Bright Blue Light

A blue light hung motionless in the sky right next to the half-moon. It was like the night sky had a hole in it, and the blue of mid-day was leaking through. It was a perfect circle, smaller than the moon. A blue circle in the night sky.

I stood back from the window still holding the curtain with one hand, and I reached behind me for my phone with the other. I called Harry and he picked up straight away.

“You should look outside right now,” I said before he had time to say hello.

“It’s, like, 2am,” he said.

“You don’t have a normal sleeping pattern.”

“What do you want Kate?”

“Look outside.”

I heard mumbles and a window opening.

“What am I looking at?” asked Harry.

“Look at the moon. To the left of the moon.” There was silence. “It’s blue,” I said.

“Shit,” he said.

“What do you think it is?”

There was a pause from Harry.

“Could be a drone,” he said

“Oh, of course, I didn’t think of that.

We’re quiet for a few moments, on the phone watching the light in the sky.

“Don’t drones move around a lot, though?” I asked Harry.

“Yeah they do,” he answered.

“Harry… I’ve been watching it for about ten minutes. It hasn’t moved from that spot, but I think it’s getting bigger.” I pressed my face against the cold glass. My breath fogged the window. “Can you get a picture of it?”

“Yeah I could give it a go. Just hang on one sec, I’ll grab my stuff.”

There was a clang as Harry put the phone down. I could hear the main road travel through the speaker. I used to wake up early mornings to the sound of that road.

“Still reckon it’s a drone, though,” said Harry. I could hear the beep of his camera turning on.

“You used to be far less skeptical.”

“Yeah well it’s 2am, I’m always skeptical at 2am.”

“It’s 1am.” I said.

“1:30,” he said. I took my phone away from my ear. It was 1:28 am.

“… but otherwise, it could just be a drone,” I heard Harry say as I put my phone back to my ear.

“Sorry, what? I missed that first bit.”

“Nothing. I’ve taken a few pictures. Not great, though. Do you still have my 24mm lens?”

“Pretty sure you lent some lenses to Tom. Could you send the photos to me?”

“Of course I did. And yeah I will in the morning.”

“Are you going back to bed?”

“No, I’m too awake now.”

“Sorry.”

“Kate I think you’re right.”

“What?”

“This thing is actually growing.”

Blue Light

I realised I had been staring at the corner of my window, and looked back up at the blue light. It was bigger than the moon now. And brighter.

“I think I can get better pictures of it at the water tower.” said Harry.

“I can bring a better lens that Jack bought last week.”

“Jack?”

“My new roommate.”

“Right.”

“I can meet you there in about thirty,” I said.

“Where?”

“The water tower?”

“Oh right. Sorry. Still half asleep.”

“You’re not concerned about this at all are you?”

“Like I said, 2am makes me skeptical.”

I didn’t correct him, I knew it would be 2am by the time I reached the tower.

I grabbed a backpack and hurriedly filled it with warm clothes and a blanket. I took my own camera, just in case. Oh, and snacks – I tiptoed into the kitchen to avoid waking the roommates. I moved in last week and I didn’t know if they would be interested in assumed extraterrestrial activity.

Jack had left his lens on the kitchen table. I wrapped my jacket around it and put it in my bag. I would return it in the morning.

It concerned me how little Harry cared about the light. When we met we were had bonded over our childhood obsession with the conspiracy books in our local libraries. We had both agreed we were now adult skeptics. But a part of me wanted to believe.

I walked to the water tower, glancing at the light every so often. People had already noticed the light and were standing out on their lawns. Pajamas still on, phones to ears, phones to the sky. I kept walking.

Harry was already there by the time I arrived. He was setting up his tripod.

“Hey,” I whispered behind him.

“Hey,” he whispered back. I took out my jumper and unwrap Jack’s lens.

“Oh hey, this is a pretty good lens,” Harry said screwing it on his camera as I put the jumper one. “I got this too,” said Harry, pulling out an old checkered blanket. It was the one from his bed.

“I didn’t know how long we’d be here for so I prepared for the worst.”

We sat back against the railing looking up at the blue light. Every now and then Harry would sit up and take a picture. We were silent and there were crickets.

I couldn’t tell if the blue light was increasing in size anymore. My eyes lids drooped, and I began having trouble focusing.

“Kate, Kate.” I woke up to Harry shaking and yelling at me. “Kate!” I had fallen asleep on his shoulder.

“Harry, Jesus, what’s wrong?” But he didn’t need to explain, his fingers pointed to the sky. The blue light had started to do…. something. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was vibrating almost. It was silent, pulsating. The crickets had stopped chirping. The light stopped vibrating. Goosebumps prickled my skin and my heart skipped a beat.

Then it exploded. Silently. It exploded like a firework. Bits of blue light flew across the sky like comets. The sky sparkled for a minute. And then there was nothing.

“Shit,” Harry said. I stayed silent in shock. “I didn’t get a picture.” I turn to him.

“That’s what you’re shocked about?” I ask.

“Yeah, it would have been an amazing shot.” I didn’t know how to react. harry and I just sat watching the light of the sunrise creep into the world. Harry packs up his things.

