The Stella Prize

claire-wrightI’ve been lucky enough recently to join The Stella Prize to help them set up their school’s program. I’m so excited to be working with the amazing women who initiated this prize to address the gender bias in Australian literary prizes.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me about the prize since I started working on this project, so I decided that it would be worth putting up a bit of info here. Kerryn Goldsworthy beautifully summed up the prize when she discussed her role as a judge in this year’s award.

The Stella Prize was born in a spirit of protest and resistance. It took shape early in 2011, when a literary event in Melbourne to mark International Women’s Day featured a panel discussion about the under-representation of women in literary pages and magazines, as well as in the shortlists and winners of literary prizes. The women involved in this event decided that it was time to do something. In 2009, five of Australia’s leading women writers—Debra Adelaide, Amanda Lohrey, Joan London, Kate Grenville and Helen Garner—had published excellent novels that were eligible for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia’s most sought- after literary prize and one of its richest. None of them even made the longlist, and the shortlist consisted exclusively of novels by men. And unbeknown to the women on the discussion panel that day, the 2011 Miles Franklin shortlist that would be announced a month or so later would again be an all-male lineup.

The Stella Prize is not the first Australian Literary Prize for women, but it is the only one to have been established by women pushing for change rather than as a result of a bequest. Miles Franklin was the pen-name of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin—feminist, nationalist and author of the Australian classic My Brilliant Career. Like many of her female contemporaries, she knew that using a male pseudonym would give her writing a better chance of being published and read. Naming the award the Stella Prize was a way of honouring Franklin and of restoring her given name; that “Stella” means “star” was icing on the cake.

The UK’s well-established and prestigious Orange Prize—now the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction— provided a model, and with the help of donors and sponsors and some broad support from the literary community, the prize was first awarded in 2013 to Carrie Tiffany for her novel Mateship with Birds….(read the full article here)

I’m hoping at some stage to post some reviews up here of the books that I’ve read for this project. I’m only sad that I didn’t get to them earlier, despite having heard wonderful things from the beginning. It has been an amazing list of books to be working through – I don’t envy the judges what must have been a hard decision indeed. I’ve linked to the long lists and shortlists from the 2013 and 2014 prizes below. If you’re looking for something to read, I urge you to sink your teeth into a few of these. Covering a huge range of themes and writing styles, spanning both fiction and non-fiction, these books have excellent storytelling in common and are an impressive representation of Australian talent. And if you read any, come back tell me what you think. Or better yet, head over to the Australian Women’s Writing challenge and write a review!

2013 longlist                                                                                                                                  2013 shortlist                                                                                                                                                       2014 longlist                                                                                                                               2014 shortlist 

 

 

Resort Life

I can see how people stay at these resorts and never actually catch a glimpse of the country they’re in. They’re a world unto themselves.

As my partner waited at the local hospital to get steroids for his eye I stayed back and explored the surreal land-within-a-country that is the resort. After breakfast from the buffet (it’s huge – cakes, doughnuts, fresh local fruit, roti, noodles, dahl and cereals spill over about five counters and onto tables in the middle of the room. Fresh eggs are being cooked to order and a rainbow of chutneys and pickles are available as garnishings.) I’m the crazy lady with a baby in one arm and a plate containing my breakfast of roti cannai and a glass of juice (which is a combination of all the varieties they have on offer-yes people stared as I filled my glass).

We’re seated by the window by the friendliest man ever, who on day three of our breakfasts has remembered our room number and wins a cheeky girn from the baby. The baby is in an exceptionally good mood this morning and as I try to bend his knees to fit them into the high chair that he’s currently standing in, he cranes his neck to grin at the couple trying to have a private conversation next to us. They’re suitably charmed and I get on with breakfast so they can return to their conversation in peace.

I’m trying to kill time and to distract myself from the worry of my partner’s eye troubles so I load up our travel bath (which for those with babies, is an unnessary and incredibly awkward item to pack if you’re staying in hotels with baths of their very own – duh) with washing and head down to the hotel laundromat. It’s tucked away behind the conference rooms, currently hosting something to do with broiled chicken, which I try not to think about too much. The baby is a champion this morning and after entertaining me for a while with some new facial expressions that he’s trying on for size he falls asleep, and stays that way for the next two hours as I watch the washing spin and wonder whether the bits on my arm and tiny bruises on my feet are in fact symptomatic of Dengue fever. You’d think, if you listened to me, that noone ever visited here without catching something, but rest assured that this is (I hope) all in my head.

