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



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.


Willy Lit Fest 2017



It was a good couple of days.

Saturday I saw Leah Kaminsky, Rachael Guy and Andy Jackson talking poetry, the body, chronic illness and disability. It was interesting and moving. All smart people with brilliant things to say, and all gorgeous readers of their own – and other – work.


Then it was my session, The Age of Experience, chaired by Jane Rawson and also featuring Christy Collins and Paul Dalgarno. We talked about how it’s possible to write while old – no, really. We talked about how being an older debut writer is not so bad, in fact it can be really positive and maybe even better/easier? It was a great session with a good audience who asked questions, especially a certain Mr Kakmi.

I don’t have a pic but here we are afterwards, the best one is with my eyes closed. So be it!


I look like I’m just so pleased but a bit tired.

Sunday I was in at the festival early to catch Dmetri Kakmi talking to Richard Cornish about his Year Without Meat (book and actual year). I laughed and I cried and this is the truth. It was a confronting chat about where the meat we eat comes from and whether it’s ethical (answer: probably not). Richard Cornish has a blog here and I’m looking forward to exploring it. I eat meat, I love meat, but I don’t want to eat meat in a way that perpetuates the terrible conditions and killing practices of most commercial meat producers.


After that session I had about half an hour break before starting my two-hour The Editing Hat workshop. It was booked out quite quickly and there were 20 participants, which made it more like a lecture. I had a whiteboard. I had my notes. And I had keen listeners, ranging in age from a Year 9 schoolgirl (so 14, 15 at a pinch) who had already completed 30,000 words of her fantasy novel, to two delightful older sisters. Everyone was interested in writing something – whether for publication or not – and therefore wanting to learn about the editing process, how things work, how it sits within a publishing ‘flow-chart’ and lots of other things. When to stop, when is it too much? When to show to someone else. Who should that someone else be?

The time flew, and everyone seemed happy.

So. Today I had a quiet day with my own manuscript, continuing my structural edit. This Thursday I’ll spend my first day in my new writing studio, which I organised last week. So lucky and feel very happy. It doesn’t have wifi which is a huge attraction.


And that’s about it.


How beautiful have the skies been lately? I remember the skies this time last year, they are stunning.


Willy Literary Festival 2017

I’ve never been to this festival (talk about being a bad Melburnian writer) but it’s on next weekend and I am doing two things and really excited about being there.

First is The Age of Experience on Saturday 17 June, 3.30-4.30pm where Christy Collins, Paul Dalgarno and I talk to Jane Rawson about being debut authors who aint young. Here’s the proper description from the program:

It’s never too late to debut. While many people think ‘young writer’ when they hear ’emerging writer’, Jenny Ackland, Christy Collins and Paul Dalgarno each had their first book published after 35.

Jenny’s first novel, an intriguing mash-up of the great Australian legends of Ned Kelly and Gallipoli called The Secret Son, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2015, when she was 51 years old. Christy Collins won the Viva la Novella prize at 38 years old in 2015 with The End of Seeing, and Paul Dalgarno’s ground-breaking hybrid novel-memoir, And You May Find Yourself, was published by Sleepers when he was 39 years old.

Is the publishing industry too biased toward youth? What are the benefits of publishing once you’ve had some experience under your belt? How do you maintain enthusiasm for writing when life keeps getting in the way? And should you Photoshop the wrinkles out of your author photo?

In this event, Jenny, Christy and Paul talk to Jane Rawson (43 years old when her first novel A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists was finally published) about how to hang in there and not lose heart.

There are still tickets available, here.

Then, on Sunday, I’m facilitating a two-hour workshop on editing, and will bring my mad skills and learning from my time in the Professional Writing & Editing Course at RMIT (I bombed out twice but it wasn’t due to incompetence, I promise!); my work as a sub-editor for a bunch of magazines, my self study and, most importantly, my hands-on learning as a novelist working with a literary agent and the marvellous-wonderful-excellent-kind editors at Allen & Unwin. Can’t wait. It’s sold out though. So maybe next time?

Festival program – have a browse, there are lots of fabulous things on.

Still fishing, but with an update

I can now announce that I am chairing two sessions at the up-coming Perth Writers Festival, which is really really exciting for me and my ‘professional development’. One of the sessions is a panel including Sarah Drummond, and the other is with Liam Pieper. I’m glad I know how to pronounce his surname, and I know it because it was in his small book of essays, Mistakes Were Made. (If you would like to know, it’s peeper not piper.)