“Anyway, I have to go, I’ve got work in a few hours. Should probably get some sleep.” I hand back his checkered blanket. He starts to walk to the stairs of the tower when he realises I’m not following. “So you’re staying here?”

“Just in case,” I say.

“Kate I think the shows over.”

“Show?”

“What would you call it?”

“I don’t know,” I say, still staring at the sky.

“Sure,” I say and he leaves.

It was on the news the next day. Other people had managed to capture the moment it exploded. I watched a few online videos. NASA released a statement taking responsibility. They said it was just a routine missile test that got a little bit out of hand. Of course, I was skeptical about that, and blogs and sites were created also doubtful about the statements. But there was nothing out there truly convincing, and it annoyed me for a time. It was something that was always in the back of my mind. It was an itch of information I couldn’t scratch, but I did eventually give up on it.

I gave up on Harry. Well, he gave up on me too. I was skeptical about us. We couldn’t be just friends with a history of being more than. That’s what I convinced myself happened. That’s what I believe happened. But you can’t believe everything when you know the universe is a strange place.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

 

To Write or Not To Write?

How can I put into perspective how difficult I find the practice of writing a novel? Words with purpose. Sentences that express some truth. Scenes that join thwritinge dots.

I don’t know?

At times, I feel my attempts at writing a novel may be the hardest thing I’ll ever do. Harder than maintaining the two most important relationships of my life (my wife and my son)? Harder than continually challenging myself and developing my career in the hospitality industry? Harder than simply being a person on this planet at this moment in time?

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, I think, so hard, too hard, the skills required to write a novel that holds together from beginning, through the muddle to the end.

Other times, I’m harsh with myself – ‘First world problems, man.’ I have a good job. I have a loving family. I have a roof over my head and food in the pantry. I am living in the most abundant era ever. I lack for nothing.

And so, yeah, I could give up writing. Why should I struggle so much? I could choose not to face the keyboard and blank page-on-screen every morning. Who needs that 5.15am alarm?

Viggo-Mortensen-in-Good-007

Seriously, 5.15am. It’s dark when I get up and it’s still dark when I finish writing at 6.15am. There’s no audience. There’s no pat on the back. There’s no-one there to say, ‘Good job, dude. Love your work!’

There’s just me, my practice and this tornado inside of me that demands I continue to ‘Show Up’.

So, giving up, chnew-crescent-2.jpgoosing not to write is an option. Of course it is.

But that won’t stop the feeling inside that needs an outlet for the ideas that are always swirling around my head. They won’t go away. They’ve flowed through me like tributaries trickling from the
mountaintop down into the valley where the river masses and swells my whole life.

As a writer I’m trying to navigate these waterways. Trying to craft my voice, my style, my unique and sincere self through the stories I want to tell.

And this is hard for me. Almost every day, in some way, I struggle with how best to communicate my literary ideas through story. Often, I feel like I’m failing. Sometimes, I have some positive self-talk: ‘Keep turning up, Ken. Keeping working the problem through showing your dedication to your characters, your story and your practice.’

Other times, most times, I’m not so gentle and generous. One day I may finish a novel that ends up somewhere near where I want it to. I really hope for the day. And as best I can, I will fight my corner. I will continue to show up, because while my confidence waxes and wanes, the urge to tell stories and write never does.

Two Stitch Day

Two Stitch Day

Bad things happen in the trenches, there is no other way to put it. I don’t want to remember them, but I don’t think it’s right to pretend as if they didn’t happen. So on a bad day I get some thread and make a stitch on my left sleeve. On a really bad day I make two.

Today is a two stitch day and it’s only halfway through. Lately I have more two stitch days than not. My left sleeve is filling up. I can feel the rough threads pressing into my arm where my clothes have soaked through. It’s raining, but when is it not?

The damp here is so tangible that I can taste it on my tongue, and woven through it all is the horrible festering scent of decay. It winds its’ way through every twist and turn, seeping into the grey dirt of the trench walls. It is the cloying scent of rot that truly makes the place repellent. If the damp is palpable and content to linger on ones tongue, then the rot is a presence that overwhelms and attempts to claw its’ way down your throat, so that it’s all you can do not to retch.

One wouldn’t think we’d be able to eat in such conditions. But we do, starving as we are. It’s why I sit with my back against a stinking grey wall off rot, legs drawn up and soaking wet as I choke down my rations. There are weevils in the biscuits. Little white bodies that wiggle about, almost waving hello. At the start we’d tap the biscuits to get the little creepy crawlies out. Now we just bite in and pretend not too feel the squirming, glad of the extra protein.

Things have been getting worse. Or maybe it’s that I’ve been getting worn down. All the dogs are long since eaten, even though they were mangy and flee bitten. Just another thing gone. We’re losing more than we’re gaining and I can’t seem to care. The rain that used to seem refreshing, washing away the blood, is now mocking. Never-ending it pours from the sky, turning everything to slick sludge so that we are forever caked in mud and every step is an effort. It makes the days grey, but that might be the War. Everyone keeps dying.

