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Eastern Curlews in flight

Nature Writing Part 3

By | Nature writing, News
Put A Bird In It by Julia Brougham

Birds in flight make air visible. Air flows through and within them as they fly through the air, inhabiting the spaces within and between each feather on a structure exquisitely evolved to enhance flight; strong, light, hollow, honeycombed bones; lungs full of elastic air sacs for super-efficient breathing supplying oxygen to a brain capable of very complex behaviour. No redundancy, no waste. Birds are the fastest, highest, most successful of all the animals that fly. Tim Low published a book in 2017, Where Song Began: Australia's Birds and How They Changed the World. But now we are changing the world faster than they can adapt.

The East Asian–Australasian Flyway runs from Siberia and Alaska down through east and south-east Asia to Australia and New Zealand, crossing twenty-two countries. Five million birds from fifty-five species fly from their northern hemisphere summer breeding places to Australia’s winter to rest and grow fat for the return, an inter-continental round trip of over 20,000kms each year. Dredging estuaries, damming rivers, building on wetlands; we are destroying the migratory bird stopover sites. Innate navigation systems and instinct drive them on. Fewer and fewer reach their destinations. These global travellers, following an endless summer, have been connecting continents for millennia but now they are becoming harried, unregarded, dispensable refugees.

The Bar-tailed Godwit crosses the Pacific Ocean from eastern Australia to Alaska, then returns six months later. All the Bar-tailed Godwits leaving Alaska stop at the Yellow Sea, between mainland China and the Korean peninsula, to forage and put on fat for the final week-long non-stop flight to Australia. A supremely athletic performance, it is one of the longest non-stop migratory flights known amongst birds. But the food-rich tidal mudflats of the Yellow Sea are disappearing rapidly. Industrial, agricultural and domestic sewage is changing the colour of the sea and contaminating the waters and habitats. 
Mural of the Bar-tailed Godwit, on Stockton Bridge
This picture of the Bar-tailed Godwit on Stockton Bridge is one of a set of new murals - worth a look.
The Eastern Curlew breeds in Alaska and Siberia and most of the world’s curlews spend winter in Australia.  Our moral contract to protect coastal wetlands for them and the other shorebirds should have high level oversight, but environment laws are wishy washy. Filled with aspirational words like protect, raise awareness, control dogs on beaches, practical, they are not enforced and are failing to protect the birds. “The Office of Environment and Heritage has identified no priority actions to help recover the Eastern Curlew in New South Wales”. Harried, unregarded, dispensable refugees in the estuaries of the Hunter River, Port Stephens, Clarence River, and Richmond River. What chance has a speckly brown bird, about the size of a backyard chook with a weird mournful call, against the dollar call of residential, retail, marina development, hotel, port facilities and tourism infrastructure? The graph of the world population of Eastern Curlews is curving downwards far more steeply than the curve of their remarkable 18cms long beak.

Eastern Curlews in flight
A bonus for Australia - our birds are the most musical, intelligent, aggressive and loud. For our backyard magpie we can add sociable, inquisitive and sometimes feared. 

Colin Thiele’s magpie “sits on a high, high gum tree and rolls the sunrise around in his throat like pink beads of light” and “tumbled the morning air around with so much happiness”. Want more of that?  Whistle and sing with them. Be happy-foolish and yodel wardle-doodle-dardle to them. They’ll listen and respond for their species name is tibicen, Latin for piper or flute. 

The castanet clatter of a beak, whack on head or bicycle helmet, sudden sound of fast-moving air through feathers, is a springtime contest - Big Daddy Magpie protecting eggs or chicks against strangers. Make contact and make peace with a food offering. Woo your local magpies with a handful of shredded cheese and talk to them quietly. They will remember and, as they live for around 25 years, for a long time.
Magsy a rescued magpie
Magsy was a rescue we had. She wasn't a well bird but after 11 months of care flew away from home to be with the wild ones.
There are around 870 species of birds living in Australia. Thirteen species have already become extinct and fifty are listed as threatened. Bird calls fill our bushland, wake us early in our suburbs and haunt us in the dark hours.  To lose any more to extinction would be absurd of us. Rude, careless, silly.
Julia Brougham HWC member and blogger about Nature Writing
About Julia:

Born in Bunbury WA, lived for six years in South Africa, moved to South Australia and with husband John lived in the Far West, the mid-North, Eyre Peninsula and Adelaide. Since 2002 we have become forever Novocastrians. 

