Saturday, March 21, 2015

Chatting with the Nix

Photo: Richard Lever
Yesterday, at the Newcastle Writers Festival, I had the pleasure of interviewing author Garth Nix.  We were in the beautiful concert hall, and though I’m sure there were many fantasy authors in the audience, who were attending primarily to learn how to improve their writing, I suspect that of all the NWF sessions, ours would have had the highest proportion of people who were there simply because they loved the work of the author.  There were plenty of Nix fans in the audience, clutching their books in eagerness for a signature and photo after the show, and enjoying Garth’s rich sonorous reading from Clariel, the latest book in the Old Kingdom series.  Garth was engaging, and though I was in the role of interviewer, I found his answers as inspiring to me as an author as if I’d been sitting with the audience.  Some of the points I took away were that his first 12 or so novels were written very much part time while he was working in a time-consuming day job (the first few books were not particularly successful or life changing).  He said he wrote only two nights a week and on Sundays and had a novel a year at that rate.  When he finally decided to write full time, he spent a year procrastinating and not writing, and went back to work for agent Curtis Brown just to get back to his productive part-time schedule!  
Photo: Richard Lever

One of the audience asked him how he came up with his lyrical book titles (character names) and he said he began with Sable - near black, and wanted the ‘iel’ suffix to conjure the notion of angels in people’s minds (Gabriel, Azreal, etc) as just a slight resonance.  He wrote out a long list of names and read them out loud many times in order to see which ones felt right ("Sabriel...Sabriel" he said into the mic in his deep resonant voice).  

Photo: Leonie Cutts
Abhorsen came straight from Shakespeare’s executioner in Measure for Measure (“I employed the time-honoured tradition of stealing from Shakespeare, who did it himself").  There were lots more gems, about world-building, about gender and genre, about monsters and family pets (“Mogget is every cat I’ve ever known”), about the joys, and sometimes pressure of having super-engaged fans. The audience asked wonderful questions (I apologise to anyone who had a question that we didn’t get to).  At the end, Nix gave away lots of goodies - books not available here, an audio of Clariel, and bell charms.  I have to make special mention of the wonderful volunteers, who made sure that everything ran smoothly and professionally.  They were at the NWF all day, working hard, smiling warmly, and it all felt effortless to me.  If you didn’t get to the NWF yesterday, and even if you did, there’s still a whole bevy of sessions on today.  There are tickets available for everything, and lots and lots of fantastic free sessions too.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Let’s talk about grief, baby

I’m afraid I’m no stranger to grief.  I think few of us are.  Grief is an inevitable part of life: we live, we love, we suffer, and we lose those we love.  One thing I have learned about grief, particularly as I’ve grieved, sometimes silently/secretly, for the loss of my mother and my maternal grandmother over the past few years, is that expressing and sharing the complex emotions of grief is helpful.  It might be cathartic, it might be that you begin to understand that all those feelings that seem entirely wrong and unrelated to the simple underlying sense of sorrow - guilt, fear, anger, and relief to name just a few - are all part of the deal, or it might just been the awareness that this silent pain is not one that you’re experiencing alone - others get your pain, and love you for getting theirs.

While I was caring for my mother, we were looking through some of her photos and one was of my maternal great-grandparents with three of their children, my grandmother being the fourth, as yet unborn.  The image unleashed long suppressed and intense feelings in my mother, who confided in me a great deal of her own grief.  When I found the photo again as I was cleaning out her things, I decided to have it restored by the excellent AZ Pictured.  The image inspired me to write the piece that long-listed in the 2014 Grieve Writing Competition.  As I attended the live reading, I was similarly moved by the beautifully written outpouring of grief that I heard, and found the whole process to be surprisingly healing.  So today’s post is really just an encouragement to you to write your own grief in whatever form it comes out in, and then, enter it into the Grieve Writing Competition for 2015, which is now open.  The competition is open until June 1st, and you can enter online here:  You could win $1,000, hear your story read live by professional readers, and above all, inspire and help someone else in their grief as you share yours.  I will look forward to reading (and hearing) your work.  Good luck!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Poetry Monday: James Schuyler (and PoemTalk)

You never really master or finish with a good poem.  I’m not talking about the writing of poetry, which is another blogpost entirely.  Reading poetry is an ongoing process.  Good poems always beg to be read again.  Though there’s nothing quite like reading a poem in that silent one-on-one space, I also really enjoy the way a close reading in a group setting can open out a poem, unpack it, and provide new insights as the group members riff off one another. It becomes a whole new reading. Jacket2’s PoemTalk is a great way to experience a poem.  These relatively short podcasts make you feel like you’re part of the discussion circle as the participants chat about and work through a single poem in a way that somehow manages to be casual and light, and still rigorous.  The latest episode focuses on James Schuyler’s “February”, a poem I came across many years ago and had forgotten.  Finding it again at my favourite podcast, illuminated by such warm and intelligent poets and teachers, has been like finding a piece of myself I put aside.

The podcast begins with Schuyler’s own reading followed by a discussion with Erica Kaufman, Bernadette Mayer, Al Filreis, and Julia Bloch.  Here’s a little sample of “February", which shows the delicacy of the poem and the way it “paints” a very visual scene of light and colour on the last day of a New York City winter:
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can't get over
how it all works in together
In the podcast the group talk of how this poem gives us access to something private, something very ordinary that we might see every day, and puts it in a new extraordinary light.  For me, I feel that this poem, even with its very conversational language (the “language of cats and dogs” as Bernadette Meyer - I think - put it), is suffused with nostalgia.  Perhaps that’s because the moment of this perception is already gone.  The NY that Schuyler writes about is already a different place, and the awareness of this loss seems to underpin the delicacy of the language and the more immediate joy of the poet’s vision.  Or maybe it’s just me and my ongoing sense of nostalgia for the city I grew up in.  You can read the full poem here:  
For lots more of Schuyler’s work, visit:
And do please, just for your own pleasure, visit PoemTalk and spend a little while procrastinating in the most delightful of ways.  

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)