was successfully added to your cart.

Cart

All Posts By

Karen Crofts

Poetry Writing Part 5

By | News, Poetry
the last post    
in my last blog entry I listed a number of ‘modes’ for the composition of a poem the peripatetic, the here-and-now view, the political – the bearing witness mode (was where I got stuck) 

it seems like a hundred years ago I was in Hong Kong, worrying about Hong Kong… though we should still all be worried about Hong Kong 

… and now I’m home – and that is a very distracting way to be (more on that in a minute)… nevertheless I promised  a poem in the annotation mode 

what is it, you ask, a poem in the annotation mode? It is a response drafted on the page to an existing poem, already in print … i.e. it’s scribble in the margins you could type up later to make a poem and that new poem would have some relationship to the original poem from which you were working / to which you are responding 

a lot of people worry that this kind of thing will lead to plagiarism and of course it could if you were careless or that way inclined … my principle with this kind of work is however simply ‘in the presence so a poem comes’ i.e. spend time with good poems in order to make a good poem yourself 

…a lot of what I produce in the way of annotations is only vaguely connected with the original poem… however when I think there’s a chance of an actual response I could call a response, then I put the word ‘after’ at the top of the page I’m working on 

let me give you a quick example almost at random from out of the mighty pile of already annotated books of poems that need attention (need their annotations typed up to see if they can be poems), seeing the word ‘after’ at the top of the page I picked from Shuntaro Tanikawa’s lovely little Vagabond book (thanks Michael Brennan and friend) a little poem called ‘Mere Words’, which starts 

Having turned into mere words, 
the mountain is dimly squatting. 
The port under an overcast sky 
is thinking of something. 

and so now, for you, let’s see if I can conjure up a poem from my annotations responding, more or less, to this idea

 

after the words 

things, happenings
silences more brutal

dinner
lunch
breakfast
back to sleep

came from words to here
but fold in
armed with sweet saying

somewhat less the record shows
like a world spun once too many

breath after breath staged
so much of it has gone on in words
despite
over
and
under

mute truth of themselves
reflected in a page
pale air

there’s nothing proud about the mountain
and it’s all standing still
testament – our admiration

but everything on it’s moving, alive
thinking – where next, where’s home

that’s pretty close to just the notes of the page
but I’ve played with their order a bit
… it’s now a draft to come back to
and I think I can call it a response because it does speculate along the lines Tanikawa was speculating
…
so I think this gives you an idea of how the annotation mode could work for you
… maybe you want to respond to my response?
you see how this is a kind of open-ended conversation?

I guess the thing about the modes is that the best thing is to invent your own
if you can afford to…

people who say that they don’t read other people’s stuff cause they don’t want to be influenced … well, they’re not really poets… to be a poet you have to be constantly studying the craft… the only way to be a poet is to make poems; the only way to make poems is to be constantly learning from everything around you and especially from the poems that are everywhere around you if you care to listen and look …

and be discerning of course… remember there’s more good poetry being written in the world today than ever before (reams of it every day) and as a natural consequence, there’s more bad stuff too… it would be caveat emptor if anyone ever got paid for the stuff

*

anyway with being at home, here’s the thing, I did truly distract myself… for instance
I wrote a recipe poem which I was going to include here, but there wasn’t room…
but that led me to think what a nice anthology that could be … a collection of recipe poems by Australian poets… one thing leads to another… and remember Sterne –‘digression is the sunshine of the text’…
because I kept coming back to the to-do list … very important … that’s how I remembered to do the annotation work for you…
and
here to finish
(and to emphasise the importance and value of distraction
and how often you should just go with it)
are two drafts (from last night and this morning)
which are simply in the here-and-now observation mode
(or observation and action, I could say, in the case of the fire poem)

1307
pile burning 
(midwinter thing)

little sun we make
to chase around
and backs to
can revolve

could chase a fire like that all day

better to start with dusk
clocks gone home

hard to know what to let
no hard edges here
but that the day runs out

watch
stand smoke aside
and mainly just be watchful
breeze attentive
have a bucket for the symbol

you don’t want this in summer
don’t want the fuel around

the pile gets going
you think
what can we add?
what has to go?

