Monday, December 2, 2013

New Compulsive Reader Newsletter for Dec: Sun Mi-Hwang, Tim Winton, Beau Riffenburgh, Scott D Roberts and more

Hello readers.  A new Compulsive Reader newsletter has just gone out for December, chock full of literary news, competitions (3 book giveaways this month), new reviews, and interviews.  If you've somehow missed it, you can grab a copy from the archive.  To subscribe, just visit the front page of The Compulsive Reader site.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Guest Post: Who Am I by Erika Rummel

Who am I? It’s difficult to answer that question when you play multiple roles every day – housewife, mother, career woman, lover. Are you that caring kiss-you-better person, or that authority figure, or that gourmet chef, or that sex kitten?

Who am I? is the question Lisa asks in HEAD GAMES, but instead of looking inside herself for an answer, she makes the mistake of looking into the mirror of other people’s eyes. Don wants her to be his baby doll, Jim wants her to be his lover, and the spiritualist Santos wants her to be a medium to attract his missing sister.

HEAD GAMES is not only a journey into the strange and mysterious north country of Argentina. It is also a journey into Lisa’s head, the landscape of her crazy imagination and the only place where the existential question Who am I? can be resolved.

Is HEAD GAMES autobiographical? Yes, I’ve lived and traveled in Argentina. The description of the wild country on the border of Bolivia is authentic, as is the threatening political climate in the early ‘80s when Argentines lived under the iron fist of the military junta.

In some ways, Lisa is me. In others, she isn’t. Unlike her, I am suspicious of spiritualists and séances. And I wouldn’t fall for a creepy old man like Don, who wants to play sugar daddy. Lisa gets kidnapped in Argentina and lives the life of a captive in a Quechua family compound. Nothing like that happened to me. But like Lisa, I am trying to figure out Who am I? What do I want to out of life?

HEAD GAMES has a happy ending, and that’s what I love about novel writing: You can make it up. Lisa’s life is a fast-paced, thrilling story with a beginning, middle, and end. My life is full of inexplicable twists and turns going who knows where. Lisa ends up knowing who she is. I’m still searching!

PS: If you are into the question Who am I, you’ll also enjoy my novel PLAYING NAOMI, in which Liz, an out-of-work actress, impersonates Naomi Baum, a reclusive millionaire. She plays her role so well that she attracts all the passions meant for the real Naomi. Ted romances her. Miro plots her murder. Things are getting out of hand. Maybe it’s time for Liz to slip back into her old life and her old self? Or is it too late, and has she turned into Naomi?

Find more about Erika Rummel and her fiction at: 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Poetry Monday: Kate Middleton following the Colorado River

Though you may have dropped by expecting the Dutchess of Cambridge, the Kate Middleton I want to profie today is the author of the exquisite book Ephemeral Waters which was launched last week by Chris Andrews. Ephemeral Waters is one long poem, broken up into 9 parts including an Instruction (Prologue) and a Relection, After.

The work winds its way with the 1,450 mile river, moving from Colorado through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico like a poetic tour guide, picking up pieces of information, detritus, visiting side roads, recreation areas and museums, and holding conversations with strangers. It's a fantastic journey that reveals more than simply one place or one space, but also carries us into the heart of humanity, of our frailties, and of the fragility of the natural world on which we rely.  Here's a tiny snippet from the "Instruction (Prologue)":

Drive    You will learn
something    You will learn
nothing but absence, but rock's
wonderful indifference

Middleton's poetry has won a number of prestigious awards (including the WA Premier's Award for Poetry). She was the inaugural Sydney City Poet until 2012.  You can grab a copy of the book here:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Guest post: On Digital Books and Reader Expectations by Leigh Russell

The first Geraldine Steel murder mystery, Cut Short, came out in print in the UK in 2009. In one of the first US reviews, which appeared in the Compulsive Reader, it was described as a 'fine police procedural, with a convincing if disconcerting feel of contemporary Britain.' I remember the thrill of reading a review on an American website, never dreaming that one day my books would find a US publisher.

A fellow author suggested my publisher bring it out as a digital book. It seems strange to recall that just four years ago I wasn't really sure what that meant. Nevertheless I sent a polite request to my publisher to bring my debut out as an ebook. No one thought it was important, but six months later the digital version duly came out. 'Of course your books don't sell on kindle,' someone in the know told me. As for me, I still had only a vague notion what a kindle was. Exactly the same happened with Road Closed in 2010.