I hear the slick squelch of someone’s boots tromping though the mud and tilt the brim of my hat up to see who. It’s Arthur. He comes closer and crouches beside me on the rotting wooden planks meant to keep the mud away. He’s got a handful of rations and is wearing the same oil skin cloak as me. The cloaks would keep the rain off in small showers but did little for the downpour we were sitting in, the trenches offering little in the way of shelter.

“How you likin’ lunch? Reckon I could do with some o’ mama’s home cooking, that’s for sure.”

I have trouble looking at Arthur. He wears a smile like a bad mask; jarring and fake it reminds me of things I don’t want to remember. That’s what the stitches are for. Still, I can’t begrudge him how he copes; I make stitches, and he smiles. That doesn’t mean I look at him when I talk.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to be full and warm. Do you?” That isn’t what he wants to hear. I shouldn’t have said it. Arthur wants me to banter back so that we can share some hollow laughter and pretend things are good. But I can’t pretend anymore.

Arthur looks away, “Of course.”

I keep looking at him until he fidgets a little and admits, “Well maybe it’s more like imagination than memory – they’re about the same things anyway right. Right?” The question edges into panic as Arthur repeats it. The smile doesn’t slip, it becomes larger as I watch, stretching in a horrible parody of what amusement should be. He wants me to agree with him, to lie, and I can’t deny him that, not when it’s so clearly what he wants. I don’t have to believe it. I don’t even have to pretend to believe it. I just have to say it.

“Right.”

The stiff lines of his body relax again and the fevered panic that sharpened his features fades, letting his face fall back into its’ usual drawn lines. The rigid smile settling on his lips again. My fingers twitch, but I’ve already made enough stitches for today.

Arthur chatters on at me. I idly run my hand across my sleeve, fingers catching on the stitches there. All I see is grey. A horn sounds, hollow and echoing. Arthur stands. So do I. Time to fight. Maybe die. I stand amongst my fellow soldiers and can’t care that all their faces are washed out, indistinguishable from the grey. I don’t think I can live through another two stitch day. I don’t think I want to.

 

Jayde Taylor

 

The Oscars Live

Chris Rock hosts a night of notable whiteness. At least there are some controversial topics explored in the films on the table, and some tension in long-nominated artists we’re all hoping will finally go home with a golden boy tonight.

oscars-2016-nominations-snubs-discussion

My pre-ceremony thoughts:

  • Mark Ruffalo is brilliant. Spotlight is brilliant. They need to win.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio saw me through my youth with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo & Juliet, and Titanic. He is LONG OVERDUE for this award. For goodness sake someone give it to him.
  • So many Australian nominations, mainly because of the highly acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road. Let’s see if it can be the next Ben Hur/Titanic. Hooray for us!!

12:30pm: Opening monologue

Rock dubs this year’s Oscars “the white People’s Choice Awards” and takes a stab at last year’s white guy host, Neil Patrick Harris.
Commenting on why black people bother with the industry at all, he jokes “I don’t need to lose another job to Kevin Hart”.
Finally he comments on why you can’t ask woman what they’re wearing and in the meantime creates a wonderful mental image of George Clooney in a lime-green tux with a swan coming out of his ass.

12:40pm: First two Best Picture nominations announced
Spotlight
Bridge of Spies

12:45pm: Best Original Screenplay

Have you ever wondered why they kick off with the writing awards? Original Screenplay is one of the top categories and there are some big options on the table tonight. As already mentioned, I am favouring Spotlight wherever possible. It’s a brilliant movie.
WINNER: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
Hooray!!!!

12:50pm: Best Adapted Screenplay presented by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe

Only Russell Crowe could read the screenplay excerpts with such authority.
WINNER: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for The Big Short
I wonder, what’s with biopics? Why do we love them?

1:00pm: Satirical clip on the lack of coloured people in tonight’s nominated movies featuring Whoopi Goldberg and Tracey Morgan, among others, taking invented roles in Joy and The Danish Girl.
It does make you wonder why they thought a white woman inventing a mop would make for essential biopic viewing.
This prompts Rock to create a Minority Outreach Program.

1:02pm: Music performance from Sam Smith, introduced by Sarah Silverman

Silverman making digs at the chauvinism of James Bond and fails to not be annoying as always.
Performance from Sam Smith, “The Writing’s on the Wall” from the movie Spectre.
Apparently he was incredibly nervous about the performance, probably because it’s just him on the stage without backup dancers and boobs to distract people from his actual talent. Good thing he has more than enough talent to carry him.
Which makes me wonder why he gets an embrassingly small amount of applause. Because he’s English?

1:07pm: Two more Best Picture nominations presented by Kerry Washington & Henry Cavill
The Big Short
The Martian 

1:10pm: Best Supporting Actress

I’m wondering why Rachel McAdams? Her emotional range was the width of a pencil. Which was appropriate, but surely not Oscar-worthy.
WINNER: Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl
She looks loverly. Like a sparkly dessert version of Belle from Beauty & the Beast.

1:20pm: Best Costume Design presented by Cate Blanchett

I love Cate. Love her. Statuesque, noble, dignified, beautiful, articulate, intelligent, talented. And Australian.
WINNER: Jenny Beaven for Mad Max: Fury Road
Beaven also designed for A Room with a View. How very—not like Mad Max. Clearly a talented woman.
Squeezes in a comment about global warming.

