Friday, 20 May 2016

10 Ways to Support the Writing Community

...aside from, you know, reading books and stuff...

A few days ago, an article shared by local writer Annabel Smith provided me with some food for thought.  (Annabel's twitter posts often get the cogs in my brain turning, so if you're on Twitter, I would highly recommend following her.)  The article was by Robyn Mundy, and it discussed the impact of loaning books to your friends on the larger literary ecosystem.  I have to confess, I tend to loan my books although I don't often borrow them.  I have an impulse control issue when it comes to buying books!  But I'd never really thought about what the impact of loaning books might be on this industry I count myself as a part of.

This article sparked a lot of debate, with many book lovers confessing to loaning their books out, and one Twitter user objecting to the way the article seemed to make out like readers were in need of a telling off.

I'm still going to loan my books to people, especially as the people I loan them to tend to be book buyers themselves, but today I wanted to share with you ten great things you can do for your local literary community.

1. Attend bookish events

As someone who has been involved in putting on literary events, I know that it can sometimes feel like pulling teeth to get people to attend.  Generally, readers are happy that the author is visiting, but they're reluctant to commit to coming along.  There are exceptions to this rule, of course, the most notable of them being the Perth Writers Festival held each February.  The bottom line is, time and effort have gone into putting on a great event, but if you keep saying  'I'll go to the next one', there will come a point when there is no next one to speak of.

Our local writers centres in Perth host a lot of affordable book events, including talks and workshops. Check out what's coming up by visiting their websites (there are links in the sidebar of this blog) or liking their pages on Facebook.

Here are some quick links to events in Perth over the next few months.

MAY 25  Stories on Stage at Kooliny Arts Centre with Natasha Lester and Rachel Johns

MAY 29 Creative Conversation with Michelle Michau-Crawford

JUNE 1 Short Story Book Club at the Centre for Stories

JUNE 11 Blogging workshop at KSP Writers Centre with Annabel Smith

JULY 12 Author Talk with Liz Byrski at the Grove Library

2. If you read something you love, tell people about it.

There's enough negativity in the world already!  I don't need to know that you hated Go Set a Watchman, but I do want to hear about it if an obscure Japanese novelist just blew your socks off.  Addicted to Ferrante?  Let's chat about it.  Blog, tweet, face to face, smoke signals, the important thing to know is that recommendations lead to sales, and unless that author is JK Rowling, sales are the difference between publishing one book and publishing many.  (For more on this, Robyn Mundy's article linked above does break this down really nicely.)

3. Make use of your local indie bookseller.

They know things.  They love books.  They are the literary matchmakers of the world, and no algorithm can ever replace them.

4. Consider subscribing to a literary magazine.

These magazines give homes to stories, poems and articles that would otherwise go unread.

Some of my favourites?

Kill Your Darlings

5. Visit your library.

See above, regarding booksellers.  Librarians are also book loving, book recommending machines, but the best thing is, they'll let you read the books for free so long as you bring them back in four or so weeks!  Some of the books may even be out of print, so a library is the very best way to get a hold of them.  Plus, copies of books held in libraries do generate income for their writers.

6. Subscribe to local publishers' newsletters

Fremantle Press, Magabala Books, UWA Press and Margaret River Press are four great WA publishers, and you can keep in touch with what they're working on by visiting their websites and subscribing to their newsletters.  This is a great way to hear about new books as well as events and industry news.

7. Go to writers festivals!

This is always a really fun way to spend a weekend or a day.  The Sydney Writers Festival is on now, which is a festival I haven't yet been to, but I always come home from the Perth Festival with a head full of ideas and my arms full of books.  I'm also super excited to see that Perth is getting its very own Short Story Festival later this year, so keep your eyes on this website for more about that.

8. Join a book club

I joined a book club about a year ago and have quickly made some awesome friends because of it.  Book clubs are a great way to discover authors you've never even considered trying before, and they're also a great excuse to go out and explore a new bar or restaurant.  Our book club meets once a month, and it's a surefire way for me to turn a grumpy day into a great one.  Food, books and good people are always a recipe for happiness.

