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Christy Collins

Thoughts on books, films, writing and life

Writers’ Residency in Japan

I’m excited to be headed to Japan next month for a twelve-week writers’ residency with thanks to Asialink, the Malcolm Robertson Foundation and Tenjin-yama Art Studio. I’ll be in Sapporo to start work on a new writing project and, though this feels very nebulous at the moment, I am very much looking forward to meeting the other artists and the team at Tenjin-yama and to starting something brand new.

Congratulations and good luck to all the other 2017 Asialink residents. I had the chance to meet a number of them at the orientation day at Melbourne Uni last week and they are an incredibly diverse group with so many interesting projects. You can see the full list here.

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

 

Film review: Sherpa

When tourists with dreams of summiting Mount Everest finally reach the peak, they have not made it there alone.

For every expedition up Everest a team of Nepalese locals, known as sherpas often cover the same ground several times, carrying supplies, tents, food and emergency equipment through perilous ice falls in order to keep tourists safe and comfortable. The risks the sherpas take are far greater than those the foreigners take and the credit they receive is minimal.

Australian director Jennifer Peedom contrasts the sherpas’ Buddhist religion and their respect for the mountain with the foreigners’ dreams of proving themselves against nature and ‘conquering’ the mountain.

The Buddhist ceremony held to request permission to climb, is more than a taste of local colour for the tourists. It is an acknowledgement and reminder of the peril everyone who climbs Everest takes on, whether they are climbing in order to achieve a life long dream, or to feed their families in the villages below.

When the 2014 climbing season opened with a disaster that claimed the lives of 16 sherpas, Peedom’s team were on hand to record how the power dynamics between the tourists, sherpas, the Nepalese government, and the foreign expedition leaders played out in an arena which had already begun to show signs of tension the previous year.

Peedom shapes her material into a satisfying narrative that opens up the experience of the sherpas who serve the expeditions, and the lives and concerns of their families. The film brings to life the sherpas’ quest for greater respect for the sacredness of the mountain, the lost lives of their peers and for safer conditions and better treatment when, inevitably, people lose their lives in the service of Nepal’s tourism industry and the dreams of tourists from around the world.

Sherpa’s cinematography is unsurprisingly full of grandeur with reminders of the smallness of humans in this treacherous landscape. The Buddhist prayer flags add colour and the warm interiors of the family homes create a welcome contrast to the unforgiving mountain-scapes. Swelling violin music serves to reinforce the massive size of the landscape and the power of the environment.

Sherpa is an eye-opening look at the Everest expeditions from a different and important angle. It is essential viewing for anyone who dreams of one day conquering Everest and a good reminder for all of us who travel to countries less well off than our own to bear in mind the humanity of those who serve us there.

I watched Sherpa as part of the “52 films by women” challenge which you can sign up for here.

Originally published by Togatus http://www.togatus.com.au/review-sherpa/

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.

First readers

It’s the middle of March which is when my UTAS peers and I agreed we would swap some of our creative work to critique. So far: silence. There’s a certain cocoon that I seem to need to go into to write and this time, since it’s part of a PhD, my supervisors have had to be let in on the work much earlier than I usually would let anyone see it but now, the time has come for someone entirely outside the process to see it and it’s a bit scary.

Another thing that has happened in the last month is that I’ve started teaching for the first time which has created a kind of busy fog of nerves and emails and PowerPoint presentations which has made it very hard to get any creative work done. So far I’m enjoying teaching, but at present the work involved seems to spill well outside the hours I’m actually paid to be teaching, preparing and available for student consultation to take up a good proportion of my week. I’m hoping this will settle down as I get further into the semester but as the first assignments begin to trickle in, and marking is added to the mix, the challenge of finding space for writing increases.

All that said, I’m very much looking forward to reading my colleagues’ work. They are working on projects that sound fascinating and are also lovely people so I hope I can be some help in their journeys. So I guess I should package up my novel, write an (inevitably self-depreciating) email and send it off.

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.

Lent

It’s Lent – the 40 day period of penance before Easter – and I have decided to take up walking before breakfast as my Lenten practice. My sister suggested a walk before breakfast can be good for starting some particular metabolic process which seemed like a good idea, but I’m a wakes-up-hungry person and so it also seemed annoying. Which makes it a good Lenten discipline because it means I have to overcome my own resistance to the idea each morning. It also means that I get a little exercise into my day no matter what happens after that.

Naturally enough, once I’m out the gate it usually doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. We live near the beach so I walk down there or I go and buy a fresh bread somewhere or on Saturday I might grab a coffee. The penance bit seems to lie mostly in getting myself out the door in the first place, the rest is fine and I don’t make myself go very far – this morning 1.5km.

Mr K is more a believer in giving something up for Lent. He has given up alcohol. I think the interesting thing about doing something, almost anything I imagine, for Lent is that it seems to end up giving back to you in interesting ways. Of course it’s about being mindful. The year I gave up drinking I began to understand how many triggers to drink there are in my life. I was surprised how much I missed it. One night I was at the cinema and someone had left a glass of red wine on a little ledge while they went to the bathroom and to my surprise the thought of taking it flashed through my mind. It’s a story I told over and over to my friends because it seemed so wildly out of character. As a kid, giving up lollies and chocolate taught me how much of that stuff I actually consumed, since it physically piled up in a jar at the end of the bed. It was also excellent self-discipline training.

Sundays are not part of Lent so I skip the morning walk and have a drink with Mr K in the evening. When I was a kid we were allowed to select one item from our jar to eat on a Sunday. Sometimes we resisted even then, enjoying the jar filling up and the anticipation of Easter Sunday when the whole cache would be unrestricted and we could make ourselves sick with not just chocolate eggs but our store of lollies as well.

These days I try to do something for Lent that has some value for me without it being too self-serving. Lent’s a time to look at the world a little differently and to look at myself a little more critically – to try to be a better person and to try to be a little more conscious of my actions and my impact on the world. So far the early morning walk has served different purposes on different days but the fresh bread in the house for when Mr K wakes up is a bonus, and on the days the beach seems to beckon I start the day with a clearer head. Who knows, perhaps after 40 days it will become a habit.

Though that didn’t work with giving up alcohol…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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