1:20pm: Best Production Design presented by Tina Fey & Steve Carrell

WINNER: Colin Gibson & Lisa Thompson for Mad Max: Fury Road

1:26pm: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling presented by Jared Leto

WINNER: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega & Damian Martin for Mad Max: Fury Road
More Australians! Hooray!

1:30pm: Two more Best Picture nominations presented by Benicio del Toro and Jennifer Garner
The Revenant
Mad Max: Fury Road
Gosh I hope Leo wins this year. I hope I hope I hope.

1:36pm: Best Achievement in Cinematography presented by Rachel McAdams

WINNER: Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant 

1:40pm: Best Achievement in Film Editing presented by Praying Chopra and Liev Schreiber

In the nominations we are reminded that Star Wars happened this year. Where did that one go?
Btw, I think Liev Schreiber is great 🙂
WINNER: Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road

1:42pm: Rock takes the satirical Black History Month a step further with Angela Basset confusing Will Smith with Jack Black.

1:50pm: Best Achievement in Sound Editing presented by Captain America and a black guy (haha)

WINNER: Mark Mangini and David White for Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

WINNER: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudoff & Ben Osmo for Mad Max: Fury Road

1:55pm: Best Achievement in Visual Effects presented by Andy Serkis

WINNER: Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington & Sara Bennett for Ex Machina

2:00pm: Olivia Munn & Jason Segel comment on the Science and Technology Academy Awards, which they hosted last week.

 2:02pm: Rock unleashes his ‘daughters’ to sell Girl Scout cookies to the audience and makes a jab at Leo’s $30million paycheck for The Revenant.

2:05pm: Best Animated Short Film presented by the Minions

WINNER: “Bear Story”
Beautiful heartfelt thank you speech from the Chilean winners.
Is it just me or is Chile an exercise in diversity from the USA? Is that not something to be celebrated?

2:11pm: Best Animated Feature presented by Woody and Buzz Lightyear

WINNER: Inside Out from Pixar

2:15pm: Music performance from The Weeknd introduced by Kevin Hart

The Weeknd performs “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey with the help of some acrobatics, burlesque costumes and a string section.

2:20pm: Rock surveys the people of Compton outside a movie theatre to uncover their opinions on Best Picture this year with amusing results. Btw this is the same gag he pulled for his 2005 hosting stint.

2:30pm: Best Supporting Actor presented by Patricia Arquette

Mark! Mark! Mark!
Oh. Wrong Mark.
WINNER: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies

2:40pm: Best Documentary Short Subject presented by Louis CK

Louis is a funny guy. Love his work.
Touching on the plight of documentary film-making he jokes “this Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic.”
WINNER: “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness”
Amazing acceptance speech from winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy on the power of documentary making to change governmental policies.

2:42pm: Best Documentary Feature presented by Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel

WINNER: Amy

2:50pm: Rock reveals that his girls made $65 243 from selling Girl Scout cookies to the audience.

2:52pm: Honorary Awards and general pleasantries from Whoopi Goldberg and Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

2:56pm: In Memoriam introduced by Louis Gosset Junior and serenaded by Dave Grohl performing “Blackbird”

David Bowie, Leonard Nimoy, Alan Rickman, James Horner, Wes Craven and Christopher Lee among the farewells this year.

3:04pm: Best Live Action Short Film presented by cute kids in tuxedoes

WINNER: “Stutterer”

Best Foreign Language Film presented by Sofia Vergara and Byung-hun Lee

WINNER: Song of Saul by Laszlo Nemes, Hungary
Yay Hungary!

3:11pm: Vice-President Joe Biden gets a standing ovation and responds with “I’m the least qualified person here.” It’s a relief to know there are still good leaders in the world.

Music performance from Lady Gaga “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground

Wow. Goosebumps.

3:22pm: Best Original Score 

One of my favourite categories. Apart from Directing, Composing is the category that requires the most training, technical ability and complexity of talent. These guys are heroes of art.
WINNER: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight
I can’t believe this is his first win! After eight nominations and an honorary Oscar a few years back. Such an incredible composer. Love his work

Best Original Song presented by Common and John Legend

Some great nominations this year!
WINNER: Jimmy Napes & Sam Smith for “The Writing’s on the Wall” in Spectre
Sam Smith dedicates his win to the LGBT community and Chris Rock follows up with “no jokes here, you ain’t gonna get me in trouble.”

3:30pm: Two more nominations for Best Picture presented by Olivia Wilde and Sacha Baron Cohen
Room
Brooklyn

3:36pm: Best Director presented by J. J. Abrams

Personally I am hoping it’s Tom McCarty for Spotlight but I really think it’ll be between Iñárritu and Miller.

NOMINEES:
Adam McKay, The Big Short 
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
George Miller, Mad Mad: Fury Road

WINNER: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Well deserved! Again, is this not diversity of some kind?

3:45pm: Best Actress in a Leading Role presented by Eddie Redmayne

Of course I vote for Cate Blanchett, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to one of the younger options.