stars fall
and stars spin up
(other poems are full of them ­–
throw old poems on)

it falls in on itself
needs feeding

we find a leant-up
decaying door

I suspect original
the 1948 door
through which cows must have come
generations

a little ragged round the edges
damp
but the fire was hot
we threw it on

that door was a way in
we burnt it
now it’s gone 

adventure in feathers

and overcast, no matter

well into the morning
when this swamp hen
takes to the roof
one is tempted to think
because it is there

what use a roof to almost flightless?
 pond traipser –
the white-arsed swampy Jesus of birds

one wonders if the tribe will follow
but no, a solo show

they haven’t much of a tune
but you could always hear them
issues of territory, love quarrels

now a clatter too

at least this one is
who holds the roof
for decoration

and from there
gets up in the touching tree
half flutter
could say climbing

precarious to perch
its moment swaying

then
nothing like a thunderbolt
it glides
to pond

spectacular
at least to me

*

now, if after all of this you want more of me, you can go to my website
it’s kitkelen.com
or find me on facebook
or on the 366 blog
https://project365plus.blogspot.com/
where you can find draft stuff I and others put up every day
or howsabout you buy a book of mine
like for instance my latest
Poor Man’s Coat – Hardanger Poems 
https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/poor-mans-coat-hardanger-poems
or
if you’re interested in taking the complete course in poetry writing
you could grab yourself a copy of my workbook
Throwing Words Together – 101 Poetry Making Exercises
(rare as hen’s teeth)

at a pinch you can message or e-mail me
at KitKelen@emeritus.umac.mo

don’t’ you hate the way poets promote themselves so shamelessly?
but really what’s a bear to do?
bump bump bump on the back of the head
coming down the stairs
there must be another way
but now he’s introduced to you

think back
Pooh says ‘I do remember, and then when I try to remember, I forget’
kit kelen

Poetry Writing Part 4

By | News, Poetry

Poetry Process by Professor Christopher (Kit) Kelen

I want to write a poem about the different modes of process I encounter in drafting poems. I started these posts with what I call the peripatetic mode; that is, drafting while walking. This is something I do all the time (almost daily), but particularly in a place like Norway, where the walking is so spectacular – so spectacular in fact that the Norwegians see themselves as being ‘on tour’ whenever the opportunity arises.

So here’s how I started…

where is a poem from?
(towards a catalogue of modes)

out of an ache or an itch?
from habit, difference, repetition

o say can you see

there is the peripatetic
else how are we here?
a sauntering and sidle up

of the weather
now and then lightning strikes

go breathlessly
tumble to wash
the poem with topic, theme
tune, temper

tell only the truth
that way more truth comes
it’s epic
and it can be sung

the poem of its politics
the wake-up

no two suns the same

here’s day or could be dreaming
there is from sleep with pen beside
and often over/under scrawl

in annotation mode
(so in, let’s say, the presence)

climbs out from under a pile of words
and sometimes sorry for itself

the here-and-now diaristic
glad of a season and stretch
a catalogue of fancies

no moment like this

you should have seen the other fish

the temperate
all wise saws

and there is the tropic
everything is something else
so let the poem be
building
body
beast
it’s lovely to be naked
playing under the sprinkler

how rainbows have fallen
there isn’t the ice now to hold up the poem

in all innocence
how hungrily it leaps now
there isn’t the night to hide


So that was the plan for last week
however

landing in Hong Kong on my way home
put me firmly in the political mode
because of what’s happening there
… so I drafted this

1303
old play book
(poem for Hong Kong)
26.vii.2019

remember this!

thugs show up from nowhere
but they were always here
there and everywhere

because the people rose

they were waiting for the signal
ours and among us

where are the police today?

could be anytime
anyone
anywhere

they cart you off for what you believe
they call a bullet law

what does that sound like to you?
something like this has happened before

this is the city that will remember
these millions are just themselves

see them on the street to say

dress all the same today
it’s white shirt and chopper
(Yuen Long fashion)

someone stands up says
democracy
justice

where do we empty out the words?

the ones making history won’t know it

and the mocking laughter comes
are they anyone’s brothers, sons?

the ones in the uniforms
the ones who improvise
buy a steel bar in the hardware store
flash mob, pop up anywhere

loyal to what they are told, to a dollar
they are the terror today

with cudgel, with chopper
we know the kind of world they wish

where are the police?
when will they come?

