Viva La Novella, Formaldehyde and Jane Rawson and I

I just flew back from Melbourne over the weekend.

I was in Melbourne for a reason: to help launch a book I had handpicked and edited for the Viva La Novella competition. If you’re following me on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, you would know all about it already.

The book was Formaldehyde by Jane Rawson – for months I had alluded to “the book” and “the author” keeping it under wraps as much as possible. My thanks to David Henley and Pam Hewitt for making it all happen.

So now I need you to go pick up a copy and read it. In this day and age, you as a reader are lucky – you can not only read a book but in this case you can talk to Jane and I via our blogs and social media about what you think of the book. I mean I am fully expecting questions where someone has found an error that I have missed.

So what is Formaldehyde about?

It’s going to ask you a question about identity – about whether it is you who determines who you are or something external to you. It’s also going to give you something weird and gross to be in equal measures disgusted and fascinated by. It may also, as it did to me, totally uproot you so you no longer know what time and era you are standing in.

And it’s a novella – it’s not asking you to invest as much time as you might do so if you were settling in to read a novel.

Over the next few weeks, Australian Women Writers will feature the winners and Jane’s interview is already online. You should also get ready to head over to Seizure’s website to read extracts from the novellas and all the editors’ notes. Go pick up a copy of Formaldehyde. Dymocks should have it. And here be photos of Jane and I at the launch event for thy vicarious pleasure.

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The Readathon has begun!

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Author Jane Rawson is a fantastic person. And to attest to that awesomeness she has started a Readathon for the winter months of June and July.

Basically you read whatever you like but if you are part of the team, people sponsor you for each book you read and the money goes to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation which I think is a fantastic idea.

Some people have already made lists of what they will read since June is already upon us. I fear that I am not one of those people. Instead all I can tell you is that I have written a spiel about why I love to read which you should read and that I plan to start by plowing through Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop.

So how can you get involved?

You can:
1. Sponsor me for each book I read at whatever amount you want: https://give.everydayhero.com/au/marisa-wikramanayake
2. Read my spiel on reading: http://justread.com.au/2015/05/17/i-read-therefore-i-exist/
3. Sign up to participate: http://justread.com.au
4. Suggest books for me to read during the readathon by leaving a comment below.

Review: Dure Rey Khan’s Once We Were Kings

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In the darkened theatre, an actor (Solayman Belmihoub) splits chalk into two and then raises his head to the audience and starts talking about dichotomies. About how when you are a mix of several different things, people want you to define yourself as one thing or the other. And I lean forward and go “Aha!”

I just want to be me!
– Dure Rey Khan’s Once We Were Kings

The play is emerging playwright Dure Rey Khan’s Once We Were Kings about more than just what the blurb says about being young, queer and Muslim in modern day Australia but actually really about being othered, as she points in an interview to me: “Othered the moment you open your mouth.”

“Othered the moment you open your mouth.”
– Dure Rey Khan, interview with Marisa Wikramanayake

 

The trailer for Once We Were Kings by Dure Rey Khan (c) Third Culture Kids

As a migrant, Dure is writing from her own experience and that of the stories she has been told by others who have found themselves in Australia for different reasons, suddenly also finding themselves set apart by not just ethnicity or sexual orientation but occasionally religion or personal religious choices – set apart not just from modern day mainstream Australian society, but also often from within their own diasporic communities and families which is sometimes the more heartbreaking of the two to deal with.

You were born with a galaxy of possibilities within you.
– Dure Rey Khan’s  Once We Were Kings

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Once We Were Kings rehearsals (c) Third Culture Kids

And as I continue to watch the play unfold I find myself creating a checklist, a checklist of all of the possible ways of being othered and set apart, all the possible horrible things racism, sexism and homophobia brings to people of colour, migrants or otherwise, all the different pressures and stresses, all the different and often conflicting things that need to be borne. I can tick those things off as we move through the cerebral nature of the play’s action because if I haven’t thought those things, felt those things, experienced those things, I know others who have. I know that they exist and in some sort of inside joke I nod and laugh wanting to stand up and say “Yes, I know exactly what you mean.”