NOMINEES:
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

 WINNER: Brie Larson

Wowsers! She was up against some real talent. Well done.

3:52pm: Best Actor in a Leading Role presented by Julianne Moore

Come on, Leo. It’s time.

NOMINEES:
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio

Yay! YAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY!!!!!!

4:00pm: Best Picture presented by Morgan Freeman

Here we go, the big deal. I’m hoping for Spotlight but we’ll see, there are some real good movies on this list…

NOMINEES:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

WINNER: Spotlight

Yes! Such a good movie. Go see it if you haven’t already. Brilliant screenplay, fantastic ensemble cast, excellent directing.

Closing thoughts from Chris Rock: “Black lives matter.”

 

 

 

2016: A Literary Calendar

New releases from four Booker-prize winners; posthumous works from Christopher Hitchens and Terry Pratchet; a tribute from William Shatner; and several commemorative reimaginings for Shakespeare’s 400th death-day. It’s shaping up to be a veritable feast of a year.


January

And Yet: Essays
Christopher Hitchens
Essays
A posthumous collection of observations that proves Hitchens is nothing if not entertaining. Whether or not you agreed with his worldview he possessed an articulate charm that still shines through in his writing.

1129-BKS-Popova-master675

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe
Lisa Randall
Science
Ranked by Brainpickings’s Maria Popova as the best non-fiction work, and if that’s not high enough praise I don’t what is. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of dark matter? Read her full review for the New York Times here.

The Noise of Time
Julian Barnes
Fiction
Whether you like Barnes or not he’s won a Booker prize so it’s worth keeping an eye on his stuff. This one appeals to me particularly because it’s about Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the greatest string composers of the 20th century, and is set amongst the chaos of Stalinist Russia.


February

Leonard: A Life
William Shatner
Biography
Of course we want to read a book by the endearing Shatner. Especially a tribute to his late friend and co-star Leonard Nimoy, immortalized as Spock in Star Trek, in the 50th anniversary year of the original series premiere.

Shylock Is My Name
Howard Jacobson
Fiction
The first in a legion of Shakespeare nods in this the 400th anniversary year of the great bard’s death. True to form Jacobsen focuses on the Jewish character from The Merchant of Venice in an exploration of fatherhood and morality. And as another Booker winner, his stuff is usually worth a sniff.

The High Mountains of Portugal
Yann Martel
Fiction
Yet another new release from a Booker winner (this seems to be the year), this is the novel I would choose above the others so far due to the sheer originality of Martel’s voice. In the vein of Life of Pi, Martel again tackles the quest narrative in a story about treasure, murder and of course, animal companionship.

This Census-Taker
China Miéville
Novella
Miéville has been around for a while but his appeal is now taking off beyond the ranks of genre fanatics. A startlingly inventive speculative writer, here he deals with the relationship between a young boy and a stranger who might save him from himself.


March

Anatomy of a Soldier
Harry Parker
Fiction
Debut novel from a former solider about a British captain recovering from a horrific bomb injury. What sets this novel apart is that it’s narrated from the point-of-view of 45 inanimate objects. 

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails
Sarah Bakewell
Philosophy/Biography
An exploration of existentialism from 1930s France through to the liberal movements of the mid-century, by examining the lives and relationships of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Raymond Aron, among others.

Hot Milk
Deborah Levy
Fiction
A Booker-shortlisted author, Levy’s new novel is about a mother and daughter finding refuge in a Spanish village, and explores all the trauma and triumph of female relationships and identity.


April

Fragments
Elena Ferrante
Writings
One of the hottest authors around and still her true identity remains a mystery. Having recently concluded the highly acclaimed Neapolitan quartet, this year she releases a collection of observations through short pieces, interviews and letters.

The Bricks That Built the Houses
Kate Tempest
Fiction
Winner of the Ted Hughes prize for poetry and nominated as a rapper for the Mercury music prize, Tempest’s new work is a novel about three youths escaping south-east London together, running from various forms of oppression in the hopes of liberating themselves from self-loathing, loneliness and unconsummated desire.

Francis-Begbie-1024x659

The Blade Artist
Irvine Welsh
Fiction
Another grungy British novel, and who wouldn’t want to read the latest Welsh? Particularly when he returns to one of Trainspotting’s most divisive characters, Francis Begbie.


May

A Life Discarded
Alexander Masters
Biography
A ‘found’ biography, compiled from 148 volumes of diary discovered amongst discarded building materials in Cambridge.

Selection Day
Aravind Adiga
Fiction
May is a busy month for releases but do not miss Adiga’s latest novel. Yet another prior Booker-winner, his new work focuses on a young boy in present-day Mumbai.

The Gustav Sonata
Rose Tremain
Fiction
I would recommend Rose Tremain’s gorgeously rendered novels anyway, but when ‘Gustav’ and ‘Sonata’ are mentioned in the title it’s a no-brainer. Two boys hold onto friendship over thirty years of life spanning World War II.

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer
Kate Summerscale
True Crime
In the vein of her previous bestseller The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Summerscale turns again to murder in Victorian England, this time writing about the trial of a 13-year-old boy.