‘I have the right’ somebody says
‘I know what things are over the border
how they are’

will you know a fascism when it comes?
can you hear the hot breath of how it has been?

the monsters are out on the streets again
long leash they have
and feel so free
(does not require intelligence
but they feel their love is true)

could be anywhere now, tomorrow

the big monsters and the little
the ones who pay
those who are paid
see them shaking hands
what a great job everyone’s doing

and the people are out to be themselves
to simply say ‘it’s us
don’t forget’

the border is shrivelling up now
the border is almost gone

it is a ceremony ¬– difference

do you know how this ends?

names in a book
summary justice
not justice at all

they cart you off for what you believe
they call a bullet law

we know how it is over there
there is no information

tyranny leads away from truth
from rights
reporting

how prosperous we’ve been
it was a cure for poverty
to smog the sky
beyond a breath
but everyone believed

so sad
so sad so wrong

we have been too many
now so small

the thugs are out again to say
‘don’t dare
don’t think this place is yours
or that you will decide’

how weary the world is with this story
and here we come
the monsters are out again

something sharp in the hand
they hospitalise
strike like a storm
where you won’t know

we know how things are handled here

will you be among those who stood?
or hide, like me, at home in words?

somewhere to otherside the world
in a future no one can foresee

I hear it
a murmur
they are adding to a long list of names
poor poor old Hong Kong

I remember how it ends
how the tanks roll over all who stand

stand up!
they are coming again

tribes of ‘don’t know’
brigades of forget
thugs who thrilled with the kill

here is the city that will remember
fly in the ointment
thorn in the inside

and go about your business
pretend

the point however is to change the world

do you think they’ll let it go this time?

it’s only a simple thing to wish
everyone fights to be free

and someone says
‘get real
politics is an art of the possible’

they cart you off for what you believe
they call a bullet law

will they leave flowers?
will you be among those who stood?

to save ourselves from dictatorship
this is everyone’s lifework

some take to the streets
some creep in a poem

whichever way you witness
remark
protection from tyranny
injustice

the song says ‘stand up’
won’t you?
won’t we?

or is it just a song?

so sad
so sad
so wrong
poor, poor Hong Kong

*

so
more on the modes
and particularly the annotation mode
in my last post
next week

Ronald McCuaig poet

Australian Literature Part 3

By | Australian Literature, News

Reality Rhymes – blog by Susan Francis

Who’s your favourite Australian poet? This one’s easy! Because I think the ideas explored in Australian poetry, post colonisation, are more unconventional than some of the broader subject matter written about in our fiction. Since settlement, there’s been a long tradition of poets reflecting on marginalised experiences (Robert Southey, the first poet to write about Australia, focussed on the plight of convicts). Later, think of Lesbia Harford, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Komninos and the Avant Garde movement: writers who all sought to capture more intimate, more diverse aspects of Australian life.

Therefore, in the spirit of the unorthodox, let me introduce you to the Australian poet I admire most: a gentle giant of a man, who, in creating a style combining 17th century French lyricism with modernism, set out to examine the lives of quiet desperation led by Sydney women in the 1930s. He represented the battered women; the lonely, frail, discarded women, and the typist from the bank conducting an affair with her boss. The poet is Ronald McCuaig. Born right here in Newcastle.

Ronald McCuaig poet

McCuaig grew up in Mayfield, a few streets away from where I currently live. In 1915, when he was seven years old, his mother died. Afterwards, father and son relied more than ever on each other and his father used to read Ron the poetry of Banjo Paterson. Later, much of McCuaig’s working life, was spent in Sydney, as a newspaper journalist. For many years he worked at The Bulletin and at Smith’s Weekly. He was also a literary critic, editor, short story writer, and poet. These days, most people, if they know of him at all, know of McCuaig because of the two children’s books he wrote, Gangles and Tobolino and The Amazing Football Boots. He was also admired for the light verse he wrote, and the work he produced at The Bulletin under the pen name ‘Swilliam’.

