January Members’ Meeting

Our monthly in-person Members’ Nights are back! We are meeting at our old stomping ground, the Bunch of Grapes hotel, on the last Wednesday of each month. Details for January are:

Where: Bunch of Grapes, 401 Pleasant St South, Ballarat
When: 7pm, 27 January 2021
Cost: FREE but booking is appreciated
Please see your newsletter for the booking link, or contact us.

It would help us if you were able to please book a ticket using the link above, but it is not essential. Normal contact-tracing rules will apply once you arrive at the Bunch of Grapes.

To welcome you all back, Ballarat Writers will be shouting attending members a drink (house wine, beer on tap, soft drinks or tea/coffee). It’s parma night on Wednesdays so if you would like to grab a hearty meal beforehand, the room is available for dining from 6.30pm. (Full menu also available.)

Also, we will have a book giveaway, courtesy of Nicole Kelly, held over from the end-of-year picnic!

The committee has been working hard during our year of isolation and we look forward to bringing you more in-person events in 2021. With the AGM happening on 10 February, now would be a good time to chat with us if you are interested in helping out or even joining the committee this year.

Most of all, we are so excited to see some familiar faces again after so long!

Book review: When the Apricots Bloom, by Gina Wilkinson

Title: When the Apricots Bloom

Author: Gina Wilkinson

Publisher: Hachette Australia, 2020

Gina Wilkinson is a journalist, foreign correspondent and documentary-maker.  In this debut novel we follow three young women living in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The story is based on the writer’s personal experience of life in Baghdad under Saddam.

Two teenagers pledge love and loyalty with a blood oath. Huda is a village girl. Rania is a sheikh’s granddaughter, Iraqi nobility. After sharing a delightful adolescence on the banks of the Tigris, Huda and Rania lose contact.

When Saddam seizes power in Iraq, war, sanctions and tyranny bring the golden years of the Fertile Crescent to a bloody end. Tensions with Washington increase and a nervous Iraq increases security. Embassies withdraw non-essential staff.  Iraqis live in fear of Saddam’s secret police. They can invade your home, threaten your children or even snatch you off the streets.

Twenty-four years after their oath, Huda and Rania are struggling to raise their own teenagers in dangerous circumstances. Rania has contacts in the resistance. When Huda’s brothers are killed in a brutally crushed uprising, Rania disappears, hiding a shameful secret. Huda holds Rania responsible for the boys’ deaths.

When Huda lands a secretarial job at the Australian Embassy it seems too good to be true. Then the secret police order her to spy on Ally Wilson, the young wife of the Australian Deputy Ambassador to Iraq. The brutal intrusion of uniformed men into her home shatters Huda’s world. Her teenaged son, they warn, can be ordered into the regime’s murderous militia which trains boys to be killers.

Ally must hide her American citizenship, a deception that is dangerous. Western women are not safe on the streets. Ally, naïve and reckless, goes out alone. Huda tries to protect her even while she is forced to spy on her.

Read a Q&A with Gina Wilkinson about When the Apricots Bloom

at better reading

The secret police order Rania’s teenaged daughter to the presidential palace where sadistic sexual practices are known to take place. Rania and Huda are now reunited in an uneasy alliance to save their endangered children. They plan to smuggle them out of the country by forcing Ally to use her diplomatic position to help them.

In a world that nurtures suspicion rather than trust the women push the boundaries of safety. Friendships form despite the dangers and torture them in an emotional tug-of-war as the regime forces them to keep secrets from each other. The closer they become, the more they fear each other. Emotions are on-edge as they fight off the urge to trust. Blood oaths are stronger than anything … aren’t they?

Wilkinson weaves a gripping, page-turning plot of intrigue, fear and courage. When the Apricots Bloom takes us into a world that is foreign, exotic and terrifying as its strong characters struggle under the rise of tyranny. It challenges our comfortable existence and our privilege and reminds us that nations we have demonised and gone to war with are populated with people just like us. Knowing that I had more in common with the naïve Ally Wilson than with the brave Iraqi women, I read When the Apricots Bloom with sadness, huge respect and admiration for the courage of those who survive and resist. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It will not disappoint.

Reviewed by: Maureen Riches, January 2021

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Season’s greetings to our members and supporters


By BWI chairperson Rebecca

There’s nothing that I can say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said.
As a hobby group in a year that has focused on ‘essential services’, it
was hard to know what shape we would be in when all of this passed.

I am pleased to say, however, that the Ballarat Writers community is a
tremendously robust group who clearly care deeply about writing, and
each other, even when there’s not a bar involved. It has been lovely to
see so many of you coming along to the monthly Zoom meetings, and many
of you braving Discord for the weekly Write Club meetings (which have
now resumed at Racers). I know that both  critique groups were keen to
meet up again in person as soon as they could as well. With such strong
participation in both the Pamela Miller Prize and Martha Richardson Memorial
Poetry Prize
this year, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of passion
and creativity in the Ballarat Writers crew.

I want to say thank you to every single person who has continued to open
their emails, check Facebook or find some other way of keeping in touch
with us and continuing to be a part of this amazing community. I also
want to thank the committee for their outstanding work in keeping the
wheels turning and being so adaptable in a year that has demanded it.
Your work has not gone unnoticed and is deeply appreciated.

I hope you all have a wonderful end of year break, and we look forward
to seeing you all (hopefully in person!) in 2021.

Merry Christmas!

This is a copy of Rebecca’s address at the end-of-year meeting in November.

Book review: The Time of Our Lives, by Robert Dessaix

Title: The Time of Our Lives – Growing Older Well

Author: Robert Dessaix

Publisher: Brio, 2020

The author

Robert Dessaix is an Australian writer and life commentator.  He is best-known for the autobiography A Mother’s Disgrace and the novel Night Letters.  His writing is informed by a life of travel, learning, and deep, diverse friendships with “interesting” people.