But reading habits were changing. When Dead End came out in 2011, the digital and print books were published on the same day. By the time Death Bed appeared in print in 2012, the digital book had already  been available for six months. This pattern has been repeated in 2013, with digital versions of Stop Dead and Cold Sacrifice available for download six months in advance of  print books. 

Nowadays, no one says my titles 'don't sell on kindle'. Not only have the print books reached bestseller lists in the UK bookstore chains and on amazon, but the ebooks have reached Number 1 on kindle.

Every British author aspires to be published in the US, so I was very excited when, following the series' success in the UK, all of the Geraldine Steel books were acquired by a US publisher. They are also publishing my new spin off series for Geraldine's sergeant, Ian Peterson.

Harper Collins US are publishing my books at a rate of one a month, starting with Cut Short in November 2013. It is exciting, but times have changed since Cut Short was first published. Harper Collins are publishing my titles as ebooks first. I doubt if I anyone will suggest I send my US publisher a polite request to bring my books out in print. How times have changed!

Find out more about Leigh and her work at:

Friday, November 1, 2013

Compulsive Reader Newsletter

Hello all you fine readers. I've been a little snowed under at the moment, but just a quickie to let you know that if you don't subscribe to The Compulsive Reader's Newsletter, you've just missed our November newsletter featuring three (yes 3) separate book giveaways, ten fresh reviews, a roundup of literary news including the latest on the Man Booker, the Forward Prize for poetry, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Scotiabank Giller, and lots more.  If you would like to remedy this situation just let your fingers walk you over to: and sign up for free on the front page. If you are already a subscriber, watch your mailbox for the latest issue which has just been dispatched.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Are you thinking of writing a novel? Everyone's getting in on the act it seems, especially in November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Grammar checking software company Grammarly has decided to devote the month to coordinating a community novel. They're accepting submissions through October 25, 2013 from writers at all levels. Signing up with your email address will add you to the queue of authors planning to help write the novel, and Grammarly will notify you when it is your turn to contribute up to 800 words to your assigned chapter. At the end of NaNoWriMo, Grammarly is aiming to publish a book that boasts the largest number of authors of any novel ever written.

If you want to join in the fun, just drop by and enter your email address. You can even help choose the plot, and enter contests to design the cover and name the book.  If you've been wanting to join in NaNoWriMo but don't have the wherewithall (or ability to drop out of your life for a complete month), then this is the perfect option to get your creative juices flowing. I'll be looking forward to checking out the result.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Poetry Monday: Rochelle Owens

Rochelle Owen is a poet, playwright, translator and video artist who has published, among many other things, eighteen books of poetry, the latest of which is Out of Ur just released by Shearsman Books. 

Out of Ur is an extraordinary collection of new work and older work taken from the period between 1961 and 2012. The poems meld classicism with a post-modern sharpness. The work is simultaneously lyrical and starkly confronting.  The poems, which I'm still in the process of reading, take the reader in multiple directions, sometimes at the same time - moving outward to places like the streets of Marrakech, and inward into the brain or the makings of the creative process. Observation and realism mingle with meta-poeticism. It's dense and satisfying work that I'm looking forward to spending more time with.

The PennSound page on Rochelle Owens is a treasure trove of MP3s, videos and text collected from a variety of readings, which will no doubt be augmented by the upcoming reading by Rochelle and her equally illustrious husband George Economou at the Kelly Writers House in Pennsylvania on Thurs the 17th of Oct at 6pm (Arts Cafe if you're in the area).  The following little excerpt is from the poem "The Glacier" which is published in its entirety in Out of Ur:

‘Green the gardens of Tuscany’
the word ‘avore’ tattood on her forehead snow forming ice
the glacier expanding outward outward moving slowly slowly

lumps of ice tilting twisting rows of words order of words

‘Green the gardens of Tuscany’
parts of words
the word ‘abandon’ stuck in her throat lovely the letters like roots
spirals of roots multicellular
slender pliant twigs
lovely the letters like arteries

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:

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: 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. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Photos from the Fellowship of Australian Writers Local Writers Showcase 2013

This morning I had the pleasure of participating in the inaugural Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) Local Writers Showcase. After a brief opening by MLS (Local Member of the Legislative Assembly) Greg Piper, and a lovely intro from poet Carol Heuchan, Beryl Mullard, Jaye Ford, Judy Johnson and I spoke to the enthusiastic audience about our different (and yet surprisingly similar in many  ways) paths to publication.

After that we had lots of questions from the audience about book publication and what to do if you don't like the way your publisher is editing your book, how to keep track of plot twists, on fitting writing into our lives, the legal pitfalls of writing (illegal!) nonfiction, whether there's an easy formula for genre books, and quite a bit more.  I suspect that we could easily have gone on for several more hours, and I was honored to be able to sit amongst such illustrious and capable company (and learned as much from their generous answers as the audience did).

