Brace Yourselves, I Feeleth a Rant Approaching

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I can feel a rant coming. An almighty, someone (everybody) has got my goat, rant that may result in me becoming a hermit. I’m a bit busy right this moment but rest assured I will be venting my spleen about the thefting of my goats (probably a whole damn flock) just as soon as I can. Also I love parentheses so those people out in the world who parentheses shame, you also have a goat or two of mine (and I’ll probably bloody well blog about that soon too).

#Indigenous Representation in Speculative Fiction

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There is a lack of Indigenous Representation in the type of literature that kids like to read. This is something I initially posted about on my personal Facebook profile rather than on this blog because I was concerned about being torn apart like so many people trying to tackle this incredibly sensitive issue before me. I’m white, I’m female, I’m educated and these days I’m middle class, so what do I know about these issues? True. I am utterly unqualified. I am not an Indigenous Australian, I have not lived an Indigenous existence and I do not live in an Indigenous community. I cannot deny that, nor am I trying too. But I have decided that this issue is too important for me not to say something. So even if I get called ignorant or superficial at least people will be thinking about it. And hopefully those thoughts will help come up with a solution. So here is my Facebook post cut and pasted directly here.

Alright people. I’m doing it. I’m going political… or cultural. I’m going something controversial, not sure of the label but it definitely would have one.

Let’s talk about the lack of representation of Indigenous Australian characters and stories in Australian Literature and “white man’s” (self included) fear of portraying them.

I think we can all agree that there is a lack of Indigenous representation across all genres. Sure there is some literary and memoir style Australian fiction out there looking at settlement/invasion/colonisation, but let’s be honest, how many children sit about thinking, “Gee, I’d love to read some literary historical piece that can be very heavy handed and judgemental.” Not many. They’re thinking things like, “Harry Potter is awesome, Twilight is tots romantic, Hunger Games is the bomb yo.” So if we want our youth (black, white, green, purple, sparkling) engaging with Indigenous issues/characters/themes, then surely we need to but it into novels that they’ll actually want to read.

Now the three novels that I’ve mentioned above that have taken youth by storm are all Speculative Fiction, which to me means Australian writers need to put Indigenous content into this genre. But how can we when we’re too scared too. Yep, there I said it, I admit it, I’m too scared too and I’m not the only ones. Now I’m sure Indigenous authors aren’t too scared to. That they feel totally comfortable writing about their own heritage but there’s a slight problem with that. The problem isn’t only that we have an education gap making literacy levels low amongst indigenous populations low, hence writing a whole novel and going through the long journey to get published quite challenging. But also that even in an ideal world where this gap is bridged, the Indigenous population only accounts for around 3% of the Australian population. And let’s face it, not everybody is born to be a writer, so we’re looking at a very small drawing pool. On top of that not everybody has exactly the same taste is books. Even amongst Speculative Fiction fans you have those that both love and hate Tolkien. So to expect this small drawing pool to produce works of mass appeal is just ridiculous. Sure it only take one, like JK Rowling to come along and inspire a generation, but we cannot expect every writer in the Indigenous community to be the next Rowling anymore than we can expect it of any other community. Not only that, not every writer wants to write for children or young adult. The pool gets smaller yet.

So, how do we fix it? Forced breeding to increase the population? Let the petrified white writer have access to the stories as well? Do nothing but whinge? Do what we do now (self included), have Indigenous minor characters but avoid drawing on the Dreaming or any settings or major characters? I honestly don’t know how this issue can be fixed. I could rather glibly say that stories should be available to everyone. That Celtic and European folktales, myths, legends, history and religion seem to be open slather for anyone to appropriate, so why can’t writers of any culture just draw on anything and anywhere to serve their story. But I can tell you this, I love the stories from Hinduism but I’m sure not going to write about that either. Because not only am I scared that this Celt would unintentionally offend someone but also because I know I would get crucified for it. White writers who tackle other cultures, even previously popular writers, have a history of being torn apart. I, an unpublished, very pale skinned, blue eyed, woman of Scottish and Welsh heritage, am surely not the one to fly in the face of this history and solve all problems. So for my part, I’ll continue to have Indigenous minor characters and refer to Indigenous plants but who will do more? Who can bridge this gap and solve this lack of representation? Thoughts?

I would normally blog about something this lengthy (and yes I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of this incredibly complex and sensitive issue) but quite frankly I have no desire to be called a stupid racist by complete strangers… I’ll leave that to my friends ;-)

This rant was inspired by something #KateForsyth said at the Monsters Under the Bed discussion hosted at the New South Wales Writer’s Centre #nswwc about the need to increase the representation of Indigenous stories and the complexities involved in this.