So I am still fishing, but in addition to my writing stuff am reading books and making notes and preparing for these two panels. Here are the links to the events in the PWF program. If anyone comes along, please say hi afterwards!

Saltwater Women

Twists of Fate

Full program here


Albany author Sarah Drummond
Award-winning journalist, and novelist, Armando Lucas Correa



Friday wrap, w/ lettuce: Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri and other sundry matters

This, then, is a balm for my own maladies. What a gorgeous little book of amazing writing and characters. I don’t usually like short stories but this came highly recommended. I only started it two nights ago, after putting down The Lowland 30 or so pages in (finding I just really didn’t want to be reading more about independence and partition, and a story about brothers – not just now – maybe later) and I realise now this challenge will mean that I skip around a bit, pick things up and put them down if they aren’t grabbing me quickly enough.

For the first time for ages I went to bed last night looking forward to reading. It is not a good situation if I am not looking forward to reading. It is my biggest pleasure in life.

So, a big exhalation and onwards…

interpreter of maladies jhumpa lahiri

In other news, I have had a gander at the Sydney Writers Festival headline people and was tempted to just go go go, BUT am not going to, at this stage anyway. if I htink about the money I spend I would rather spend it on Ubud sometime (I’ve already had a tempting voice in my ear from someone I met there last year: Come, she said. Argggh, I replied.) but also, next year I’m going to be at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Perth for 2 weeks, just before the Perth Writers Festival, and after that will go to the festival, so I need to spread them out. But I do want to go and see the Franzen talking to Jonathan Green in Melbourne, because last time J-Franz was here, I had a ticket and didn’t go, because it was a rainy Friday night and I was sick. And I regretted not making myself go. So this time, I will, I will.


I confess I’m getting a little over festivals? (Blasphemous to even say.) For me, there isn’t enough literature, not enough writers of high calibre and reputation talking about their work. I’m not interested in journalists, celebrities and their memoirs, international digital media types (although I really liked seeing Maria Popova when she was out here at the MWF.) I get why festivals have been opened up more, to appeal to a wider group of people, and to try to add glossy people to the grey-heads who have traditionally been ticket buyers.

But. There’s not enough about literature, and serious stuff: the so-called highbrow stuff. There, I’ve said it.

There was recently (I  mean over a few months) an interesting daisy-chain of articles that kind of started with publisher Ivor Indyk voicing the idea, that literary prizes (and festivals by implication) have moved towards the ‘middle-brow’ a concept that lots of people have different responses to and definitions for. It seems that middle-brow somehow equates to popular appeal and authors do take it as an insult.

Ivor started the slow-burning kerfuffle (or maybe just continued it, who knows?) with his Sydney Review of Books article in September last year:

The Cult of the Middlebrow

It was followed (not necessarily followed-up) by Beth Driscoll writing about middle-brow fiction in another SRB article in October:

Could Not Put it Down

After that, the authors of the three novels mentioned in Driscoll’s article got together for a lengthy, articulate and forceful reply, which SRB (no doubt gleefully) published later the same month:

As One in Rejecting the Label ‘Middlebrow’

Everybody seemed to draw breath for a month or so, and then it was Jonno Revanche* in Kill Your Darlings writing about the ‘Melbourne voice’ and how he feels shut out of things:

Right Place, Right Time: How the Melbourne Voice shuts writers out

So. It was all interesting reading, and I read along as things unfurled. Things settled, maybe, people licked their wounds (sorry) but then, something else came into the mix, described somewhere as an ‘essay-bomb’: an article by Luke Carman in Meanjin, accusing arts administrators of being zombie-like, vampyric, and – even worse – ‘anti-artists’. The response this provoked is reflected (kind of) in a Googling of ‘Luke Carman’ and you get ‘shitfight’ as the second result. Here is the essay. It’s a long read and is styled in a peculiar, deliberate way. I had to read it three times to drill down :

Getting Square in a Jerking Circle

After that, there were a few responses online, with most people reacting negatively to Carman’s piece but Emmett Stinson’s response in Overland was one of the better ones:

Vulgar Rhetoric

I also really liked Boiling the Pot by Ellena Savage printed in the Lifted Brow, and of course it spilled into the MSM, with articles in The Guardian and The Australian.

I’m not putting all these links here to generate argument, or even discussion really, because I don’t know that my readers will be that interested in this. It’s more for me collating the stream into one place and to record the stoush which I think will be ongoing.

