A few lists

I’m off tonight to other climes, colder places with snow and ice. Back in a month.

I haven’t prepared any lists – it is list season. But here are a few thoughts, off the top of my head. I find this works best, especially for books because the ones that are really good stick with you. And that’s what we want, don’t we? Not some list that I’ve carried around, where you might think oh, she’s just saying that.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten things and people. Apologies. Have to go and pack. Haven’t proofread. Just scrawling onto the screen. Happy Christmas, New Year and everything else. Bring on 2018. 2017 has been – despite the following list – pretty sucky. Am ready to leave it behind.




  • starting the Bad Diaries Salon and having people – readers and listeners – love it SO MUCH (more below, including photos)
  • meeting new writing friends on twitter and in real life
  • receiving two residencies for next year: beautiful Bundanon and Varuna
  • being ‘in talks’ with a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Australia’s biggest lit agency
  • chairing at Perth Writers Festival, earlier this year (was it really this year? Unbelievable) – two sessions. Got to catch up with my awesome wild salty friend Sarah Drummond (whose dark beautiful book THE SOUND has been listed in the IMPAC Prize.)
  • meeting Amanda Curtin in Perth. She is so so lovely. She gave me macarons and a fan to keep cool at the PWF. Did I say how lovely she is? She is the most lovely.
  • being on panel at Williamstown Literary Festival – what a great festival. Make sure you go next year. What a vibe. I’m finding the smaller festivals are just fantastic. But on that, am of course interested to see what Marieke Hardy does with MWF in 2018.
  • appearing at Writers under the Influence at Buck Mulligan’s whiskey bar in Melbourne and reading – among other things – my KYD piece on unrequited love and Lake Eyre
  • getting a writing studio. I have only been there once. Give me a chance.



  • seeing Peter Carey talk at Word for Word in Gee-Town, as organiser Maryanne calls it. Fantastic festival. A bit under the radar but that will change. Also the gnocchi of my LIFE was discovered in the library cafe. I KNOW!
  • seeing not just George Saunders spreading his light and empathy at Northcote Town Hall in winter I think it was, but also Anne Enright, on the same night. My brain was filled and over-flowing after that one, I tell you.
  • meeting Jane Smiley, buying her a cider and telling her about my horse-riding accident at 7 yo



  • sitting next to Nathan Hill of The Nix fame on a bus and thinking he was Liam Pieper of The Feel-Good Hit of the Year and The Toymaker fame. Making us both embarrassed. Then telling Liam about it later and him laughing. Then telling Nathan I’d told Liam about it and him laughing. Then it turning in on itself and becoming a kind of surreal circular ongoing joke.
  • I’m sure there were other funny moments – probably even funnier. In fact watching Tracy Farr read at the Perth Bad Diaries #REGRETS was super hilarious, as was Laurie Steed‘s reading and Annabel Smith‘s. (Annabel is a natural performer and, just quietly, she and Tracy are amazing karaoke singers too. Just WOW.) (Also, another whisper: Annabel has finished her next project so waiting to hear on what’s next with that.)


BIGGEST COINCIDENCE (of my life) (so far)

  • meeting Jane Smiley’s friend David Francis at the bar (see above story) in Perth and him listening to me tell my horse-riding accident story and the slow-dawning realisation on his part that I was talking about his parents’ place, and then I drove down there a few months later to re-visit the scene of the crime, met his dad, went to the house where my mum had taken me afterwards to look at my leg. She saw the hole and took me to the doctor who sewed it up, twelve stitches.



  • acquitting my Creative Vic grant
  • seeing my cover for LITTLE GODS coming soon to a bookstore near you (soon = next April)
  • ‘passing’ my second structural edit. The first one I failed (as a teacher I know this).
  • that I pushed for my book to be published next year not this. Note bene: Flano (everyone writes ‘Flanno’ but surely it’s a single N?), de K, Garner, Carroll, Laguna, Rawson, Patric, Wright, Miller, and all the others. In 2018? Just me, Timbo and Mr Robert Lukins. Oh and Stephanie Bishop, and SA Jones, and and… no year is an empty year, but pretty sure 2018 won’t have 14 big names or whatever it is. There might be a little bit of oxygen for us emergers.



It’s been a bad year for TV and reading. It has something to do with me being busy and with screens and distraction. Am working on a solution because I really don’t like it. But some TV I’ve watched has been really really good.


  • The Handmaid’s Tale



  • GLOW
  • second season of Top of the Lake. It was like they lost an episode





It’s telling that books are right down here. Below television. Fractured reading best describes the situation. Many started and put down. I tried to stop my knee-jerk book-buying habit, thinking I needed to buy and read all local fiction, all buzzed fiction, everything that people were talking about on twitter. I decided to let things settle. Get some from the library (I did that and returned all pretty much unread). I think it’s because I have been feeling saturated by fiction for a few years now. When I want to read and immerse I go to non-fiction. Also it’s because I’m writing fiction, so there’s something about letting other people’s words and concerns in. These are the books I read, finished with no struggle, and loved:

Bernadette Brennan’s marvellous A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work. I read this slowly. Not just because I wanted to make it last but also because it was so fascinating and insightful I wanted to re-read Garner’s works as they appeared in this book.