Book PreReading Review: The River Charm – by Belinda Murrell

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I’ve just purchased

The River Charm

by Belinda Murrell and am very excited about the prospect of reading it. Why? Because I’m nosey. That’s right, because I’m nosey. “The River Charm” is based on the true-life events of the author’s ancestors. Now if you don’t know anything about the sterling lineage of this author this may not have grabbed your curiosity, so allow me to fill you in a little. Belinda Murrell, her sister Kate Forsyth (who everybody knows I have a writer crush on) and their brother Nick Humphrey are all published authors. Now for me that’s interesting enough. What kind of genetic lineage and environment could create three such geniuses in the one family. But wait there’s more. These three come from Australian writing royalty. Their great-great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Atkinson wrote the first Australian children’s book in Australia. “The River Charm” is about the Atkinsons of Oldbury. Now if that isn’t enough, this book has ghosts of the past, murderous convicts, maurauding bushrangers, and a wicked stepfather. Well I for one am wet my pants excited… and not just because I’m pregnant with twins and a strong wind could make me wet my pants. This book promises to not only appease my writerly curiosity but also be a darn good story in itself.

I shall post my review when I’m done. I know, I know, I only actually comment on books I like. How can I guarantee I’ll like it enough to review it? Because it’s Belinda Murrell. Plus the first sentence has me hooked – “Millie wasn’t sure if she was asleep or awake, but there seemed to be a strangely shimmering girl standing at the end of her bed.”

Monsters Under New South Wales Writer’s Centre #nswwc

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- art from http://odessasawyer.deviantart.com/art/Monsters-Under-My-Bed-153492618

This evening I attended “Monsters Under the Bed” at New South Wales Writer’s Centre featuring Kate Forsyth, Matt Finch and Nyssa Harkness. It was an interesting discussion on the portrayal and purpose of fantastical baddies. The entire evening was fascinating but I thought I’d just quickly share the point that stood out the most for me.

Darker social realism is generally read by fairly safe and secure kids not children with horrific problems (paraphrased from what panelist Kate Forsyth said in response to an audience question, unfortunately I did not get the exact quote which was far more eloquent). Children with real problems often prefer the escapist nature of Fantasy. Now that isn’t to say that safe secure kids don’t like Fantasy, because plenty do, but that forays into realistic darkness is generally too painful for children suffering abuse and so they prefer Fantasy. This really interested me as a teacher who has sat through many conversations with colleagues who actively put down Fantasy as pointless and silly. It is these kinds of attitudes that prevent our most at risk students reading what they will enjoy and actually need. Some healthy escapism is what these children crave, yet we insist on adding salt to their wounds. They need a world where good can triumph, where monsters can be overcome, a place that shows that in the end anything can be conquered. Unfortunately literary snobbism has perpetrated schools and we often insist that children read material that further depresses them, further abuses them and further increases their sense of helplessness. Even as the teacher in the classroom I find it difficult to teach a particular text on the gang rape and murder of a girl I knew. I’m in my 30s, the incident was decades ago, yet I walk out of each lesson where I am forced to engage with that text sickened and shaken. A fellow teacher of mine slid further and further into depression having to face this text daily that she too knew intimately that she didn’t just leave the school but the entire country.  I can only imagine how traumatised my students are who have recently been raped or had a family member raped. To force students to endure something so close to their personal life and so recent to them seems absolutely barbaric. So is it time that us English teachers got off our high horse and allowed our students to engage in texts that could actually heal them rather than further traumatise them? Or should we continue on our preference of dark “realistic” literature? Is it really better plotted, structured, characterised or written? Or are we simply being snobs and forcing our preferences onto youth for no actual good reason? Food for thought for writers and teachers alike.

Thank you to the New South Wales Writer’s Centre for hosting such an interesting discussion topic with such insightful panelists, Matt Finch, Nyssa Harkness and of course Kate Forsyth who inspired the topic of this blog.

The Immortal Trace of Eventide – It begins

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Cassinder danced with her eyes closed in the middle of the crowded club as if alone. She belonged to the music and gyrated her body along to the music as if they were involved in an intimate relationship. Light enveloped her in a strobe, highlighting a golden strand of hair here, her long luscious eyelashes there, soft pink lips teamed with creamy white skin. The music faded from one song into another and she opened her eyes softly as if awoken from a dream. Then she saw him.

Boom

She convulsed as if electrocuted, her blonde curls flung out from her face as if in shock, and she clutched at her heart.

‘Are you alright?’ Prandanya, her best friend asked her. ‘You look like you’re having a heart attack.’

‘That boom, that explosion? Didn’t you feel it,’ Cassinder asked.

Prandanya raised a sharp black eyebrow and pursed almond coloured lips highlighted in gold frosting. Totally edible.

‘I didn’t hear anything.’

‘I was dancing, and then I saw this boy and then something went off,’ Cassinder looked pleadingly at her friend. ‘You have to believe me, I’m not crazy.’

‘What boy?’ Prandanya asked.

