indie bookstores like Readings, The Paperback, Hill of Content, etc, and also from the Overland website.
The runner-up stories are AWESOME – ‘Acorn of Sadness‘ by Ashleigh Synnott, which started off in quite a humorous tone, took me to a dark and upsetting place that I was in no way expecting. I still feel weird and disturbed, three days after reading it (in a good way). Ben Walter’s ‘All Hollows‘ is beautifully written, also darkly comic, and focuses on the existential crises / insomnia of three trick-or-treaters (or real monsters – can’t tell!).
The rest of the journal is cracking, too, as always.
This is a really beautiful book. It’s a slow burn, and the story is not so much plot driven as it is an extended and poetic meditation on origins, both in terms of family (ie. what we inherit from our parents, whether we can escape their influence or not), but also our evolutionary biological origins as humans – and the origins of life or existence itself. The Salamanders is published by Transit Lounge (who also published Black Rock White City by A.S. Patrić, winner of this year’s Miles Franklin) so it was no surprise to find the writing was of high quality.
Oh, what a lovely book. I picked this new release up while I was in in Scotland last month – it’s written by a Scottish musician and was released through a local press. Darkly comic, coarse, and witty, the story is told by John, a young Scot who feels listless after attending art school in London; he returns to the Scottish countryside just outside St Andrews to stay with his old pal Stevie who works on a local farm. It’s primarily a story about the lads’ friendship – getting over the initial awkwardness, learning to be pals again after years apart- but also about belonging somewhere, or trying to belong somewhere, and trying not to disappoint people, or places.
Um…opened up my email this morning to find I had been announced the winner of the Overland VU Short Story Prize, after finding out two weeks ago that I had been shortlisted! I can’t really believe it, but what an incredible honour. Overland is such a wonderful journal. And also – big thanks to the judges AND to Overland and Victoria University for supporting emerging writers! So very encouraging. My story, ‘Broad Hatchet’, along with the full judges’ report and two stories by the runners up, will appear in the next edition of Overland, which comes out in about two weeks. I also get $6000 prize money (like WUT?!?!). Goes to show how dedicated these organisations are to supporting writers in their work.
The judges said: ‘Broad hatchet’ takes the classic Australian short story – pioneer mythology, man versus landscape – and reshapes it…[it’s] ‘intimate, subversive and finely wrought’. I’m pretty gobsmacked by their kind words.
Congrats too to runners up Ben Walter and Ashleigh Synnott – can’t wait to read their stories, which will also appear in the September Overland.
And of course special thanks to my babes Alexis Drevikovsky, Ash Hanson, Stu Harper, Elanna Nolan and Meaghan Young for all their feedback on early drafts of the story 🙂
I was so totally stoked to find out my short story, ‘Broad Hatchet’, about a chick who builds a cabin in the Australian bush (or at least tries to), has been shortlisted for the Overland VU Short Story Prize from 500 entries. Overland is one of my favourite Australian political and cultural journals so I feel pretty honoured. Winners announced in a couple of weeks – fingers crossed! The other shortlisted stories sound great so I look forward to reading the winning tale.