In childhood my fascination with native plants and animals was heavily influenced by a Dad who had an affinity with animals of all shapes and size, and a Grandfather who took us on bush outings at weekends. Love of the natural world and volunteering as a landcarer on Ash Island are ways of connecting with people who combine ecological knowledge with scientific rigour and impassioned care of our natural environment.

Books and reading began early too. My reading habits are wayward and well supplied. We have shelves and cupboards full of books, sometimes in double rows. Becoming a member of Hunter Writers Centre has added to my book stacks as I became involved in the marvellous workshops leading me to new reading places like oriental poetry forms, modern American fiction, grammar and who knows where. 
The words I write daily as the current coordinator of a landcare group are, whether necessary administration or a creative writing piece, an act of advocacy for care of nature. Now more than ever the environment needs advocates who can speak for it and do it well.  To help this along I am hosting a new Meetup group "Nature Writing In Company" which will begin in August on Ash Island. Who knows where that will lead and who will find their voice.
for love alone Christina Stead

Australian Literature Part 2

By | Australian Literature, News

Something Novel – Australian Novelists – blog by Susan Francis

In my mid-twenties I formed an attachment to an extremely astute young man: a poet who would invite me ice skating in Prince Alfred Park on Friday nights. Skating in the dark, beneath strings of fairy lights hung from the gum trees – there was nothing more magical. The swish of the blades cutting across the ice, the warmth of my hand held in his, it was all impossibly romantic. So, when the boy took pains to explain to me that he’d noticed every novel on my bookshelf was written by a woman, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. I remember trailing my finger along the spines: Stead, Lohrey and Lette. Ruth Park and Shirley Hazzard. Baynton and Bedford. Grenville and Franklin. There, too, the non-Australian fiction of Atkinson, the Brontes and French. Woolf, Lee and Lessing.

So when someone these days asks me that impossible question: what’s your favourite Australian novel, I make sure to mention Tim Winton. The lyrical descriptions of the Australian landscape discovered in Peter Temple’s crime fiction. Christopher Koch and the evocative picture he painted of Jakarta. I talk about Martin Boyd who has a favoured place stacked beside Peter Carey. There is Stow and Maitland and McGahan. These days my bookshelves hold a more even gender mix. But one thing still holds true; maybe a dirty secret of sorts? For an Australian novel to make it onto my top twenty, somewhere amongst the pages I like to recognise a reflection of a world I know or an individual who strikes a chord. I read Australian fiction to be assured I’m not the only player on the stage.

What’s your favourite Australian novel? I’m reluctant to alight on any one text because the range of Australian fiction is vast. The list is as long as our country is wide. And each work positively enunciates our poignant flaws. And I love that! Australian fiction informs so much about who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. But, if pressed, I admit, it is to Christina Stead’s novel, For Love Alone, that I always return.

Written in 1944, I studied this broad, brown land of a book for my Masters degree, drawn by Stead’s particular understanding of what it means to be an Australian woman. The book was panned by any number of academics for its introspectiveness and realist style. Many preferred the magic realism of The Man Who Loved Children. But when I read this book for the first time, I fell in love with the determined and homely Teresa. The link formed between this character and Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife was due to the values held by both: a shared focus on getting on with things and a singular toughness; a determination to make sense of the world around them. Hazel Rowley wrote in her biography: ” . . . Stead’s earliest memories were all associated with a sense of rejection, which she attributed to her physical unattractiveness. In all her stories about her childhood, she is acutely conscious of personal appearance . . .” And this, of course, is another reason I am so captivated by the book.

Melbourne University Publishing reissued the novel in 2011 and maintain: For Love Alone is the story of the intelligent and determined Teresa Hawkins, who believes in passionate love and yearns to experience it . . . [Stead] superbly evoking life in Sydney and London in the 1930s. 