I imagine that organising such a gathering, which included a whole day full of talks by a number of wonderful local authors, was a massive undertaking and big thanks to FAW and particularly Linda Visman and Victoria Norton who created such a valuable community event.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Guest post: Dialog Tags by Aaron Paul Lazar

When I first started writing over a decade ago, I exulted in every new dialog tag I could think up. I preened over “he croaked” and purred over “she grumbled.” Finding new and inventive ways to say “he said” became my quest. My early works were peppered with gloats, murmurs, and barks. I even started a most coveted (only by me) list.

How many words can you think of to say “he said” or “she said?” Here are some, in no particular order:


How many more can you think of? There are probably hundreds. Okay, now that you’ve wracked your brain for tantalizing tags, let me share one very important lesson.


What? Such brilliance? Such innovative thought? Yeah. Sorry. Forget it.

Never use anything but “said,” “asked,” or an occasional “whisper” or “mumble.”  Once in a great while, if you feel you really need it, slip in a “spat” or “croaked.” But I’m here to tell you that dialog tags, for the most part, should be invisible.

 “Said,” is invisible. “Asked,” is invisible. “Barked” stops the flow of the dialog. Anything that makes your story stutter needs to be eliminated, including these juicy but totally distracting tags. 

Got that part?

 Now that I’ve encouraged you to use “said,” I’m going to retract it.

Forgive me, but that’s just the way it is. If you can avoid a tag altogether–through the clever use of action “beats”– then more power to you.

Here’s an example of changing a passage from lush useless tags, to he said/she said tags, to using beats instead of tags:

Case A

I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.
“Want me to take over?” Tony wheedled.
“Why? Am I making you nervous?” I retorted, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white.
“Of course not, sweetums. You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break,” he crooned.
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants.
“Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire,” Tony groaned.

Case B

I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth. 
“Want me to take over?” Tony said, leaning on the dashboard. 
“Why? Am I making you nervous?” I said with a frown. 
All smiles, he said, “Of course not, sweetums. You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break.”
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants. 
“Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire,” Tony said in a panic.

Case C 

I maneuvered the van around the next pothole, and was about to congratulate myself for my superior driving skills when a series of washboard ruts nearly popped the fillings out of my teeth.  Tony braced himself on the dash.
“Want me to take over?” My knuckles turned white.
“Why? Am I making you nervous?”
 “Of course not, sweetums.” He forced an innocent smile. “You’re a great driver. Just thought you might want a break.”
We rounded the bend and the road disappeared. The crater before us could hold three elephants. Big elephants. Tony’s frozen smile barely hid his panic.
“Whoa! Watch it, honey. Don’t wanna blow a tire.” 

Okay, so these examples aren’t beautifully written or perfectly rendered. But they should give you the gist of what I’m trying to illustrate about eliminating dialog tags altogether. Now,go forth! Search and destroy those ugly, story-stopping tags. See how you can make your prose slide down easily, without one stutter. Good luck! 

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of three award-winning mystery series and more, Lazar enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming release from Twilight Times Books, SANCTUARY (2013).  

Click here to enter Aaron's Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 26, 2013

Poetry Monday: Judy Johnson: Stone, Scar, Air, Water

Judy Johnson is one of my favourite poets. I'm really excited that she'll be sharing the bill with me this coming Saturday at the Lake Macquarie Local Writers' Showcase, not least of which because it means I'll be able to grab myself an autographed copy of her new poetry book Stone Scar Air Water. Judy's work has always resonated with me, from the first time I heard her read her award winning poem "Bell" at the Roland Robinson Literary Awards presentation in 2000 (shivers ran down my spine), through her unique books Wing Corrections, Jack, Nomatic, and The Secret Fate of Mary Watson.  I'm sure Stone Scar Air Water will be as wonderful as the sample poem "Opal" which Jennifer Compton has published on her blog here:

Because my son is doing a lovely job of pracising Debussy's Suite Bergamasque on the piano as I type this, I found Judy's poem "Silence" reprinted from Poetry Macao (there's more at the site if one poem isn't enough) a particularly pertinent and moving piece for this week's poetry monday. This is a tranformative poem, as many of Judy's poems are, converting a moment of sensation into an expansive inflation of meaning. Enjoy.


All weekend I’ve listened
to a piano competition on the radio.

