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


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.

On rejections

Michael Hauge and Larry Brooks on story engineering


I’m writing this mainly I guess for any writers who might be reading. Rejections (note the plural) are part of the game. And it is a game, not a fun game or one of manipulation, but of patience, perseverance and professionalism. Another thing: it’s a long game.

I wrote about rejection here, for author Lee Kofman, and how me submitting a terribly-written travel article back in 1990 (and getting rightly rejected – and in retrospect it was a LOVELY ‘No’ letter, I have the feeling it came from Jonathan Green) meant that I didn’t submit anything for years. I didn’t stop writing, I’m not that precious or thin-skinned, but If I’d known then what I know now, a slow-dawning awareness that started building once I started writing seriously with a view to publication from 2008 onwards, I would have seen that not only was that piece a draft, wholly unworked and not worthy of appearance outside of my diary pages, rejection does not mean you are shit.

Now, as I am sitting with a completed second novel manuscript, the first draft of a third ready for next-stage development, and fourth in its early stages, I am so glad that not only was that pathetic travel piece denied its place in the canon lol, but also that the first few submissions I made to literary journals were nixed as well. I know now that my novels need a long, long time in the oven, with the preparation of them like one of those crazy recipes that have so many ingredients you almost decide not to cook the bloody thing, but then you think, well, give it a whirl, it’s the weekend, I’ve got the whole day, and you make the hugest mess of the kitchen, use every pot and pan, and you kind of enjoy it but kind of think ‘why am I even doing this?’ And it took me a while to realise that if  I can manage my impatience by thinking ‘the thing will improve, take your time, this is nowhere near finished’ and resist rushing it to readers, an agent, the publisher, then the pressure comes off a bit.

Another thing that helped me with my manuscript development is the idea of a conscious structure and deliberate story points. There are a bunch of people who have written about these (American screenwriting guru Syd Field; Michael Hauge; Larry Brooks) in ways that are clear and helpful. I consider myself a literary fiction writer, but reasoned there was no reason why I couldn’t also incorporate some of these dudes’ systems. (And the story points don’t have to be big obvious clunky ones; they can be subtle shifts, emotional changes or realisations).  It seems there is a move happening, driven by readers, booksellers and therefore publishers, away from novels that are ‘only’ beautifully written, interior and character-driven (all such hard things to do well in the first place) to books that have all those elements but with extra elements of storytelling that publishers believe will sell the novel to larger numbers of readers (cross-over books). I wonder whether this is because of long-form television and how people are accessing their preferred narratives. It’s also possibly because of how we are distracted by our phones and cannot settle to fiction in the way we used to. (Noam Chomsky talks of the perfect dyad between a man and his television set. I think it’s true, but between a human and their phone.)

Wonderful woman and agent Virginia Lloyd (who represented my first novel and sold it to Allen and Unwin two years ago – two years ago on Melbourne Cup Day it was acquired), has written about attracting the attention of a publisher here:

Advice on how to attract a publisher

Virginia is super professional and smart, lovely to deal with and has extensive experience – she worked as an in-house editor for PanMac before setting up as a literary agent, in Brooklyn NYC where I met her in a very hip bar, and now in Sydney. She represents some authors, as well as offering editorial services: mentoring/coaching; manuscript assessments; editorial and structural development.  You can read more about her services here. While she no longer represents my work, occasionally I send a (panicked) email to her and she talks me down, and for people who might feel they need some help and are happy to pay*, I can’t recommend her highly enough. Like I said above, it’s a tough business and it is important to try to build a group of people who will champion your work, be in your corner, make you feel supported to keep going. Much of it is about endurance and not cracking under the strain, not giving up.

Finally, I came across this article about the reasons a manuscript gets rejected by agents, written by an agent’s reader (an agent is often the first person a writer will be submitting their novel manuscript too, although in Australia they are harder to get than a publisher it seems!)

I’d love to know if any writers are reading. I know I have some readers who are readers, and as I still work out what I want to do with this space, in terms of blogging, I’d love to know what people would like to read about. It’s clear my book ‘not-reviews’ are sporadic at best. I do the 6 Degrees posts, and occasionally share articles of interest I come across. It’s a bit of a mess, really, but I guess it’s okay.


* Virginia is very clear on her website about how the fee structures work, in terms of literary representation (where there is no upfront fee) and other services. A reputable literary agent will never ask for money upfront, or to take on a client. Lit agenting is done on spec, and sometimes, if you are lucky, they will put in a lot of unpaid work with you to develop the manuscript before approaching publishers with it. This is what happened with me and Virginia, on not one but two novel manuscripts. You can see why I love her so much, she stuck with me and believed in me, even though it took two years to get a book contract.