Zero K
Don DeLillo
Fiction
Another big name release for 2016, DeLillo addresses mortality and the privilege of extreme wealth when a man tries to save his wife from terminal illness.


June

Hands: What We Do With Them – and Why
Darian Leader
Psychology
The latest in the line-up of fascinating psychoanalytical works, Leader examines what’s really going on when we fiddle with our fingers.

The Games: A Global History of the Olympics
David Goldblatt
Historical
Just in time for the 31st Olympiad in Rio, Goldblatt delivers on the success of his football history to give us the highlights of the world Olympics.

the long earth

The Long Cosmos
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Fiction
Of course this is a must-read no matter who you are. The grand finale of The Long Earth series concludes a life’s work from Pratchett, who died shortly after its completion last year.

Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler
Fiction
Another Shakespearean tribute from the Booker crowd (A Spool of Blue Thread was shortlisted last year), Tyler delivers a quirky interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew.


July

The Girls
Emma Cline
Fiction
Already sold to Scott Rudin for film adaptation, this is one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year. A young girl in the 1969 summer becomes involved with a commune similar to the Manson Family.

The Muse
Jessie Burton
Fiction
Set in Spain and London in the 30s and 60s, the author of The Miniaturist spins a tail about a painting, a Caribbean immigrant and a bohemian artist.

You Hide That You Hate Me and I Hide That I Know
Philip Gourevitch
Historical/War
Gourevitch returns to the subject of Rwanda after his startling and brutal coverage of the 1994 genocide.


August

A Horse Walks into a Bar
David Grossman
Fiction
A perplexing and enthralling novel about a comedian whose life disintegrates on stage during an act in a small Israeli town.

Beast
Paul Kingsnorth
Fiction
A Booker long-lister this time, Kingsnorth returns with a quest novel set in the Midlands moor. His debut The Wake established him as an author of remarkable linguistic inventiveness with his use of a shadow version of Old English.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
Ed Yong
Science
Yong discusses the incredible influence of microbes on the lives of all earthly animals, released off the back of a successful Atlantic column, science blog and viral TED talk.

The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu
Charlie English
Historical
The story of librarians smuggling manuscripts out of Timbuktu when it was on the brink of Islamic occupation, combined with an exploration of the city itself as it was first discovered by the western world in the Victorian era.


September

bolshoi

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet
Simon Morrison
Arts/Historical
What’s not to love about this exploration of art under pressure? Russia, ballet, tsars, Putin, Bolshoi, beautiful people, famous composers, and life in the spotlight.

Here I Am
Jonathan Safran Foer
Fiction
We’ve waited eleven years for the next Safran Foer novel, and if you haven’t read his previous two make sure you start from the beginning with Everything Is Illuminated. His new work also examines Jewish identity, this time set against the war in Israel.

The Lesser Bohemians
Eimear McBride
Fiction
A new novel from the author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing which won the Baileys Prize in 2014. Set in the 90s in north London, a young woman moves from Ireland to study acting and begins an affair with an older actor.

Who Rules the World?
Noam Chomsky
Sociology
The controversial intellectual claims the greatest threat to future peace is the USA.


October

Blood Riders
Gary Oldman & Douglas Urbanski
Fiction
Any work of fiction by esteemed Brit actor Gary Oldman sounds enticing enough, let alone this, the first in a proposed series of Wild West vampire novels. Watch him in 1992’s Dracula to get yourself in the mood.

Bookworm
Lucy Mangan
Literature/Historical
Mangan collates her vast experience to provide an insight into the beauty of childhood reading and the classic books that have profoundly influenced generations of young people.

Total Intoxication
Norman Ohler
Historical
An examination of the use of drugs in the Nazi party as a tool of war and experimentation.


November

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Fiction
A satirical reimagining of a society in which girls are the stronger sex, from the author of The Liar’s Gospel.

heat_of_darkness_by_vonmurder-d5iqtca-e1429274327859

The Worlds of Joseph Conrad
Maya Jasanoff
Literature/Historical
Jasanoff uses Conrad’s life and works to examine perspectives on world culture and geography at the beginning of the 1900s.

Venice: An Interior
Javier Marías
Design
Marías, esteemed Spanish author of A Heart So White and The Infatuations, turns his eye to the beauty of Venetian design.

 

Elise Janes

Applications Open for Hardcopy 2016

HC logo 2016The ACT Writers Centre have opened applications for the 2016 Hardcopy program, a professional development course for writers of fiction manuscripts.

Hardcopy is run over several weekends throughout the year, giving participants the chance to learn about manuscript development and industry secrets, as well as have their material workshopped by peers and professionals.

This year the program will again benefit from the input of industry giant Mary Cunnane and esteemed editor Nadine Davidoff, among other literary professionals yet to be confirmed.

Past participants have secured agents and publishing deals as a result of their participation in the program, and more have gone on to publish work in national periodicals and online journals.

Places are limited to thirty writers, with a chance for ten of those writers to proceed to a final stage of discussions with publishers and agents from a range of local and international institutions.

Submissions are open only to those who have completed a full draft and are ready to progress their work to the next level.