It’s nice to have the opportunty to actually explore – the resort has severl pools, a water slide, a bar, two restaurants, a tiny row of shops, loungeroom/library, a an adventure centre for kids, a spice garden and a clinic. Given that everyone here speaks English, you could forget that you’d flown all the way to Penang at all. I’m hoping that everyone has at least one meal at a hawker stand and has the chance to see more of the amazing sights that Penang has on offer.

Baby and I manage to amuse ourself until lunch time, people watching from the balcony and we both (I’m sure) breathe a sigh of relief when my partner returns to our home for the week safe and sound, and with lunch! He’s actually got relatives from Malaysia who have driven down to spend a few days in Penang with us. They’re determined that I should experience everything the country has to offer, and by that I mean ‘fill me with as much food as humanely possible’. They’re incredibly sweet actually, and go out of their way to make sure that everything’s vego/no dairy and have brought us lunch and dinner in when we’ve had to stay in the hotel to looks after eyes and/or babies. Todays spread (and I do mean spread – when I say they’re determined to feed me EVERYTHING I’m not kidding), is some delicious fried cauliflower, similar to the ejje(sp) from my favourite Lebanese restaurant, some curries, and two types of naan. I eat as much as I can handle and just as I’m ready to burst I discover that there’s cake too. It’s kuih – malaysian cakes that are a cross between dense cake and jelly. There’s a blue one, a brown one, a pink one, a green one and a purple one, with a brown sugar paste to scoop up with each mouthful. Two I don’t love, but the others are delicious and I know that the person who provided them will be thrilled that I’m enjoying food that she loves.

finish our resort day with a swim in the pool and room service. If I can just manage to convince myself that every mosquito on the island is not out to get me, I may in fact get an early night before our final full day here tomorrow.

Travel, with baggage.

It’s that time again! And by that time I mean the second time ever that I have been overseas, and therefore felt the overwhelming urge to lay my thoughts out in some sort of bloggerly format.

We’re in Penang, land of more gauva varieties than I knew existed, beautiful temples, madcap drivers, reclaimed beaches and monkeys that (according to my Lonely Planet) may or may not have rabies.

By we, I mean myself, my partner, and our little six month old. Whose mad idea was it to travel with a six month old anyway? Let me tell you why it is an insane idea before you jump on a plane to any exotic locations yourself.

1. At six months he is crawling. So long plane trips =very restless tiny legs = 3 exhausted travellers arriving in Penang.

2. We’re just transitioning from bassinet (a big one, since I know that might raise a few questions) to a cot. As in, he’d never slept in one before we arrived in the hotel.

3. He gets heat rash. And eczema. And scratches his head (a LOT) when he gets hot. And we’re in Penang. Did I mention that it’s been at least 30 degrees and muggy since we got here?

4. I’m used to whipping out a boob to breastfeed in Melbourne. Where it’s cold, and expected. Here I’m battling with a scarf for modesty (Melbourne gets none of that) and said boob is sticking to my t-shirt because of the above-mentioned humidity as the tiny person thrashes about wildly wondering where his breakfast is and strangers stare at me (or at least I assume they do).

5. EVERYONE wants to touch his face. I’m not a toucher. This feels quite intrusive to me.

6. I’m totally neurotic. So whose idea was it anyway to read the sections of the Lonely Planet that refer to muggings, rabid dogs/cats/monkeys, mosquitos with malaria/dengue fever OR to look at the sign in the airport about child trafficking. I was having conniptions before I even got on the plane.

Madness aside though (although more on travelling with an infant later), Penang is beautiful. We’re staying at a luxury resort, so I do feel 100% tourist as I look out my window onto the three pools, beach, waterslide and countless banana lounges. Everyone is incredibly friendly, I think I’ve said more hello’s to friendly strangers in a week here than I have in the last six months in Melbourne (although there is the face touching to contend with). Despite not eating meat (by choice) or dairy (not by choice) I have eaten some AMAZING food, particularly a giant Indian breakfast spread (which was really just Indian hawker food at breakfast time, but it was delicious, so don’t judge me). Along the beach huge trees (which I’m told are also of Indian origin) burst up out of the sand perfectly illustrating the juxtaposition of jungle and beach that Penang embodies. When I stand on the sand I can see the coastline ghosting out into the water further down, huge boulders jutting out of the ocean and then just behind my shoulder a collection of shacks and huts where locals sell everything from giant fresh green coconuts to reflexology and massage. I have a roundabout argument with a man about how my fear of heights means that I will NOT be going parasailing and then a noise to my left shows off the giant parachutes as someone much braver than me takes off on the tandem adventure above the sea.

