Regular followers know that we occasionally review indie publications other than our own here. So, in keeping with this spirit of advocacy for small publisher & self publishing enterprises, today we salute ‘UG’ by local author, Charles G Reid (Xlibris 2011) which has just been picked up by Austin Macauley UK.Congratulations Charlie!
UG: history entwined with folklore, an adventure set in Briton’s Dark Ages, the fabric of which isinteraction between a small group of rival forest dwellers – Faery folk and Celtic farmers – who eventually must both do battle with a larger, encroaching world.
Charles Reid’s writing brings the forest and its inhabitants instantly alive in the mind’s eye. Despite a pace that always propels the reader forward into yet another hair-tingling encounter, it is not a book to read quickly. At times one wants to simply stand in this forest and breath the air of long ago, to step carefully between its pages so as not to crush the delicate plants or creatures.
It is a book with which to nurture a love of literature – and, not withstanding faeries and trolls, it will likely nurture respect for the natural world as well. There seems no contradiction: Reid’s faery characters are portrayed with such earthy plausibility, one almost believes they actually inhabited our ancient past.
Don’t think that descriptions of natural beauty might deter a young reader, this is a thrill-a-minute narrative, spiced with humour and vivid characters. The dramatis personae, villagers and faeries alike, are all endearing; particularly the eponymous Ug, who, fierce and malevolent foe to intruders into his domain, is also guardian and tender gardener.It is a rich cast, with guest appearances from travelling minstrels, a relic toting frier, a handsome young Norman, rampaging Norsemen, and finally trolls… but I mustn’t give too much away.
In the tradition of ‘Island of the Pines’ or ‘Watership Downs’, UG would do well as a read aloud to children. (Not very young ones, however, as there are graphic battle scenes!) It is chiefly pitched at young adult readers but will appeal to just about anybody who enjoys a good read.
This continuing story of a rural writing competition is from the beginning of the prize presentation evening, wherein Jane presented her own credentials – included here because it is relevant to this blog and to Pomonal Publishing generally. Then she addressed the younger writers:
It’s lovely to see you all here tonight, and it’s been a great privilege to read the entries and select the winners. But before we get to that most exciting bit, I think it only fair that you should know something about me. Why have I been asked to stand in judgement of your creative writing? So I’ll tell you a little about myself:
I grew up in Northern Victoria between the Murray River and the Broken Creek, but like many country kids, I went down to Melbourne for a tertiary education. I went to art school. Both my parents were painters, as was my late brother, Chris Nicholls who some of you may have known. Bron Nicholls, an author of both adult and children’s literature, is my older sister and was for many years my writing mentor.
Initially I trained as a photographer, then as a filmmaker, and I worked in the film industry in Melbourne for almost 20 years. But writing has always been a major part in my life. I kept an extensive journal, I wrote short stories, poetry and film scripts, – and I taught writing too: tutoring for the Victorian Adult Literacy Council, teaching Screen Writing for accredited film courses, and finally, when I moved up here, both Creative Writing and Script Writing for Stotts Correspondence College.
Eventually I began writing (and rewriting) my first novel. But by the time I was happy with it, about ten years ago now, it had become clear that I’d left it too late to find a mainstream publisher. The nature of the book industry had changed so much that even previously published and acclaimed Australian authors were no longer considered profitable.
I recently learned of a many-times published author whose latest manuscript was rejected because, and I quote: ‘though ‘beautifully written as always’, her publisher ‘no longer handled literature because there was no money in it.
Because I knew quite a few accomplished writers in similar situations, I became an accidental publisher myself – taking advantage of the digital technologies that have transformed our lives, to create a writer-driven, small publishing venture, based here in the Grampians. Pomonal Publishing. Already we have produced a dozen books and have several others in the pipeline. And of course you can read more about it on our blog. (This blog.)
But now, I’d like to speak specifically to the younger writers in our midst...
Human beings have been telling stories since prehistoric times, when our earliest ancestors gathered around fires, their only source of heat and light after the sun went down, to tell the stories that would make us who we are.
In this very place, in this country we call the Wimmera, right here, ancient people told their stories for many thousands of years. I think it right that we acknowledge them, the traditional owners of this country, the first Australians.
