Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The next big thing

The wonderful Amanda Curtin, author of Inherited and the upcoming Elemental (UWA Press), tagged me in a new book meme, with the irresistible title of ‘The next big thing’. The meme asks ten questions about an upcoming work. I do have a new novel on the boil, but it's too far away for me to promote yet (wish it was closer...), so I decided to talk about the newly completed (print proof is on its way to me as I type) poetry book that I've co-written with Carolyn Howard-Johnson titled Sublime Planet, which is due for release on Earth Day 2013.

1. What is the working title of your current work-in-progress/next book?

Sublime Planet

2. Where did the idea come from?
Carolyn and I had been brainstorming a series of themes for the next poetry collaboration in our Celebration Series of themed poetry and the environment was one that seemed particularly rich to both of us.   Both of us had written books with environmental/sustainability themes and there seemed to be a broad range of ideas that we were interested in and could write about - endangered species, geoengineering, climate change, conservation.  Both of us already had poems that fit this theme and we set ourselves a target to write more, with the aim of finishing well in time for an Earth Day launch.   
3. What genre does your book fall into?
4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I'm going to attempt to answer this question even though the book is poetry and not narrative poetry either, so while a film is not entirely impossible, it would probably need to be somewhat avante garde.  So let's say, just for the sake of fun, that the role of the narrator could be played by Judy Davis, who is pretty good at everything she does and has this amazing voice that would conjure the Australian forest. For balance, Hugo Weaving could be Davis' antistrophe, adding masculine depth to the story of human folly, hunger, loss, and self-discovery.  
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Traversing a wide terrain, from the loss of species to the beauty of the natural world, from drought to the exploration of alternative planets, Sublime Planet is an exhilarating collection that break boundaries and leads the reader deep into the personal heart of perception. 
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self published (CreateSpace) and due for release April 22nd, 2013.  
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Carolyn and I have been working on it for about 9 months or so (the standard gestation time!).  We took a break to work on a food oriented book which is about halfway done, but decided to ramp up work on this one when we took the decision to align it with Earth Day.  
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I'm not sure there are many other two-poet collaborations out there, and Carolyn's poetry is complementary to mine I think but also quite different.  I like to think that there are alignments between the poetry I've included in this collection and the work of Dorothy Porter (Other Worlds), Tracy Smith (Life on Mars), and Emily Ballou (The Darwin Poems), but those are poets who have been and continue to be highly inspirational to me -- my literary mentors.  I may only be tilting in that direction, but that's certainly the kind of writing and the impact I'm going for. 
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
We live in a beautiful world.  Every morning I wake to the birdsong.  I walk outside and breathe in the smell of Eucalyptus.  My home is rural and surrounded by the Australian bush.  Right now I'm watching, out of my living room window, a Superb Lyrebird scratching in the dirt.  It's a kind of paradise.  Contrasted with that is a growing sense that climate change, a loss of diversity, rising sea levels and an exploding growth in population is driving us to inevitable disaster.  I work in an industry where sustainability is one of the key drivers so I'm always surrounded by issues, questions and conflicting opinion.  Carolyn and I were very keen to explore these issues deeply, as only a poet can - without didacticism or easy answers as indeed there aren't any easy answers. 
10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
The book has photos from wonderful photographer Ann Howleyknown for gift cards on fine linen featuring her nature photography. Her photos are exquisite and I think I could write an entire book based on her images alone. Carolyn and I  also have a few exciting partnership ventures in the works -- we're hoping to be able to donate our profits to an environmentally oriented organisation.  The ability to be able to use poetry, not only to inspire and entertain, but to actually do some tangible good is very exciting for us.  
Because this is a meme, I've got to end by tagging four other writers who I know have a 'big thing' on their horizon.  Can't wait to read about it: Jessica Bell, Philomena van Rijswijk, Rosanne Dingli, and Matthew Glenn Ward

Monday, February 11, 2013

Newcastle Writers Festival turns the page on a new era

The first chapter of what organisers expect to be an annual success story will be written in April when more than 50 Australian writers participate in the inaugural Newcastle Writers Festival. Many topics and literary genres, including crime, climate change, horror, romance, poetry and history, will be explored by some of this country’s best-known writers in a diverse range of mostly free events.

The weekend event, from April 5 to 7, will be launched at 11am on Wednesday, February 13, at the Lock-Up Cultural Centre, 90 Hunter Street, Newcastle by volunteer festival organiser and Newcastle Herald journalist Rosemarie Milsom. Sixteen ticketed events will be announced, as will the internationally acclaimed keynote speaker.

Milsom said the diversity of local talent and the overwhelmingly positive response to the festival showed that Newcastle was more than ready to boost its literary profile. “I've attended writers’ festivals in Australia and overseas, and always wondered why Newcastle didn't have its own event given the depth of creativity in the city and beyond,” she said. “If you are an avid reader, keen to learn more about the writing process, or enjoy a lively exchange of ideas, there will be something for you in the festival program.”

The event brings together a diverse range of contemporary writers and established literary leaders. Award-winning author Robert Drewe, local crime writers Jaye Ford and Barry Maitland, media commentator and author Jane Caro and ABC radio presenter Richard Fidler are among those who will be participating.
The Newcastle Writers Festival is funded by Newcastle NOW and Newcastle City Council and supported by the University of Newcastle, the Newcastle Herald and ABC 1233. Milsom is working in partnership with the Hunter Writers Centre director, Karen Crofts.