There’s a wealth of things to do and explore, and we’ve booked a driver, so have it pretty easy when it comes to getting around. This brings me neatly back to madcap drivers and travelling with infants. The former is self explanatory, I almost miss the hoons in my suburb at home although these drivers seem less aggressive at least, and the latter, well – a word to the wise, figure out how you’ll be getting about with your infant before you leave the country. Mine is strapped to me and then I’m strapped to the car (with a seatbelt). He doesn’t love the situation, particularly on longer drives home in the afternoon, and I’m sporting a raunchy purple hickey on my chest after a failed attempt to feed him while strapped in on the go. Not recommended.

I vowed before we left to stay away from the malaria ridden/dengue fever carrying mosquitos, although I found child safe insect repellent before we left Australia. Day one we set out on our first lot of adventures. We arrive at the Spice Garden. They hand over some spray bottles and tell us to cover up in insect repellent (this is not the child safe/natural tube that I have conveniently left back in the hotel room). I figure it’s fine, so put it on his legs and mine. We start up the mountain the three of us and three Americans who don’t know what lemongrass, turmeric or nutmeg are. I love the tour, our guide is gracious and informative and the steep rainforest is the absolute perfect setting for this demonstration garden and cooking school which showcases spices that I eat all the time but have never seen (mostly) unprocessed in the flesh. There’s free sweet tea halfway up and I’m able to buy a delicious refreshing juice at the top. We finish with a peaceful walk through the ornamental part of the garden and I’m almost able to stop wondering if each itch on my foot is a mosquito bite filled with potential death (although I add ‘these plants here are toxic to babies’ to my list of neuroses). We manage to fit in a tour of the batik factory (which gives me a much greater appreciation for the print) and the butterfly house (which is an absolute winner for babies who love things fluttering magically past their eyes as mine does) before climbing (and by climb I mean drive) the mountain to the tropical fruit farm.

Like the spice garden, the fruit farm is primarily for show, as neither makes enough produce to actually supply anything on a large scale. Think of them as living museums if you like. The tour includes a walk through the gardens with fruit tastings, and a juice and fruit buffet at the end. I’m equal parts sad and relieved to have missed the Durian season, although I smell one and it’s not as bad to me as my partner (who has eaten the fruit) has made out. I reckon I’d give it a go next time anyway. We walk through the gardens trying amazing tropical fruits, some that I recognise from home (guava, dragonfruit, bananas) and some I’ve never seen, including the ‘miracle fruit’ which makes everything taste sweet for the next thirty minutes. I can vouch for this fruit, as our guide (who I suspect takes quite a lot of pleasure in telling tourists to bite into tiny fruit that are like exploding balls of sour) fed us the miracle fruit and then encouraged us to bite into the sour balls again and even they were palatable. Fresh passionfruit, already sweet was explosive following these miracle fruit and frankly I’m surprised that more people haven’t tried to grow them in their backyards. Sadly, the baby cracks it just before the end of the tour and so I am too distracted trying not to make a spectacle of myself in front of the women all wearing full burkas and their husbands to remember to tip him as I was planning to.

Tipping here is confusing, as $1AUD = 3 ringgit. So I feel like a millionaire, but then by the same token everything seems ridiculously expensive (although once I remember to convert back to Australian dollars it actually seems ridiculously cheap, as my $10 ringgit/ $3 definitely legit new raybans can attest to). Anyway, 10 ringgit seems like a stingy tip but my partner assures me it isn’t (which he justifies by explaining just how badly people get paid – I’m not sure if this is a good thing). One thing is for sure – those ringgit will buy you a LOT of food.

We’ve been eating at hawker places, which is what people do unless they really want to stay western in which case the hotel offers spaghetti and meatballs. I like a food adventure and so take my dietary restrictions to the Indian stall, where I can get delicious bowls of dahl and roti for nothing at all, and I choose not to wonder weather the underfed cat with no tail that was nosing around the kebab place has eaten anywhere else. My partner’s goal for the week is to eat his body weight in satays and after the first day I’d say he’s eaten enough to fill up a foot or so, but I guess we’ve still got a few days to go.

The night is not bad (although the people in the next room who had to listen to the baby crying from around 3am might disagree) and we ‘wake’ (I’m kidding, we’ve been awake since three of course) to  the huge Indian banquet I mentioned early. It’s a good start to a day spent wandering through temples, where I ponder at the face that temples, yoga studios and meditation rooms always seem quite cool despite stonking hot weather, and have photos taken of me looking brave/terrified with a python wrapped around my shoulders.