Because the art of telling stories dates back to the beginning of human culture, writing stories connects each of you to this very ancient tradition; you can really be proud of that. But entering a writing competition is not like running a race on Sports Day, You can’t see the person ahead or behind you – and there’s no finish line. So…if you can’t write to win, what makes a winning story?
Firstly, it must be original. Though it’s sometimes said that there are no original stories – that they’ve all been told before. I don’t believe that’s true, any more than I believe each of you is exactly the same. Every person relates to the world around them in their own unique way. And a good story lies more in the telling than in the bare facts; so finding an authentic voice for your narrator, or for your main character, is a big part of the writing process. (For our younger writers: Authentic just means: real, true, not a copy or a fake.)
Of course correct grammar and spelling will always help, and there’s a lot you can learn at school about the writer’s craft – but it’s important that when you write, you don’t do it to win competitions, but because it’s what you love to do, or because you have something to say, something that needs to be heard.
And don’t forget that writing goes hand in hand with reading. Particularly for young writers. That really is the best way to learn about story-telling and to improve your own writing. Nobody ever became a good writer watching DVDs or television. When you watch TV all the imagination comes from the other side of the screen. We just sit back with our mental feet up, taking it easy.
But when we get into a good book our minds are working all the time to picture what we read. Each of us sees the story unfold in our own imagination. And that’s what makes our brain stretch its creative bits. So, if you want to be a writer: More Books Less TV, yes? And now to the prizes…
Some years back I was asked to judge a regional writing competition and today I stumbled across my notes for the speech I gave that award night. As I’ve not been well enough to publish anything new here for some time, I will post that address instead – for those of you kind enough to keep checking out this little blog page. Thanks for dropping by.
WIMMERA REGIONAL LIBRARY ADULT SECTION 2017
Recently I heard of a study that found people who spent more hours using social media reported feeling more lonely than those who did not use it, or used it less often. For some reason this reminded me of a line attributed to C.S. Lewis in the movie, ‘Shadowlands’: We read to know that we are not alone.
I wonder how many of our kids know this great writer’s work only from the film versions of his Narnia books?
A great deal of our time does seem to be spent in front of a screen of some sort – television, computer, smartphone. But adapting to new technology is no excuse for discarding our literacy standards. And this is why regional libraries continue to play a hugely significant role in our communities.
Competitions such as this one encourage people, of all ages, not just to write, but to hone the craft of writing – to learn the difference between stringing an easy clutch of words and structuring a well-told story, carefully shaping it, until it is, indeed, a work of art.
A competition such as this says: We, as a culture, still value a beautiful sentence, the expression of original thoughts and ideas. We do not look only to the mass media for our sense of ourselves, but also to our long history of written and spoken language. We still have time for that.
And it is because of this, that in my selection of winners, I could not choose stories derivative of mass media, stories that mimicked TV shows and computer games. I looked for stories inspired by the world around us. I looked for complex characters and nuanced narratives that suggested the writer had observed real life.
With a different judge there would likely have been different winners – but I want to stress that there are, in fact, no losers. Surely we don’t engage in the art of literature in order to win. We do it because it enriches us.
Each of your stories touched me in their own way. I have read tales of loss and of deeply experienced loyalties; tales of place, conveying powerful feelings for the bush, the farm, the Wimmera. I have found humour, and black humour; explorations of memory and of identity. It was a privilege to hear your voices, and encouraging to discover so many fellow writers here in the Wimmera.
I want to tell you a little about my selection process: The most powerful, and indeed beautiful, piece of writing among this year’s entries, to my ear at least, could not, in all fairness, be awarded first prize. It did not really conform to a strict definition of a ‘Short Story’. Let me explain why in the end I decided to go with a strict definition.
A short story is one of the hardest forms of literature to master. It must introduce and develop characters, and complete a narrative arc within a tight framework. To better illustrate the difficulty, let’s compare this to writing a novel:
In a novel you have heaps of time to impress a reader, to build your three- dimensional characters, to develop your theme, and even subordinate themes, to build your plot and to tie up each thread. But in a short story you must not only build character and narrative – essentials from which we derive the ‘story’ – in a very short space of pages, but do so entirely without cliché. You must deliver simplicity without banality.