 Soon, in 2020, my own book will be published. Yet another story of a plain, single-minded Australian woman who gives up everything to travel overseas, following the love of her life. And despite the tragedies and the awful revelations my journey revealed, there is a pattern I like here, a pattern I have only recently identified by revisiting Stead’s work. Independent, brave, raw. A little gauche. The Australian female protagonist who travels far to discover herself. She is a reflection of the landscape from where she originates. A reflection of her nation’s blunt, unattractive prejudices. A protagonist decided to succeed.

Recognising that woman, recognising myself, makes For Love Alone one of my favourite Australian novels.

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
man reading grieve anthology

Grieve Writing Competition Opens Valentine’s Day

By | Grieve, News

The Grieve writing competition opens every year on Valentine’s Day – you know the measure of your love by the weight of your loss.

Grief is the human response to change and loss in our lives, such as the death of someone we love. It is a natural and normal response, which has a physical impact on our bodies as well affecting our emotions and our thinking. This statement is from Good Grief, an Australian organisation that awards a $250 prize in the annual Grieve writing competition.

One of the programs that Good Grief delivers is the Seasons for Growth program to children and young people who experience significant life changes. The aim is to normalise the experience of grief like giving them clear, factual, age-appropriate information about the loss they have experienced; help build protective factors and minimise risk factors that affect mental health.

If you are interested in facilitating the Seasons for Growth program you must be an accredited companion which involves a 2 day training program – learn more about the training program on the Good Grief website.

 

 

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, board member HWC

True Crime Writing Part 1

By | News, True Crime

True Crime by Ted Bassingthwaighte

See It, Touch It, Smell It, Taste It

True crime was my passion and occupation for 22 years. I joined the NSW Police Force on May 18th 1987. In the first 12 months of my probationary period at Wyong police station on the NSW Central Coast I experienced the dark side of life on a daily basis. The first deceased person I met was an infant female child who I believed at the time was a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. (SIDS). I knew nothing about how to question witnesses or develop an alternate hypothesis to the version of events given to me during the interview. My inexperience and the stark, cold horror of the next day handling her body at autopsy, always left me wondering if that child died of natural causes or was she murdered by her desperately poor, uneducated parents. I’ll never know.

When I see news about the convicted child killer Kathleen Megan Folbigg images and odours of my first dead child investigation way back in 1987 flood from my memory and it makes my heart sink.

But what that death did do was to spark my ambition to become a detective. A detective who would have the skills, the time and the organisational support to properly investigate crimes . . . or so I thought.

That child, whose name I remembered for years but now cannot, was not the first dead body I ever handled. I was a registered nurse before joining the cops and had watched people die in A&E and had participated in an autopsy as part of my training.

So, I wasn’t shocked. In actual fact I was fascinated. A fascination that holds true today even after I succumbed to chronic PTSD as a result of seeing too many dead people and from investigating too many child sexual assault matters.

I suppose in some way I’m ‘lucky’ to have experienced death and crime firsthand. By lucky, I mean the experience, I feel, was a privilege. How many others with an interest in true crime can actually smell, taste, and touch it?

But that is not to say the avid fan of true crime is not able to envelope themselves wholly in the stories they read in books or blogs or listen to in podcasts or watch on television or online because today there is so much true crime available, encompassing all types of nefarious behaviour, it seems endless.

Crime scene at 75 Barnhill Rd, Terrigal. Credit: Daily Telegraph

On Tuesday October 27, 1992 at about 9pm Malcolm George Baker started a murder spree stretching from Terrigal to Bateau Bay to North Wyong, that would only end after six unarmed and defenceless men and a woman were dead. I knew Baker and some of his victims. I was part of the large team of detectives to investigate the murders.

My interest in the case and labyrinthine motivations of Baker and his victims stayed with me all my career and beyond. After 27 years of that case fermenting in my mind I have completed a manuscript titled, Bloody Odyssey, a story of domestic violence, jealousy, greed and fear. Here is a short extract.

He moved with purpose across the road and down the slight incline of the front yard, avoiding the glare of a street light at the end of the driveway. A large evergreen tree near the footpath shadowed a vacant plot of land on the left of the house and gave him perfect cover.

Pic 2: Malcolm George Baker Credit: Daily Telegraph/Baker family

Upstairs in the two-storey brick house a television screen flickers in a darkened lounge room. The empty stairs inviting Baker forward. He slivered up the steps and onto the long, wrought iron fenced balcony protecting the front of the house. In an instant he stood at the closed timber front door, the first obstacle to his progress. He looks through a small coloured glass window in the door. Listening. Waiting.

Inside a large round cane chair with bright red and yellow pillows dominates the middle of the lounge room. A brown velour modular couch fills the whole left side of the room. Two fish tanks full of tropical fish and a dozing canary in a cage stand along the wall to the right. The noise and light of the TV fills the room. Voices. Mumbling. A human shape moves about at the back of the room.

Crunch!! Baker raises his foot and kicks the door. It flies open and crashes into the plaster wall behind it as the door jamb splinters from the hinges. Baker steps through the door, a loaded Remington 12-gauge double barrel shotgun at the ready on his hip.

Next week: Why do people love true crime?

 

Ted Bassingthwaighte is a retired NSW police detective living in Newcastle with his wife and dog. Since his retirement in 2009 he has been writing. He reviews books for the NSW Police news magazine, has entered HWC short story competitions, winning a prize in the HWC 2014 Grieve competition. He plans to have his true crime manuscript ‘Bloody Odyssey’ edited and ready for publication in 2019.

Grief and Loss – ‘Tell it like it is’

By | Grieve, News

The Grieve writing competition accepts stories and poems on any topic related to loss: loss of a job, loss of a home, mobility, a pet.

Yes, death is a common theme in the stories and poems that are selected to be published in the Grieve anthologies, but the judges are also looking for stories and poems about loss that are not always recognised in society because grief can accompany any significant change or shift in our lives.

Doris Zagdanksi has been one of the Grieve judges for 3 years. Doris believes the Grieve project allows people to “tell it like it is.” From Doris:

In my 20s, I lost an infant daughter to SIDS.  It was a terrible time in my life especially because I was so young. I knew nothing about grief. Nobody in my family had died, it was such a struggle to know how to cope, to know what to do. I worked it out after a few years searching for information. And I found it really helpful to start writing. I found the experience of writing to be cathartic, a way to express feelings that I couldn’t discuss with friends or family.

People need to know there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel when coping with the death of someone they love. When people read somebody else’s story, they think ‘I’ve been there too’.

Visit Doris Zagdanski’s website All About Grief

Enter a poem or story in the Grieve writing competition

History Festival September 2018

By | Lit Resourses, News

Logo for History Festival Lake Mac Libraries for History Week first week of September

The first week of September every year is History Week in NSW and Hunter Writers Centre is proud to partner with Lake Macquarie libraries to present a wonderful program of local, national and global history. Talks, presentations, interactive displays and interviews are delivered at Toronto, Speers Point and Belmont libraries. Click here to view the 2018 program held 1-9 September and mark your diaries for another informative, fun-filled week in 2019.

Phil WIlliams HWC member Live reading at Newcastle Art Gallery Speaker at July 2019 to a full audience and art works

July 2019 Newsletter

By | News, Newsletter

First Tuesday Live Readings at Newcastle Art Gallery

Our inaugural Ekphrastic live reading was held last week.

23 pieces were heard and the judging was very challenging!

All the works brought the artworks alive.

Congratulations to Brian Noble, Nicole Sellers, Gail Hennessy and, people’s choice award winner, Jan Dean.

See upcoming dates and themes below

August – Tuesday 6th – acknowledging Grief Awareness month – share a poem or story about grief and loss

September – Tuesday 3rd – readings by you in response to the Kilgour Prize 2019 (opens August 3)

October: Tuesday 1st – readings by you in response to Robert Dickerson: Off the Canvas (opens August 24)

November: Tuesday 5th – readings by you in response to Wish You Were Here: landscapes from the collection

Seeking: Writing Group facilitator 

Maitland Writing Group

Meets: First Wednesday of the month 9-12

Are you interested in facilitating this group? You do not need to teach. You need to be a person with a big smile who makes newcomers feel welcome. Contact us if that is you. Maitland library is keen to host this HWC writing group to share your writing.

