Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happy Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week this week.  The annual celebration runs from Sept 22-28 and was launched in 1982 to try and counter the growing trend for challenging/banning books. According to the American Booksellers Association, who runs the event, more than 11,300 have been challenged since 1982, including, last year, Khalid Hosseini's The Kite Runner, and Toni Morrison's Beloved. 

Many of the books on the banned list are amongst my all-time favourite books.  I try each year to celebrate the event by revisiting a classic banned book.  This year, the book I revisited was Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange.  When I was around 17 (over a hundred years ago, as my kids would say), I attempted, along with some of my friends, to memorise the first chapter.  We did pretty well with it and I'm afraid that, all these years later, I'm still able to recite the first two paragraphs ("What's it going to be then, eh?"). The appeal of A Clockwork Orange for me was partly due to the disturbing, risque nature of the work. I was, after all, a rebellious teen. The questions that the book raises about morality and free will are as disturbing and relevant today as they were when it was written in 1962. Pondering those questions and discussing them with my pals was part of the pleasure and the educational value that we got from the book.  I was also attracted to Burgess' innovative use of language. Every word is understandable, yet much of it is linguistically inventive, and in spite of the disturbing nature of the words, kind of thrilling to read. You can check out a glossary here: http://www.artofeurope.com/kubrick/nadsat.htm

Finally, I think that A Clockwork Orange is probably one of the few really exceptional books that translated into an exceptional film. It's hard to think of Little Alex in any other way than as he was portrayed by Malcolm McDowell.

You can find out more about Banned Books Week here: http://bannedbooksweek.org/ and join in with your own tweets, readings, and reflections (feel free to put some of those in the comments below as well).  You can even 'hang-out' with banned writers like Erica Jong and Lauren Oliver.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Homage or Theft: Why Serial Plagiarism is Just Wrong

I awoke this morning to a story in today's Newcastle Herald which shocked me. There were several reasons for my astonishment. The first was that it implicated two of the "rising stars" of the Australian poetry world Andrew Slattery and Graham Nunn as being serial plagiarists.  I considered both of them colleagues and held a great deal of respect for them.  I was well aware of the increasing rise of serial plagiarism among poets due to some recent literary scandals, including the case in 2011 where "poet" Christian Ward was caught, after winning the Exmoor Society's Hope Bourne prize for his submission, using Helen Mort's poem "The Deer".  Ward changed little beyond the title (and even that was pretty close).  Ward later turned out to be a serial plagiarist, stealing from may other poets including Sandra Beasley.  Somewhat ironically (and inexplicably), Slattery has posted Sandra Beasley's touching piece about what it feels like to have your work stolen and credited to someone else on his Facebook page.

Slattery has defended himself by saying that his work was meant to be a "cynical hoax", and also that it was really done in the Cento form, a work composed of verses taken from other authors but reworked into a new form. Of course there is no attempt, as is critical in Cento, to credit the original authors, many of whom are still writing work that is under copyright.  It may be the case that both Slattery and Nunn have been attending classes by Kenneth Goldsmith, who is a strong proponent of "Uncreative Writing". Goldsmith teaches his students that "How I make my way through this thicket of information—how I manage it, parse it, organize and distribute it—is what distinguishes my writing from yours."  In other words, you can and should 'help yourself' and work with what's already out there.

Repurposing is all fine and well and there have been some wonderful, startlingly original works of art that have come from the sampling process (some of it is Goldsmith's), but taking someone else's original, carefully wrought words and presenting them, sometimes to contest judges, as your own carefully wrought words, with no credit, no permission, and no indication that this is what you're doing is just theft, pure and simple.  There's no euphemism or explanation that can make this kind of theft okay.  All writers have felt a hint of jealousy when reading something that is so perfectly written that we wish we'd written it ourselves. It doesn't honour other writers to pretend that, nor does it do yourself any justice - since I'm sure both Slattery and Nunn are fully capable of writing their own exquitely unique verses - unique because it comes from their own unique perspective and talent.  What this kind of serial plagiarism does is to denegrate writers everywhere by diminishing and devaluing the hours and hours of hard work and personal internal mining that is an integral part of the writing process.  By all means, borrow, repurpose, re-create, but do it with credit, permission, and above all, with honesty and honour.  Otherwise it's wrong, pure and simple.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Poetry Monday: ModPo is Back