Is this what you planned for me? Am I so wretched in your sight?
– Dure Rey Khan’s Once We Were Kings

And I wonder if this is also a disadvantage – if you are in any way unaware, theoretically or experientially, of all these encompassing issues people of colour, migrants here, have to deal with, then will this play speak to you? Will you be able to understand it? There are things I notice that some male friend viewers miss out on – the notion that the mention of a dark alleyway is synonymous with the notion of rape and the very real concept that anyone passing for female, cis or trans, has to be aware of their surroundings in a way that is different to how a cis male would carry themselves within the world.

Dure Rey Khan has deliberately tried to show the audience the variety of issues that exist and to do so she has deliberately not gone into detail about any one character’s particular background beyond what is needed to convey the issue at hand. This doesn’t help some viewers who want more cultural symbolism, want more obvious clues within the play that the character is from this place, that time, that specific exotic culture, a variation on orientalism and exoticism in the viewing of it. If that’s what you look for when going to see this play you will miss the point that these issues happen to lots of people who are in any way deviant from the norm in any society that they are in, regardless of what they look like or where they were born or where they came from. There isn’t an oriental/exotic/Arabic/Western/Eastern/Christian/Muslim way of being queer or young or having all the related baggage and issues or personal crises of faith: some experiences are universal.

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Naomi Denny and Angela Mahatjle during rehearsals for Once We Were Kings (c) Third Culture Kids

Actors Solayman Belmihoub, Naomi Denny & Angela Mahlatjie strut the stage but it is Naomi Denny’s performance that stands out for me. Her delivery of lines that are first descriptive and statement like and then lyrical in a way we would expect them to be from a native English speaker and then suddenly juxtaposed with still lyrical language but different, is fantastic and on point. My suspicions of influences trickling in from the long standing lyrical traditions of Arabic and Pakistani story telling and poetry are confirmed as Dure Rey Khan tells me “I don’t think in English – I am now very used to translating directly into English and often using metaphor in order to describe something to someone that perhaps there is no correct English word for but there can be a phrase for that emulates something the other person has experienced that is close to what I have gone through.”

And she references the Quran, with snippets about the night time, about being born with galaxies of possibilities within oneself and moving like ants carrying crumbs across the way. Again, for those educated within a predominately Westernised literary experience, perhaps these are references that will be missed or misunderstood as flights of fancy with language.

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Play development for Once We Were Kings (c) Third Culture Kids

But that doesn’t mean that the play is not meant for such an audience. Far from it. It’s a play, that surprisingly for a first play, creates a situation within which the theatregoer can start to explore. “A lot of people have come to see it several times,” Dure Rey Khan tells me, ” And each time, they discover something new that speaks to them about their experience or they realise that someone is explaining something to them and they understand something new.”

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Welcoming the media on press night for Once We Were Kings (c) Third Culture Kids

Once We Were Kings is primarily about finding a sense of “home”,  a place within which one can exist and be accepted for everything one is, even if that place exists perhaps not in Australia or any other country but within another person or within one’s personal faith and even if one happens to be queer, young and religious.

It will be running until May 30th at the Blue Room Theatre in Perth with each show only one or two seats away from being sold out each night so get in quick to see it. Go in with an open mind to being swept up in the entire play, multimedia additions, diversely lyrical dialogue and all and keen to learn something (or if you are a third culture kid to having your heart opened up and put on display for all to see) and you will not be disappointed.

The Defying Doomsday Anthology

Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench are two amazing bibliophiles and activists, of the literary kind. They are also all things speculative fiction crazy.

They have come up with an idea that makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done yet.

Together with Alisa Krasnostein of Twelfth Planet Press they are planning an anthology of dystopian speculative fiction… with the main characters in each story being disabled/differently abled, neuro diverse or suffering from a chronic or mental illness. What better way to highlight the fact that people have agency and are capable than setting it in a post-apocalyptic context?

Intrigued by this, I volunteered to be part of the blog tour and they kindly answered my questions via email.


 

MARISA

     Where did the idea come from? When did you first notice the lack of agency for differently abled/disabled and chronically ill characters in apocalyptic and dystopian fiction?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

      The idea came to Tsana when she was reading a book set in a Nazi concentration camp (Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein). After initially thinking “Well I wouldn’t survive that!” when reading about some of the low-level torture, she got to the part of the book where most of a group of medical experimentees survives the concentration camp despite their impairments. It made her think, “Gosh, if this happened in real life, why aren’t there more stories of disabled/chronically ill characters surviving bad situations in fiction?” And so the idea for Defying Doomsday was born.