In Perth, we're incredibly blessed to have a generous and supportive writing community, and oftentimes, you can even convince a local author to attend your book club meeting. (The availability of wine strengthens your case in this regard!)  It's common courtesy to make sure that if you do this, everyone in the group buys a copy of the book, or borrows one from the library.  They're giving up their time to be there, so the least you can do is buy their book!

9. Join a writers' centre

Writers' Centres are not just for serious novelists or travelling bards.  Writers' centres provide programs for writers at all points in their careers, whether you write epic fantasy or family history.  We have a few great ones in Perth.  Check out The Fellowship of Australian Writers WA, the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre and the Peter Cowan Writers Centre.

10. Read blogs!

Bit biased here, but I love reading people's blogs, particularly bookish ones!  Blogs are a great way to discover book reviews written by people who don't necessarily have advanced degrees or write books themselves (though a lot of us do!)  They are reviews written by readers, for readers.  Often, bloggers participate in excellent campaigns to raise awareness for certain causes, such as the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which seeks to address the gender imbalance in Australian reviewing, and the #LoveOzYA campaign, celebrating the unique and wonderful genre that is Australian Young Adult.

So that's it from me for now!

I hope you got some ideas about how you can get involved, and I hope to see you at an upcoming event.

- Emily 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

What Elimy Read: April

April has felt like an entire year in itself.

A lot of things are happening.  The bookstore where I work announced that it would be closing after being open for something like twenty-two years; I continued to slug away at my university course; I did two events to support the publication of Natasha Lester's new book A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald (selling books at the launch and an interview at FAWWA); and I worked on my book.

The book that I am working on is about Alan Turing, but it's also about a contemporary character who is a student of history writing letters to Turing after some pretty terrible things have happened to her.  I've been really enjoying writing it, and lately I have been inspiring myself by listening to the soundtrack from The Imitation Game.  My thoughts on that film are strongly mixed, but the soundtrack is exquisite and it makes for a good writing atmosphere.

I've been trying to work on that a little bit every night, and right now I am wrestling with writing a chapter outline, because I think I might like to submit this project for this year's Richell Prize...

All that being said, I didn't read as much as usual last month.  There's no video this month because April is already receding in the rear view mirror, but hopefully I will be more organised in late May and do a podcast (audio only and SHORTER) for the books I read this month.

What I did read:

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

I really like JK Rowling/ Robert Galbraith's Cormoran Strike series, though I suspect that they are crime novels for people who are not fans of crime.  This book wasn't an exception to that, but I did find myself critiquing the writing style a little.  I was frustrated by the way the point of view would hop from person to person sometimes several times over the course of a few paragraphs, and there were a lot of different threads to follow in this case, so perhaps this was why I didn't feel like I was solving the mystery along with Robin and Cormoran.  Also, can I just say, as someone who watches both Bones and Castle, long running series ALWAYS get cheesy once the detective and the offsider fall in love.

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eager

I had only heard good things about this book, but I never expected it to be as sexy as it was!  Summer Skin was great fun to read, and it had its priorities in the right places a lot of the time, so I would be very happy to recommend this to mature YA readers.  (16+)  I reviewed it here.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

My first Hemingway!  I decided to read this book as research for a short story I will be turning in at the end of this semester, about a young writer who goes to Paris hoping for a writer's Utopia.  I wasn't sure I was going to be a Hemingway fan, but let's be honest, the closest I'd ever come to experiencing Hemingway was in a Woody Allen film, so I was by no means prepared.  I love Hemingway's sense of voice and style, and there were several passages I wanted to copy out because of the clarity and truth of them.  I have a bit of a laugh at Hemingway in my story through one of the characters, but I swear I'm really just making fun of a certain type of writer who idolises Hemingway.  I swear.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

This book was a Christmas gift (thanks Grandma and Grandpa!) and combines two things I love very much; the humorous writing of Rainbow Rowell and Harry Potter.  While no one ever actually comes out and says that Simon Snow is based on Harry Potter, it is a novel which is taking a lot of the elements of Harry and books like it and riffing on some of the tropes to do with being a 'chosen one'.  Simon Snow is quite possibly the worst chosen one ever so every time he tries to save the world he causes problems.  His room-mate Baz is an evil vampire, but also secretly in love with him.  The whole thing is cute and good fun, and made for a great read for after a long, stressful day.