I began a post graduate degree on McCuaig’s work over twenty years ago. During one interview in 1997, with the late, great Geoffrey Dutton (another extraordinary Australian writer), Dutton told me he believed McCuaig had come earlier to the modernist style than Slessor. I was happy with this response because for me, the power of McCuaig’s portrayal of women in his book Vaudeville broke with the idea of representing the mainstream.

McCuaig wrote the Vaudeville poems between 1933 and 34. But the collection was considered too controversial for Australian audiences, and refused by seven traditional publishers. So, in 1938, McCuaig hand printed the book in his living room. Peter Kirkpatrick, writing in Southerly in 1991 states … the sexual candour of many of these poems of urban life meant they were unacceptable to the conservative literary journals and presses, so after four years of trying to find a publisher the author decided to publish them himself…

When you read the following poem from Vaudeville, titled The Letter, it’s clear why McCuaig was forced to publish his own work.

The opposite flat is dark and dumb,
Yet I feel certain he will come
Home to his love as drunk as ever 
And, in a slowly rising fever, 
Noting the whisky bottle gone, 
Will trip and curse and stumble on 
Into the bathroom, pull the chain, 
Fumble the cabinet, curse again; 
Will ask the slut where she has hid 
His toothbrush; blunder back to bed, 
Find his pyjamas tied in knots 
And give her, as he puts it, what's 
Coming to her. 
She won't escape 
Her deeply meditated rape.

 

Betty by the Sea, another poem in the collection, offers a frank comment about women and old age through the figure of Betty, living a life no longer perceived by society as meaningful.

Her drooping flowers dabble upon 
Drooping breasts of crisp cretonne 
The thirsty sun has drained her breasts of milk of human interests…

 

McCuaig only published 150 copies of Vaudeville and I’m lucky enough to own one. Lucky, because I think it’s remarkable, the way McCuaig draws attention to marginalised women by employing irony to evoke empathy. And once again, I’m remined, of Henry Lawson – in this instance, his poem about the prostitute standing under the street lamp.

Australian literature. Does such a thing exist? Absolutely!

[picture of McCuaig sourced from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_McCuaig]

Susan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/susan-francis-rpt/10467926

Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC
nurses WW1

Writing History Part 3

By | News, Writing History

Thomas Keaneally’s Error

In my last post I referred to the writerly error of “changing the date of the Battle of Waterloo”, i.e., getting the facts wrong in relation to a topic that’s easy to check.  I was disappointed when I read Thomas Keneally’s Daughters of Mars, a novel of military nursing in the Great War. The Great War is my specialist subject, specifically the stories of the hospitals, nurses and doctors who did their best to patch up horribly wounded men.  On the one hand Daughters of Mars is undeniably a page-turner, just as you would expect of a writer of Keneally’s stature, enjoyed by millions of readers.

But the novel contains a fundamental error.  Keneally’s novel uses the name of an actual hospital – The Australian Voluntary Hospital – and draws inspiration from some aspects of its story.  On the one hand this might be perfectly acceptable. But the real hospital opened in 1914 not 1916, thus the novel undermines its significance as the first Australian unit in France in the Great War. It would have been so easy just to give the hospital a different name.  On a more positive note, I revel in the novels of Winston Graham (and not because the actor who plays Ross Poldark in the TV series is so gorgeous!).  He doesn’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo, an event that features in one of the novels in the Poldark series, and does paint a credible picture of English society in the period of the Napoleonic Wars.

But back to historical non-fiction.  If you are venturing into writing the history of your street, suburb or family it is important to first write a plan, not a book – the book comes later.

You need to create a reading list. Here are some terms used by historians: History is based on sources and sources come in two flavours (pun intended) – primary and secondary.  The primary sources are original documents from the period you are researching – a birth certificate is a primary source.  Official documents, personal letters, diaries, headstones, books written at the time, newspaper articles (caution – do you believe everything you read in the papers?) – are examples of primary sources.  You find them in libraries, museums and archives or on their websites.  Start by talking to your Local Studies librarian. The task is made easier – and cheaper! – these days because of the amount of original material on-line.  Military service records on the National Archives of Australia website is one example – a trip to Canberra can be an expensive exercise.  That said, there is nothing quite like reverently holding in your hands an ancient dog-eared, musty-smelling piece of paper.

