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Adelaide’s Writers’ Week kicks off this Saturday with an impressive program full of all things literary, so there’ll be something for everyone.

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Held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, there’ll be a plethora of poets, novelists, playwrights, historians, biographers and memoirists, all genres to captivate and challenge the crowd.  Notable events are; Mike Ladd chatting about his recent collection of poetry, Invisible Mending, published by Wakefield Press; an interview with Ken Bolton, ‘a laconic and discursive poet’, aswell as art critic, editor and publisher; and the coveted poetry readings presented by Peter Goldsworthy, with a stunning line-up.

Jan Owen and Cath Kenneally, stalwarts of the South Australian poetry scene, are joined by Steve Brock, Jules Leigh Koch, Louise Nicholas and Dominic Symes.  Jules and Louise I know well and are incredibly talented poets; Jan I’m learning an invaluable amount from through her monthly workshops; Cath and Steve I’m still relatively new to their work; and Dominic I believe is an up and coming poet, one to watch.

Unfortunately, however, I’ll be en route to New Zealand to explore the South Island so will miss the entire week! Note to self for next time – avoid holidays in March.

I was invited to the launch by Rachael Mead of Mike Ladd’s new book from Wakefield Press, Invisible Mending. It was held at the publishers down a pretty street in Mile End in what’s known fondly as ‘The Laneway’. I’d never been there so was eager to look around, buy some books and of course, learn about Mike’s new work.

Michael Bollen, who runs the local press, MC’d the event inviting Rachael up who did, as always, an exquisite introduction of Mike’s new book. Rachael referred to Mike as ‘loved and lauded’, stating this was his 9th book with his first collection being published at the tender age of 25 called The crack in the crib part of the Friendly Street Poets series.  Rachael explained how this new collection draws many of Mike’s past threads together in a series of non-fiction pieces, a combination of poetry, prose and photos, saying ‘it’s not easy, this being human’. What I love about Rachael is her ability to really connect with the material she’s launching (having experienced this firsthand!) and to share new insights into the poet’s work.

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Mike only read three pieces, beginning with a request, ‘Learn to Speak the Language’, which he recited from memory. This was a humorous piece, an answer to a question posed by a young man Mike encountered on a bus who, on overhearing ‘two women chatting in Punjabi’, states ‘If you come to this country / you should learn to speak the language.’ And so off goes Mike starting with ‘Yeah. You’re right…So how’s your Kaurna?’ (the native language of the Adelaide Plains and one of 150 Indigenous languages still spoken today) before reeling off a number of other Indigenous languages the young guy should try. This was a striking way to highlight ignorance, for Australia, its heritage and culture, and quite rightly received a round of applause.

Mike then shared a poem called ‘Adelaide’, a wonderful finite description of the city, a promotion of sorts – ‘We always have to talk you up, / get your festival clothes on’, ‘I like you best in November / when you spill buckets of jacaranda’ and when it rains after our infamous heat there are ‘chuckles in the gutter / and applause from the rooftops’. My favourite part is where Mike describes the city view from Windy Point (which I discovered only for the first time recently for my birthday dinner) where ‘It’s better up here than Los Angeles, / that hot glitter, all the way to the Gulf’, just gorgeous.

Mike finished with prose, ‘A Country Wedding’, the last piece in the book and one that contains the title. Here we find Mike in Queensland for his nephew’s wedding ‘Now a two-hour flight, it was once a three-day journey, when the children were small.’ The mobile phone plays a significant part, where Mike tries to justify his absence of one – ‘I am not the only one on the planet without a mobile phone’. What stands out for me here is Mike’s sense of place when describing the creek where ‘An hour before, the groom was getting his hair cut…holding a smoke and a cup of tea, like a last man’s wish.’ This is the image I was left with – ‘The she-oaks still look ravaged, as if attacked by blunt axes. But the firetail finches have returned, and the rainbow bee-eaters. There is invisible mending here all around me.’

This is an outstanding book, rich in every way, from it’s sometimes poignant subject matter, in particular Mike’s pieces on his father, to the mediums they’re expressed in. And the cover image was also there in the flesh, literally, a painstaking embroidery of a thumbprint by his multidisciplinary artist partner, Cathy Brooks, which I believe went up for sale after. So I will end by saying this – hats off to you Mike for another stunning collection, every page holds treasure.

I have just finished reading a beautifully written book called Cleanskin by Gay Lynch.

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This is Gay’s first novel, published by Wakefield Press, and I remember Gay reading an extract from it at a Lee Marvin, which was so captivating it enticed me to buy it.