MARISA

     How many stories do you plan to have in the anthology? What are the word limits?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

       We are aiming to acquire 80,000 – 100,000 words (around 14-18 stories, depending on length). We’re still finalising our open submission guidelines, but at this point we’re planning to call for stories between 3000 – 7000 words in length. We’ll have more information going up on the Defying Doomsday website once the Pozible campaign funds.

MARISA

      Who is eligible to submit stories?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

       Anyone! The more the merrier. We’re excited to get stories from a diverse range of voices. If you have an apocalypse story with a protagonist who is disabled, chronically ill, mentally ill or neurodiverse, we’d love to read it!

MARISA

      What plans do you have for the anthology post publication?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

      We’re hoping it will reach a wide audience and inspire people to think more sympathetically about the challenges faced by disabled and chronically ill characters.

MARISA

      What are your favourite apocalyptic/dystopian scenarios? What do you hope to see in the submissions?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

      The great thing about apocalyptic scenarios is that the sky’s the limit. One of the things that has had us really thrilled by some of our early submissions is the range of scenarios we’ve seen – from classic apocalypses such as alien invasions and impending comets, to apocalypse scenarios we’d never contemplated before. Just as we want range and diversity when it comes to the characters in Defying Doomsday, we’re looking for a range of post/apocalyptic scenarios to help make the anthology even more exciting.

MARISA

      What has been the reaction so far to the idea?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

         We’ve had a lot of positive responses since we first announced the project. People have been excited and that makes us even more excited! We get the impression that a lot of people feel similarly to us about not seeing characters like themselves in fiction and are welcoming this chance. There are a LOT of people with disability and/or chronic illnesses out there (disabled people alone are the largest minority in the world, including 15% or about a billion people), and people seem to recognise the need for this to be reflected more in fiction.

MARISA

       Who is funding the publication? If you can tell us?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

        Defying Doomsday will be published by Twelfth Planet Press in 2016, but we’re crowdfunding the anthology right now (from 1st April -1st May 2015). We decided to crowdfund this project so that we could pay authors a professional rate (7c per word), and we’ve also been lucky enough to receive a Crowbar grant from Arts Tasmania to help with production costs.

MARISA

      After this publication, do you have any other similar projects planned? Or are there any that you think should be organised even if not by you?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

         We’re really keen to see SFF continue to expand and embrace diversity. This is one of the main reasons we are so excited to have Defying Doomsday published by Twelfth Planet Press, which has also published diverse anthologies Kaleidoscope and Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2013, both edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein. It’s great to find a publisher so invested in diversifying the genre.

       Any projects that support the idea that there’s room for everyone in SFF are projects we want to see more of.

MARISA

      How did you wrangle the editor positions for this project?

DOLICHVA & KENCH

      We talked a lot about the potential of this project concept and wrote up a proposal of our ideas. At the time Alisa Krasnostein had just successfully funded Kaleidoscope, so we hoped it might be the sort of anthology she would be interested in publishing. We’re really passionate about Defying Doomsday and luckily Alisa felt the same way.


To get involved you can: 

– support the project via Pozible at:  http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday up until May 1, 2015

– submit a story after submissions open on May 1 at http://defyingdoomsday.twelfthplanetpress.com

Ten years of Kottu

Earlier this week, the Sri Lankan blogosphere’s main blog aggregator/planet/definitive index Kottu turned 10.

No one seemed to notice – I certainly didn’t know till Cerno and Yudhanjaya posted about it online.

So let me explain something to my non-Sri Lankan readers:

I started blogging in 1998. Sometime in what must have been say 2005 or so though I barely remember when I found this fantastic place online that pulled the RSS feed of every Sri Lankan person who was blogging online be it via Xanga, WordPress, Blogspot, Blogger or Livejournal. It was a blog aggregator or as anyone who is a geek wants to call it, a planet. You can see my love for planets of the blogging variety here.

In three different languages: English, Sinhala and Tamil. They could have called it achcharu, every minute or so, new posts coming in, new flavours all in a pickle.

But in a stroke of genius they called it Kottu. Kottu is a street dish made from a pancake thing called Godhamba roti with a variety of meats/egg, vegetables and spices added to it. It’s cooked on a hot metal surface with massive metal choppers that slice and dice it. Everyone loves it.