Elizabeth Harrower talks to her publisher, Text’s Michael Heyward, at the Melbourne Writers Festival

But first, a little craftily-gleaned* behind-the-scenes info. Elizabeth flew down to Melbourne accompanied by a publicist from Text, who had helped her pack her suitcase, in her little flat in Sydney, taken her to the airport, and was staying in a room nearby in Melbourne. It’s stories like this that add to the mystique of Elizabeth Harrower, who to me seems to be a brilliant writer who turned her back on the publishing world, for reasons unknown. I’d wondered why this woman, friend of Patrick White and Christina Stead, a writer who it seems stopped writing in her prime when she could have gone on and become a name as recognised as those other two, just stopped. Did she stop writing altogether? Was it because of lack of attention or too much attention? These were the questions I had. While I didn’t find out whether she stopped writing during that time, or indeed whether she has written anything new, I did learn why she stopped publishing, or being published.

Here are some of the gems from the session on the last Sunday of the festival:

‘Writers should surge out into the world not huddle in groups like plumbers.’
[We tittered at that, sitting there with our tool belts and bum cracks spilling out of low-rise jeans. But that was the first thing that she said that resonated with me. So I’m going to surge a bit more and huddle a bit less because I agree with her.]

She didn’t have many writer friends, back in the day.
[Oh how different it must have been but not in a good way. Would have been so isolating? But you wouldn’t have had the static and buzz of all the connections and links? Is it easier to write, or harder, when immersed in ‘the world’?]

“Down in the City” – a friend said there’s one sentence in there that *says it all*.
[Elizabeth wouldn’t say what it was… Said a writer friend picked it instantly. (Was it Patrick White?? I wanted to stand up and call out…]

She was friends with Christina Stead. ‘Oh yes. We met and we liked each other.’ Harrower hadn’t read any Australian writers, but had read ‘the whole Sydney city library A-Z, fiction and non-fiction’.

“Three novels in three years… What fun, how lucky I was.’

Didn’t know any writers ‘just me and my typewriter really.’

The Sydney Morning Herald ‘always loved her’, always had good reviews by total strangers. ‘I didn’t want anyone to do me any favours.’

On writing: ‘It’s strenuous; you give up the best of yourself.’

There was also a story about Patrick White being asked to comment on Elizabeth’s work and she was furious they’d (publisher? publicist?) asked him, and at the same time there was another writer Elizabeth knew whose face showed the terror that White might give her work a boost. White gave a comment in due course which was ‘positive but muted’. Once it came through, the other writer’s face showed relief (that it was muted). ‘Don’t give yourself away like that,’ Elizabeth thought. (She also said White shouted at her a lot. I wonder what about, she didn’t say. Was it because she stopped writing? Who knows, but it’s things like this that intrigue me. One impression I got of Harrower was that if she didn’t want to talk about something, she was clear about it, and Heyward was 100% respectful of her boundaries.)

Heyward asked the question: ‘what were your hopes for the books?’

‘I wanted some people to read the books and understand them. And for them to mean something to people. To know what I know. Local or overseas success, I never thought about it.’

Possibly my favourite quotation: ‘I notice too much. People like me can be dangerous, we notice too much.’ [This makes me want to rub my hands together and cackle.]

Also: ‘Lots of waiting in writing you sit at the typewriter and wait, if you wait long enough you know things. It’s very pleasurable.’

And why did she withdraw In Certain Circles from her publisher in the early ’70s? Because they wanted her to do more work on it, or said it couldn’t be published in the form it was in. ‘You don’t like me so I don’t like you,’ she said about her decision to withdraw the manuscript. So how great is it that Michael Heyward – who is clearly a massive fan and admirer of the woman and her work – has brought her books back to  the Australian publishing world. It’s more than a labour of love, it’s something like the honouring of a voice who he felt needed to be introduced to contemporary readers.

I have only read The Watchtower which I liked very much. But what I liked even more was how she spoke of the pleasure, the joy of writing. It was refreshing and inspiring.



* not really. Someone just told me.

Reading update


How beautiful is this image? It’s a photograph by Chris Friel, you can see his work here. I’m thinking this is what I have in my head when I think about my next book.


Well, I kind of snapped last night and started reading Karl Ove’s fifth book which I’ve had sitting on shelf since earlier this year, when I kind of snapped and bought it.

But I have almost finished Interpreter of Maladies. And have really loved it.

I will finish Buddha of Suburbia. And I will read more from my list, the year is still new.