The protagonist is Madeleine who, along with four other women, attends a playgroup run by one of them where they offload their lives to one another, until one of them starts an illicit affair after which everything unravels.

The story is based in Port Lincoln, and I think what I particularly loved was the sea as a point of reference throughout and indeed in Madeleine’s life, a respite that keeps pulling and calling. In the extract below, Madeleine is driving home from the airport having collected her parents for a short stay, one she has not been looking forward to:

“As she swept around the last curves, the water swathed the coastline like grey silk moving over an undulating body. Sun burst between the clouds, spilling silver on the inky shales and the soft grey pebbles in tiny coves. Dark cloud shadows chased across the shallows. Bobbing in a red dingy, a rounded back shrugged and bent over a fishing chore.”

The picture this paints is a rich and vivid one, but I think what makes it so is the almost lyrical language used, the eloquent words carefully chosen to depict each aspect, spellbinding. Read it aloud; it sings. And this is just one of the many wonderful descriptions you’ll find in this book.

I won’t say anything more as a friend wants to borrow it, so don’t want to give too much away. Just buy it, read it and fall in love.

The launch of the Spring 2015 series of Southern-Land Poets from Garron Publishing took place last night at the Halifax Café. These are exquisite chapbooks from some big names – Rob Walker, Jelena Dinic, Aidan Coleman, Rachael Mead and David Ades – each a beautifully presented snapshot of their work.

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Gary McRae, founder of Garron Publishing, hosted the event and began by thanking Sharon Kernot, assistant at the independent press and a writer herself (and who also did a wonderful job of selling the chapbooks) for her meticulous work and commitment, and then Michael Bollen of Wakefield Press for his continued support of the series.

So first up was Rob Walker reading from Polices & Procedures.

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Now working in HR, I can so relate to this title and was looking forward to Rob sharing some of its poems. He began with the title poem, a short piece about hindsight in his teaching career, followed by ‘A drive to work’ ‘on a day when every dewdrop traps a rainbow’, a gorgeous image. ‘Time of your life’ was next, which captured the heady days of youth and then a few poems relating to Rob’s period of bad health, ‘Resolution / D-generation’, ‘Radiology’, and ‘Coming off the tramadol’, with some haunting lines; ‘I am an imperfect copy of myself’, ‘internal astrology’ and ‘racing through a black espresso night’, taking us to where he has been and come back from

Next up was the lovely Jelena Dinic with her chapbook Buttons on my Dress.

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Jelena began with ‘The Last Summer’, a wonderful poem about growing up with memories of ‘before’ ending with the stunning line ‘I learn to drink from the bottle and nothing tastes the same’. Her next poem ‘Crossing borders’ alluded to a time of discontent in former Yugoslavia from where she hails, by addressing a mother about her’ three sons the most wanted’ and how to keep them safe. Having studied art history as part of my degree I loved Jelena’s ‘Portrait of Olympia the Prostitute’ and once again could picture the ‘unattainable stretching herself like history resilient to the centuries’, an elegant comparison. I’ve never heard Jelena read before; she was captivating.

Aidan Coleman was up next just before the break reading from Cartoon Snow.

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Like Rob, Aidan opened with the title poem, which gave us an almost magical frozen land ‘where a blue night is snowing to itself, shushing the owl-wide forest’. The next two I recognised from Aidan’s Lee Marvin reading – ‘Primary’ and ‘Barbarian Studies’ – in the first ‘the teacher chastens gently in lowercase green’ and in the second, ‘kids jostle, shove and swing like wrecking balls’. Aidan finished his set with ‘Ham Radio’, a poem about his father working ‘the difficult braille of a circuit board’…‘until a voice comes clean of static, to talk in a clear bubble’.

Then we had a break where I noted some faces in the crowd – Mike Ladd, Peter Goldsworthy, Louise Nicholas, Jill Jones, Jennifer Liston, Jules Leigh Koch, David Mortimer, Mike Hopkins, Martin Christmas – and a crowd it was, the place was packed.

Rachael, closely photographed by doting husband Andrew Noble, who has just finished building her a writer’s cottage (yes you read that right, I want one!), read from The Quiet Blue World.