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

I was thinking about this book again last night-- I realised that almost without fail, the kinds of historical novels that really connect with me are about forgotten women of history, or insert the voices of women into traditionally male stories.  The cast of The Midnight Watch is overwhelmingly male, and the only strong female voice (the protagonist's daughter) could have been made into a suffragette plotline of her own if the writer had had infinite pages.  But all in all, it was an incredible read, and I think David Dyer is to be congratulated.  I reviewed this novel of the Titanic  here.  

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

This book was published the year that I was born!  There were parts of it that I really enjoyed, but I don't understand why people tend to rave about it so much.  I felt a little like I was attending a very boring lecture at time, and it didn't follow any sort of logical plot structure at all.  It also took FOREVER for me to read, so that's how I know I wasn't really all that into it...

So that was my bookshelf activity this month!  Right now I am currently reading The World According to Garp for my bookclub, but to find out what I think you'll just have to come back next month!

What are you reading?  Have you read any of these books?  Can you recommend me anything excellent?  It all goes in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Book Review: A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald
Natasha Lester
Hachette Australia, 2016

From the blurb:

It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines – and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors.

Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.

And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous?

My Review

I wish I could give this book 6 stars on Goodreads, or even 10, but as the program is, I shall have to settle for a solid 5/5. When Evie Lockhart sets her mind to becoming an obstetrician, despite the scruples of mid-1920s New York telling her it wasn't possible, she also sets off on a journey which I think will capture the hearts and imaginations of all readers. Evie is a true heroine-- determined, self-reliant, unapologetic but kind-hearted. While love may be in the cards for her, Evie's happily ever after is of her own making, and after closing this book I find myself wishing I had a little of Evie's mettle for myself. 

A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald is peopled with fascinating characters, and set in the most sumptuous of New York locations. It features laugh out loud prohibition-era turns of phrase, whip-smart dialogue and a well researched glimpse of obstetrics and medicine in the Jazz Age. It will have you laughing, crying, and reaching for your copy of The Great Gatsby. 

Natasha Lester has outdone herself. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Book Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

The Midnight Watch
David Dyer
Hamish Hamilton 2016 (I own a copy courtesy the publisher)

On April the 14th, 1912, at 2.20am, the HMS Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic ocean.  1500 of her passengers and crew perished at sea, including some notable English and Americans of the time.  It is a story which has been immortalised for many by James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster film (sensationalised as it was) but the part of the story which is not widely known was that there was another ship nearby that night which could possibly have steamed to the rescue.  The Midnight Watch by David Dyer is the story of the Titanic and the Californian.  Told from the point of view of John Steadman, a journalist for the Boston American, as well as various members of the crew of the Californian it begins as a quest for the truth and becomes an exercise in empathy.

After the death of his infant son, Steadman becomes adept at writing moving journalistic accounts of tragedy and giving voices to the dead.  The Titanic tragedy is an opportunity to 'follow the bodies', and promises a lot of them.  When the offices of the IMM shipping company turns out to be a loose end, Steadman races to meet the Californian, a ship which was near the scene and had been instructed to look for bodies while the Carpathia transported survivors back to New York.  He sneaks on board, only to discover that no bodies have been recovered.  But this has taken him to an even bigger story.  The crew of the Californian are covering up something about that night, and John Steadman is determined to find out what it is.

Steadman is a quite likeable character, which is a testament to the skill of David Dyer's writing, because some of the things he does are deplorable.  His morals are questionable and he does some very shady things in order to trick people into talking to him.  Many of his actions belong to the old time movie journalists, but as the reader gets to know him better, they also realise that he is a devoted and heartbroken father, and that the reason he is willing to stop at nothing to get his scoop is because he feels he owes the people who have died in these tragedies, who are often poor or unfortunate in other ways.  The other characters who tell their parts of the story, Groves, Stone, etc. were less interesting as their voices were difficult to distinguish from one another -- they each saw or heard something vital to the story, and each held a piece of the puzzle, though no man held the whole lot.  But it was hard to remember whose voice I was reading, until, gradually, Herbert Stone began to distinguish himself.  I would have liked to have seen the Marconi boy become more drawn out, and I think Groves could have been dispensed with entirely, but overall, these felt like very minor things and didn't impact too negatively on my enjoyment of the novel.  I was also extremely interested in Harriet Steadman, John's daughter, who was a suffragette and a great source of strength for John, but she didn't get much time on the page.  It would have been an irrelevant change of plot to have Harriet take the wheel, but in a novel with so many male voices, I was drawn to the female perspective she provided.

Herbert Stone's backstory-- the tales of his rough childhood and his love for the novel Moby Dick-- made him a distinctive character and shed some light onto why he was so willing to listen to his Captain's orders against all reason.  But these stories were all told twice; once by the narrator as Herbert himself 'thought' of them, and again when Steadman met with Stone's wife and tried to uncover the truth.  I would have preferred for Mrs Stone to tell Steadman different stories, as it was a wasted opportunity to develop Stone even further.  The differences in character between him and the Captain of the Californian, Captain Lord, are crucial and the interplay of power in their relationship should have been more drawn out.

If it sounds like I disliked this novel, that's not what I meant to convey at all.  In fact, I loved it.  The ending, while experimental, worked nicely and brought tears to my eyes.  I spent a good half an hour after finishing this book last night looking up facts about the Titanic and the discovery of her wreck.  What was most striking about this book was the narrowing of the focus; what begins as a story of the media circus and the spectacle slowly becomes a sensitive exploration of a tragedy and a tribute to those who died that night.

I give this book four and a half stars.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Book Review: Summer Skin by Kirsty Eager

Summer Skin
Kirsty Eager
Allen and Unwin 2016 (I bought a copy)

Widely hailed as showcasing a new way of writing about young women, Summer Skin arrived on the YA scene with a bang earlier this year, attracting jacket quotes from the likes of Clementine Ford, which tells you exactly what kind of badass female characters you might expect to find in the novel.  Summer Skin is the story of Jess Gordon, nicknamed 'Flash', a confident , fun, outgoing and mostly hard-working economics student at a University in Queensland.  Jess lives in a residential college known as Unity, which is a co-ed college with a reputation for having alternative residents.  Another college, Knights, which is mostly inhabited by spoilt, cliquey rich boys, has earned the reputation for being home to the University's contingent of male chauvinist pigs after an incident the year before which involved one of Jess's closest friends.  She's out for payback, and she's enlisted help.  What ensues is dangerous, sexy chaos.

When I say sexy, I mean sexy.  This is no book for young readers, and contains more explicit sexual content than some novels for adults I've read.  (And now that I've mentioned sex, it's hard to make that sound like normal fiction books rather than Fifty Shades of Grey or Maestra!)  But what's different about this book and the way that it uses sex is that the explicit scenes in Summer Skin are not just there to entertain you.  They're there to start a dialogue, first of all about consent, and second of all about women's agency in their own sexuality.  The two main characters in this book, Jess and Mitch, often discuss the fact that Jess has needs and that she shouldn't be made to feel somehow ashamed for looking after her needs in the same ways that boys are allowed to do without comment (largely).  Mitch has his moments of almost being as bad as his Knights counterparts, behaving like some sort of drunken monkey and treating the women around him like objects, but he also seems to understand Jess's point of view, and he has already begun to have his doubts about the ways his mates treat people.

There are more than a few similarities between this book and Pride and Prejudice, and I don't just mean because Mitch is from money and because they meet at a party.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the use of music throughout the scenes, which provided a kind of soundtrack to read to.  The songs mentioned, either as titles for chapters or as songs playing on various people's iPods in the resident's rooms were varied, from indie rock to Aussie hip hop, and while I think maybe this might annoy people who don't listen to that kind of music and haven't heard of the songs, to me it had the effect of making me want to move in to Unity and hang out with Jess.  However, as someone who has never been through a residential college system even though one of our Unis in WA has one, it did take me a little time to get used to the setting and convince myself that these students were adults and not kids at rival boarding schools.  That was just me!

If you loved Looking for Alibrandi, you'll get a kick out of this book, but it comes with a warning, 15+