Secondary sources are written after the event, based on primary sources – history books and articles that will help you build a picture of the local, national and global background.  As a rule of thumb, start with the more recent publications as you would expect these to reflect the most recent research on a topic.  Here again, your librarian can point you in the right direction.

I alluded in an earlier blog to “supposition” as opposed to fact.  Sometimes when researching primary sources you come across something that hints intriguingly at an amusing story or a mystery. Just because you don’t know exactly what happened doesn’t mean you can’t use this, but you need to make it clear in your writing that you don’t know. I’ll finish with an example of this from my book Sisters of the Valley – First World War Nurses from Newcastle and the Hunter (2011):

nurses WW1

World War 1 Red Cross nurses, photo courtesy of Time

On Christmas Day 1918 an accident occurred at a military hospital in Salonika.  The accident was, luckily, slight in its consequences but could have been much more serious and would surely have resulted in a telegram to Walter Godfrey in East Maitland to notify him that his daughter, Staff Nurse Leila Godfrey, had been injured.    The injury was nothing to do with enemy action.  In filling out the Report of Accidental or Self-Inflicted Injuries Leila stated that “at Christmas dinner while off duty I was burnt on the face, slightly, by blazing spirit which fell from the plum pudding.”  Christmas dinner in 1918 held a special significance for everyone involved in the conflict.  An Armistice was now in force and there was reason to hope the fighting was over and that next Christmas they would all be back home.  Perhaps the celebrations got a little boisterous.  We can imagine Leila making a grand entrance to the brightly decorated Sisters’ Mess. She is carrying the pudding aloft, ablaze with the burning brandy, perhaps a little careless in her excitement, perhaps even affected by a tipple from the brandy bottle!  In the commanding officer’s opinion no one was to blame and a commission of enquiry was not necessary.  Leila was lucky that the burns were not more serious.

Christine has been a teacher of History, a museum education officer and a cultural planner. She assists Lake Macquarie libraries with the planning of the History Illuminated Festival each year during History Week – September.

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger

Writing History Part 2

By | News, Writing History

‘You can’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo’

Writing Historical Non-Fiction with Christine Bramble

Some years ago I attended a workshop on Creative Non-Fiction.  When I mentioned this to a friend who, like me, was working on a biography, she looked puzzled.  How can nonfiction be creative? Doesn’t “creative” imply “imaginative” and therefore not factual?  The friend who, also like me, sometimes struggles with the fact that citing references is actually more time consuming than the writing itself, commented tongue-in-cheek that her project would be so much easier if she could occasionally just make it up!

Put at its simplest creative nonfiction is a good story well told – generally about people and events so not a genre that suits a thesis on a technical subject.  It uses the same literary techniques as writing fiction, eg, lyrical style, arranging a story other than chronologically, highlighting the dramatic or the amusing.  But it must always be factually accurate and its characters and places must be real.

The authenticity of the story is paramount.  Writing the story of a family member might be your first foray into nonfiction after years of writing poetry or short stories.  You want the family at the very least and possibly others to enjoy reading your efforts so aim at making your work a piece of creative nonfiction rather than a list of events and dates.  Perhaps you have started with some family papers that have been gathering dust in someone’s garage since a great grandparent died – letters, certificates, photographs, even shopping lists. Yes, such apparently inconsequential bits of paper may get saved by accident but hint at what people were buying a hundred years ago.   You can then supplement these with research on the individual from official sources such as Births, Deaths and Marriages.  Don’t take what is in front of you for granted. A caption on the reverse of a photograph could have been added later by someone who wasn’t on the scene – here it’s useful to identify samples of handwriting from family members, although this can be tricky – the teaching of handwriting in the past could produce a class of students with very similar styles.  I have come across this in my own research and sometimes have difficulty distinguishing one sibling from another.