The contestants each play
the same piece until the small

velvet hammers at the base
of my neck are struck

before the notes emerge. 
The commentator explains

how much exists in the silence
between strikes.
The judges’ decision
often based on these pauses

of possibility.
That space of becoming

reminds me of the child’s foot
in Neruda’s poem,

not knowing its purpose.
Like hands at a piano

before they swoop
uncertain if they’ve been given

the span of a bird’s wing
in order to fly, or merely harvest

in their low-level sweeping
the miraculous seeds

of quaver and semi-quaver.

Or the heart unaware
it’s moored to the body

before the rope of the pulse
at the wrist  pulls tight.

Or the ear

in the midst of silence,
wondering if it’s an ear

or instead the invisible
music in a far off transparency

of orchard and sky,
wondering if it’s been buried

in the flesh and bone
of the head

simply to bear
all future transmissions.

Or so that one day
it might become

a bird.  Or an apple.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Local Writers Showcase

Please come and join us on Sat the 31st of August at the Warners Bay Performing Arts Centre on 39 Lake St at 11am for a Local Writers Showcase Event.

We have so many fantastic writers in Lake Macquarie and I'm expecting the day to feel like a mini, inexpensive ($5!) writers conference.

After the official opening by Greg Piper, MLA, I'll be opening the event with my co-authors (and friends) Jaye Ford, Beryl Mullard, and Judy Johnson.

We're planning a very lively, interactive session with plenty of opportunity for audience participation, questions and book talk.

I'm expecting it to be a lot of fun.  If you do come along, please come up and say hello. I'd love to meet up.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Poetry Monday: On Bad Poetry and Good Criticism

I've been reading bad poetry this weekend.  It wasn't deliberate--it just happened.  I opened a book that had been on my shelf for a while, and there it was, in rich printed black and white, staring me in the face.  I'm not going to review it, as I really only want to shine a light on good work here (and this one was small press published, and it's absolutely possible, given the subjectivity of poetry assessment, that others might love it), however, I did think it would be fun to talk bad poetry for a bit, in honour of that experience, especially since I've been re-reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to my daughter (she's getting so much more of this this time round), and we've just passed the part where Arthur and Ford get a poetry recitation.  As anyone who has read Hitchhiker's Guide will know, Vogon poetry is the third worst in the universe. You can try your own hand at it here, with the handy dandy Vogon poetry generator:

The poems I came across this weekend didn't cause me any internal hemorrhaging, nor did I gnaw off one of my own legs, however, I'm pretty sure there was at least one poem written on the topic of decaying swans and at least one on bathtime gurgles.  I could probably, like Arthur, attempt to write something about it in an effort to save myself: "the Vogonity of the poet's compassionate soul which contrives through the medium of verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other..." but instead, I think I'll just provide you with this excellent succinct song written by Franky Walnut, on the topic of criticism.  It think it fits.  I hope that we're okay...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Poetry Monday: National Science Week Celebrates Poetry

It's National Science Week here in Australia and the government is celebrating by partnering with Australian Poetry in an inaugural Science Poetry Competition.  Poems need to have a  theme that explores scientific understanding and achievements across any scientific discipline.  The contest is open until the 23rd of August, and winners get $1,000, flights and accommodation in Canberra to attend the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Dinner in October.  Aussies only I'm afraid.

If you want inspiration, look no further than the beautifully presented books Holding Patterns, Earthly Matters, and Law & Impulse which you can download free from the Science Week website. I might be a wee bit biased because I have some poetry included in the books ("Six Flavours of Quark" in Holding Patterns, and "10 Digits of e" in Law & Impulse) which were published during National Science Week 2010 by the Poets Union, but I also have to say that the poetry in these collections is superb.

To celebrate this year's prize, the National Office is publishing one poem a day from the books, and today's poem is the exquisite "The smallest articles of faith" by Fiona McIllroy (from Holding Patterns).  If you don't think that science and poetry go together, you haven't read good science poetry.  Rectify that right now by going straight over to the site and grabbing a copy of those books (or just reading the poem of the day if you're time strapped):

If you decide to enter the competition, good luck!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On Reading Difficult Books