HWC Workshops

New Date – August

Saturday 3rd August

de Pierres - author

Self Publishing – an online course
Nigel George is offering a half-price special to all HWC members for his new self-publishing course.
Visit the Indie Publishing Machine course page, select the Australian Version, and enter the code HWCJULY50 at the checkout to save yourself nearly $100.
You’d better hurry though – the discount is only available until the end of July!
 

person's hand holding an iphone showing rows of books

HWC Blog

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Michael Tippett, writer

 

Our current blogger is member Professor Kelen
Thank you to our members who have blogged thus far

Australian Literature 
- by Susan Francis

Speculative Fiction
 - by HWC Spec Fic writers

Writing History
- by Christine Bramble

Crime Fiction 
- by Megan Buxton

 

Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger

HWC Member News

Anne Walsh HWC member

Member Anne Walsh is part of the amazing line up at Cuplet  July 11 – tonight!

Gail Hennessy and Jan Dean HWC members

Congratulations Jan Dean and Gail Hennessy who won awards at the HWC Live Reading at Newcastle Art Gallery

Congratulations, Nicole Rain Sellers and Brian Noble who won equal first at the HWC-NAG Ekphrastic live reading

Writing Opportunities and Events

Dying to Know Day – August 8th

An informative opportunity to see into the world of your local Cemetery & Crematorium. Learn about funeral planning, estate and wills and more.

Bookings Essential – RSVP to garry.bellenger@newcastlecrem.com.au

or call 4944 6000 Learn more

 

2019 Buzz Words Short Story Prize

Short story prize for adults writing for children

High Country Writers Retreat

Friday October 25 to Sunday October 27, 2019

2019 Writing NSW Grants Program

for regional writers 

 

2019 Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program

Open to picture book and junior fiction manuscripts. Entries close on 31 July

Odyssey House Victoria Annual Short Story Competition

1st prize $1000.

www.odyssey.org.au

Closes Friday November 1st

 

 

HWC Writing Groups

Attendance is free as part of your membership. 
There are vacancies in most of our groups especially: Belmont and Teralba.
See the whole list in the Members Area
Willy Wonka

Willy Wonka’s widow

By | Grieve, News
Our Grieve writing competition (open now) receives many stories and poems about dementia, Alzheimer’s and other memory loss conditions.  The fabulous actor, Gene Wilder, suffered Alzheimer’s and his widow wrote this very honest article in Rolling Stone magazine  about the toll this condition takes on carers. 40% of Alzheimer’s caregivers die before their patient. Our Grieve writing competition gives carers the opportunity to express their loss and sadness as Pam Miller did in her piece which was published in Grieve Volume 4 – purchase the anthology here:
 
No One There
by Pam Miller

He holds her hands and gazes at the wrinkled skin. So soft now. These hands haven’t seen work in a long time. They are smooth and soft. Not like a baby’s hand. All round and plump and strong and grasping and reaching out for new things . . . reaching out for life.

These hands are still. They are lined and wasted and weak. There is no purpose in their life. They don’t cook or iron or clean or garden. They don’t hug or touch or comfort.

That all stopped long ago.

It stopped when her “confusions” started to appear, spreading its tentacles and stilling her hands. It forced the memories of her life into little recesses which could only be reached occasionally. In time, it pushed them further and further back. At first, it was every month when the memories couldn’t be found. Then, every week. And then, every day. It left a huge black hole, where once a life full of love and laughter had been.

He turns her hand over. There is no resistance, no feeling, no recognition of his presence.

He strokes the hand that is so familiar and that he remembers so well. And he basks in the memories that these hands remind him of. His memories. Their shared memories. He visits this empty shell of a person every week. He listens to the silence. He doesn’t say much. She was always such a talker. “Have a chat” was her nick name.

He grasps her hands and his memories of her. And he looks into the eyes of his mother. There is no one there.