We return to the hotel room where my partner realises that things may be going horribly wrong with his corneal graft and my little boy starts cracking it because he hasn’t slept. I remember suddenly that despite everyone speaking very good english, how far away we are from home, and even though it’s warm and sunny outside I feel a pang for my dog, curled up eight hours away in the rain in Melbourne.

*I read this aloud to said partner as we sat in almost sensory deprivation in our hotel room and he worried that I wasn’t having a good time. In all honesty, I’m having a great time. I’m just a bit neurotic, tired and homesick.

Writing, reading, children.

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It’s been a while. I’ve read some stuff (reviews pending). I’ve written (some). I’ve started studying (something totally new – nutrition!). Oh, and I had a baby.

That was pretty full on, and 3 months later my body still hasn’t quite forgiven me the ordeal, however being a mum is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done. It’s broken everything I thought I could or couldn’t do, and has made me more aware of myself than I ever thought I could be.

I’ll be re-jigging the blog soon – so that there’s a space for tiny people books, for writing, for thinking, for YA stuff, and possibly some space for food thoughts. But for now I’ll just keep plugging stuff up as I write it, and if you feel like reading (or commenting) then I’d love to hear from you!

I’m back to writing a page a day – just random things, as well as devoting some daily time to the much neglected manuscript. So today’s page ‘FLASH FLOOD’.

The flood waters rose but I wasn’t there so I didn’t see them.

It was on Friday night. A storm, a crack of thunder, the steady drum of rain on the roof. I could hear the water splashing over the edges of the shitty gutters when I went to the bathroom and when I cleaned my teeth. I could see flashes of lightening from behind the blinds hanging on the pointless side windows as I lay in bed. But I didn’t see the flood. Not until the next morning anyway. First on facebook. A picture of a flooded bike path that I thought was somewhere else.

Then in person as I walked along the same bike path two days later. The water had gone. You wouldn’t know it had flooded but.

But the reeds (the ones left in the ground) were pushed in one direction. Pointing the way the waters had rushed.

But the flood markers had been ripped out and their concrete stumps pointed uselessly out of the ground.

But there was a tide line of dead grass and scum where the waters had lapped at the playground and the park.

But there were neat piles of reeds around the bases of all of the trees, and a not-so-neat pile on the bench next to the bike path.

But there was a damp overturned couch washed up onto the path.

The Last Supper

Blogland, oh it has been a while. I’m way behind with my blogging and owe you all reviews of the amazing books I’ve been reading lately (among which are “Floundering” – Romy Ash, “Red” – Libby Gleeson and “Preloved” – Shirley Marr. I can only apologise for my slackness and promise that there will be a wealth of new words on here for you to read soon.

In my defence, I’ve been one busy lady – writing (as always), recovering from jetlag (killer), falling in love again with my city now that I see her again with fresh (post holiday) eyes and really, having some much needed discovery time with myself (especially after a rocky 2011) to really feel whole, inspired and confident again.

Tonight was a bittersweet parting of ways at Faber Academy. It feels like only yesterday that I wrote the first post in this series, full of inspiration and wide-eyed excitement. How it has fulfilled and surpassed my expectations.

Three months ago I stepped into a room full of strangers ready to write. It’s quite a personal thing, writing, especially at the first draft stage, and I remember looking around this room, ready to read my first exercise and trusting that the group would be supportive.

They were. And their feedback and support has carried me through these last few months, and pushed me to write more often, more imaginatively, and generally, just better. Our fearless leader, Sally Rippin, guided us through three hours a week, offering advice, wisdom, exercises and encouragement. Tonight we thanked her with cakes and gifts, but really she deserved much more than that for being so so generous with her time and her thoughts. And of course a special thanks to the complete legends at the Onion HQ. Allen & Unwin are so very clearly passionate about nurturing Australian writers and it is inspiring just to be around them. Plus they make delicious cakes for us (and blog about them sometimes here)

Before we cracked open the wine and started stuffing our faces (quite literally), there was one last order of business. The pitch. My new friend, writing buddy and co-conspirator and I had worked on blurbs to pitch over coffee and it was clear that others had put an equal amount of effort into their pitches. The culmination of our work over the months were reduced to a few sentences, packed with promise and read aloud in our enthusiastic (if slightly quivering) voices. The recipient of these pitches was the very lovely Erica Wagner, publisher at A&U and one of the women that Sally had credited as an inspiration in her early years. Even though I’d met Erica a bunch of times before, and knew how warm she was, and even though this was an informal chat about the pieces we were working on, it was with shaky hands that we each raised our papers and read aloud our pitches.

