Monthly Archives: December 2012

Reflections on the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

I hadn’t initially planned on writing a post reflecting on my participation in the AWWC 2012. I confess it hadn’t occurred to me, even though, no doubt, it’s something the organisers planned all along. I think this is symptomatic of my overall involvement in the AWWC 2012. I’ve been a bit haphazard in my approach, never really sure what level of involvement I’d committed to:  Stella, Miles, or Franklin-fantastic. (Indeed, this is more broadly symptomatic of my approach to life, if the truth be told.)

I do know I seized on the challenge as a way of furthering my participation in the LibriVox project of making available recordings of all works in the public domain. I decided I would record four works by Australian women writers and make notes about the books and the recording process along the way.

To that end, I suppose my first AWWC 2012 achievement was that I established this blog after a hiatus from blogging of about two years.  I don’t know that I’ve networked consistently with other AWWC 2012 bloggers, but for myself I’ve rather enjoyed having a very narrowly defined blog project. If I’ve gone off topic at all, it’s only been to talk about my teaching and other reading and writing related things.

It’s difficult to say how many reviews I did, since for a couple of the books I recorded—Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers and Maud Jean Franc’s Two Sides to Every QuestionI wrote multiple posts. It was with these two novels that I settled into the recording process. To that point I had only contributed chapters to group projects at LibriVox, which is an entirely different level of commitment. I felt extra responsibility doing the solo recordings; I wanted my recordings to stand as good audiobooks.

Throughout this settling-in period, I worried about character voices and accents; whether to sing or not when characters did; getting the recording levels right; and minimising bird, traffic and other noises that were audible in the recordings. I think I’m more relaxed about all of these now, although I do have to stick to recording in the evenings to avoid most extraneous noises.

As for my judgement of the books themselves, I enjoyed aspects of them, insofar as they’re historical documents of colonial Australian life from the perspective of women, but I did find both Prichard and Franc’s works a bit sentimental for my tastes. To some extent, I wonder if the sentimental leanings in both authors works weren’t of the time? For example, I’m fairly sure anyone writing these days would very firmly be told to cease and desist from flowery descriptions of the particular shade of their heroine’s blushes. It may be a matter of genre.

When I began my third recording—Rosa Praed’s Lady Bridget in the Never-never LandI established a dedicated Twitter account, @ReadingSheilas. I use it in the sense that Twitter was originally described – as a microblogging site. I transcribe quotes from what I’m reading, that I want to share because I find them moving or funny. I use it to express the thoughts that occur to me as I’m reading—many inane, but others that will inform my eventual reviews on this blog.

It was after I established the Twitter account that I live-tweeted one of my book club meetings. I participated in the AWWC 2012 through my book club too. Each of us selected a book and there was a plan to blog a summary of every book club meeting. In all we selected nine books – the first two months were taken up with previously nominated books and we always have December off. I did write a post on the January book: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 541 because I thought it raised a number of issues about literary values that were pertinent to the then-forthcoming challenge. It’s quite telling that  the Fahrenheit 451 post is the most visited post I’ve written.

As part of the book club I read Jessica Rudd’s Campaign Ruby and enjoyed it as a good example of its genre. I find it difficult to get excited about shoes and shopping though and I suppose I often resent this assumption about women as a group. I’d already read Addition by Toni Jordan and I probably should have read it again, but when I’d first read it, I’d gotten annoyed about its stance on medication for mental illnesses and disorders (Who needs it? All mental illnesses are social constructions!) and I didn’t feel like revisiting it. Although I can’t include it in my 2012 reading, I much preferred Sophie Cunningham’s Geography when it touches on this topic. There are a few lines in that novel that I like to return to again and again. I live-tweeted Janet Turner-Hospital’s Orpheus Lost using the hashtags #bookworms and #aww2012. I really enjoyed that book, partly out of nostalgia for Far North Queensland, but also for its subtle exploration of terrorism, its characterisation, and its intertextual use of the Orpheus myth and counter-tenor aria.

I reviewed Nicole Watson’s The Boundary as part of my book-club reading and nominate it the book of my reading year.

After The Boundary, the wheels fell off my book club reading as, suddenly, I seemed to do nothing but mark assignments from one university or another. That didn’t stop me from reading the first chapter of Delia Falconer’s Sydney, however, and complaining bitterly.  I did read a few more chapters, but I never did get over feeling alienated, as someone not from Sydney, by the tone of the first chapter. My reading of Sydney resonated with other members of the book club. Indeed, I confess that one member was struggling with it, read my blog, and then felt entirely vindicated in abandoning it.  Our objections did seem to arise from not being Sydney-siders. One of the other book club members had read Matthew Condon’s Brisbane and thought that everything claimed for Sydney had already been claimed for Brisbane, especially humidity and jacaranda trees. I must say, the claims for humidity in Sydney put me in mind of the time I thought that Brisbane’s humidity was as bad as Cairns’s–until I went back over the summer holidays once. The same person who had read Brisbane did note, however, they’d attempted to read it before  coming to Brisbane and had abandoned it unfinished until they lived here. This led to speculation about the series as a whole, at which point I will stop writing on this topic because I have contributed to a group blog with three of the authors of the other books in the series.

I didn’t read the books nominated for September and November and while I didn’t attend the October book club, I had already read the book, Charlotte Wood’s Animal People. Again, through social media, I have conversed with Charlotte on subjects entirely unrelated to her work as an author, but still, it feels like a conflict of interest  to review her work. Let’s just say, I’ve been known to blurt out, ‘They’re not chef pants; I got them from Aldi!’

Finally, I haven’t entirely finished my final recording for the AWWC 2012, a selection  of ten short stories from The Detective’s Album series published in The Australian Journal  in 1880 by Mary Fortune.  I have managed to blog about it though, so I’m hoping for the purposes of the challenge that counts as a review? I did make a controversial comparison with the Sherlock Holmes series that, just a couple of recorded stories later, I’m rescinding. I’ve tweeted my thoughts, but I’ll write a more thorough consideration in the new year.

So, that’s my Australian Women Writers challenge 2012 year in review. I think I made the Franklin-fantastic category? Is there a category for writing more reviews than books you’ve read? I’ll let you judge if I completed the mission.

I’ll continue to record books for Librivox as part of the challenge in 2013. I hope some of you will listen to the recordings I’ve done for the challenge in 2012 in the year ahead and would welcome your feedback on them as well as suggestions for future recordings.


Detective Work

The final recording I’m doing for the Australian Women Writers’ challenge for this year is a selection of short stories by Mary Fortune. This isn’t the review proper, as I’m only part way through the full recording, but I did want to say something about choosing and finding the stories I decided to record, because that story is, I think, a little more interesting than for my previous recordings where I easily found the works on Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive.

When I was thinking about what my next recording would be, I knew I wanted to read something distinctly different from the books I’d done so far. In my wanderings around the web, I happened on Mary Fortune, also known variously as Mary Helena Fortune, Waif Wander, or W.W. for short. Like so many female writers, Fortune published under a pseudonym so her writing was more marketable. Another aspect to Fortune’s pseudonymity was, no  doubt, that she wrote in the detective genre and, from what I’ve read so far, her work is decidedly gory, which was no doubt deemed an unsuitable subject for ladies to write about.

What really sparked my decision to pursue recording some of Fortune’s work was the fact she remains virtually unknown and out of print, despite the fact that for forty years—forty years—her stories, featuring Melbourne detective, Mark Sinclair, appeared in The Australian Journal The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) entry on Fortune, notes that her identity as the author of The Detective’s Album series wasn’t revealed until 1950, quite some time after her death in 1910, so I suppose it makes some kind of sense that she faded into anonymity.

In recent years, the author of the ADB entry, Lucy Sussex, has written a biography and edited a couple of collections of Fortune’s writing, which I’m yet to look at. (To be honest, I didn’t think the library had any of Sussex’s works, but I guess I wasn’t looking properly, because, just now, I found several in the catalogue, as well as—O joy!—a bibliography of Fortune’s work that Sussex compiled with Elizabeth Gibson.) So, Mary Fortune is slowly being drawn in to share the light of Australia’s significant writers.

Now that I’ve been recording some of Fortune’s stories from The Detective’s Album series that appeared in The Australian Journal throughout 1880, I’m especially glad that Sussex has done the work she has, and that I can, through my recordings for Librivox, make further accessible some of this pioneering crime writer’s work. I found a bound collection of some of Fortune’s stories, photocopied from The Australian Journal, in the special collections Fryer Library at the University of Queensland.  Normally readers would have to visit the library themselves, but I was able to photocopy the photocopies and now I’m using them to record from home.

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A photocopy of a photocopy of ‘The Window Among the Willows’ by W.W. in The Australian Journal, March 1880

While reading this, you may have been able to gather that I’m enjoying the stories I’ve read so far. I want to say that she’s a better writer than Arthur Conan Doyle—the most obvious comparison one might make in this genre. I’m sure that’s sacrilege to some, which is why I’m a bit hesitant to declare it without reserve, but honestly some of the revelations and resolutions in the Sherlock Holmes’ series are in my opinion quite ridiculous, and I was very pleased to read Fortune’s finely wrought stories, none of which, so far, have sacrificed logic for an ending.


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