The Daily Telegraph recently published an article that listed the 25 books you "Really DON'T Have to Read Before You Die".  Of course all lists are reductionist, and this one is a particular hodge-podge, listing the Twilight Series with Ulysses and Cloudstreet, as if the readership for these books was likely to be the same.  I have serious doubts that the author, Kerry Parnell, has read all 25 books on this list. She admits to giving up on Midnight's Children, though it looks like she got through all of 50 Shades of Grey, which was listed just before Crime and Punishment.  Some of the books listed are actually very easy reading and no less wonderful for that.  Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, and Cloudstreet by Tim Winton are all easily read and utterly engrossing (these three regularly make my own reductionist list of the best books of all times).  That they're hugely original, and have such distinctive styles that the books have not been copied by other authors (unlike Twilight or 50 Shades) makes them no less wonderful or accessible.  But there are other books on the list that take a little more work.  Ulysses of course is the obvious example, and as a one time Joyce scholar, I've blogged on this book before.  I'm still reading it, some 30 years after I first opened the book, and though I've read it through to the final "Yes" of Molly Bloom's soliloquy several times, there's always something new that surprises and stimulates me, as both reader and writer.  So I guess I must be one of the 32 very clever people.  However, if you drop by Frank Delaney's Ulysses podcast ReJoyce you'll find yourself in the company of around 30,000.  That, I suspect, is a mere drop in the bucket of the many fans that Ulysses has.  No, it's not easy.  Yes, it helps to take it slowly and have a guide to point out the many references, some political and rooted in time and place, but by god, it's worth the effort to enter the places Joyce takes us in that book (which, I might add, is not at all unreadable - just very referential and rich).  I would say the same for some of the other harder books on this list (which, if you take out some of the more obvious anomalities of popular culture, could easily be a list of the 25 books you really DO have to read).  Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse for example.  To say that nothing happens is to completely mis-read the book.  This is, like many great novels, the story of an internal transition and those subtle emotional connections between us that we attempt to bridge as we make meaning out of our lives.  There are many other wonderful and sometimes difficult books on this list including The Slap, The Metamorphosis, On the Road, Catch-22 and Shantaram to name just a few.  None of these books are easy, but all of them are rewarding.  You've got to put a little effort in, but once you're engrossed, the power of the prose, the distinctive voices, the philosophical journey, and the depth of the narrative transition is all revealed.  Worth the trouble.  There's nothing I like better than being engrossed in the fictive dream, and I'm all for having that happen quickly and easily when I read, but I also know that there are specific rewards to be found with some books (and art in general - that includes poetry, music, painting and dance) that take a little more effort and a closer, deeper reading.  It's by making this effort that we grow, not only as readers, but as people.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Guest Post: Molly Cutpurse: Writing What Readers Expect

As a child, I possessed an unconventional and odious personality, matched only by my need to read and write. The problem was my education, which was hideous. Diagnosed with dyslexia, as a young adult, I wrote a novel; a rambling, self-indulgent and humiliating quarter of a million words.

With no guidance, I continued to embarrass myself, completely mystified as to why agents and publishers did not wish to take on my undoubted masterpieces. Eventually, I understood it was my lack of self-consciousness that was my problem.

 Stepping off my hedonistic high tower that prevented me from becoming that which I believed I ought to be was depressing yet illuminating. My feet only touched the ground when I was in my fifties, arriving at the conclusion that either I could write for myself or I could write for the pleasure of other people. That is, if I wished to earn a living from this writing malarkey.

Write what we know is common advice. However, it is more important to write as readers expect. Having little formal education, I wrote as I spoke, and that is not what publishers wish to read. If they want that, they can visit a pub and listen to people chat over a pint.

My task was to learn how novels with a proven history, the classics, were written. I choose authors whose works appeared in the top one hundred lists of the last century, and devoured them. I learned spelling, grammar and how to write. Not in the same voice as those whose work I admired, but at least with the same syntax and morphology. That was my first lesson.

Agents and publishers were still not buying my drafts though. What to do? I consider myself a little different. (Have a look at my web page!) It follows then that my writing is a manifestation of my experiences. And, I have written some strange novels. that what the majority of the population want to read? I concluded, they did not.

There are not too many people who want to read about a peasant-devouring being called, Madgododa who comes from the starship, Plodgel and who possesses a magic shield called, Tersacal. I cannot identify with that.

I only began to sell in large numbers when I ceased to write what was a reflection of myself, and began writing what readers wished to read. You want to sell plenty of books? Then watch prime-time television. Those are the sort of stories the majority wants to enjoy. Producers have been in business for a long time, and they know what sells.

My life changed when I began a series concerning how a woman from the East End of London took her family through World War Two. Riding on that success, readers began to enjoy my other books. I am still unconventional, we must all possess a singular voice, but I have learned to play the game.

Molly Cutpurse

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sourdough - a poem (a starter and a loaf of bread...)

I wanted to blog about my sourdough starter, which is working beautifully, but as this isn't a food blog, and as I'm currently working on a food related poetry book with my writing partner Carolyn Howard-Johnson (that's the long awaited provisionally titled Persephone's Juicy Jewels), I figured I'd do better with my target audience (that's you) by making things a little literary and writing a poem.  So herewith, my untitled, freshly baked sourdough poem.  On the left is a little fresh bread - just flour, salt, water, and starter. Chewy, soft, crusty, and gone within the hour (an ephemeral loaf, but one that served its purpose). 

lactic acid bacteria
nothing to be scared of 
perking in anticipation

with all those excited 
microorganism queuing up 
all that potential energy

it seems wrong to 
curl fallow, soaked in inertia 
shivering below the covers

failing everything 
and everyone 
unfed and tasteless

wrong to keep 
this pot of kinetic joy 
unkempt and perfect

from its life’s purpose
to leaven, nourish, 
raise the lost.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Guest post: Second Acts by Koethi Zan

This is a guest post from Koethi Zan, author of The Never List

Pieter van Hattem  © 2012
A little over a year ago, I was a Deputy General Counsel of MTV overseeing the business and legal affairs for series production on shows such as The Hills, The City, Teen Wolf, True Life, Buck Wild, and Catfish.  Now, switching gears mid-career, I’m a full-time writer with my first novel, The Never List, to be published in the U.S. on July 16. 

The process of going from professional executive to a creative type has been a strange one.  In my eight years at MTV, I dealt with issues as various as suicide threats, stalkers, nudity, plastic surgeries, and sex tape scandals.  I negotiated and re-negotiated talent, production company, and rights deals with big-time Hollywood agents.  Before that I worked at a boutique law firm, two major law firms, and as head of business affairs for an independent film producer.  I went to parties, premieres, openings and festivals and represented writers, directors, actors, and playwrights.  From the outside anyway, it seemed pretty glamorous, and in truth it was about as fun as a legal career can be.  But last June, after sixteen years as a lawyer, I walked away from it all.

I grew up in a tiny rural Alabama town in a family of scientists.  I was the black sheep, obsessed with literature and film, not chemistry compounds and electrical engineering.  And I wanted to get out of there, so I worked hard.  I was on the student council, the math team, the scholar bowl team, and ended up Valedictorian.  But I was also a “Goth kid” who dressed in black, moped in my room, and listened to Morrissey, the Cocteau Twins, and Psychic TV.  I stood out in a high school that had a parking lot filled with monster trucks decked out with rebel flags. 

And then I went to college.  Estranged from my parents by that time (a whole other story), I supported myself with scholarships and a small “cow fund” from my grandparents.  (When I was three they’d given me a Charolais heifer named Molly.  Every year, her spring calf would be sold and the funds put into an account for me.) In college, I hung out with the art students and we spent weekends in New Orleans, partying in the gay clubs.  I wanted to be a filmmaker or a photographer.  But I didn’t quite have the nerve.  The cow fund was all used up and I was afraid I could never be financially stable in a creative field.  And so I ended up at Yale Law School.

But I had this brilliant idea:  I’d be an entertainment lawyer.  I’d be close to the creative process.  I’d be surrounded by artists.  It would be practically the same thing!  Ha.  It was just like my favorite New Yorker cartoon:  a picture of a boy dressed in a cowboy outfit, looking at his father saying, “Well, if I can’t be a cowboy, I’ll be a lawyer for cowboys.”

I didn’t get to start out as even a lawyer for cowboys, though.  My first stop was at a major white shoe law firm in Manhattan.  I was in the banking group.  I worked on secured financings and revolving credit facilities.  I spent nights sending out two hundred page documents to eighty banks for a syndicated loan transaction.  And I cried in the ladies room almost every day.

I made it into entertainment law after a year, and learned that the “lawyer” part of “entertainment lawyer” was definitely first and foremost.  But I can’t complain.  Over the years I worked with many wonderful people and I have a lot of great stories to tell.  Or at least I would have them, if it weren’t for attorney-client privilege.

Then two and a half years ago, I started writing a crime novel.  I had never written anything before except some pretty bad high school poetry, but I was a huge reader and I had an idea that was nagging at me based on my long-held obsessions with, and fears of, sado-masochistic dungeons (that’s yet another story).  I gave it a try, using the Graham Greene method, more or less.  I assigned myself the task of writing five hundred words a day, five days a week, with the caveat that if I finished ten thousand words in any calendar month, I could take the rest of the month off.  I kept finishing earlier and earlier each month. 

While writing the book I was working full-time at MTV and renovating a house.  I had to wake up at 5 a.m. every morning so I could squeeze in one hour of writing before my kids got up.  I believed that if I ever missed my word count requirements, I wouldn’t finish.  So I kept going. 