Kottu (c) Dailynews.lk

And so for ten years, sliced and diced snippets and excerpts of posts about people writing stories to people expounding opinions on politics, to people whinging about their day turned up on the never ending feed like clockwork. If a post was popular it got more chillies in the chillie rating and got spicier. It was a way to keep track of what the mad crowd of bloggers was saying without needing to comment or follow. You could lurk, you could jump right in, you could hover between the two. But if you wanted to find a fellow Sri Lankan blogging, you went to Kottu.

Kottu kades (stalls) are somewhat nigh ubiquitous in Sri Lanka. They stay open late as well so instead of a curry this is our option if we have  to have a post drinking binge.

And that’s why while I am annoyed at myself that I did not realise that Kottu had turned ten, I am also not surprised that many didn’t either. Like all good blog aggregators, planets and other such tools, it works in the background and is invisible.

So much so that I have forgotten to re-add my feed to it after moving servers before. I am pleased to note that I average about two chillies which means that even those not a fan of spicy food can handle my posts.

It does the job it is meant to do. When we stop at the stall we don’t think too much about what it means to work those long hours serving people by the roadside with all sorts of traffic and clientele. We don’t stop to think about the team that came up with the idea of Kottu and set it up.

According to Yudhanjaya at readme.lk, Facebook came in and flattened it and after a while good content often got lost under stuff that was republished from elsewhere and it became harder to sift through things.

It still has its uses. It is the definitive index of Sri Lankan blogs, and if you dig through the rubble you find some real gems – old blogs being dusted off briefly, or new writers with passion and flair. Still, it’s nowhere what it was before. Kottu now lives mostly as a list.
Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, readme.lk

But we are grateful. Or at least I am, Hence why despite it seeming rather odd to say, I do want to say thanks to Indi and the rest of the crowd. Because it took foresight and effort and it helped a lot and it still as Yudhanjaya points out, has some useful function as the definitive list of bloggers.

So my thanks to Mahangu for the name (because it has paid off if only so I have a hook to write this post a decade on), to Indi for setting up and running it and to Janith for taking over as the main chef in 2011 and all the others who have been involved since.

So thank you for recognising that there was a need for it before most of us realised that yes there were enough other Sri Lankans blogging, gossiping, ranting online that it would be useful. Thank you for kickstarting friendships and in some cases, feuds too but more friendships than enmity.

One day, one day I will have a five chillie post rating on Kottu. One day. This is my new life goal. Facebook and Zuckerberg be damned. I am old fashioned, give me chillies over likes any day. 😉

In the meantime, thank you for keeping those wheels turning in the background and the effort and time you have spent unpaid and often out of pocket to keep it going for us.

So THANK YOU and HAPPY BIRTHDAY Kottu. :) Even if I am a few days late. (What do you expect – I am Sri Lankan. We always show up late, fashionably so.)

And if you are Sri Lankan, write about Sri Lanka or want to wade through it all to read Sri Lankan bloggers, you can find Kottu here: http://kottu.org.

Introducing In Conversation With

As many of you know I am involved with the project Australian Women Writers and am responsible for herding the reviews by those reading non fiction, short fiction and poetry.

For a long time, Elizabeth Lhuede who started the project has wanted to experiment with video. Of course I was keen on helping out with this.

We are now starting a series of video interviews with Australian female writers. They are held informally over a Skype call and are edited and uploaded fortnightly. We hope to get better at this as we go but we also have audio and text only versions of the interviews for those who aren’t keen on the videos.

So I put out a call on Twitter for Australian female authors who wanted to be interviewed and got a lot of responses but also a lot of queries. Please retweet if needed:

Here are the facts in a nutshell:

The goal:

The goal has always been the same: to ensure that women’s writing in Australia gets promoted more and becomes more visible within the country and internationally. 

We also want our authors to have something that if they choose to, they can use to promote themselves. And if they have fans, that the fans can get excited over.

Who do we interview?

You should:

  1. be Australian and of any heritage whatsoever (we really aren’t bothered so long as you are a citizen/permanent resident)
  2. have published or performed work that the audience can then go check out, in any genre, including non fiction and in any form including slam poetry, plays, essays, sort and flash fiction. Essentially this means a link to view/read work or to buy it.
  3. be female or female identifying including cis, trans and those who are gender non conforming/genderfluid and occasionally consider themselves to be female identifying.
  4. have a great webcam and be willing to be filmed and then subjected to my hopefully not too amateurish editing skills.
  5. have a great landscape shot of yourself for the video thumbnail and the blog post.