If you missed ModPo last time around (and even if you didn't - lots of people are doing it again - it's that good).  There are currently over 30,000 people enrolled in ModPo II and although the first lot of course material is already available I'm pretty sure that enrollment remains open (but not for long).  It's completely free, and even though there are loads of attendees, the super-engaged involvement of Professor Al Filreis and his wonderful Teaching Assistants (and about 26 Community TAs too) makes this a very personal, very supported course full of insight and poetic pleasure.  There are no prerequisites, and you can work at your own pace, doing a lot or a little; interacting or keeping a low-profile.  If you missed my gushing regular blogposts last time around (you can search this blog for many posts on the topic), the brief overview is that ModPo stands for Modern and Contemporary Poetry and runs as a structured, university level class that encourages close, deep readings of poets beginning with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman (who thread their way through everything that follows), through to Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, Allan Ginsberg, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Cid Corman, and current poets like Tracie Morris, Bernadette Mayer, Charles Bernstein, Christian Bok, Carolyn Bergvall, many of whom actually joined in the discussion last time. There's no pressure to complete assignments, but of course that's all part of the learning experience (you do get a certificate if you complete everything), and no grades, though there's plenty of feedback, interaction, and above all camaraderie (and a few bonuses too) that lasts long after the course is done. I've done a lot of English Lit study and a degree in it too, but I honestly have never had such a powerful learning experience as ModPo. Don't miss it - just go, sign up, and participate at whatever level you can manage. You absolutely won't regret it:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Guest blog: Jaye Ford's Blood Secret

It's guest blog Wednesday and Jaye Ford has dropped in to talk to us about her new, about to be launched thriller, Blood Secret.

How did Blood Secret come about – what inspired the story for the book?

Blood Secret had a definite birth moment. About two years ago, my husband and I were caught up in a road rage incident while we driving to a local restaurant. A kid in a four-wheel drive cut us off in a roundabout, followed us to a parking area, yelled abuse and threats before tailgating us in his car as we walked to the restaurant. It shook us both up but when we’d ordered our meals, my husband decided to go out to check on our car. I sat on my own thinking, What if he doesn’t come back? He did and we spent the rest of the meal discussing that question. So the road rage incident became the start of Blood Secret, and when Max Tully goes to check on his car, he doesn’t come back.

What is it about the thriller genre that draws you?

As both a reader and a writer, I love a story that sucks me in, that’s intense and visceral and pulls on a whole bunch of emotions – and the crime genre is such a great vehicle for that. A crime itself creates danger, fear and angst of all sorts, add friends and family or a relationship developing in that highly-charged atmosphere and the dynamics can be powerful – and as a writer, a lot of fun to play around with.  

You’re producing a novel a year which is pretty impressive. Talk to me about your writing schedule.

I hate writing under stress and I get stressed at the thought of running late with a deadline so I try to stay ahead of myself as much as I can. Most days I keep office hours, starting around 9am and finishing around 6pm. But life is life and I’m my own boss so if I need to spend time with my mum or have a coffee with a friend or go for a walk, I do. I also aim to get down around 5000 words a week. Mostly it’s more than that, sometimes it’s less but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t make it. It just seems to work well as a target that I feel is achievable and will get the manuscript delivered on time. I’m a goal-oriented girl!

Talk to me about your other pseudonym Janette Paul. Do you plan more books as Janette, and does it require a different writing hat?

In February this year, my romantic comedy Just Breathe, written under the pen name Janette Paul, was released as one of the launch titles for the Random Romance digital imprint. I wrote the book before I started writing thrillers and it had some interest from a publisher but was shelved when my first crime novel, Beyond Fear, sold. It was an unexpected surprise to see it published and quite a challenge going back to edit it while I was in the nasty, complicated throes of writing Blood Secret. And yes, Janette definitely needed a different hat to Jaye! Just Breathe is possibly as far from a gritty thriller as you could get, which was a nice change from the blood and guts of my thrillers but for about six weeks, I had to remind myself who I was every day. I’d get into a scene and have to stop and say, ‘Oh right, today I’m meant to be funny!’ Or, ‘Oh no, she can’t be cute when she’d got a knife in her hand!’
As to writing another Janette Paul novel, in an ideal world, it would be great to balance both sides of my personality with grit and humour so I wouldn’t say no to that idea but for the moment, my focus in on my next thriller, which is due out in September next year.

Beyond Fear is being released around the world in different languages and even in Braille – do you feel that your book is taking on its own kind of life.

I started Beyond Fear after about seven years of trying (and failing) to get published, with a blunt message to myself not to get my hopes up because it was possible I might never get published. So now, three years after it was publishes, I feel like I’ve sent my first baby out into the world to make a life for itself. Every so often another version of it arrives at my door and it’s like a postcard – Hey, Mum, still going strong! Remember the days? It’s very, very nice.  

Can we have a little hint about the book in the pipeline?

Love to give you a hint! I’m about halfway through my fourth thriller. Titled Already Dead, it centers around Miranda Jack, who is carjacked by a gunman and forced to drive for hours before surviving a bloody end to the drama. She’s told the man was suffering delusions but when she attempts to find out how much of what he talked about was real, she discovers not everything was in his imagination and asking might get her killed.

BLOOD SECRET is Jaye Ford’s third thriller. Her first, Beyond Fear, was Best Debut and Reader’s Choice at the 2012 Sister’s in Crime Davitt Awards and her second, Scared Yet?, was also published to critical acclaim. Jaye is a former news and sport journalist, was the first woman to host a live, national sport show on Australian television and has also run her own public relations business. She now writes fiction full time.

Jaye Ford’s third thriller, BLOOD SECRET, is released in Australia and New Zealand this week.