Even official documents may not reflect the truth.  I came across this in researching the story of Matron Ida Greaves.  Her application form to join the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve 1916 (pictured, and thank goodness it gets abbreviated to QA) gave her date of birth as 1878.   I knew this wasn’t right. Sure enough, I confirmed that her birth was registered in February 1875 and baptismal records showed that she was baptised in March 1875.  The “mistake” in the application form was almost certainly deliberate as she would otherwise have been too old to join. But I cannot say for certain – the previous sentence is a supposition, not a fact. So if you have a theory but no proof, you need to say so.  You also need to research the context – the time and place that the documents were created. What were the important local, national and global events of the time? How did people eat, dress, travel, work, learn? Library and museum collections are great resources to get a feel for these things – local libraries has online material from the region, Newcastle Historical Collections and Lake Macquarie Libraries to name just two.  The Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK is great for a sense of the global picture.

What about the relationship between the historical novel you might be working on and historical fact?  In some ways this is a tricky one – you have the liberty to create your own imaginary characters and places but the best historical fiction is deeply researched in the facts and the background and just like writing your family history, this takes time if you want to create a really credible world for your characters.  One reason I love reading Winston Graham’s Poldark series is that the world he creates has indeed been deeply researched to create credibility.  I have often been heard to say in connection with historical novels, ‘You can’t change the date of the Battle of Waterloo’, ie something so very easy to check.   Next time I’ll talk a bit more about this and about planning your historical nonfiction.

Christine has been a teacher of History, a museum education officer and a cultural planner. She assists Lake Macquarie libraries with the planning of the History Illuminated Festival each year during History Week – September.

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger
train at station

Writing History Part 1

By | News, Writing History

Carriage ‘B’ of the northbound CountryLink at 1.50pm

Writing Historical Non-Fiction with Christine Bramble

I’ve spent most of my working life writing – but for someone else!  Study notes, exhibition guides, newsletters, council reports, strategic plans, you name it: schools, a museum and the planning departments of local government.  It used to irritate me that I wasn’t writing for myself.  But, hey, you have to earn a living.

I’ve said goodbye to all that and I’m now onto my second work of historical non-fiction and have a slightly different perspective on those years – it was great practice and I was getting paid to do something that I enjoyed.  I am without any doubt a better writer as a result of those years of writing for someone else. My message to those of you who bemoan the writing you may have to do at work: regard it as an opportunity to hone your style.

There were unforeseen consequences. For example, I gained a reputation for writing readable reports that didn’t need redrafting all the way up the line to the General Manager.  Nervous first-time report writers would bribe me with the promise of drinks on Friday arvo if I would cast my eyes over their work.  I’m hopeless at saying no to a drink . . .

So how do I now find myself working on the biography of a woman who experienced the horrors of the Great War from the wards of a military hospital? Strange to say, poetry was the catalyst.  I relished reading poetry from an early age, encouraged by Mum who often gave me books of poetry for birthdays and Christmas. So, it was a revelation to me when, in my final year school exams, one of the set texts was the work of the war poet Wilfred Owen.  I was in awe of his work, then shocked and fascinated when I started to delve into historians’ accounts of the war and its impact on global events. So began my understanding of and interest in how literature and art reflect and influence the story of humankind.  Poems like Owen’s Futility certainly influenced my choice of History for study and my political leanings.

Fast forward twenty-five years to my job at Newcastle Regional Museum. Research for an exhibition on Hunter stories of the Great War, that included the mock-up of a trench complete with soundtrack, introduced me to the war service of Hunter nurses who joined the Australian army and, a smaller number, the British army.  But one who slipped through the cracks in the telling of her story was Matron Ida Greaves RRC, a graduate of Newcastle Hospital who happened to be in England in August 1914 at the outbreak of war.  She joined a voluntary hospital that went to France within weeks but the story is not well-known today.

I accumulated more information about Ida and realised she was a remarkable woman who deserves to be better known – part of the first contingent of Australians on the Western Front and one of the first Australian women to be awarded the Royal Red Cross in that conflict.

I had created a blog for ‘my’ Great War nurses, listing their names and a summary of what I knew about their service.  One day I was contacted by a descendent of Ida Greaves.  We corresponded over a few months and in 2013 he called me to say he would be visiting a relative in Victoria who had ‘stuff’ in her garage that might interest me. I was to wait on Broadmeadow Station, alongside carriage ‘B’ of the northbound CountryLink at 1.50pm on the day of his return.  An elderly gentleman briefly stepped out of the carriage to shake hands, handed me a briefcase and then continued on his way.