I cheated with – true confessions – James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider (it’s a long story, you’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s the first one of his I’ve ever read, and will likely be the last. I didn’t think it could be as god-awful as everyone says. But it was.) Part of the reason is I’m doing his Masterclass online (a series of short videos where he expounds on different aspects of writing. Costs USD $90 and is kind of helpful. Doesn’t matter what you write, the principles of storytelling are common across all genres.)

So why Knausgaaard right now? Because last night I watched a 2014 interview he did with Andrew O’Hagan, you can watch it here. And it reminded me of how wonderful it is to immerse myself in his books, and I’d read that book 5 is concerned with him going to a writer’s academy in continuation of his ‘coming to art’ process and I thought to myself: you’re the one who’s put these ridiculous constraints on your reading, who will care if you read Karl Ove?

If nothing else, the challenge has taught me not to set such stringent challenges for myself, because all that happens is I end up feeling I’m doing the wrong thing. Who needs that in life, as a self-imposed thing, when there are all the external things that can make you feel like that?

But I’m not going to crack and just start buying books all over the place. I’m still going to refuse myself the ones I want – Maestra, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, Preparation for the Next Life, the rest of the Ferrantes, and others – until next year.


I’m super annoyed because I have a ticket to Hanya Yanigahara who will be talking at a Wheeler Centre event next month but I’ve managed to book a work thing that night, where I’ll be speaking at a school in Frankston. If anyone wants the ticket please let me know and I can email it to you. I don’t want payment would just be good for the ticket to be used. But I’m okay for Jonathan Franzen later the same week.


I’m up to the Paper stage of Mari Kondo’s tidying method and it’s proving harder than clothes or books. It’s sucking the life out of me, seriously.


How is this glorious Melbourne weather?






Amazon. How does it work?

That’s probably more of a rhetorical question, because I could find out myself. BUT, I was alerted last night by a writer friend that my book was on the Top 100 most popular for kindle (for Australia). I checked, it was. It seems to be going up and down a bit and has a red arrow meaning ON THE WAY DOWN, but I’ll track its progress from now.

You can see other books and their positions on the lists. I never checked it out before, I’ve been looking at Goodreads and neglecting other spots. Some authors say never read your reviews, don’t look at GR, for it will crush you. But I can handle it. I am uncrushable. If you are an author wanting to be published, you have likely experienced years of rejections in many forms. You need to have a thick skin being in this game, and anyway, I like to know. I know not everyone will love my book or even like it, which is why now that I’m getting some emails from readers through this website, it’s a fantastic thing to feel as if I’m developing a readership of people who like my stuff. Thanks to those people! Also there have been some book bloggers and reviewers who have given my book truly great reviews and I want to thank them here. Firstly, Luke May at Readings and Lisa Hill at ANZLitLovers, for their early positive reviews which were so important for my confidence and entry into the world as a debut author. And especial thanks go to the following, for their interest and wonderful reviews of my novel which is the most encouraging thing: Michelle McLaren at Newton Review of Books; Julianne Negri aka Wayward Fancy on GR and for the Australian Women Writers Challenge; Ashleigh at The Book Muse; Melissa Sargent (for doing a review and having me on her blog for a Q&A); Miriam at Create, Hope, Inspire; Anne Fussell on her website Still Not Fussed, and RitaSkeeter on Goodreads. Thanks also to Amanda Curtin for hosting me on her website for an author Q&A, as well as Culture Street for inviting me on to talk about 5 Books of Influence, which was fun. Naomi Simson wrote about me and my book on her Linked In Influencer page it got a bunch of hits, and I also want to thank other reviewers in various book pages: Peter Pierce (The Australian), Derek Parker (The Spectator UK and Quadrant) (love those two guys particularly), Katerina Bryant (Australian Book Review), and yes, even Cameron Woodhead in The Age and Lou Heinrich in The Big Issue for their small negative responses.

Well, that was all a bit Oscarish.

So, The Secret Son (these five minutes, anyway) is sitting at #44 for PAID kindles (as opposed to free) and at #3 for historical fiction in a field that has tens of thousands of titles and I’m like:


I don’t know how this has happened but maybe my book is going gangbusters in the Kindle world? It’s possible, yes?


5 influential books

Culture Street asked me to write about five books that influenced me, including one from childhood. This was a fantastic exercise as it made me really think hard about which books – among many many – had some sort of influence that I could trace. I had 100 words limit to spend on each, they chose the book jackets and put together the bio, and here’s the result:

Five Books of Influence

These would be the covers I’d choose, just FYI:

garp best_WH thegoldfinch-215x330 lolita-201x330 Horton_hatches_the_egg

So, three out of five aint bad.