Tag Archives: writing

Judging Story Competitions Part 2

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...

photo by Ree

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…

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Judging Short Stories

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

photo by Dominika Roseclay

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.’

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3 days to book-launch

As we count down to the launch of ‘Shots from the Chamber’ here is what Myron Lysenko, Chamber Poets convenor, has to say about the poetry/poets included in this publication:

We hope that this anthology will capture something of the atmosphere prevalent at Chamber Poets: the highs and the lows, the established poet and the emerging poet; sometimes poets come out of the closet and read for the first time in public, sometimes somebody inadvertently caught up in the reading while trying to get a glass of wine ends up being inspired by what they hear and goes off to write their own poetry. The anthology is inclusive as it showcases poets at the height of their careers or at the beginning, and everything in between. It can be read from start to finish, or just by dipping in from poet to poet.

We are very proud to present a wonderful representation of the readings that have been staged with such famous poets and identities such as Judith Rodriguez, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Claire Gaskin, II. O., Alice Savona, Kevin Brophy, Jennifer Compton, Joe Dolce, John Flaus, John Bryson, Gaylene Carbis, Ross Donlon, Andy Jackson, Klare Lanson and John A. Scott.

We are pleased to republish John A Scott’s four sonnets, which won the Peter Porter Poetry Prize of 2013, a poem each from Anna Fern and Maurice McNamara who both wrote a poem about their shared experience of being caught in a railway tunnel and being surprised by on unexpected oncoming train. There are poems from other poetry couples: Lish and Paul Skec both writing about Minyip, Myron and Jade writing haiku about their relationship, poems from poetry twins Emily Polites and Bronwen Manger, father and daughter Ben and Soleil Oost, who is the youngest poet at 9 years old and John Flaus the oldest at 82.

Thank you to all the feature poets and open section poets who submitted to the anthology. We received over two hundred poems. Many addressed the general theme of life in Central Victoria. The book is a combination of poets living in Melbourne and poets who encircle Woodend.

Thank you also to our sponsors and people who donated to the costs of the book: Macedon Ranges Shire Council, Bendigo Bank and the patrons at the Village Larder who threw in coins and notes into a jar beside the till. Thank to Philip Holgate for the use of the premises and we welcome the hospitality of new owner Remy Shpayzer.

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one week to ‘take off’

Like Trees inner

 

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.

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‘Like Trees’ by Annie Drum

Like Trees_smallTwo weeks till we launch Annie Drum’s first collection of short stories. An event I’ve anticipated for nigh on thirty years, after reading an early story by ‘the girl downstairs’ in a block of East Melbourne flats.

Why has this taken so long? Well, the radical change in the ideology of publishing houses, for one thing. In this advanced stage/age of capitalism, in a society obsessed by the concept of perpetual-growth-driven profit, a beautiful voice is easily overlooked.  (This, of course, is exactly why small, non-profit publishers like us had to come into existence.)

And perhaps also life itself has intervened, slowing down the pace at which Drum could pursue her career in literature. But this slower maturation of her voice will perhaps, like a good wine, prove worth the wait.

Today I am a tree, tall and alive, with sap crystals on my body. The wind is strong but I sway with it, we are the same. My trunk is wide and my jewels wink and glint in the sun. People walk by and never see me amongst the other trees. A little way up the street is James Owen, he is also a tree. That’s where he went, you see. I smile at him, and he waves a branch at me.

Watch this space for more about this magical collection of stories over the next two weeks. Maybe I can entice Annie to speak to us about her work on this blog.

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Ethnographic Early Years

UnknownI 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.

 

Jane Nicholls
Editor
Pomonal Publishing

[Note: This book is not one of our publications.]

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A review: The Blind by Christine Murray

1-front-200x300There 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.

citadel

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.

from catapult

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

and woman

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]

 

 

 

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Writing & Publishing

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.

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