In a novel a sloppy sentence may whisk past the casual reader unobserved. In a short story it is an immediate blight. In a novel you can waffle and just maybe the reader will struggle on, trusting that there is some point to it all. But in a short story to waffle is to commit the unpardonable literary sin of losing the plot.
No doubt many of you have discovered for yourselves just how challenging it is to write character or plot driven narrative; much harder than an essay, memoir or creative non-fiction. Yet there were excellent examples of each of these among the entries too. But this was a Story competition. And this was my dilemma in selecting the winners. So. . .
Because of it’s deft handling of the linked themes of Ageing and Loss, I have chosen ‘The Mayoress of Casterbridge’ for first prize. . .
The author strikes a skilful balance between interior and exterior space, which helps to develop a sense of both place and character. In quick, deft lines, a great deal of information is conveyed about both past and present relationships. There is also a delicate use of metaphor, wherein the aging body and an abandoned country town construct a literary symphony, without undue sentiment. And there is just enough plot development to lift the narrative towards a satisfying conclusion.
I have chosen ‘Little Superman’ and ‘Herbert Green, Deceased’ as 2nd & 3rd place winners – again, for an expert handling of the inherent demands of the narrative structure. And frankly, because these stories moved me.
But I have given the Encouragement Award to the entry I alluded to earlier. A powerful piece of pure, lyrical prose: ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’
Bron Nicholls’ intricately crafted novella, opens a window into the joys and sorrows of growing old alone in regional Australia. This work has the eloquent simplicity of Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night, coupled with the womanly psychological observations of an early Doris Lessing.
Nell, in her seventy-ninth year, narrates her past and her present as a thoughtful observation of the world around her; of her participation in it on her own terms and learning from each challenge. There is plot, but it subtle. There is drama, but it is organic and uncontrived. Bron Nicholls excels in a style of writing that makes us look again at the familiar.
But she also writes in terms that make the book suitable for any age group, and, because she captures the minutiae of ageing that society and media often prefer to ignore, this is a book that would make a marvellous study piece in schools. For older readers, living alone, it is a must.
It is now available from Pomonal Publishing, or, for locals in the Grampians, from the Stawell Library’s new ‘local author’ shelf.
Bright autumn sun interspersed with showers, inclement cloud the darkly spectacular backdrop to a radiance of red/gold foliage – Clunes is at its magical best in moody weather. The lighting seemed purposely tuned to shades of Annie Drum’s collection of stories, ‘Like Trees’, launched at the festival on Sunday. See previous posts.
A cold wind did not deter Clunes Booktown festival goers. The upper room of ‘the Warehouse’ where Neil Boyack‘s segment of the program unfolded was packed with readers of, and true believers in BOOKS. Yes, that good old fashioned printed word.
Introduced and lauded by Boyack, Annie assured us that the sometimes darkness of her stories was no cause for the concern that had been (kindly) expressed; she was in fact quite okay in herself. Then she read the story: Hero And The Machine, from the collection, and from which I’ve quoted in an earlier post.
Two days previously Annie had spoken about Boyack’s support of her writing in an interview on VOICE FM Ballarat. Neil is a Central Victorian author and convenor of the Newstead Short Story Tattoo, a small literary festival that features both known and emerging writers, with a substantial sidedish of music and fireside storytelling. His particular support for new and emerging voices was substansiated on Sunday by the inclusion of a very young writer indeed: Zach Haywood, a student of Maryborough Education Centre, reading for the first time with remarkable poise.
Annie Drum ‘s first collection of short stories will be launched by Neil Boyack on May 1st at the tenth anniversary festival, Clunes Book Town
These are razor-edged stories investigating the bounds of identity, provoking questions: How do we travel? And more importantly: What do we travel as? Read the full Press Release on the Pomonal Publishing website.
…when she gave birth there was a sense of something sacred and almost like order. Throughout the labour Hero kept asking – how big is the egg? The large nurse said – a baby, you’re having a baby. The other nurse laughed, a sort of a crazy sound, and Hero thought she must be a bit off centre. When the large nurse presented her with a darling little bird in a tight white blanket Hero thought her heart might burst…
The launch will take place in the ‘Newstead Literary Tattoo Presents’ segment, in the Warehouse at 3.00 pm. To attend you will need to purchase a festival ticket. This will enable entry to all of the many exciting literary events of the weekend. See the festival website for further details.
Let me tell you about some exciting new books we are working on for the first 6 months of this year:
Annie Shearing has been writing a series for younger readers, each focusing on a thorny or critical event challenging a group of friends in the outer suburbs of Melbourne; each book features a different member of the group. The first – ‘Anna & the Last House in Melbourne’ – will be ready later this month.
Pomonal Publishing’s Anthea Nicholls is the designer and all round hands-on person for this series.
Next up: ‘Like Trees’ short stories by Annie Drum – an emerging writer of literary fiction, whose close observation of life, coupled with quirky, moving depiction of people in fragile mind-states makes for poignant reading.
It is a personal pleasure to see this first collection of Drum’s stories carrying the Pomonal Publishing logo, as her writing has enchanted me for many years. It will be launched 1st May at the Clunes Booktown 10th anniversary.
The ‘Like Trees’ book design is being done by the talented Lin Tobias. We are delighted to have her expertise on this and, hopefully, future projects.
Chamber Poets (known to us for hosting the 2015 launch of Christopher Race’s ‘Still Life With Grandmother’) are producing a members’ poetry anthology. The theme is ‘Place’ and submissions are now closed. The editing team are Ben Oost, Christopher Race, and convenor Myron Lysenko. Hands-on layout will be done by Ben Oost with my input. It will be launched at the Woodend Winter Arts Festival in June.
While I’ve been taking a back seat on all these projects, I’ve been focusing on reading submissions, and on the editing and book design for:
‘Macka’ a story about the adventures of a tame cockatoo that gets caught up with a wild flock and swept away in a colossal storm. This is a story for adults to read to children, written and beautifully illustrated by Peter Voice.
Peter Voice is an artist known for his work with Chalk Circle. He is currently involved with the founding of the WAMA, the Wildlife Art Museum (to be located near Pomonal).
Watch this space for more about each of these projects.
As mentioned in a previous post, I edit a community newsletter as a sideline to my publishing ‘hobby’. It was in this context that I discovered the talents of a remarkable 11 year old, living down our dusty road a little way – a young person intending to become a writer when she finishes school, and already turning out work of staggering maturity. Below is a review piece she wrote recently for the newsletter about Pomonal Publishing. Her byline: Evie
This local organization consists of a group of talented writers, editors and artists who publish their own books and sell them (mostly) online. They are also responsible for the monthly Pomonal Newsletter, which helps to inform the community of what’s been happening and events coming up. With a population around 350, our small town has lots going on!
Pomonal Publishing has a website where you can view new book releases and also read their blog. Fellow writers review the books and offer constructive feedback to the writer. One aspect I loved was reading about the world of writing and publishing.
I was asked to read and review their latest publication: ‘Currawong Creek’ by Bron Nicholls (who has written two other books for young readers). I loved this book and would describe it as heart warming and sophisticated. I particularly liked the main character Alice, with her different thoughts and the way she saw the world. I loved the bit where she finally made a new friend, and the type of relationship they had (not being in each others faces). I also liked the caring and warm relationship she had with her grand parents.
Pomonal Publishing is a fantastic establishment and I hope it continues. Make sure you check it out on: http://www.pomonalpublishing.com and look out for their books, now available at our local shop too!
Our forthcoming publication, the second in our poetry series, ‘Still Life With Grand-mother’ by Christopher Race, is an event of some significance for Pomonal Publishing: it will be the first time we have held a public launch for one of our books, complete with posters, press releases, invited guests, drinks and nibbles.
I have known Race since we were both in our late teens, poised without dignity on the cusp of our adulthood and holding that spurious conviction (you may well recall it) that one actually sees the world clearly. We have watched each other grow up, both as writers and as a members of our species; arriving at the tail end of the booming-babies with our own particular tales to tell. Christopher has worked with books and writing for all these years – both on personal projects and professional jobs (including in-house and freelance editing). He is now a qualified librarian.
It was with considerable elation that I discovered, just a few years ago, that my literary friend had also found his voice as a poet. Now it is with pride and great pleasure – and the help of a mutual friend, Michael Foster, who has selected and edited this collection – that Pomonal Publishing announces the forthcoming release of this book: STILL LIFE WITH GRANDMOTHER. It will be launched on Saturday 14th March at the (locally legendary) monthly Chamber Poets reading, at The Chamber Art & Coffee House in Woodend, Central Victoria. Race will be the featured poet reading poems from this collection.
I Dream of You Still: Early Years in Bath
by Kimberly Labor.
This is a charming memoir based on diaries kept by a very (it says so in the blurb) young American woman. This fact, along with the narrative’s time frame, and its location, (significantly not America) is key to fully appreciating Labor’s book. It reads like ethnography, with the staggering revelations of another time and culture.
The realities of those good old 70s gender roles, the struggle intelligent women put up against them, and the changing – and therefore confusing – sexual dynamics of that period in Western social history, all contribute to an engaging narrative.
Had this been a novel I would have quickly grown impatient with the young woman’s introspective brooding and egocentric concerns. As it is, the universality of the quest for love and a place in the world ensures that this narrator’s ever hopeful struggle, and repeated disappointment, is moving – at times deeply so.
Despite the legendary freedom of the 70s, the young Kimberly is not promiscuous, and she is no Bridget Jones – she has too much self-confidence to be any comparison. It is a remarkably chaste diary for the times, and when the author does embark on a physical relationship, she learns sophisticated lessons and ends the affair because it is ‘only desire’.
Her battle to let go of an unreciprocated attachment to the key player in her drama is a familiar theme (explored in numerous mediums) and it is drawn out painfully and compulsively on these pages. Compellingly too, it would seem, as I couldn’t put the book down until it had been finally resolved.
But it would be too simplistic to call this a story of unrequited love. The object of Kimberly’s desire constructs himself as such, by courting her then stepping back – then drawing her in again as soon as she has regained her equanimity. This lends a touch of psychodrama to the daily, weekly, monthly narrative. Kimberly is no fool, or this scenario would become excruciating. Her efforts to understand herself are both touching and intriguing, and finally (thankfully) liberating.
It is this ability in the young writer to draw us into her drama, and take us with her on the journey from naivety to maturity, that makes this a highly competent piece of writing, and much, much more than the chronicle of confessions we might have expected of a very young woman’s diary.
There are new voices on the wind, and their singing is to vastly variant tunes.
When I first opened Murray’s ‘The Blind’ I entered into the rhythm of this – for me – new voice eagerly and was immediately delighted by the imagery, the succinct phrasing, the unfolding drama of the first poems… and then I hit a wall.
Suddenly the mise en page confused me. I couldn’t locate a destination or follow her meaning (in the manner I expected) in the refined simplicity of her phrases; couldn’t read the implications of/the unfamiliar placement of the slashes, dashes, dots enclosed by brackets, and the cryptic lines that offered me so little clues to her narrative.
rings rim bears the swish of silks it witnesses the ravel/un of thread
from its metal mouth/ its iron lung a gap will open at a point north -west
slow the revolve to an avenue / a road nearby a waystation/
there is the constant presence of the dead in their soul-cocoons / needing caressing
I had to go back and read from the beginning again…
And with this re-reading my excitement mounted. Like a photographer suddenly gifted with eyes that perceived previously unseen spectrums of colour, I entered into a new country, and my ears began to hear its language.
Now isn’t that exactly what poetry should do? I cannot give a fellow writer higher praise than this – that she takes me by surprise and shows me things I never knew our common tongue was capable of.
Over a week I read ‘The Blind’ daily. Each time I began again at the beginning and travelled a little further into its unfolding mysteries. As each veil lifted, the sense of intimacy shared increased, but also the sense of wonder, the sense of being a privileged observer to a grander-than-personal drama. This I attribute to Murray’s unique sense of language as metaphor. Nothing essentially new to poets or poetry of course, but seldom have I found it in the work of my own generation to be as refined or as exquisite as in this collection.
stitched in caul and head they will use the steel tips to force him out
This is a work dense with layers of meaning that emerge gradually from crafted layers of text. Like a cubist painting, its parts make up a whole greater than their sum. The images of women weaving or sewing, thread together all the elements: the living and the dead, the world weary and the unborn, in the stories and in the personalities that populate this collection. It is one poem and it is many, and it offers both detail and vista.
unleash the skein
red thread the open wound and from it a thin red rivulet
will drain into a metal dish and curl into water
and from shadows
some say they sit behind mirrors watching lives pass through a room:
that they spindle the threads / that they are blind /that they have no emotion
they are simply bent to the work that they were given and never a stitch is dropped /
that is not picked up and brought clean again / for they simply do their job
by touch by hand by long and patient experience with the vagaries of man
I have not enjoyed a new voice as much, or felt such excitement in discovery since I first read T.S. Eliot in high school.
[Note: This collection was published by Oneiros Books, not by us]
One of the reasons I got involved with indie publishing is because I miss the collaborative nature of film production; specifically that buzz which comes from a group of creative minds working together, reaching different (if not greater) dimensions than the solitary process.
As yet the collaboration here has been limited to an exchange between an author, their editor (if they have one) and myself. You see, I am committed to the notion of allowing the author control over how their book will look. But I’m beginning to realise that publishing isn’t like filmmaking, where a group of individuals skilled in different aspects of the process come together – each responsible for that one area of expertise but all working under the unifying vision of either a producer or a director. That process doesn’t yet unfold so neatly here. My authors and I are still finding our way.
To begin with, I myself am embarrassingly inexperienced in publishing – my skills lie in photography and film production (and all that goes with those areas in terms of graphics and design sensibilities) and in writing. Putting out my own first novel – I was a screen writer in my previous incarnation – was how Pomonal Publishing came into being. But I didn’t want to be just a self-publisher!
Now I’m realising that my authors are also inexperienced (in bookmaking, not in writing) and that together we are making lots of mistakes!
Here’s a doozy: Our next PP book will be a collection of poetry by Christopher Race. But I’ve been talking about it as an ‘anthology’ – I even used that term in my Foreword for the review editions already printed. And I used the term when I approached renowned Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe, to ask if he would be willing to review the book. He politely queried the word, which set me straight.
Of course the dictionary does define ‘Anthology’ as a collection of poems etc. But it does not say (or at least mine doesn’t) ‘by different authors’! However, this is the assumed knowledge that anyone in the industry, or any Humanities graduate would already have. And this is exactly the type of pitfall I’m likely to make on entering an area in which I am untrained and still inexperienced.
Should I cease and desist my amateur attempts to publish beautiful (and professional) books?
Perhaps with kindness and patience (and a little informal mentoring) from such consummate professionals as CWC, we shall achieve excellence in time. Until then, we’ll bumble on, and after we are gone Pomonal Publishing’s banner may be held aloft by more capable arms.
Christopher Race’s COLLECTION of poems, Still Life With Grandmother, will be out early in the new year. Please watch this space for more details.
As an older writer, adjusting to the constantly changing technology (not to mention: terms of reference) of the publishing world, I had been in the habit of saying, ‘times are changing’. Willing to retrain myself, and then retrain myself again, to stay abreast of the new cultural scene. But this morning it hit me that times were not simply changing, they had CHANGED! The landscape and the terms of reference are so utterly different from the world I entered, when I left high school and home and headed for the big city to be a part of something.
I could be on another planet!
How this affects my writing, is something that is always on the fringe of my awareness. And I’d like to hear how others of my generation are coping (tail-end of the Boomers, like the arrowhead, y’know? What devils have on the ends of their tails, that’s us.) And also, more importantly perhaps, I want to continue to read young writers, new and emerging writers telling me about this unfamiliar planet.
At the moment Pomonal Publishing is bent a little towards the writing of my generation (especially when publishing poets, because, as Frances Holloway asks on her blog: who reads poetry anymore?) But good writing (good?) reaches across time and space, doesn’t it? Any new young writers out there finding it difficult to get published, but serious about the art of writing? I’d like to hear from you.