Further information can be found at the ACT Writers Centre website.

Applications are due Friday 11 March 2016.

Happy Writing!

Facebook Pages: Top Ten

The Top Ten Facebook Pages You Can Like to Stay in the Know

facebook

A well-put-together Facebook News Feed can be just as informative as a newspaper, or watching TV in the morning. Following a varietyof Facebook pages eliminates the need to actively seek out information on a daily basis. Having a tailored News Feed means all the right information is delivered straight to your device. In a world where everyone is constantly on the move, social media is a great platform one can use to stay informed, from any place, at any time.

Here are ten Facebook pages recommended for your feed.

Al Jazeera English

Al Jazeera broadcasts news from the Middle East. Al Jazeera’s Facebook page is a useful source for anyone who is interested in not only their local news, but also global news. Al Jazeera often covers major news stories that the Australian media neglects to report on.

Higgins Storm Chasing

HSCThe Higgins Storm Chasing Facebook page is run by a bunch of people who are really passionate about weather. The team at Higgins Storm Chasing posts forecasts and warnings. Unlike the Bureau of Meteorology, Higgins Storm Chasing posts a large amount of photos sent in by fans of the page, making it an engaging source.

 

Daily Mail

The Daily Mail posts news updates, regularly. They also post articles about a variety of topics. It’s unfortunate that the Daily Mail’s headlines are often misleading, and sometimes contain major spelling errors. It’s a good source of information, but not 100% reliable.

Bright Sidebright side

Bright Side aims to make the world a little brighter. Bright Side creates and shares positive, inspiring content that will make you feel better about the world we live in.

Courier Mail

If you live in Brisbane, it’s likely you’ve grown up reading the Courier Mail, or at least know someone who used to read the paper every Saturday. The Courier Mail reports on the latest local news.

Music Feeds

The Music Feeds Facebook page posts Australian and International music news, reviews and interviews. A wide range of genres are covered.

TODAY

Many people watch the TODAY Show for Australia’s national treasure, Karl Stefanovic. Now that he’s making less appearances on the show, it’s likely you’re reluctant to watch as much as you used to. Now, all you need for your TODAY Show fix is the TODAY Show Facebook page. They post great highlights. The light-hearted feel of the show translates well onto TODAY’s social media.

Queensland Police Service

Someone at Queensland Police Service has a really awesome sense of humour. QPS regularly post updates about local news and traffic; often, there is a sneaky pun or pop culture reference thrown in for your enjoyment.

Pedestrian.tv

ped-tv-logo

 

Pedestrian.tv posts a mix of entertaining articles about news and pop culture. Pedestrian.tv really speaks its mind. It’s quite tongue-in-cheek at times. A very entertaining source.

 

Lucky PeachObsession-Cover-Lucky-Peach-Magazine

Lucky Peach is a quarterly journal of food and writing, with each issue exploring themes through essays, art, photography and recipes. If you can’t afford the magazine subscription, Lucky Peach’s social media is a great, free source of information. Their
Facebook feed has an interesting mix of articles, catering to foodies all over the world. Lucky Peach’s email newsletter is quite impressive too.

 

In the comments section below, let us know your favourite Facebook page.

Carmel Purcell

I finally worked out what my novel is about

I finally worked out what my novel is about.

This came on the back of some anticipated anxiety ahead of going to a BBQ with some new family friends over the weekend. My passion for writing is not something I volunteer unless directly asked. But I always imagine under what circumstances the subject may arise and how I’d handle it. And with this chat-route programmed into the Google (Conversation) Map app in my head, I played out a scene every writer and wannabe author has encountered in response to the statement, ‘I love to write’:

 

Them:   Oh (as if this is in some way unfortunate). Have you had anything published?

Me:        No.

Them:   (look of both disappointment and smugness right away apparent) What sort of, um, (searches for a word that might bridge the gap between their understanding of what a writer is and does and what I might do), things do you write about?

Me:        Fictional stories, mostly, in a modern, contemporary setting. I’m interested in journeys that see a person pushed far beyond what they thought they could handle and what happens next.

Them:   Are you writing anything now?

Me:        Yes. I’ve been working on a novel for a little over a year.

Them:   (here it comes…) What’s it about?

Me:        Um…(pauses, uncertainty and bashfulness writ large upon my face)

Laptop-with-blank-notepad

I always felt I needed to be able to sum up whatever I am writing into one brief sentence, into a tag-line, or log-line. This statement needs to convey the totality of my novel and my inability to do so (see my previous post about the dreaded synopsis) confirms my failure as a writer and communicator.

Not that I’m in such an insecure place as a writer at the moment. But now and then doubt creeps in.

In fact, while this situation was playing out in my head I happened to be washing dishes, the sudsy water especially hot. I’ve decided that washing dishes is akin to hot showers and the link to creativity and idea-generation. Any act that can sufficiently absorb us and consume our primary attention can be a godsend when it comes to releasing repressed epiphanies.

In the middle of my gentlest attempts to clean our best champagne flutes, it came to me, what my novel is about.

For so long, I’ve being trying to formulate it in the following way:

My novel is about [this].

This’ being the one singular and overriding theme or purpose of the story.