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Rachael shared a poem she hadn’t before called ‘White Blues’ about seeing Jack White at Federation Hall a few years ago. This longer piece was loaded with incredible imagery before the concert – ‘In Chinatown, customers with chopsticks lean over steaming bowls like fine-beaked birds dipping into sweet cups of magnolia’, a ‘man’s face is a crumpled tissue of experience’ – and then once inside, they are ‘driven to use (their) bodies as instruments as (they) open up’. Rachael’s last poem, ‘What the fire didn’t touch’, was about her parent’s house in a bush fire, beginning with ‘Mum, who was never late a day in her life, woke up early for her death and missed it’ to the stunning last line of finding her childhood books with ‘the years waiting like pressed flowers between the pages’.

David Ades, skyping in from Pittsburgh at 4:30 in the morning (now that’s dedication!), completed the line-up by reading from his chapbook Only the Questions are Eternal.

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David also shared the title poem from his collection, which compared the relentlessness of questions to baby birds ‘chirruping in their nests, pointed beaks raised upwards, insistent’. His next poem, ‘The bridge I must walk across’ was very apt considering the ongoing refugee crisis, culminating in the provocative stanza ‘I am becoming a stranger inside my own skin, my children becoming the bridge I must walk across’. David’s final poem, ‘A father’s call’ stems from becoming a dad unexpectedly, and describes how over the years he searched for his yet-to-be-born children – ‘I flung my call at your absence’ – a very touching piece.

And so the new series had been well and truly launched in what will be a memorable evening, and with the chapbooks retailing at a mere $7 each, I felt it only right to complete my set (adding to Rachael’s and Rob’s), because they really are an amazing read.

So I thought I’d go along this year to see what it’s all about. Below are some highlights. Know now, this is long!

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Opening night

Mayor Gillian Aldridge opened the festival at the Mawson Lakes Centre, where they were thrilled to have secured former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to talk about her recently published biography My Story published by Random House. Amazingly Julia wrote this in 6 weeks, explaining that she wanted to write it as soon as possible to use the immediacy of memory. There are a few messages Julia wanted to convey in this book – a positive impression of politics for young people, how and why she did what she did, a story of resilience. Once again Julia was in top form – she really is a fantastic speaker and indeed role model for many girls aspiring to be a political figure.

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The launch of the anthology You’re Not Alone by young writers of True North also formed part of the evening, with participants asked onto stage to provide some context to the project, which essentially reaches out to anyone lost or lonely, or who are simply looking for a good story. It was a moving tribute.

Writers’ Forum

This was an all-day event of talks, debates and tips for writers across all genres, competency and experience.

Keynote address: William McInnes

Now I confess I was not familiar with this actor-turned writer, but was thoroughly entertained by what he had to say and how he did it!

William McInnes is one of Australia’s most popular authors, having written 8 books in 10 years, including memoir and his most recent novel, Holidays, published by Hachette AustraliaWilliam talked about the contrast between acting where you’re pretending to be someone else and writing, which is personal and all you. Above all, he said, the most important thing is that what you write means something to you, if not to anyone else, a point echoed throughout the day.

Panel: Writing as Therapy

This was an interesting discussion. The panel comprised, from left to right, William McInnes, Jane Turner Goldsmith and David Chapple from the SA Writers Centre, who between them explored the pros and cons of writing as a cathartic process.

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Writing is putting yourself out there, often the most intimate parts, to be read, judged, critiqued, loved or simply ignored, which begs the question why do we put ourselves through it…

Writing is a means of expression, a tool to help manage, understand and heal us from traumatic events and experiences.  It was interesting to hear that writing for therapy is only beneficial if there’s a strong narrative and resolution, giving an example where two groups were asked to write about something that has affected them, the first as a series of thoughts and the second as narrative, i.e. having a beginning, middle and end. The second group found this to be a satisfying exercise due to the structure imposed, whereas the first group felt they were just left swimming in a pool of emotion, proving this can be a dangerous exercise if not managed properly.

Writing can be subconscious, use characters or third person to reduce the anxiety associated with sharing, with writing fiction being a safe, protective environment to project the self. Even the most successful author can remain fragile about what they produce. I thought the closing remark poignant – people are designed to struggle, recover and move on; it’s what makes us human.

Panel: Once it’s out there…

This was essentially a hints and tips session from authors with books under their belt – from left to right Kristin Weidenbach, Carla Caruso, Jared Thomas and Mandy Macky from Dymocks. They explained how the world of publishing and marketing has changed, with publishers no longer able to finance extensive book tours.