And then somehow the fairy tale came true for me.  My husband, a writer, gave my manuscript to his agency.  They liked it, gave me comments, I revised it, and then we sent it to publishers.   It sold and then there I was with a second career.   I still sort of don’t believe it.

Then I had to make a decision.  My boss, who was General Counsel of Viacom Media Networks,
overseeing MTV, VH1, CMT, Logo, Spike, TV Land and Comedy Central, was leaving the company for another high-powered job, and I was in the running to step into his shoes.  It was a major fork in the road.  I knew if I pushed for the top job and ended up getting it, my life would change completely.  It would be impossible to write a second book under those circumstances.  And yes, I could have stayed in the same position, writing books on the side, but this dilemma forced the issue for me.  The universe was telling me the time had come to choose:  was I a lawyer or a cowboy?

Lawyers, however, aren’t known for taking big risks, and I was scared.  Financially, I could justify taking a break from the law, but it meant I would have to make the writing thing work.  Would this book be successful?  And could I write another one? 

Only time will tell.  But I took the plunge.  I left MTV last summer and have been writing full-time ever since, finishing the edit for the first book, and starting on the second.  Maybe I’ve given up a lifetime of steady paychecks and employer-provided health care, or maybe one day I will go back to it.  But for now I’m just happy to be out here on the range.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Poetry Monday: Vox Americana on Poetica

Photo Credit: Inky Bob,
Flickr Creative Commons
Photo Credit: Melissa Zexter
This Poetry Monday I have to draw your attention to the amazing Radio National Poetica. Produced by Mike Ladd, himself a fine poet, the show is always full of rich poetry read beautifully and peppered with music, commentary, and sound effects to give that full body experience.  The show is aways a joy to listen to (and I'm not at all biased by the fact that they once read a poem from my book Repulsion Thrust on the show), but the current two part series is like an encapsulation of my late teen years and made me hugely nostalgic. Sitting somewhere between poetry and rock and roll, the show is a sensory overload of beatnik New York City, moving between Tom Waits, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop (didn't know he was a poet, did you?), Allen Ginsburg, Leonard Cohen, William S Burroughs and lots of others. I felt like I was back in the bleachers at the St Mark's Poetry Project. Grab your beret and a cup of black coffee and you're ready to go.

Here's Part One:
Part Two:

Monday, July 8, 2013

On reading out loud (especially to our children)

A recent article in The Guardian titled "Modern Life means children miss out on the pleasures of reading a good book" provided the rather bad news that reading for pleasure is declining among primary-age pupils.  One of the key reasons cited was "time-poor" parents were no longer reading to their children at bedtime. This really saddened me. I can't imagine a person so time-poor that they can't spend 15 or so minutes reading to their children before bed. It's not only a chance to demonstrate, in a very literal sense, how utterly pleasurable a story can be - setting up children for a lifetime of reading enjoyment, it's a few moments of closeness that might otherwise be hard to find in our busy lives.

This becomes increasingly important as children get older and time-poor themselves. Though my two boys now feel they're too old to be read to before bed, we read together until they were each about 12 years old (the decision to stop was theirs, and it happened pretty naturally).  By then I was reading them books like Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (I read the entire series with my middle boy) and Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, which really challenged my ability (or lack thereof) with the Scottish accent. No matter how tongue-tied I got, we always ended up laughing.

Last night I finished Black Beauty with my 10 year old daughter - my youngest child, and I'm hoping that I can continue reading to her for at least another few years.  I have to admit that my reasons for this are partly selfish.  As we choose the books we'll read together, I can choose titles I've always wanted to read but never got around to.  I can also relax into the reading process, put on accents, get dramatic and end on a flourish ("tomorrow night we'll hear all about The Devil's Trade Mark.").  Sometimes I give my daughter a little massage after her reading.  Sometimes we'll talk for a bit about what happened in the story or about other things.  It's the best part of my day and something I look forward to greatly.

My mother always read to me too, for a long time after I was past my preschool years, and I still can conjure up that sense of safety, comfort and joy of hearing a story - even one that I already knew well, like Where the Wild Things Are or On Beyond Zebra.  Sendak and Seuss were mainstays of my childhood, and I didn't need Mem Fox to encourage me to read these, and other books, to my children - it just seemed normal to pick up a book and read to them (though I agree with every word of Fox's Reading Magic).