As I rinsed excess soapy bubbles off the base and stem of the glasses, it all became so evident. My novel is actually about [this] and [this], and [this] too. There’s a few other things I could throw in, but hey, for right now, it’s a good place to start.

It’s what any novel is about. One sentence just won’t do it. And it doesn’t have to.

interstellar-posterIt was while watching the film Interstellar a year ago when I saw how the many tectonic plates that comprised the world created by writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan fused together to form one larger world. A world where there was not one prevailing idea, but many, all co-existing, each ebbing and flowing as the story unfolded:

 

  • What does having hope, making a promise and faith in others cost us?
  • When are we best served by being brave or cautious?
  • Love as truly a tangible, observable phenomenon
  • To be able to move on (in the case of the movie, survive) we have to be willing to let go and lose something

 

On some level of comprehension, in that cinema, it made perfect sense to me. Though it’s taken another 12 months before I’ve been really able to absorb this understanding and make it manifest in my own writing.

christopher-nolan-jonathan-nolan

So much of my own writing journey over the past 4 years has been about unlearning what I thought I knew, then humbling myself and my presumed abilities so that I can learn anew what’s really important about writing, and myself as a writer and person.

As I left the glasses to drain and went to work on the breakfast plates, this all felt very big. And so I did what I’m learning to do more often. I took a breath, dried my hands, grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down a few notes. Then I finished the rest of the dishes, a little happy with myself, a little awed by how much I still have to learn.

Top Ten Significant Books of 2015

Now’s about the time you need to stock up on summer reading materials for the long January beach days and afternoons under a tree. In a year of busy literariness, with Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Tom McCarthy and Salman Rushdie all releasing new books, you’d be forgiven for not keeping on top of the truly noteworthy developments that have slid past us in the year that was. Here are ten works significant to 2015 in one way or another that are sure to entertain, or at least keep you in good stead for dinner party conversations.

 

Marlon James-A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
Having won an impressive amount of awards, not least of all the Man Booker Prize, if you haven’t heard about this book it’s time to come out from under your rock. A fictional musing on the fallout of the 1976 Bob Marley assassination attempt, the novels spans decades and continents to form a dramatic and exuberant picture of Jamaica’s coming-of-age.

 

Garth-Risk-Hallberg-BOOKCity on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
A two-million-dollar bidding war is nothing to sneeze at, neither is a 900+ page debut novel. A multi-perspective, intricately woven story of New York City leading up to the famous 1977 summer blackout, examining the city’s richest and poorest and everything in between.

 

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
Find me one person in the Western hemisphere who hasn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. It won the 1961 Pulitzer and the subsequent movie adaptation cemented Atticus Finch as one of the all-time greatest characters in literature. For a long time this was to be the only book Harper Lee, now 89, was to ever publish. So in terms of making history the release of her second, and probably final, novel this year is kind of a big deal.

 

HawkH is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
In order to make sense of the devastating grief of losing her father, Macdonald embarks on a journey to train her own goshawk, the wildest and most brutal of raptors. Part memoir, part nature manual, part literary history, this enchanting book has generated a surprising amount of popular and critical acclaim.

 

inherent viceInherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon
A 60s noir escapade story from one of the most influential contemporary novelists (but if you haven’t yet read Pynchon, start with dystopian The Crying of Lot 49). Inherent Vice is several years old now but this year became the first Pynchon novel to be adapted for the screen. Don’t see the movie, but do read the book.

 

jon ronsonSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
A man who’s made a career out of researching the bizarrities of modern social cultures, Ronson is the British answer to Malcolm Gladwell. In his latest release Ronson examines the strange obsession we seem to have with mass shamings, and the role social media has played in the expansion of this global pastime.

 

south-of-darknessSouth of Darkness, John Marsden
Marsden is a national treasure displaying an impressive range of narrative tone throughout his long career, from the psychological dramas of his earlier works to the addictive war action of his highly acclaimed Tomorrow series. After a writing hiatus he has returned with this colonial high-seas narrative of a young convict boy destined for Botany Bay.

 

buried giantThe Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
It’s been ten years since Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go so this was one of the more highly anticipated releases of 2015. In post-Arthurian England a couple set off across the misted landscape to find their son of whom they have almost no memory. A novel of slow-reveal like his other works The Buried Giant was met with the same bemused reception. Reviewers seem unsure as to whether it is exceedingly ordinary or another triumph of symbolic and revelatory genius.

 

martianThe Martian, Andy Weir
A few years old this novel makes the 2015 list because it was also adapted for the screen this year, and unlike Inherent Vice it is a movie worth seeing. Not the most literary of options, it has nevertheless been met with positive reviews all round, named a ‘Robinson Crusoe for the modern age’. Entertaining and readable, it’s a perfect summer novel.

 

waiting_for_the_past_print_0Waiting for the Past, Les Murray
Named as one of Australia’s Living Treasures Les Murray has an OA to his name and is widely considered one of the best living English-language poets worldwide. His new collection has already won a slew of awards and you’d be crazy to miss it.

 

Elise Janes

 

Peace on Earth

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

from “Christmas Bells”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow