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As for my judgement of the books themselves, I enjoyed aspects of them, insofar as they’re historical documents of colonial Australian life from the perspective of women, but I did find both Prichard and Franc’s works a bit sentimental for my tastes.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.


About Kirsty Leishman

Currently enrolled in a Grad Dip of Teaching and Learning in anticipation of teaching English and Film, TV & New Media to high school students. Abandoned a PhD in television. Completed an MPhil on zines. Honours in Australian grunge literature. Long time university tutor of media, communications, cultural studies and academic writing. Opinionated. View all posts by Kirsty Leishman

9 responses to “Reflections on the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

  • Elizabeth Lhuede

    Thank you so much for your participation in the AWW challenge, and for your dedication in recording works by Australian women for the Librivox project. I’ve followed your work with interest, and I’ll be interested to know why you’re rescinding your opinion of Mary Fortune’s detective stories.

    I’d say you definitely make the Franklin-fantastic category! Are you signing on for 2013? It has more options – including “create your own challenge”.

  • Kirsty

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your comment and your ongoing encouragement—it’s much appreciated.

    I probably need to qualify my statement about rescinding my opinion of Fortune’s stories. I’m only doing so insofar as while they’re in the same genre as the Holmes’ series, I’m not sure comparing them is particularly fruitful. It’s all in the titles, I suppose – Sherlock Holmes is about that character and his idiosyncrasies, while The Detective’s Album series seems to be very much rooted in the the crime, its perpetrators and its victims rather than the detective himself. I would still argue that Fortune’s stories are better though, but without the ongoing hook of a key personality across the series, I can see why the character of Holmes has endured in spite of the deus ex machina endings they very often have. What I’ve enjoyed about Fortune’s stories is the detail with which they unwind; they never feel forced and I’ve always been taken along with them. There are a few other things too, but I’ll save them for my eventual review 🙂

    And yes, I have signed up for 2013, selecting the ‘create your own challenge option’. I’ll very likely try to read some contemporary novels too just for my own enjoyment. It’s wonderful having everyone’s reviews and recommendations to help make some selections.

    • Elizabeth Lhuede

      You’ve whetted my appetite now! I’d never heard of Fortune before. What you say makes sense about the power of developing one character through a series – especially for crime readers. I’ve noticed the popularity of series’ AWW crime fiction heroines – Kerry Greenwood’s Phrynne Fisher, Tara Moss’s Makedde Vanderwall and Gabrielle Lord’s Gemma Lincoln, to name a few.

      Thanks for signing up again. I look forward to more great reading this year.

  • Tseen Khoo

    Great post, Kirsty! I really enjoyed your views during the challenge and appreciated the work that was involved in honing the reading projects. I’m not much of an audiobook listener, I’m afraid; I hardly read novels in any way other than as e-books on my phone these days.

    I’ll be signing up for AWW 2013, too. Am thinking I might limit myself to sci-fi + fantasy for this year.

    Happy new year! 🙂

    • Kirsty

      Thanks, Tseen! And a Happy new year to you too.

      I’ve only taken to audio books in the past couple of years. I like listening to them in bed after a day spent staring at screens. I also found them quite good when I was in a walking routine—something I must get back into. I know some people just plain out don’t like them, so while, of course, I want everyone to listen to my recordings, I understand that many just can’t get into them. I’ve had some lovely feed back from a couple of listeners, one of whom has very poor vision, and that alone has made recording worthwhile.

      Myself, I’ve never been big on reading sf and fantasy. Maybe I should read one for this year’s challenge? Any recommendations?

  • This Charming Mum

    You’ve had a really impressive reading journey this year and this is the most analytical response to completing the AWW challenge I’ve seen. I think you’ve made a really substantial contribution by honing in on those recordings – quality over quantity, maybe. I look forward to your 2013 choices 🙂

    • Kirsty

      Oh, thank you, Lara! Often I just feel grumpy, so if I appear critically engaged that’s great.

      I very much admire your reviews–especially the Birth Wars one. You always strike such a wonderful balance between appreciation and critique. I look forward to reading more of This Charming Mum in 2013!

  • oanh

    I *will* listen, and I especially look forward to listening to Mary Fortune! I must have been offline, because I missed quite a lot of your twitter chat!
    Adding Nicole Watson to my TBR list!

    • Kirsty

      You won’t regret adding Nicole Watson. Knowing Brisbane and being lawyerly yourself will add extra points of interest.

      Also, I’d be chuffed if you did listen. Maybe Lady Bridget in the Never-never Land for more Brisbane/Queensland history moments?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: