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Christy Collins

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Books

Artists’ Residency, Sapporo

A week ago I arrived in a very snowy Sapporo to begin my Asialink residency at Tenjinyama Art Studio. I will be here for twelve weeks in total which will include a little bit of travel in Kansai and Hokkaido. Time seems to be going by very quickly already but so far I have been settling in, feasting on the local food and finding my way around. By now I have a subway pass, some cute sticky notes in the shape of Japanese mountains, a pillow and half a notebook full of notes that I hope will prove to be the start of a new novel. Outside my window it is snowing which is beautiful but I am also using it as an excuse not to venture outside of the studio today except maybe later for a hot sweet potato from the shop at the bottom of the hill here.

Thanks to Tenjinyama, Asialink Arts and the Malcolm Robertson Foundation for this wonderful opportunity.

The Stella Prize

In a few days the Stella Prize shortlist will be announced. A perfect opportunity to boost your reading of books by Australian women surrounded by the excitement and buzz around this prize. I followed the announcement of the longlist, on twitter, from home with a celebratory gin and tonic to hand. I plan to do similarly with the shortlist. Literary prizes are strange things and though I have sometimes been disappointed by the Stella lists (more by what was left off them, than what was on them), I very much admire the amount of interest, and the sense of celebration of books by women, that the team have managed to generate in the few years the prize has been running. Following the Stella is also a great way to encounter new books especially if you, like me, mostly read novels because the prize includes short stories, memoirs and non-fiction in its remit. This year in particular there seem to be a high proportion of non-fiction offerings on the list.

I’m excited to see who makes the shortlist next week. Good luck to everyone on the longlist!

Interview: Katherine Johnson

I recently interviewed Katherine Johnson about her new novel, The Better Son.

Katherine is a Tasmanian author and a fellow PhD student at the University of Tasmania. Her book is a fast-paced, sometimes claustrophobic, read and it brings to life a small corner of Tasmania, which she had a very interesting time researching.

If you are looking for a novel about families that never drops its pace, this is the book for you. I read it in a single day.

The full text of the interview is on the Australian Women Writers Challenge website.

Congratulations, Gail Jones

Last week Gail Jones was announced the winner of the Colin Roderick Award (for which my novella was also shortlisted) for A Guide to Berlin. I recently read A Guide to Berlin as part of the Australian Women Writers challenge. I very much enjoyed spending time with the protagonist in Berlin as she immersed herself in a group of expats who meet up to discuss their shared interest in the words of Nabokov. Congratulations to Ms Jones and to her publishers.

I thought this might be a good opportunity to report on the part of my committment to the Australian Women Writers challenge that involves reading a certain number of books by Australian women (in addition to reviewing a smaller number of these books) and to see if I can complete one of the AWW2016 Bingo challenges so here is a list of the books by Australian women I have read so far this year marked with the categories they fit:

Gail Jones, A Guide to Berlin (Bestseller)

Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts (A funny book)

Rose Mulready, The Bonobo’s Dream (Published this year)

Aoife Clifford, All These Perfect Strangers (Contains a mystery)

Rochelle Siemienowicz, Fallen (A book I heard about online)

Lucy Treloar, Salt Creek (Set in the outback)

Rebecca Jessen, Gap (Written by someone under 30)
(Not reviewed because I teach this text and prefer not to have my views on it available to find online)

Charlotte Wood, The Submerged Cathedral (Published more than 10 years ago)

Myfanwy Jones, Leap (set in my favourite city – Melbourne!)

Ellen van Neervan, Heat and Light (Short Stories)
(Not reviewed because I teach this text and prefer not to have my views on it available to find online)

Lisa Bellear, Dreaming in Urban Areas (Indigenous author)
(Not reviewed because I teach this text and prefer not to have my views on it available to find online)

As well as stories by Maxine Beneba Clarke, Olga Masters, Elizabeth Jolley, Charlotte Wood, Jennifer Down and Barbara Baynton.

Currently reading: Emma Viskic, Ressurection Bay

By my count I’ve covered the AWW2016 Bingo Card One

I am now packing up a box to send to a friend overseas who finds it hard to find Australian books. The box contains several of the above, and of course a number of offerings from male writers as well as a selection of recent literary magazines. For me it’s been a year of discovering the diversity and richness of our literary landscape, and especially the richness of the books and stories by Aussie women and I look forward to the treasures still languishing in my TBR (to be read) pile.

 

 

Colin Roderick Award shortlisting

It’s coming up to the announcement of the Colin Roderick Award for which The End of Seeing has been shortlisted. The full shortlist is as follows:

Collins, Christy. The End of Seeing.

Harding, Leslie, and Morgan, Kendrah. Modern Love.

Jones, Gail. A Guide to Berlin.

Kinsella, John. Crow’s Breath.

Niall, Brenda. Mannix.

Winton, Tim. Island Home.

I’m thrilled to see my book on this list of books by such accomplished writers in a wide variety of genres (novels, biographies, memoirs and short stories). In particular, Tim Winton’s work has been important to me since I was a teenager and it is a particular thrill to be listed together with him.

More information about the award, including the judges comments on each of the books, can be found here: https://www.jcu.edu.au/foundation-for-australian-literary-studies/colin-roderick-award

 

52 Films by Women

We are coming up on 1/4 of the way through the year and it’s a good time to take stock of progress on things we’ve committed to for 2016. For me this includes a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women (I tweet about them using the hashtag #52filmsbywomen) and to read, a rather modest, four books by Australian women, reviewing three of them. The books are proving relatively easy – there’s an abundance of great books that fit the bill and I’ve already read Gap by Rebecca Jessen and The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead as well as the two books I’ve reviewed on this site Leap and The Submerged Cathedral and I have many, many more on my To Be Read (TBR) list – most of which are already on my bookshelf.

But the films are proving more challenging. It’s not that there aren’t many films directed by women but more that they form a much smaller percentage of the films out there than one might expect. No doubt that’s the point of the challenge in the first place. So, even if 52 films seems a bit much, I encourage you to have a think about who is getting to head up the film projects you’re consuming. And if you are looking for something to see at the cinema right now, you could do worse than check out the stunning SHERPA directed by Australian Jennifer Peedom. My full review is forthcoming on the Togatus website but in the meantime I would certainly recommend it, especially if you’ve ever thought of trying to climb Everest.

How to read a book you don’t want to read

 

Generally, for adults, I’m an advocate of reading what you enjoy and putting aside books that aren’t “doing it” for you in one way or another. But there are exceptions and, for the last few years my life has been full of them: book club selections (even my own) that fail to interest me, books my supervisors recommend, gifts or recommendations from family or close friends, books I need to teach. I find that often, despite my initial reluctance, I end up enjoying these books more than I would have initially expected. Indeed some of my  favorites are books I may well have set aside if there wasn’t some outside pressure to push on. So if you have something on the “must read” list here are some suggestions of how you might get through it:

  1. Download the audiobook and squeeze it in to your commute, your exercise time or while you’re doing the housework. I used this recently to re-read something my bookclub had selected that I’d read a few years back and it gave me a new level of appreciation for the book and let me experience it in a slightly different way than I had the first time around.
  2. Read it very quickly – at least to start with. This is a trick I learnt at university when tackling the more difficult sections of ‘The Sound and the Fury.’ For a first time reader Benjy’s section can seem impenetrable and the harder you try to sort it all out the more frustrating it is. And then a professor recommended reading it quickly and without worrying too much about the meaning line by line. Suddenly the meaning started to become clear and once it did I found I could slow down and still be able to follow. You can always go back and re-read it so, if you’re struggling try reading it very fast to see if that helps.
  3. Read in patches and skim in between. I find this works well for books others have recommended but that don’t immediately appeal to me. I skim, looking for sections of particular interest or relevance; I read these more closely and then continue. I will confess that this is not usually a very enjoyable way to read – or at least not for fiction – and I find it does not (unlike some of the other techniques I mention here) help me come to a good appreciation of the merits of the book. Very often, if I’ve done this, I seem to remain mystified as to why others speak so highly of it. I don’t know if this is just because tastes differ, or if it’s because this technique really doesn’t give a genuinely good book a chance to reveal itself to me. I save this method for things I am really not enjoying but must give at least a cursory reading. It allows you to have a semi-intelligent conversation about it with someone (perhaps the person who recommended it) down the line.
  4. Start again. Sometimes if I’m 30 pages into a book I’m not enjoying, the best thing to do is turn back and start again. Usually on a second reading I find it easier to get on the book’s on-ramp and pick up momentum. Not all books are initially appealing, not all open up in the same way with a first reading and by the time I’m at page 30 (or 50 or 100) hopefully I’ve learnt a little bit about what the book is doing, which helps me to approach it with more appropriate expectations the second time around. If you need to give a book a good read for whatever reason, I recommend this technique for getting a lot more out of the book than perhaps you might if you try the next method on my list.
  5. Give yourself a daily page goal and push through. This is a tip from one of my thesis supervisors and I do not enjoy doing it but it will get you to the end of the book. Read perhaps 25 pages a day. When you reach your daily target you can stop (though if you’re lucky enough to be in a section you’re enjoying you might consider pushing on).
  6. Read a review or listen to a podcast about the book. Maybe you’re missing something. Maybe the reviewer might offer you a way into the book you hadn’t seen. Is the author doing something particular with the language you hadn’t noticed? Be careful to avoid spoilers if these will slow you down further (podcasts are more likely to spoil books than newspaper reviews but usually they will warn you up front if they are the type of format that reveals spoilers). That said, the promise of an interesting plot point further down the line might be what you need to to be able pull yourself through a book you’re not enjoying.
  7. If you have time: put it away for a while. Maybe the time is wrong. If you don’t have to read it this month, you might enjoy it more in 6 months time. Books don’t go off. Often they get better with a bit of waiting.