Events will be held at a number of inner-city venues, including The Lock-Up Cultural Centre, Noah’s on the Beach and Newcastle City Hall.

Media launch details
When: 11am, Wednesday, February 13 at The Lock-Up Cultural Centre, 90 Hunter Street, Newcastle.
Who: Local best-selling authors Jaye Ford (crime) and Deborah Challinor (historical fiction), NWF organiser Rosemarie Milsom and Newcastle NOW manager Michael Neilson attending.

PS, and just in case you're reading right down to the bottom, I will be participating in a big way, facilitating a number of sessions and doing a few readings too. This is going to be a wonderful event--I  hope you'll be able to join us!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sublime Planet! Meet Ann Howley, the illustrator

As some of you may already know, I've got a new book scheduled for release on Earth Day (April 22nd).  There are a few aspects of this book that particularly excite me.  One is that it's another poetry collaboration with talented poet Carolyn Howard-Johnson.  Another is that it's a full-length poetry collection which is all environmentally themed, and we're partnering with a sustainability charity, using the profits to support a wonderful cause (more on that soon!).  I'm also very excited about the amazing photographer we've partnered with: Ann Howley.  Ann's work is so exquisite, inspired by her travels, her love of the natural world, and by what is clearly a very well-honed eye for the visual.  Ann's work appears on the cover and inside the book and I've invited her to drop by the blog for a little chat.  

Your images are so evocative - what inspires you?

I think I’m inspired by the moment.  Since each moment is different and I am different in each moment, I am attracted to different things all the time. That makes it fun to look back at images from previous photo outings to relive what I was seeing at the time.

There's obviously a relationship between the looking, and the moment when you decide that what you're seeing has to be captured on camera - frozen in time or turned from perception into art.  Talk to me about that and how you know when to take a photo.  

My full dive into photography came just as digital cameras were coming popular.  At the time, I was learning photography basics as well as dark room printing. The shift to digital allowed me to pursue photography in a big way because of the cost reduction.  It used to cost me over $1,000 to get film processed after a trip. With digital, after the large cost investment in cameras, the cost is minimal. I don’t have fear of “wasting pixels.”

All that is to say that I don’t really think about when is the “right” moment any more. If I see something that intrigues me, I shoot. Sometimes it’s one shot and sometimes that starts me digging further into what I am seeing.

In 2009, you went on a pilgrimage.  Tell me about the impact of that on your work.

Yes, I walked 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain. I think the pilgrimage expanded my ability to see, but also allowed me to not rely so much on my camera.  About a third of the way into my pilgrimage, I damaged the borrowed camera I had brought (because my camera with accessories weighed seven pounds and was not conducive to backpacking!).  While the camera sounded like it was capturing images, I had no way to be sure.  I had to decide if the trip was about “the journey” or “capturing the journey”.  I decided on the former and didn’t stop to get the camera repaired.  With that, I packed the camera and only took it out for shots I really wanted.  On shots I considered “must haves,” I set the camera on automatic, thinking it might compensate for the damage. Ironically, the camera was set up for very small files, so the images I wanted most, I didn’t get.

I will be going on my second pilgrimage this May to Portugal and Spain. It will be interesting to see how my answer to the question changes.

Much of your work is nature oriented.  Has this always been the case for you? Why - what draws you to your subjects?

I think of my work as originally travel oriented, but I guess my travel choices are often nature oriented. I wanted to go to Africa ever since seeing the movie “Born Free” as a child.  Once I visited Kenya and Tanzania in 1995, everything connected. What I love about shooting nature and wildlife is the peace of being in a beautiful setting, far away from everyday life. I love the quiet. I could sit watching a sunset or waiting for the perfect pose of a lion, bird or even butterfly for as long as the opportunity presents itself. It’s a meditation.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Poetry Monday: Charles Alexander (Near or Random Acts)

Though ModPo is now long finished for me (a new one is happening in September and I recommend it wholeheartedly), I'm still listening regularly to Poem Talk at Penn Sound, moderated by the wonderful Al Filreis.  The latest episode looks at Charles Alexanders' Near or Random Acts, a book that has a strong post 9/11 theme, using tight constraints around the the focal point of Alexander's young daughter Nora. The extended poem has a personal structure - 5 words per line, 7 lines per section (Nora being 7 and Alexander being 35 - 7x5).  The writing of the poem was interrupted by 9/11 and when Alexander came back to it, he put in an additional constraint to one of the sections which is covered well in the Poem Talk episode  (58) - the acrostic use of the word "tower" to make up each of the letters of each line.  Here's section 58 in its entirety:

the other world even rises
to outwit walls' erased rubble
that otherwise would easily resist
twilight's only willful edged rebuttal
try our waffles early riser
taste our wishes every reason
turn off war's echo restless

The result is a powerful mingling of horror and death with life and domestic care - a mingling that permeates the work and continues to be relevant to a modern reader. You can check out sections 56-66 here:

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book. In the meantime, enjoy the waffles.