Thursday, March 5, 2015

It’s almost time for the Newcastle Writers Festival 2015!

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you’ll know how much I love the Newcastle Writers Festival.  Though I’m not on the organising committee as such, I feel a little like a co-conspirator because the committee members are so fabulous and I know and like them all, and because I’ve been participating reasonably heavily in the festival since its inception.

There are many things which set the NWF, as it’s commonly known, apart from other festivals.  First and I think foremost, is that it’s not daunting.  I’ve been to a number of other festivals and sometimes you can feel, as a writer, a little overwhelmed by the big names, and by the sheer mass of people.  Sitting quietly at the back of an audience, you might even feel a bit like a fraud (classic impostor syndrome) amidst so many confident, more appropriately dressed, more eligible to be there “real writers”.  That’s not the case for the NWF. It’s welcoming, down-to-earth (as Novocastrians tend to be), and absolutely accessible.  Thanks to the director Rosemarie Milsom’s hard work and influence, we have big names at the NWF, but they seem to be huggier, more approachable, and maybe just easier to get to (crowds are a fair bit smaller than at Sydney or Adelaide for example).  There’s also a great balance of poetry (this year’s poetry program is awesome - more about that shortly), nonfiction, fiction of all genres, bloggers, self-publishers, and general literary/political chat.  Finally, there are a significant amount of free events and the prices for non-free events tend to be pretty reasonable.

If you’re a reader or writer of any sort, at any stage of your career, you’ll be welcome, and will find, not only some excellent sessions full of insight on how to improve what you’re doing and ramp it up, but also the kind of camaraderie, stimulation, and almost guilty pleasure that folks like us need (writing and reading being rather solitary pursuits most of the time).  This year, I’ll be ‘in conversation’ with superstar Garth Nix, who will be chatting with me at 10am on Sat the 22nd of March about his latest book Clariel and indeed his entire Old Kingdom series, on writing fantasy in general and a bunch more.  Plenty of time, as is always the case with my sessions, will be allowed for the audience to ask questions and join in the conversation directly.

I’ll also be reading some of my own work from the anthology A Slow Combusting Hymn, a free session titled “A Celebration of Poetry From and About the Hunter”, held on the Friday March 20th from 145 to 315pm.

But wait, there’s more.  For poetry lovers (hello), there’s an entire program page here: which includes the likes of Les Murray, Anthony Lawrence, Julie Chevalier, Jennifer Compton, David Musgrave, Beth Spencer, John Stokes, Melinda Smith, Jan Dean, Judy Johnson, Ivy Ireland, Jean Kent, and lots lots more.

The full program can be found here:

Just to get your saliva flowing, the program has the likes of Helen Garner, Michael Robotham, Jessica Rudd, Marion Halligan, Blanche D’Alpuget, Wendy James, Jaye Ford, Brooke Davis, the names go on - all involved in a hugely diverse range of sessions, including a children’s and secondary school program, throughout the 3 days of the festival.  Some of the sessions require tickets and they’re going fast, so go, have a look, join me in my excitement, and if you do decide to attend, come and say hello.  Hobnobbing with other writerly and readerly folk is definitely part of the fun.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Compulsive Reader Newsletter for March is out

Another packed issue of The Compulsive Reader news has just gone out.  This one includes a little promo on the amazing 2015 Newcastle Writers Festival (more on that very soon!) as well as 10 new reviews or interviews, the usual bevy of book giveaways (I’ve got 5 this month which I’d love to send to you), and some pretty cool advertisements too (even our ads are bookish).  If it’s not already in your in-box, you can grab a copy from our online archive.  If you’re not subscribed, you can do so for free right on the front page of  

photo credit: libr(a)s via photopin (license)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Poetry Monday: Joanne Burns