The briefcase contained a treasure trove of over 300 photos and documents and I was on my way with turning Ida’s story into a book.  A friend once told me that a good biography takes seven years.  I plan to have A Matron and A Hospital in print in 2020.  It will have taken seven years and I aim for it to be my best writing yet.

Christine has been a teacher of History, a museum education officer and a cultural planner. She assists Lake Macquarie libraries with the planning of the History Illuminated Festival each year during History Week – September.

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger
NSSA 2019 Cover

2019 Newcastle Short Story Award

By | News, Short Story Writing

NSSA 2019 Cover

 

Hunter Writers Centre was thrilled to present the 2019 Newcastle Short Story Award prize ceremony on 5th April. Annabel Smith, judge, flew in from Perth to talk about her judging experience, her own writing journey and gave tips to writers about entering competitions, coping with rejection and explaining the stand out features of a great short story.

Click here to see the list of prize winners

Listen to Annabel discuss writing, entering competitions and maintaining your confidence as a writer:

Annabel Smith, judge of 2019 NSSA

Annabel Smith at the prize ceremony

NSSA winner Ellen Vickerman, Annabel Smith and Paul Egglestone

2019 NSSA Winner, Ellen Vickerman, Annabel Smith, Prof Paul Egglestone, University of Newcastle, sponsor

2nd place winner, Imbi Neem with Cr Carol Duncan, Annabel Smith and Prof Egglestone

L to R: Cr Carol Duncan, City of Newcastle (sponsor of 2nd prize), Annabel Smith, NSSA judge, Imbi Neem, 2nd prize winner, Prof Paul Egglestone, University of Newcastle

NSSA Winner Ellen Vickerman collects her award

2019 NSSA Winner, Ellen Vickerman, from Queensland, collects her award.

Patrick Cullen, Alison Ferguson, Jonathan Godwin and Ned Stephenson - local award winners NSSA 2019

Local Award winners (L to R): Patrick Cullen, Alison Ferguson, Jonathan Godwin, Ned Stephenson

Annabel Smith, NSSA judge, with Sally Davies, Newcastle Law Society (sponsor)

Annabel Smith, judge of NSSA and Sally Davies, Newcastle Law Society (sponsor)
hands reaching out of the swamp - picture for crime fiction article

Dark and Loving It – Crime Writing Part 4

By | Crime Fiction, News

The Comfort of Horror Fiction

Crime Writing with Megan Buxton

I find horror very comforting. I can just see the raised eyebrows as I write that. The modern world is terrifying enough – war and terrorism, senseless crimes on a daily basis. Why subject yourself to more?

Stephen King, probably the most recognisable name in horror fiction, says that reading horror is ‘… rehearsal for death. It’s a way of getting ready.’ Fear of death, and curiosity about what might come after it, is almost universal. Horror lets us explore our curiosity about death and its aftermath in a fictional – safe – environment.

HP Lovecraft, the founding father of American horror, said ‘… the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’ Horror examines both how little we really know and understand and our need to confront the unknown.

Finally; the thrills and chills of horror make us feel alive. Logic might tell us that there are no such things as ghosts and ghouls but our lizard brain doesn’t give a damn about logic- and it loves the adrenaline rush of a good scare.

I prefer my horror as fiction rather than movies, my imagination rather than the director’s interpretation. And you can’t close your eyes or look away when reading a book.

When people think of horror writers it is often male names that come to mind: Lovecraft and King and names such as Peter Straub, James Herbert, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker. But, as with crime fiction, there are outstanding women horror writers.

Women writing horror is not a modern phenomenon. Think of Mary Shelley; she is best known for Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus (1818) but also wrote short horror stories such as Transformation (1831) and The Mortal Immortal (1833)

Shirley Jackson will also be a familiar name. Her novel, The Haunting of Hill House has been adapted for Netflix though We Have Always Lived in the Castle is, for me, a far more disturbing read. Her short stories The Lottery and The Summer People are wonderfully creepy.

