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As for my judgement of the books themselves, I enjoyed aspects of them, insofar as they’re historical documents of colonial Australian life from the perspective of women, but I did find both Prichard and Franc’s works a bit sentimental for my tastes.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

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Sheilas Go Wild

Last Friday, I spent the day with my niece, who was the subject of the cluster-generated poem in my last post. We went to the movies, saw Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, and ate apparently-not-so-impossible amounts of popcorn.

The timing of our day out coincided with my receipt of one of Anna Ryan-Punch’s poems from her on-going writing project: Poems in the Wild. In an effort to motivate her own writing, Anna devised a project where she composes a poem, writes it on a playing card, and leaves it in a random public location for someone to find. She includes a Twitter handle from which there’s a link to her blog. Here the poem is replicated; and, Anna hopes that anyone who finds the poem will report its discovery in the comments.

I’d always read about Anna’s poem releases with a bit of envy. Following both her individual and Poems in the Wild Twitter accounts, I’d often clicked through to the blog to read the poem and see where she’d left it. I once sent her a message saying that if I lived in Melbourne, I would unashamedly stalk the poems. (Lest I sound too creepy there, I hasten to add that I’d probably only have done it once; the fact of distance probably made me more intense…) Bless Anna, she took pity on me and offered to send me a poem so I could release it.

Well, like Aunty, like niece; when I told Hannah that we had a special mission for the day–other than consuming copious amounts of popcorn–and explained what it was, her imagination was sparked. She wanted to know if Anna had included instructions with the poem; she had, and I showed Hannah the letter Anna had sent to me along with the playing card. (Hannah was quite delighted by the details of Anna’s son’s dinner.)

Together, Hannah and I discussed where we would leave the poem. For me, it was important to get a receptive audience, but not so receptive that it wouldn’t introduce someone new to the delights of poetry. We thought about leaving it at a cafe: one where the tables have those metal stands topped with rings to insert the menu or specials in. The problem with that was that we were at a major shopping centre and we’re not much classier than food-court dining in that environment.  Then, we saw the council library on the same level as the cinema.  We had found our release point.

Hannah releases a poem into the wilds of the public transport timetable rack at the Indooroopilly branch of the Brisbane City Council Library.

After we released the poem, we had some other things to do at Indooroopilly, but Hannah insisted on going back to the library, to peer through the window, to see if anyone had found it.  Of course, at that point, it was only 20 minutes later, so the card was still there in plain view.  Since then, however, I’ve received word from Anna that someone found the poem, and … Well, go on over to Anna’s blog, read the poem and then the comments to see what the person who found it had to say.

It’s all terribly exciting, and I’m very happy that I’ll be able report back to Hannah with the good news.

Update (24 July): Poems in the Wild #17 has been re-released.  It’s adventure  continues…


International Women’s Day Round-Up (sort of)

International Women’s Day went by in a blur of my first day of tutorials for the academic year.  I’m teaching in media studies with a focus on the institutional aspects of media organisations, which is a very dynamic subject right now between the antics of Gina Rinehart and the Murdoch empire, while the Kony 2012 campaign offers a timely example of a trans-media campaign–as well as, of course, bringing much-needed attention to staggering, orchestrated abuses of human rights.

Well, as much as some might complain about a special day for women, I don’t feel obliged to confine my celebrations to so short a period.  And luckily neither do many others; take the AWW 2012 Challenge, for instance–my goodness, a whole year!

Another celebration of women and their achievements that I’m aware of is the American-based Women’s History Month running throughout March. I only became aware of it through dogpossum’s series of posts at her blog.  If  ‘Jass!’ and ‘Dancing!’ are your thing–or even just women working in male-dominated professions–then dogpossum’s profiles of the leading ladies of the jazz and other reflection will be of interest to  you.

(Oh, but wait, look! There’s an Australian chapter of the American organisation here.)

More directly related to the written word and the focus of this blog is James Tierney’s post where he does a gender audit of the books pages of two major Australian newspapers.  He provides a few great links too, most notably to an essay by Sophie Cunningham, one of the founders of the Stella Prize.

Finally, I also really enjoyed this summary of a discussion about whether women write differently to men, over at Bookish Girl.

Happy–if belated–International Women’s Day, to you!


Technical Issues: User Clumsiness

Proceedings slowed down here for a week or so after I spilt a cup of tea on my already ailing laptop.

Some time ago now, I dropped my laptop when the strap of my bag broke as I was getting off the bus one day. My laptop hit the concrete curb and in the process managed to kill the  screen backlight. While I took it in to a registered repairer, they deemed they couldn’t fix it to a warrantable standard. Or at least not without embarking on a potentially expensive search and see mission. And they did that thing that people at the cutting edge of computing do when they look at your 3 1/2 year-old laptop.

I took my  maimed laptop home and with the help of some friends hooked it up to a monitor, which allowed me to continue using it in a desk-bound fashion.

Then, late one evening last week, I made myself a pot of tea to sit beside me as I prepared to work or, more likely (it’s a bad memory I’ve repressed), faff about on Facebook before retiring.  Well, I’d poured my cup of tea and prepared to set it down on the desk when, in slow motion, the cup tilted, and at some point I’m fairly sure it tilted again, so that my poor laptop was awash with hot, milky tea.  After that it worked for a day and a bit. After that it stopped responding to the power-on button.

Some trauma, tears, and a few sweary rants that would put Kevin Rudd to shame later, I asked Twitter if anyone had an old laptop they could give away. Well, it turns out that Catriona of Circulating Library, who I do know IRL, did.

So, the AWW/Librivox challenge will go on. Hooray!

***

On a house-keeping issue, I’ve been trying to figure out how to include links to some blogs by women who aren’t doing the AWW2012 challenge, but who are clearly prolific readers and interesting writers, without straying too much from the deliberately narrow focus of this blog project.  I think I’ve answered my own conundrum in my description of the bloggers: they’re women residing in Australia and they write, so a recommended blog reading list is in order.  I’ve created a separate blog roll in the sidebar.

May I recommend you start your reading with Wendy’s reflections on the National Year of Reading (NYR) at her blog, The Spiralling Shape?  When I read this, one of the things I was reminded of was that the AWW2012 challenge came about in response to the NYR, as a way of focussing people’s reading and reminding them of the richness of writing by women in Australia.


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