It’s been a long sleep between Poetry Mondays - sorry readers!  It’s not because I haven’t been reading poetry - far from it.  In fact, tomorrow I’ll be interviewing Philip Salom about his phenomenal and challenging poetry triptych Alterworld, which accompanied me through the Whitsundays.   I’ve just done a bit of a clean-up of my bedside table and behold, there was Joanne Burns’ Brush with its colourful and surreal Ned Kelly-like cover art painted by Joy Hester.  Brush had been there all along, hidden beneath a pile of chunkier bully books.  I picked it up and began reading, and was immediately taken in by the up-to-the-minute sharpness of Burns’ words, the playfulness, the taut and very modern intensity, and how relevant the poems are.  Here’s a bit from the opener, “factoidal”:
does your share portfolio ache
unlock your teeth in the adrenal winds,
the facilitationality of a sea of nomadic desks
doesn’t need to be seen to be believed --
Not once does Burns let the reader off the hook.  There’s plenty of tenderness and playfulness, but always with a reminder of our posturing, our facades, our absurdities, and by ‘our’ I really mean ‘my’.  Despite the sharp edges, it seems like each poem finishes with a little wink - a kind of “get it” that allows the reader to join in the laughter (“It’s neptune or never”).  I’m still reading and intend to take my time, as I like to with poetry - reading a couple of poems before bedtime and letting them unhinge my dreams, then sneaking one during the day, maybe a few more in the afternoon...almost clandestinely, working through them secretly in my head.  If you’d like to sample a bit more of Burns, there are 249 (!) of her poems here at the Australian Poetry Library.  I quite liked “Thief” which you can read in its entirety at:
he would chew
deep through the moon
offering us just the dust
and thread every little star
through the spaces in his thought

Sunday, February 1, 2015

New Compulsive Reader Newsletter for Feb is out!

Hi fellow readers.  A new issue of The Compulsive Reader News has now been sent out and should be hitting your in-box shortly if it hasn’t already.  The current issue has ten fresh reviews including my own lengthy review of Philip Salom’s Afterworld, as well as interviews with West of Sunset’s Stewart O’Nan and Plus One’s Christopher Noxon.  We also have 6 (yes 6!) book giveaways this month, including West of Sunset, Plus OneMiss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell, The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell and more.  We also have all the latest literary news from around the world.  If the email gremlins got to it before you did and you didn’t get your copy, you can grab one from the Compulsive Reader Archive.  If you aren’t a subscriber, you can join us free at

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Poetry Monday: Poetry for the New Year: Lorine Niedecker (again)

Not long ago I did an interview with the poet Jennifer Compton at the Newcastle Poetry Prize ceremony.  During our pre-interview conversation (and during the interview too), we discussed how poetry “removes the poison” from life’s most painful moments.  This continues to be true for me, both as a writer of poetry and as reader.  I lost my mother rather suddenly around this time last year, and though it never stops hurting - I don’t expect the pain to ever dull - the shared understandings that poetry creates - a sense of beauty from the senseless ugliness of death - does indeed remove the poison.  This beautiful little new years poem from Lorine Niedecker demonstrates this perfectly:

I highly recommend that you click the link and read it. It won’t take you long.  The poem’s brevity is breathtaking. Niedecker writes in her distinctively succinct way (each word packed tight and resonating with multiple meanings) of loss, love, and new starts - the way the loss of a parent is brought home with milestones like new years day, and the way a parental voice continues to ’speak’ through the seeds they’ve planted; through the turning of years and this permanent and ongoing dialogue between parent and child.  I particularly love the last two words, separated in a way my computing skills probably can’t convey (hence the link) and left open for the reader to interpret: the word “spoke” functioning as both noun and verb, uniting past, present and future.

I’ve been participating in a discussion forum on Lorine Niedecker and Emily Dickinson run by the Kelly Writers House, and the poem was presented today by Al Filreis, who is wonderfully curating and driving (or encouraging - Filreis is always Socratic in his approach) these close readings. Coming across a poem like this, in the midst of my ongoing, private grief, is like slowly walking beside the trees on new years day with Niedecker, sharing this beauty and this pain.  There is no poison here.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Compulsive Reader Newsletter out for Jan

Happy New Year!  Our latest issue of Compulsive Reader newsletter has now gone out with 3 (count ‘em!) new giveaways, including a copy of The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You by Ella Berthoud and Susan Eldurkin, Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm, and Tempting Fate by Jane Green.  The Tempting Fate giveaway includes a set of 8 custom wine charts including a purse, a shoe, sunglasses and a goblet.  We’ve also got the usual tasty bunch of new reviews including books by John Cage and Thomas Wulffen, Stefen Zweig, Cheryl Kirwin, and many others, and lots of fresh literary news, all delivered on the first of each month, to your inbox.
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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Compulsive Reader Dec Newsletter is out

Hello everyone.  The December Compulsive Reader Newsletter has just been released.  As always we have ten fresh reviews featuring the likes of Simon Armitage, Gabriel Contains, Deborah Rodruigez, an interview with Allen Wyler, and many others.  We also have two great new giveaways, lots of literary news, and enough links to keep your meta-reading going all holiday long.  Drop by the public archive to grab a copy immediately, or watch for it in your in-box:

If you’re not a subscriber, and want to be (it’s free, like all the best things in life...), you can visit: and sign up.  I don’t send more than one newsletter a month and there are always giveaways.