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Here’s a little of what they said:

  • Arrange your own launch as a means to celebrate and thank
  • Cultivate a relationship with a local bookstore
  • Seek speaking opportunities rather than just book signings
  • Write articles for free
  • Visit country/remote locations and touch base with the local paper
  • Find a quirky angle in the media to advertise yourself
  • Be reliable and easy to communicate with
  • Know your genre and audience
  • Network, make connections, attend literary events and festivals
  • Literary agents are useful for negotiating internationally

The panel concluded by saying publishers look for authors who can market themselves as unfortunately, they no longer have the budget to do so.

Panel of Publishers: What goes on behind closed doors?

From left to right Michael Bollen of Wakefield Press, Sophie Hamley from Hachette Australia,  Leonie Tyle from Tyle & Bateson Publishing and Dyan Blacklock a publishing consultant gave us an insight into a typical day, where reading new work is a small proportion and quite often done in their own time.

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Liaising with account manages, sending books off to the printers, exploring cover designs, organising contracts, book signings, advising on book tours and launches, attending events, these were just some of the tasks cited that fill their day where, like many of us, there are never enough hours!

Usefully they shared some do’s and don’t when you think you’re ready to submit your work:

  • Revise, revise, revise your manuscript
  • Consider getting it edited professionally
  • Be familiar with submission guidelines and process
  • Do simultaneous submissions but be sure to let publishers know
  • Know your market
  • Apply for literary grants
  • Enter competitions, join writing groups, attend events
  • Explore the self-publishing option
  • Assess how much you want print against the rise of e-books
  • Beware of assessment agencies
  • Write something worth reading, fresh and original

On this last point they strongly advised against writing what you think people want to read and a concept of ‘rear view publishing’ i.e. don’t write what’s already out there. And again another beautiful closing – a good book will always find it’s home.

Tuesday saw the last Lee Marvin reading from this series in the Dark Horsey Bookshop, where Ken Bolton introduced Gay Lynch, Cath Kenneally and Louise Nicholas. And an entertaining evening it was.

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I first met Gay at Rachael Mead’s poetry launch of The Sixth Creek roughly this time last year, where she told me about Transnational Literature and encouraged me to submit. Gay writes prose, and shared a short story with us set in a country town told through the eyes of Cecilia, the central protagonist. Listening to Gay, with her dulcet tones and eloquent language was not unlike falling into chocolate – a certain smooth fluid texture leaving you wanting more. And so I have ordered a copy of Cleanskin published by Wakefield Press, Gay’s first novel.

Cath read poems about her recently departed dog, who was either the focus or hovered around the perimeter, and they were touching pieces any pet-lover could relate to, delivered in a poignant, compassionate way. Cath also read a piece inspired by Joni Mitchell, the haunting Canadian singer-songwriter, who I remember most from Love Actually where Emma Thompson’s character is fascinated with her music…I digress.

Louise began with poems about her mother who died with dementia a few years ago. These were brave, emotive pieces, both poignant and humorous, that blurred the boundary between mother and daughter. Louise’s performances never fail to entertain. She provides context, shares with feeling, makes connections, and it’s this raw real intimacy that I find so appealing – she leaves you feeling like you’re old friends. Louise also read a poem inspired by Sharon Olds, which only served to demonstrate her unique encompassing talent. Louise’s most recent collection Large from Garron Publishing is an entertaining read.

I asked Ken, host of Lee Marvin, how he selects his readers. He replied by recommendation usually, but added there’s nothing to stop me from recommending myself. So I did! And he invited me to read at a slot in September!! I am thrilled because these events are ‘a must see’ in the Adelaide poetry scene and to share the stage (i.e. desk and lamp) with some of Adelaide’s finest writers is quite an honor. No pressure

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After work on Wednesday I went along to the regular Words@Wall event to hear Louise Nicholas and Judy Dally read some of their poetry.

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Hosted by Ian Gibbons of Friendly Street Poets, the set was a very entertaining one, in fact probably one of the most engaging poetry performances I have ever experienced!

Due to several recurring themes in their work, Louise and Judy took turns to read, which resulted in a wonderfully intimate atmosphere where the audience were invited to step into their lives for a while.

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They began with poems about mothers, swiftly followed by fathers, their styles quite different but very complimentary. Other themes included nostalgia, love, travel and then with both having a teaching background, school. Some pieces were funny, some poignant, but all were spoken with a certain ease as if we were the old friends that Louise and Judy are.

And in true style I purchased a copy of both of their collections – Louise’s chapbook entitled Large recently published by Garron Publishing and Judy’s At Sixes and Sevens printed by Always Printing, along with a collaboration of work that Louise did with Jude Aquilina, Woman Speak published by Wakefield Press. Now, which one to read first…