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


The next Bad Diaries Salon – 6 Dec 2017


This is a free event, and unticketed. Just rock up (but if you could RSVP on the link below that would be great. Also if you could like or follow the page that would be great too.) Love to see you there. I’ll be MC’ing as five writers read from their early terrible diaries, to the theme of #SPIN. I’m expecting cricket, music, maybe political intrigue? Who knows. Five more great readers, on a balmy December night. What more could you hope for? We chat, we eat, we listen. And as the salons are not recorded, you have to be there to hear it live.

Here is a link to the facebook event page.

Here’s a post on how the salon came to be.




Newstead Short Story Tattoo

Is this a type of Queen Anne’s lace? I don’t think so. It was a very wee white flower I haven’t seen before.



Last Wednesday, I went away for a few days to Taradale, to write. It was a productive time, if only because I made some decisions about book 3, wrote a few words, read (one of the new Black Inc Writers on Writers volumes, Erik Jensen on Kate Jennings; and Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, which I found sitting on the shelves in the accommodation. I’d not read it before. This is the beauty of no internet: Reading.)

On Saturday, I went along to the Newstead Short Story Tattoo. The venue was the AMAZING old butter factory: Butterland. Oh what a place. I will think about those rooms, that garden, that aesthetic, for the rest of my life as one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. But I got there early, for the event, so was swept along to the pub by the organiser, Neil Boyack. At the pub, in the garden, Phil Mac was performing. He did a poem/song with a saw and violin bow and the sound that it produced was so haunting and ethereal.


Back at Butterland at 2.30pm, and it was time for The Women Are Talking, including Jenny Valentish (her book Woman of Substances is a really good read. She is a terrific writer and the book is underpinned with citations from evidence-based research; important topics about girls/women, addiction and trauma) and a fabulous poet called Annabel Tellis. Annabel was a powerhouse of talent, humour and depth. Keep an eye out for her, I know she lives down the Great Ocean Road way… what a woman. She recited a poem that personalised Johanna Beach as a character, a shrieking, needy, rage-filled woman. So great.

[Click link to learn more about the space and people who bought and re-enervated Butterland]




Well it was a fabulous night. We all read from our diaries. Because of the rule that we don’t record on the night and try to create that safe, intimate space, I won’t talk about what others read. I will say that all were funny, brilliant and thoughtful. There was some tragedy, delivered in mocking tones as if we were judging our own selves for being so pathetic. Often regret is an emotion that you have *after* whatever it is that provokes it. For me, I wish I could go back to that seventeen-year-old girl and tell her to either forget about the boy in Psychology OR freaking ask him out! Unfortunately, there were to be many more “Psych” I guys over the years. Crushes from afar, agonising and dumb but, apparently, so common. Pages and pages and pages of diary entries.

It was a great night. Reading order was 1. Brooke Davis, 2. Laurie Steed, 3. Annabel Smith 4. Me 5. Tracy Farr. Annabel was a hard act to follow she is HILARIOUS but my reading went very well, every time I looked up I could see wide open faces, broad smiles, even the cool guy up the back. It seems that these diary readings while unique and specific to the individual also present themes that are universal and widely felt. So good. Afterwards, we readers made a little spontaneous huddle, wanting to extend the feeling of having just done something really special. And once people had drifted off, Tracy Farr, Annabel Smith and I went to karaoke. We all had different styles as you would expect, and I’m wondering now whether they correlate in any way to our writing styles… Annabel = super-energetic. And a wonderful voice. Tracy: cool and laid back. And a wonderful voice. Me? I was so tired I got horizontal on the couch. I was intimidated by how good they were but managed to crank out a couple:  back up to Annabel’s Spice Girls is the one I remember. And SexyBack I think.

The plan is for more diaries. We have one *I think* confirmed for Wed 6 December, in Footscray. Stay tuned for details, I will post here closer to the time if anyone is interested. And then next year, would love to put on some more salons.

Find us on facebook @baddiariessalon

There’s no twitter account… I just sometimes go on about it at my personal account @jennyackland

Here are some photos from the night:




  • All poster artwork done by Robert Lukins aka The Maestro. He has his debut novel out next year with UQP. If he writes as well as he photoshops then we are in for a treat.