And they were wonderful. To hear all of that work by people who were no longer strangers really marked the moment. I hope to have published copies of them all adorning my shelves very soon.

So that’s it. Well not exactly, as we’ve all got plans to meet and write, plus I’ve just arranged a writers retreat in the Grampians (which will be another blog post for another time my friends). But that’s it for this part at least.

So thanks Sally, for being amazing and thanks to Erica, Elise, Hilary and Faber for having us. It’s been real.

 

The troll bridge

This is likely to be my last travel post as I’m packing up my suitcase and heading home tomorrow. I’m looking forward to real, fresh fruit and vegetables and of course seeing my beloved puppy. Never fear though, as I’ve just finished Floundering by Romy Ash so shall be following this post very shortly (I hope) with a review.

Amid the freestanding cacti and RV salesyards is the Bookman Event Center, home (for the last three days at least) to over 200 derby girls, plus officials and fanatics from around the world. The VRDL All Stars, cream of the Australian crop, have only hours ago skated into 5th place for the tournament, and based on their outstanding performance over the last three days are now ranked 13th in the world (according to Flat Track Stats).

I’ve drifted in and out of the center, watching the VRDL bouts and a few others here and there, but am very much a wanderer among the players and hardcore fans screaming around me.

On the first day I walked to the venue on a terrain made not really for walking. It is only fifteen minutes, if that, from the hotel, but the paths (when there are paths) often lead to a dead end or whittle off into shrubbery and rocks. Although the walk was short, as I approached a bridge that reeked of urine with blankets and broken bottles stuffed on top of the sloping walls, I felt a little like a billygoat approaching a troll.

Trip trap. Trip trap.

Deserted.

Our arrival in Tucson was about as different as an arrival can be. Right now I feel stranded, bleak and I miss San Francisco and my own home like crazy.

It began with what was (for me at least) the flight from hell. After being delayed for over an hour, our flight was downsized (because the previous plane had experienced some technical difficulties). Half of the passengers were asked to ‘volunteer’ to catch a shuttle to Tucson – a 2 hour drive away. We were one of the ‘lucky’ few who got a seat on the new downsized plane. I’m a tense, frightened, crybaby of a flyer at the best of times and as we walked onto a plane and our heads brushed the roof my stomach dropped. We were the last two of the fifty guests awarded seats on this flight and frankly, I wish that I’d caught the shuttle. We sat at the very back, over the engine, where we couldn’t hear a word that the captain or the hostess said, but could hear every bump and change of the old engine. Looking up to the ceiling barely skimming our heads, it wasn’t much of a relief to discover that a long line of gaffer tape ran peeling from the back to the front of the overhead lockers, holding them together. The small plane meant greater turbulence, and although the flight was short even Matt, who loves to fly, was shaken by the end. I was a wreck.

I am in our room now, in a motel whose main office is housed in the back of a Denny’s burger place. Apparently there are no buses to town (so they tell us when we arrive) and from my searches leading up to the trip, I know that we’re a 20 minute drive from whole food shops, tourist attractions and restaurants (that aren’t a Domino’s or a Denny’s). The 20 minute suggested cab ride won’t be cheap, and stocking up once isn’t really an option, since we’re not able to upgrade to a room with a fridge – I don’t know why.

I want to give Tucson a chance, but we’re off to a rocky start, and since this leg isn’t really for travelling I think a lot of it will be spent writing from the hotel room or derby stadium, with some desert trekking to fill in the gaps – if I can figure out how to get there. I can’t help but compare this to San Fran and the differences are as clear as day.

  • Instead of homeless people there are military
  • Where the trees were lush and green they are fat and spike or dry brown and tall, with a mop of weak green punching the air at the very top
  • The houses are not a lively cocktail of colours and shapes, they are different shades of brown (although not very) with sharp square corners and roofs
  • To look around there is no water to speak of.
  • The airport greeted us with a bar rather than an organic cafe and yoga room.
  • Already we’ve driven past three lots filled with campers and caravans, and some have set up permanent residence in the blocks allocated to them.
  • The beauty is in the mountains that circle this expanse of brown and dust. They cut jagged lines across the sky, peaking on a knifes edge, looking impossible to climb, although I’m sure they’re not.
  • People drive pick up trucks with the paint worn and peeling. Although I know that this is probably not the reason, it seems as though the desert has worn them like coarse sandpaper and I wonder if it will wear me the same way.