Usually, when I’m able to push through a book I’m not enjoying I find it pays off in one way or another. Many people have the experience that a book they initially resisted, or that they had to put away for a few years, turns out to be one of their favourites so stay positive and read on. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Australia Day Giveaway: The End of Seeing

After enjoying the Australia Day ‘bloghop’ for several years, I’m thrilled to be able to participate and giveaway a copy of my novella, “The End of Seeing,” as well as a memoir by Lesley and Tammy Williams “Not Just Black and White.”

 

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Determined to discover the truth about the disappearance of her partner, Nick, Ana sets out to re-trace the route he took as a photojournalist on the other side of the world – a journey that saw him presumed dead, on a ship wrecked off the coast of Italy. But Ana doesn’t believe Nick is dead. In his photos, in the messages her memories of him seem to carry, and in her growing suspicion about his own need to disappear, she is increasingly sure he is alive somewhere. As she tracks his journey, she begins to witness the world that Nick saw through his camera – a world in which disappearance is not unexpected.

‘Dazzling, intelligent and heart-rending. I have long been a fan of Collins, and this is why.’ – Toni Jordan

‘I raced through with a catch in my throat and tears in my eyes. A love-letter to a vanished husband . . . nuanced and tender, political and tense. Christy Collins has written a subtle thriller with mystery at its heart.’ – Katerina Cosgrove

Ahead of the Blak & Bright Festival coming up in Melbourne, I’m including a copy of  “Not Just Black and White: A conversation between a mother and daughter” by Lesley and Tammy Williams.

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To win, please comment below, telling me your favourite Australian book. If you wish you can subscribe to my blog or follow me on twitter @_ChristyCollins – but this is not compulsory.

I will randomly select a winner to receive a print copy of “The End of Seeing” and “Not Just Black and White” and contact the winner to find out their mailing address (open only to Australian residents). Entries close at Midnight on Wednesday January 27th and winners will be announced within 7 days.

You can find all the other participating blogs here: https://bookdout.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/its-the-2016-australia-day-book-giveaway-blog-hop/ The Blog Hop is a great opportunity to acquaint yourself with some new Australian writers or to add a few new book blogs to your favourites, so check it out.

Update

And the winner (selected from a literal hat) is: Wendy S. aka Womblywoo. Wendy, your books are on their way to you. Thanks to everyone for their excellent suggestions — I have quite a few new additions to my “must read” list.

Book review: The Submerged Cathedral, Charlotte Wood

Though I did not live in Australian when it was published, I am still a little surprised that I had never heard of Charolotte Wood’s 2004 novel The Submerged Cathedral, if only because its concerns closely echo my own: the sacred, the environment, travel and displacement, and the fragility of human relationships.

In the first section of this book Martin and Joss meet and begin to build a life together. Gradually, against a backdrop of family obligations, they begin to make some compromises which challenge the couple, both together and as individuals. Every interaction and every relationship dynamic in this first section felt so honest and true that it almost ached to read it.

Later, as Joss’ and Martin’s lives begin to push out into the world in various ways, the book seems to empty out. Martin follows the sacred, Joss the dream of a garden. Both of these paths seem hollow and though they each encounter symbols of the others’ path – for Joss her fascination with cathedrals, for Martin his work cultivating a vegetable garden – Woods allows her characters no shortcuts. She misdirects their correspondence and isolates them geographically so that the ache continues but now it is the ache of loss, emptiness and not knowing.

Martin’s journey in the centre of the book is difficult for the reader to understand. His life takes a turn that seems insufficiently motivated and the reader is simply asked to go with it, which perhaps compromises the resonance that this section might have had if we felt Martin’s own commitment to his new life, or the strength of the convictions he apparently holds.

The brief closing section of this book is earned and still it feels a little unsatisfactory. Somehow the emptiness of their time apart moves in to inhabit the book and a bittersweet, lonely, loss-filled close refuses to deliver the dream that The Submerged Cathedral allowed us to dream – that of a sacred and beautiful place where Joss and Martin might be finally allowed to find a home. Perhaps Wood herself could not quite believe in her own scaffolding. Perhaps she could not quite credit the idea of a real-world equivalent of the cathedral of the title, or of the Eden to which Joss constantly returns in her thinking, without it’s counterweight: Gethsemane. In the end it is emptiness and perhaps even the idea of being submerged, that remains.

I am very glad to have discovered this book and I know I will return to it.

 

 

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