Ivor Indyk (whose company Giramondo publishes non-mainstream – read probably non-‘popular’ or ‘middlebrow’ fiction) has written a series of interesting articles for Sydney Review of Books.

On the Stella Prize

On Novelists and Poets 

On colouring books for adults


*I’m not implying Jonno’s article was part of the daisy-chain in any other way that timing. But he was picked up and carried along because Carman referenced him (along with everyone else).

Back from my fishing trip aka The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2015

It was really good and while the added six days were kind of not good, they were also good. Good.

Here are some photos from my launch, which was held at the divine Sri Ratih Cottages in Ubud, which was also where I stayed.

The Secret Son gets its own stand
The Secret Son gets its own stand
Jen & Athi
Jen & Athi
Pre-launch position in shop
Pre-launch position in shop
Answering one of Athi Kokonis's excellent questions
Answering one of Athi Kokonis’s excellent questions
Signing books afterwards
Signing books afterwards
spot the poodle with expat Steve who lives in Ubud
spot the poodle
Sri Ratih welcome Marigolds
Sri Ratih welcome Marigolds
A good crowd
A good crowd
Wonderful Sri Ratih staff
Wonderful Sri Ratih staff

It was really fun doing a launch with a different format. First, Athi Kokonis introduced me and the book. Then we began a kind of author Q&A. I’d told her I didn’t want to know what the questions would be, so my answers would be more natural. It worked well. I did three short readings – one from James’s narrative (the historical storyline); one from Cem’s (the contemporary) and one from Berna, the old woman in the village who sees things that others can’t.

We had audience questions afterwards, and there were quite a few, which was really good too. Nothing worse than no one’s hand going up.

Upcoming will be some posts on sessions I went to at the festival, including the Chigozie Obioma low-down.


I was due to fly home Tuesday 3 November and only got back this morning. It was a bit hairy taking off from Denpasar. The sun had set, a fiery ball of orange, and there was an eerie haze. But it was fine. Flew to Jakarta and from there to Melbourne. Funnily, I’d booked Garuda because last time there was a volcanic ash problem (in July this year), Garuda was the airline that kept flying, when Virgin and Jetstar cancelled. But I was too smart for my own good, because when I was rescheduled to fly out Thursday 5 November, I found I was too nervous, and rebooked for last night. By the time yesterday came around, Garuda had been flying and Air Asia as well, so I felt more comfortable. I will say though that I got about four more massages, six more margaritas and ten more swims in during the extra time spent. And got to know other stranded people which was the best thing about being stuck.


While away I read most of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It is the most amazing book, and I really really mean AMAZING. Super heavy going if you can’t do confronting dark stuff. Several times I got teary. Several other times I folded the page to mark a particularly spectacular expression of interiority. I read things I have never read in a book before. I will return to this in a not-review BUT what I want to say just now is that lying by the pool, my eye skipped ahead and caught a word that was so unexpected, so shocking, so devastating that I snapped the book shut with a cry of alarm, put my sarong over my head and wept. Put the book mark in, closed it, and have not read any more for over a week now. I will finish it but I am girding myself. I can’t believe it has had this effect on me, and once I’m finished I really will need to debrief. Stunning.


So what did I read while I wasn’t finishing A Little Life? My friend had a copy of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. Now if you go to my Goodreads page, youll see I gave this book one star.’I read about half, remember suffering my way through it, until putting it aside. Well. I started from the beginning and I have no idea why I didn’t like it because now I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Whatever bothered me seems to have evaporated. So I will be re-starring it, and I think I need to apologise to all the lovers of this book out there, Kate in Kew is one. I get it. I get it. I get it. And I see the imagery and symbolism now! So glad I went back to it (although I have one reservation. I’m within the last 70 pages I think now, and it’s a little slackened for me, and in the tying up of all the threads I’m seeing a bit of overwrought writing. But before that, brilliant.)


At Jakarta Airport I bought Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and consumed it on the flight to Melbourne. Have almost finished it as well, and again, many pages dog-eared to mark worthy thoughts or passages. So much resonance for me in this book, especially about curiosity, and the connection between happiness and living a creative life, whatever that means.

So I have three books which I will finish over the next week or sooner.

And then, and then. I have to read The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rys for book club, and I also have to do a 5 books that influenced me for a website author thingy, including one from childhood. What 5 would you pick?