Of more contemporary women horror writers Susan Hill is worthy of mention; she writes both crime (a series featuring the detective Ian Serailler) and horror, which explains why she is a favourite of mine. The Woman in Black, a ghost story written in the Gothic style, is a brilliant literary horror story. There’s no gore in this story just carefully controlled and spine-chilling atmosphere. More recently I have read Broken Monsters by Lauren Beuker, a genre blend of horror and thriller with multiple storylines and complex, fascinating characters, The Grip of It by Jac Jemc, an unsettling take on the traditional haunted house story and The Hunger, in which Alma Katsu takes the true story of the Donner Party (https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-donnerparty) and imbues it with supernatural elements.

All of these stories admirably fulfil the definition of horror: A genre of speculative fiction intended to, or has capacity to, frighten, scare, disgust or startle readers or viewers by inducing feelings of horror or terror.

Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.

Do you have a topic you would like to blog about? Write to us at info@hunterwriterscentre.org (this paid writing opportunity is open to HWC members only)

Megan Buxton, President, HWC
drawing of a house for crime writing blog post

Dark and Loving It – Crime Writing Part 3

By | Crime Fiction, News

Home Sweet Home . . . or is it?

Crime Writing with Megan Buxton

 

Carly scrambled from bed, stumbling and snatching at the darkness, caught between fight and flight.

Where? Where was he?

Listening, straining for sounds, she heard the thump of her heart, the dry gasp of her breath. No taps, no knocks, no bumps.

That didn’t mean a fucking thing.

Her mobile was in her hand. She didn’t remember picking it up. It took three tries to dial the numbers. She wanted to shout, managed to pull it down to a hiss. ‘There’s someone in my apartment.

So begins Darkest Place, Jaye Ford’s chilling novel of suspense. Week after week, in the dead of night, Carly wakes to find a man standing by her bed, silently watching her. And no-one believes her.

It is concepts like these that make domestic noir so very scary. When I read detective stories I enjoy them in the knowledge that I’m safe in my own home. Domestic noir rips that comfort away – in this offshoot of crime fiction the home is no longer the safest place to be. The troubles with which the female protagonists – and they most often are females – find themselves afflicted, take place primarily in the home or the workplace. Those familiar places become, for the protagonists, dark and alien. Marriages and families become untrustworthy; relationships are corrupted by lies, lives ruined. The normality of the settings – suburban homes, offices, schools – heightens the tension.

And, unlike murder mysteries, the victim of the horrors taking place is alive though her life is very much under threat. Readers get very close to the protagonist. We are allowed under her skin as she battles to untangle the lies and deceits around her and we are made to realise the fundamental unknowability of the others in our lives. These stories, often told in first person by an unreliable narrator even make us question how well we know ourselves and what we might do when pushed to the limit.

Just about everybody has heard of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel, Gone Girl even if they haven’t read it or seen the movie. While it was the novel that began the explosion of domestic noir it wasn’t the first – beginning in the 1940’s writers like Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson and Mary Higgins-Clark wrote stories of the dark underside of the domestic scene.

It’s no surprise that the majority of authors of this genre are women – or that the few men who do write use their initials ( S.J Watson, Before I Go to Sleep) or a female pen-name ( J.P Delaney,  The Girl Before, is really Tony Strong.)

It seems to me that the rise of domestic noir coincides with the rise of such movements as #Metoo, that their popularity (Paula Hawkins’ Girl on a Train sold over 11 million copies and made the author $10 million in the first eighteen months) is because they so often deal with the issues that women discuss in real life; exploitation, abuse, both physical and psychological, lies, secrets, cover-ups. The prevalence of unreliable narrators, often with amnesia (S.J Watson, Before I Go to Sleep,) or a head wound that affects their ability to recall (Ruth Ware’s  In a Dark  Dark Wood) or even a narrator in a coma (Alice Feeney’s  Sometimes I Lie) echo the real- life frustrations of women who are told that their accounts of their own experiences are unreliable.

Crime fiction, in all its manifestations, is deliciously dark and I love reading it. But I also love the darkness of the horror genre – the subject of my last entry.

Megan Buxton is a writer, retired English teacher and an avid reader of crime fiction. She is also the president of HWC board and hosts a creative writing gathering once a month at Maitland.

Do you have a topic you would like to blog about? Write to us at info@hunterwriterscentre.org (this paid writing opportunity is open to HWC members only)

Megan Buxton, President, HWC