Dorothy Porter – The Monkey’s Mask. It was a re-read for ‘book group’. Read it as easily as the first time.

Emma Viskic’s wonderful Resurrection Bay. Great stuff.

Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck. Weird – but not as weird as previous Wrong Turn – and beautiful. I love weird and beautiful. They are a fabulous combination. (This book also gave me intense cover envy. Like INTENSE.)

Joan Didion’s Marching Towards Bethlehem. Don’t need to say anything, just ‘Didion’. Read this after watching the terrific doco made on her by Griffin Dunne – remember him? ’80s movies? The Center Will Not Hold.

I read some Roxanne Gay. I read Lindy West’s Shrill. I read Clem Ford’s Fight Like a Girl. I read Rachel Cusk’s Outline (finally, took about 4 goes) and Transit (one go). Adore her NF, not so sure about her fiction. Read – I think this year – Edward St Aubyn’s Never Mind. Maybe it was last year. Really liked. Really tough and sad.

But the thing that most staggered me, this year, in my reading was just a slip of a short story – 35 pages. Brokeback Mountain. No I hadn’t read it. Yes, I’d seen the movie, several times. But this story. WOW. It made me know more why anti-novelist Ryan O’Neill is always going on about stories. Everything in that story is magnificent. Everything from the movie is in there. It is extraordinary. I am not converted though. I still like long and the immersion of novels. But I’m struggling to read them so maybe it is the key. Short. Concise. Novellas (novellae?) BUT publishers don’t want to publish a novella. Not the main-streamers anyway.



I like to read books that are relevant to my travel. I read Metamorphosis in one sitting (lying) in a bathtub in Prague. So for this trip I’m taking THE BOOK OF DIRT by Bram Presser (met him last week, he was a reader at Bad Diaries #SPIN and he was exactly as I’d imagined. Big, loud, frenetic, funny, warm, smart.) I am expecting the airport bookshop has copies. Also I’m taking Maria Tumarkin’s OTHERLAND: A Journey with my daughter. Because I’ll be travelling with my daughter and we are going to Russia, it all makes perfect sense. I love Maria’s writing, and her thinking, and was interested to see recently someone (memory fails) is publishing a book on her next year?

Am also taking Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov plays to read while away. Will be taking notes – for a future project – and trying trying trying to shed the frenetic psychological spaces of the year and the full-on exhaustion. But looking forward to 2018.

I’ve run out of time, so no space for food lists, weather lists, walking lists (went on some terrific historical walks) or newly found passion lists – mudlarking for one.


BAD DIARIES SALON 1 #MISTAKES Willows & Wine West Melbourne


L to R: Imbi Neeme, JA, Jane Rawson, Rosalie Ham and Cassandra Austin


BAD DIARIES SALON 2 #TRIPS Cam’s Kiosk, Abbotsford Convent Melbourne

L to R: Jennifer Down, Rose Mulready, Marlee Jane Ward, Jock Serong, Rochelle Siemienowicz




L to R: Laurie Steed, Tracy Farr, Brooke Davis, Annabel Smith, JA


BAD DIARIES SALON 4 #SPIN The Night Heron, Footscray Melbourne


L to R: Patrick Allington, Jo Case, Bram Presser, Alice Robinson and Jane Rawson


L to R: Jo Case, Alice Robinson, Jane Rawson, Bram Presser and Patrick Allington


Goodness. A month has passed.

As the year wraps up, my mind starts turning to those lists. I am compiling my own list – in my head for now – and deciding on the categories. Like last year I’ll group things according to not just books, because let’s face it, even for the most hard-core readers – and writers – life does sometimes (only sometimes) include other things. My year has been ‘mixed’ (that’s putting it with a kind, neutral spin on it).

I am deep in my proof pages for the next novel.

I am deep in the planning for when I leave again in just over two weeks, for take 2 to the northern climes.

It is going to be so cold so all my browser windows are open to coats, gloves, faux fur hats. Where to try to have an old-style Christmas in Moscow. Where to have New Year’s drinks in St Petersburg. What to do in a blizzard. Ten things not to do in Russia. Are the cabs safe?

It’s exciting/terrifying.

Did you know there are touch-screen GLOVES?

I’ll post once more before the end of the year and it’ll be my version of the lists.

Until then, here is my recentish reading list:

Tim Winton’s The Boy Behind the Curtain | re-read of Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask | Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem | Grief is the Thing With Feathers (reading now) | Some Tests Wayne Macaulay (reading now) | Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning | Woman of Substances Jenny Valentish | The Imaginary Girlfriend John Irving | The Last Interview Ernest Hemingway | Men Explain Things to Me Rebecca Solnit | Transit and Outline Rachel Cusk | Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come

Some of the above are unfinished. I just can’t settle very well to reading at the moment.

Anyone else have that problem?

Oh, and a reminder: the final Bad Diaries Salon is on next Wednesday 6 December. I know it’s a busy time of year or everyone but it will be GREAT. Readers are: Jane Rawson, Patrick Allington, Bram Presser, Alice Robinson and Jo Case. Details are on the facebook page, or find me on twitter and ask.


bad diaries spin


The structural edit

Some people may not know, but there are three levels or layers of editing a book. Doesn’t matter whether fiction or non-fiction, doesn’t matter what genre. Book-length manuscripts often need what’s called a structural edit.

If you think of macro to micro, the structural edit is the most macro of them. Dealing with things like pace, order of plot elements, a thing called a ‘through-line’, character motivation and so on. Anything, I guess, that is large and over-arching, and not a ‘small fix’. (I put small and fix in inverted commas because they aren’t necessarily ‘small’ at all. But they can be much simpler than a large-scale structural edit, which is also called a ‘substantive edit’ for that very reason.)

My next book has now been through two structural edits. (My first novel had no structural edit. Like a perfectly-formed child, it just slipped from within, with no medical interventions. Sorry.) The first one, I feel I failed. I didn’t do what they wanted or hoped for. This wasn’t due to recalcitrance, but lack of experience. I didn’t know what to do. How to fix or attend to the areas my amazing publishers pointed out as being somewhat lacking or thin or needing attention.

I rushed it, wanting to ‘get it done’. What a mistake. That first attempt took me 6-8 weeks and it was wasted effort and time. Luckily my publisher is a Good Woman (and likes my stuff) so they asked me to do a bit more work. This time (feeling skittish that I hadn’t hit the mark) I devoted 4+ months to it. I went back into the story properly, spent time with it and the characters again. Looking at story-lines, motivations, pace. Pace was the big one.

I sent it off. Waited the agonising weeks, busied myself with other enterprises. And then today got the phone call. The revised manuscript is ‘oh, so gorgeous’ and ‘more beautiful even than the first version, and that was so beautiful’ and ‘it made me cry heaps. On the bus. In front of the men.’

I could not be happier or more relieved.

What a work this is.

And here for the people who are still befuddled by what a structural edit is, the top 10 results on google:

So what is a structural edit exactly?

Ultimate guide: structural editing for your novel

Structural editing: Canberra society of editors (go those good editor people of Canberra)

What is structural editing?

How to do a structural edit, and why your manuscript needs one

The structural edit: recognising what is and isn’t working in your ms

Structural editing | to the last word

What is structural editing? | The Book Show

Structural editing, copy editing and proofreading

Structural editing services Brisbane | [this is a paid service]*


Next, when it comes to it, I will post about the Stage 2 edit: the copy edit.


* I don’t know this service and so can’t comment on quality. These are the first ten google returns.


1. Bendigo Writers Festival is on this weekend.

I’m seeing a stream of tweets in my feed. Looks like some good sessions, but what I’ve really noticed are the staging and flower arrangements.

Gorgeous. One day I’ll get up there for the festival.


2. And on aesthetics, here is an article from today about Hanya Yanagihara’s apartment.

While storage for 12,000 books would be good what I would really love is a Japanese wooden soaking bath.

3. The Melbourne Writers’ Festival is almost upon us.

The program is good, and I am spending a whole Saturday seeing a bunch of stuff. Looking forward to Joyce Carol Oates, Sophie Cunningham and others on walking, Robert Dessaix and others.

4. I have a release month for my next novel, LITTLE GODS. April next year, woo hoo.


John Irving and his writing

This morning I read the essay linked to below, at John Irving’s facebook page and was surprised to see it had been published in 1980. It was the mention of one of my favourite Irving novels that caught my eye, THE WATER METHOD MAN:

It’s been 45 years since John Irving published THE WATER METHOD MAN. While his second novel is regarded as a purely comic tale, and John’s current project is a darker contemplation of life’s disruptive forces, the two novels bear some resemblance to one another.

John Irving is once again experimenting with framed narratives and writing about the evolution of a writer—like Bogus Trumper, one who writes screenplays. This time, we see the main character —Adam Brewster—mature from childhood and early adolescence to become a writer like Garp, or Ruth Cole, or Juan Diego, as if writing were an inevitability given the fateful circumstances of his life. And, along the way, despite the darkness, there are points of humor. John’s work in progress may ultimately be his funniest novel since THE WATER METHOD MAN.

And a link to the essay published all those years ago, 3 BY IRVING by Terrence Des Pres, a text credited by Irving as “the most insightful thesis on his writing.” It contains some fabulous insights into and perspectives on fiction writing, particularly his. How he works, how he circles.

I do feel his fiction went off the boil for me, but maybe I had changed, maybe his work is still as vibrant and compassionate (a word that keeps recurring in the essay) and funny as it ever was. (although I have to say, the character name Bogus Trumper is genius but Adam Brewster? Ordinary).

Anyway, I thought it a fascinating read, this morning. It helped restore the juice that I will need to push on to the next project. It has some great quotes like:


Superior fiction asks three things of the novelist: Vigorous feeling for life as we live it. Then imaginative force, strong enough to subvert and rebuild unhindered. And then–but this is rare and so essential that we might call it the “reality principle” of fiction– shrewd sense to keep the first two locked in stubborn love with each other.


Irving’s grasp on fact is firm, yet not so cramped as to dampen his delight in wild fabulation. To manage this balance with compassion and comic liberty is chief among his strengths. Not fact but fact perceived is fiction’s rightful domain, and Irving has been quick to take this special license to its limit. Rampant invention is central to his art, and one of the finest pleasures to be got from reading his novels resides in the multiplicity of styles, the range of forms and abrupt imaginative turns to be found in each book. Irving’s multiple manner, if I may call it such, his will to come at the world from different directions, is one of the outstanding traits of Garp; but this remarkable flair for confluence–stories inside stories, genres circumventing genres–is already handled with mastery in Irving’s first novel, Setting Free the Bears, published in 1968, and with a freedom almost wanton in The Water-Method Man, which appeared in 1972. Only The 158-Pound Marriage departs from mixed form; published in 1974, it is as lean and concentrated as a mine shaft. But in every case Irving’s habit of originality provokes surprise and enjoyment.

The Man Booker Prize



The winner of the Baileys Prize — The Power by Naomi Alderman — does not appear on this list of likely contenders for the Booker long-list (due to be released tomorrow), written up by someone at The Guardian in the UK. I really like the way each title has a very short snappy descriptor. It is very hard to describe a book in a way that’s interesting and makes a reader want to read. For example, ‘Paul Aster’s one-man-four-lives breeze-block 4-3-2-1.’ The one man bit is obvious, and rather compelling. But what is a breeze-block? It makes me want to know. Does everyone except me know what a breeze-block is? I will away to Google once I’ve finished here.

There are the expected names – Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Colson Whitehead. And George Saunders, for his debut novel which I have, read a few pages of, liked but knew I had to be in a different head space to tackle such a thing.

One book that doesn’t seem to be getting the love-buzz (if we can have a breeze-block we can have love-buzz) is Arundhati Roy’s new novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Unlike most people, I only read her The God of Small Things last year (was it last year? My failed Year of Reading India?) and can remember very well what it was like. I didn’t love it. There were moments of lush, meaningful prose that was absolutely stunning (meaningful in that the imagery made sense; a lot of metaphoric language these days just doesn’t make any sense, as if people have put words together because they sound nice and they are trying to be uniquely creative) but for the most part it pretty much left me cold. It seemed naive. And straight after that I read Sir Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children — a masterpiece — and could see it was clearly inspiration for Roy’s lesser thing.

Other books in the Guardian list? A person could just base their reading on a list like this one:

‘Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13, … a book in many voices, which wonderfully records the human, animal and botanical rhythms of life in an English village.’

‘Mike McCormack’s single-sentence novel of life and death in rural Ireland, Solar Bones.’ Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? A single-sentence novel. Wow. It has to work somewhat surely, to have been published and be suggested in this list. But I can’t imagine it. It’s exciting to see form represented in this way.

‘Northern Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty makes an impressive return with his first novel in 16 years, Midwinter Break, out in August: the small details of an elderly couple’s trip to Amsterdam build into a profound portrait of ageing, alcoholism, faith and love.’ Might be time to re-visit some Irish misery fiction.

But I’m curious how a book that won the Baileys does not even rate a mention in this article. What is that about? I know there’s many books and many contenders. I started reading The Power and didn’t like the prose style / character voices, so didn’t finish. I was interested in the idea but not the execution.

Looking forward to see who makes the list.


Title Author (nationality) (imprint)

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4
th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

from the Man Booker website, along with judges’ comments

Huh. Roy is in there. Huh. And Salman isn’t.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Consider this a place holder for when I get a moment to write something about this TV series based on the book. But first I need to finish the thing. Last night, the TV was ‘playing up’ so we couldn’t watch any. We are up to Episode 7, and while it is an amazing realisation of the story – the aesthetics are staggeringly good, the acting too, the storytelling and dialogue, all tick tick tick – I do have some niggles. I haven’t read the book in probably 30 years and have started re-reading.

More soon/later/sometime.

(The novel seems to have more covers than Lolita.)