If you aren't reading to your children (and other people's children too), you're not only eliminating a potentially powerful tool for helping children understand the relationship between letters, sounds, words, and the magic of stories, but you're also missing out on one of life's biggest pleasures.  Of course, I know that whatever demographic The Guardian surveyed, it didn't include you!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Poetry Monday: Ellen Mandel does it again

Ellen Mandel has done it again.  She's released a new CD full of beautiful, mostly classic poetry set to utterly appropriate music. The Cat and the Moon takes its title song from the WB Yeats poem of the same name:

Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn. 
The CD contains works by Yeats, Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heany and Daniel Neer's own Haiku series which takes us through a series of ordinary moments in the life of a NY actor that reminds me a bit of Frank O'Hara.  Daniel also provides the vocals for all the music on this CD, in his exquisite voice that melds smoothly with Mandel's jaunty piano.  Neer's own brief pieces are quite funny and light ("who needs a day job?") while the Hardy is intense and dark:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.

The range of styles is well conveyed by the combination of piano and vocal and the arrangements are all deeply moving.  Nicely balanced, utterly listenable, and still pure poetry, The Cat and the Moon is another wonderful poetic offering from the maven of musical poetry.  Mandel's deep underlying respect for the poetry around which the music is built shines through this new CD.  To get hold of the CD, visit Mandel's site at

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Joy of Slow: Slow Writing and Close Reading

(I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because it's hard to proofread your own work and it's great to have an extra set of 'eyes'.)

I just finished reading Game of Thrones. Of course, I’m not really finished, but I’ve finished all the books that have yet been published. George R R Martin is still working on the last two novels, and by all accounts it may be a number of years before they appear. Along with millions of other fans, I will wait. When the next book is released, even if that is many years down the track, I will purchase it immediately, and read it hungrily. I’m part of a worldwide captive audience. My reading tastes don’t normally gravitate towards bestsellers. In fact, I tend to avoid them. There’s nothing quite like discovering and promoting a beautiful gem that others have missed. I was, however, heavily encouraged to read this series, and I’m not sorry. Nor am I sorry that Martin is taking his sweet time to complete the books.

Good writing is rarely fast writing. There is slow, hard work involved in creating complexity. There is world building (call it architecture if you want, or setting, or scenes), defining and developing each of the many characters, working up the extensive plot and all of the many threads that bind these people together – some overt and some quite subtle. In such a grand epic, weaving this kind of web can’t be done quickly. There is, of course, talent and skill involved, but above all, writing a rich, complex epic requires application – long, hard, brow-busting work. That Martin refuses to compromise on quality and rush his books out, even though his publishers will almost certainly be pressuring him to do so, is laudable.

Beyond this initial craftsmanship is the extensive, time consuming process of polishing. This ‘revisioning’ process includes ensuring that all of those subtle details are in the right places, foreshadowed correctly (or in a way that will undermine the reader’s expectations – one of Martin’s particular skills), that the underlying thematics are recognisable and that the story elements come together seamlessly. This can be a very time consuming process, involving working through every single word as if it were poetry and condensing, paring back and refining until there isn’t a superfluous word. When you’re producing seven novels, most of which have over a thousand pages, that kind of meticulous detailing is no small accomplishment.

None of this work is quick. There may be moments through the writing process when the author is ‘in the flow’ and things are moving rapidly, but mostly, and speaking from both personal experience and from what many other writers have told me, the writing of a novel is slow, difficult and often painful. Of course, it’s worth it.  At the end of the process, you’ve birthed (and the labour analogy is probably appropriate) something that is uniquely meaningful. Reading work like this is worth taking time over too. Paying close attention to detail or as Julia Alvarez says in her aptly named blog Slow Writing, to "listen patiently, to pay attention, magpie style, to the little details, left and right, to live, to read, to write slowly, the footprints making the path."

All this is to say, in a rather roundabout (call it slow) way, that, just as I’ll have to wait for the next book in the Game of Thrones series, you'll have to wait for my next novel, tentatively titled Tilda’s Song. It’s taking time! That’s time I can’t easily map out or predict, because every couple of paragraphs I’m back to researching. This is all part of the process of working out the story and delving deeper into the truth of my protagonists. It’s hard, slow, painful work, and though I’m not for a minute comparing what I’m doing to Game of Throne, nor do I think that my readers will be waiting as hungrily for my next work as Martin’s readers are waiting for his (in my dreams!), as a writer, I can certainly understand and relate to the difficulties and above all else, the time that Martin continues to put into his work.  Hopefully in the end, the outcome of my time will at least warrant pleasurable attentive reading from my wonderful readers who notice the little details and connect with me on that slow, but meaningful path towards the shared pleasure that only a good, slowly written book can provide.