The Bad Diaries Salon #TRIPS

yellow tripsfreaky trips

We had the second salon last night to the theme of TRIPS. It was held at Abbotsford Convent, at Cam’s Kiosk, which was a great venue for this type of event. We started mingling and chatting at 6.30pm. First reader started a little after 7, and we were finished by about 8.45pm.

It was interesting that – with no previous talk about what types of readings were selected – there was a natural texture and variety. Close attention to detail showed in the writers’ diaries, but also, amazingly, it was clear that even as young diarists, there were already strong voices developed. It was fascinating as a writer – and listener – to hear what people chose to record, how they read (some were more performative, others just straight reading). How much they were inclined to commentate their own reading, how they introduced and set-up the reading, as well as what they chose to reveal.

Again, it was an intimate, unique, beautiful thing and afterwards everyone was elated, as if they had heard/done something really different. Simple rules:

1. read for ten minutes
2. no writing to purpose, all work needs to be from a diary (or equivalent) from the past 3. no recording of the event.

Next week, I’m going to Perth, for the third salon. Stay tuned to hear about that one. I’m looking forward to meeting more fantastic writers and hearing them read from their old diaries.

Here are some photos, plus a group shot of the five readers: Jennifer Down, Jock Serong, Rochelle Siemienowicz, Rose Mulready and Marlee Jane Ward.



The Bad Diaries Salons


This is a new thing, happening in Melbourne and elsewhere. On twitter one day I put the question out whether there were any writers with their old (bad) diaries – you know, the excruciating ones from childhood, teen-hood and early adulthood. Where it was all about the self, the indignities and mistakes. Pages filled with complaints and minutiae and worries and illicit feelings.

The second thing I asked on twitter that day was: And would you be prepared to read from them live?

Well, such a response. People keen to read, people keen to listen. People bemoaning the fact that they had burned their diaries. That following weekend saw people all over the place, including New Zealand, checking garages and attics and cupboards for their old diaries. Kate Forsyth reported back that she has 60 volumes. SIXTY.

This ‘concept’ has an even earlier genesis. When I was preparing for the Writers Under the Influence event that I appeared at, back in June I think it was, I was going through what my influences were. I went back to my teen diaries, wanting to see what I’d been reading (short answer: nothing much noted other than school texts. The Dickenses, the Brontës, the Austens, etc). But I did chance upon a fantastic* week’s entry of me, at 17, completely self-absorbed, writing about being away with the family over the New Year’s period. It was the beginning of my journaling that continued until my baby was born in 1996, and became very sketchy from that point forwards. Apart from a blog I started in 2005 and kept up until I started this one (in 2012 I think it was) I have only really kept travel diaries, but when the family was young, it was all very haphazard. The blogging was good – it was like a journal but didn’t record my daily stuff the same way my diaries had. And it was to a definite audience. However, on that blog I started transcribing some of my diaries, and called them My Bad ’80s Diaries. (You can’t find them, they are back into the draft section of that blog.) But they were really popular. People read them, it was like Dickens novels being serialised each week. I pseudonymed the main players, fudged certain details to keep it as anonymous as possible, and people tuned in to read, the follow the characters, including ‘Patrick’ my first proper boyfriend.

So in a way, all roads have led to this. You google ’80s diaries and it seems many people love the idea. It isn’t a new concept, but no one else is doing it in this way that I can see. There is a resurgence of salon-style gatherings, and how lovely to think that there is a trend back to that, to small intimate gatherings. I love it.

We had our first salon in early July and it was great. We had the theme of MISTAKES and the readers were Jane Rawson, Imbi Neeme, Cassandra Austin, Rosalie Ham and me. A small group of about fifteen gathered around a long table at Willows & Wine in West Melbourne (a lovely little spot that loves books and sells some second hand, and also you can get a glass of wine and cheese board if you like). And we read. Each for about ten minutes, and with informal chat and q&a in between. I read about my first secret marriage, and my daughter was there and it was interesting, intimate, candid. A really special evening.

*fantastic = really bad




We have another two planned for next month – the second one to the theme of TRIPS in Melbourne and one later in September in Perth, to the theme of REGRETS. Readers are confirmed, and  if you think you’d like to come along to Abbotsford, date is Tuesday 19 September. 6.30PM, and readers are Jock Serong, Rose Mulready, Jennifer Down, Rochelle Siemienowicz and Marlee Jane Ward.

Will post more details anon.

Here are some photos from MISTAKES.


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.