What do you need to do next?

If you are keen you need to send me an email with the following:

  1. A bit about yourself and what you write/perform etc
  2. A copy of your latest work (pdf preferably) or links to it
  3. An idea of when you are free to be interviewed and, if you are releasing/launching work at a set date in the future then the date of the release/launch and if you want your interview to go out at the same time. So that’s two dates: RECORDING DATE & RELEASE DATE. See below for release dates for videos.
  4. Your landscape image of yourself so that I can at least do a review and set up part of the blog post beforehand.
  5. Contact details so I can send you questions beforehand, Twitter and FB accounts so I can tag you and ask your fans to submit questions and your Skype details.

Upcoming release dates for videos:

Videos come out fortnightly on a Saturday on the Australian Women Writers website and our Youtube channel unless I fall into the pit of doom known as life. As much as possible I try to record way ahead of time.  Please check dates below if you have work coming out that you want the interview to coincide with and try to get the one closest to or right after your launch date.

Date                                       Taken?

28 March 2015                  Yes; Robin Bower

11 April 2015                      Yes

25 April 2015                      Yes

9 May 2015

23 May 2015

6 June 2015

20 June 2015

4 July 2015

18 July 2015

1 August 2015

15 August 2015

29 August 2015

12 September 2015

26 September 2015

10 October 2015

24 October 2015

7 November 2015

21 November 2015

5 December 2015

19 December 2015

 

I am not a writer but I am a fan so what can I do to be involved?

You can:

  1. Nominate an author to be interviewed and if you want take on the role of chief nagging officer to get them to agree.
  2. You can, once they agree, suggest questions and spread the word.
  3. You can spread the word once the interview video is released.
  4. You can join the Australian Women Writers challenge and read and review work by your author for the project, be it via Goodreads or your blog or a publication.
  5. You can convince everyone you know to buy the author’s work(s).
  6. If you are involved in mainstream media, you can build on our work by showcasing the author.
  7. You can nominate them for all sorts of prizes and top best ___ lists and so on.

As always thank you to the writers who agree to be involved and thank you to the AWW team who are fantastically supportive. :)

Marianne Delacourt’s Sharp Shooter

I think often about what it means to stand in a spot in one place and to take it all in. To live in a place long enough to be someone who understands how life works its way through that spot’s particular urban or rural landscape.

And how it feels like saying hello to an old friend when you pick up a book to find yourself in a place that is both that place you know and also perhaps for the sake of the work, not quite that place either.

But that’s just the start of what surprises you about the Tara Sharp series by Marianne Delacourt, pseudonym of Marianne de Pierres. It’s set in Perth and some places you can nod your head and go “Ah yes, I know that street, that neighbourhood, I know what you mean when you talk about classes and cliques dictated by history and geography.” and then others you realise, you know are shorthand. Shorthand for places perhaps not present in Perth in the same way but if they were that’s what their names would be, that’s what they would like.

On top of that is this zany character Tara Sharp who finds herself solving mysteries and crimes and, since Marianne has one foot permanently planted in all things sci-fi, she does so with the aid of reading body language but also this innate talent of seeing auras.

Perth. Former basketball player. Auras. Crime. They seem disparate but they come together. And you do find yourself relating to Tara, she does not play it safe and she knows this about herself but nevertheless bounding off into danger she goes without anything to protect her. Into the criminal underworld of drugs and… given that it is Perth, mining.

The best thing about this book I find is the unashamed honesty. From the writing style to the characterisation – the book tells it like it is. And the reason you want to continue reading is because well, damn it, you want to know what happens. You want to know who is following her, who is kidnapping her pet birds, and why she has to chase burglars over her neighbour’s fences sans pants in the first place.

It’s madcap mayhem, mystery and my word, Nick Tozzi hello there you dark horse you. There are two more after Sharp Shooter and Tara Sharp 4 is apparently on its way to release. And once you are done with Tara there is Parrish, in futuristic Australia, to devour as well.


 

Marianne Delacourt (aka Marianne de Pierres)'s Sharp Shooter
Marianne Delacourt (aka Marianne de Pierres)’s Sharp Shooter

Author: Marianne de Pierres also writing as Marianne Delacourt
Title: Sharp Shooter
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication Date: 2009
Genre: Crime fiction


 

writer, journalist & editor