Cassinder stood on tiptoes and looked around the club scanning. She could see nothing until something flashed in the corner of her eye like a sapphire. Cassinder turned her head and there he was. Tall, strong, skin the colour of sun baked olives, and dark hair that fell in waves to his shoulders. Prandanya seeing Cassinder pause craned her head to see what she was seeing.

‘Boom indeed,’ Pranyada said. ‘I think my ovaries just exploded. That’s one A grade hottie right there.’

‘It’s not my loins,’ Cassinder responded hotly. ‘There was a boom. There’s something different about him.’

‘Well you better work it out quick. He’s making his way over here now.’

Cassinder’s perfect rosebud of a mouth formed a perfect O of surprise as the tall, dark handsome stranger sauntered his way over. To her even greater surprise he did not stop when he got to her. He simply grabbed her by the arm and swept her up along with her.

‘You felt it didn’t you?’ He demanded of her as he pushed them through the crowds. ‘You felt what I did.’

‘What you did?’ Cassinder stammered in her confusion and would have tripped over if it was not for the handsome stranger’s firm grip on her arm.

‘Don’t play innocent. You’re sweet face doesn’t fool me. I saw you convulse when I let it out.’ He was not even looking at her, his eyes were focused on a dimly lit exit sign.

‘I felt something. A boom. I don’t know what from,’ Cassinder apologised not really knowing what she was apologising for.

He grabbed her and pulled her to him, his face a mere inch from hers just as they reached the sketchy door.

‘I don’t believe you,’ he hissed

Boom. They were through the door and out into a cold dark alley. Cassinder immediately regretted her choice of her cream coloured slip dress and no undergarments for the evening. Her skin stood on end in goose pimples and her nipples were on point as if to guard against the cold.

‘Who are you!’ The demand came with such rage that Cassinder faltered backwards and fell over.

‘I’m Cassinder,’ she stammered. ‘I’m nobody. Why are you mad at me.’

‘Because you felt it. Noody should be able to feel it. Nobody human.’

‘What?’ Cassinder’s head was reeling, perhaps from the drink, perhaps from her rapid exit, perhaps from the sudden cold, but most likely because of the strangeness of this whole interaction.

Thump.

The dingy little door flew open and there was Prandanya.

‘What the heck is going on here?’ She demanded, hands pressed firmly on her hips.

The stranger looked at her and immediately sprang upwards, making his way for the roof top and was gone.

‘Wait,’ Cassinder wailed, getting to her feet. ‘I don’t even know your name.’

Prandanya hurried over to her and began fussing over her.

‘Are you okay? Did he hurt you?’

Cassinder pushed her away.

‘I’m fine. I’m fine. I just want to go home.’

‘Okay. Let’s go hail a cab,’ Prandanya responded.

As they walked towards the safety of a main street, Cassinder stopped short.

‘Damn! That guy stole my purse. His whole weirdness was just an act so that he could steal from me.’

‘Men,’ Prandanya shook her head. ‘Always just in to get what they can and then off. Don’t worry honey. The cab will be my treat. I think you’ve earned it tonight.

Book Review: Enoch the Traveler Tempastas Viator by Lady Soliloque

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I have been lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy of Lady Soliloque’s ‘Enoch the Traveler Tempastas Viator’ which is to be released in January 2014. If you loved Cassandra Clare’s ‘The Mortal Instruments’ then this is going to blow your mind. ‘Enoch the Traveler Tempastas’ takes theology and science fiction to the very edge and then over into a new dimension.

The story starts simply enough. The heroine Violette driving about in the fog concerned about her perpetually evasive sister. Any fans of paranormal fiction know that can’t be good. Fog is always bad. We’re soon rewarded with a body in the fog, narrowly missed by our heroine. I told you fog was bad. Nothing good is ever in it. Now of course Violette isn’t our typical simpering victim. She’s actually kind of bad ass. This girl doesn’t have slinky cat for a pet she’s got a whopping great big mastiff. So when faced with a body in the fog she doesn’t shriek, she doesn’t rush out ready to apply medical aid, she comes out with gun in hand. And with that, this tiny dancer blows your expectations away and continues to do so.

Now of course our body in the fog is not ‘I Know What you Did Last Summer’ hooked hand serial killer, he’s our hero, Enoch. His sudden appearance is a mystery, his clothes look like a puzzle and this represents the enigmatic nature that he embodies. From the moment we encounter Enoch with his intricate pattern of blood and bruises he’s a riddle we want to solve. He shouldn’t be lying about in the fog, he shouldn’t be in Violette’s driveway and from his archaic way of speaking he certainly shouldn’t be here in modern times. So why is he? And more importantly, how does he know Violette’s crazy sister?

Now as the Whovians say ‘spoilers sweetie’, so I’m not going to reveal any such mysteries for you but rest assured you’ll be thrilled, entertained and satisfied with the answers. For the curious you can find out more on Facebook right now https://www.facebook.com/enochthetraveler or wait until November and look at www.enochthetraveler.com when the website will go live.