The book

This is an intimate insight, almost a monologue, into Dessaix’s personal tussle with the finite nature of life and its inevitable end. His own advancing years, brushes with death and the imminent demise of Rita, his partner’s mother, focuses the conversation (largely one-way) on life and what it means to live a meaningful life. 

It is set largely in Java, and Rita’s room in the nursing home.  Rita is frequently used as a springboard into the unknown and to contrast the ideas he is trying to draw out.

Little nuances and details add colour and dimension, turning the ramblings of an old man into a story. The use of Javanese village life and inclusion of references to friends in cleverly crafted little side snippets create a multi-layered, thoughtful and interesting reading experience.

There is good advice in here for the young, though I fear it would be lost on many of them.

Listen to an ABC Radio interview with Robert Dessaix on The Time of Our Lives

Patricia Karvelas on The Drawing Room

Dying features heavily; the idea that we inevitably reach a point of finality drives a lot of Dessaix’s thinking. To grow old well, he suggests, you need to be satisfied you have lived well. Consequently, he includes a lot of discussion on living. Of course, Dessaix’s idea of living well, or anybody else’s for that matter, may differ to yours.

There is a memorable little analogy that suggests you do not want your life to be like the traveller who finds the best coffee shop, restaurants, and places to go on their last day at a location they will never return to.

I must confess I was expecting an epiphany or two when I set out to read this book. However, I was disappointed: two out of three of Dessaix’s major life conclusions I had already reached, despite not having lived an exotic life such as Dessaix’s.  For other conclusions … you will just have to read the book for yourself, which I heartily recommend.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, December 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

The Rejection Connection: a writing project for 2021

By Rebecca Fletcher

In 2021, I’m aiming for 100 rejections. You read that right. Not submissions, not publications: rejections. Telling people this has earned me some strange looks, so I want to discuss why I’m doing it, and why I think you should as well.

The big question is: why aren’t you going for publication? And basically I am, but I can’t force anyone to publish me, so all I can do is give it a good hockey try by writing, polishing and submitting. If they actually publish the thing, then that’s a ‘failed rejection’ and I’ll have to find somewhere else to be rejected.

So first and foremost, this isn’t my idea. The blog post I read it on was shared with me by a fellow Ballarat Writer who thought I should go for it. And after thinking about it for a few years, I’m going for it, and I want you to join in. Here’s why:

1. It forces you to write

There are lots of ways to go for 100 rejections. You can write one thing and submit it 100 places. You might write 25 things (around one every two weeks over the year) and submit them to four places each. Now you could be lazy and write one thing, send it to 100 places at once and call it done, but ask yourself what that proved?

The only real downside is that if you get a failed rejection and they publish the darn thing, you’ll have to write something else. What a problem to have.

2. It makes rejection into a positive thing

Even if you don’t care that much about something you write, rejection hurts. Because it feels like what you’ve written isn’t good enough, or that they didn’t like it. You know what? That might even be the case. But after being part of the creative editorial team for Antithesis in 2020, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes your piece was good enough but there was another piece on the same thing that they liked more. Sometimes you were the one extra poem they couldn’t fit in. Sometimes your piece just needed a little more work than the others. That’s okay.

The point is, stop thinking about it as a negative thing. Now, instead of stomping around the house ranting about how they wouldn’t know good work if it jumped up and bit them on the turnip, you can say ‘Great. Ninety-nine left to go’.

3. It encourages you to put yourself out there

You might still be at a stage where you’re writing for yourself and don’t want to share your writing with the world. That’s okay as well! But for those who are starting to feel a little braver, it can be a good way to start sharing your ideas and work with the world. It’s easy to get stuck in a bit of a rut with a local writers group (even if they are amazing!) and your critique group/writer friends. Spread your wings a little and see what’s out there.

4. You’ll read different things

Lots of people want to write but they don’t want to read things that other people have written. However, if you want to get a good idea of whether a journal or a publication is a good fit for you, you’re going to need to read the kinds of things that they publish (or don’t, but you’ll probably rack up those rejections a little sooner than you wanted). Maybe Vampire Trains is your favourite magazine, but they’re not going to publish your poem on turnips, no matter how good it is (unless the turnip is on a vampire train, maybe).

And, of course, reading different things fuels your imagination and will make you be a little more adventurous. Not to mention that by seeing the kinds of work that are being published, you’ll get a better feel for what might or might not be working in your writing as well.

5. You have a SMART goal

I’m not going to bore you all with the particulars of SMART goals, but 100 rejections is definitely one of those. It’s a concrete goal where you can measure your progress quantitatively and there’s a deadline to have it done by. Goals like ‘work more on my novel’ or ‘get better at writing’ feel good to say but don’t really give you anywhere to aim. One hundred rejections, on the other hand, is something that you can keep track of in a journal. You’ll be able to update anyone who asks in no time at all.

6. It doesn’t have to be about writing

Maybe writing is a fun thing for you and you don’t want to stress yourself out with rejections. That’s okay! But there are lots of ways you can still put yourself out there. You could write out job applications, you could submit applications for writing residencies, or, as one friend suggested, reject 100 people on the dating app of your choice. The point is to give yourself a reason to try something that you might usually talk yourself out of doing.

So why do you all care about my goal for 2021? You probably don’t, but I care about yours and I want to invite you to join me. I want you to aim for 100 rejections, with whatever focus you’d like. And I think that if there are enough of us (there are few of us at Write Club doing it already), we should find a way to keep in touch, share our progress, share opportunities and keep each other motivated.  I’ll be posting updates throughout the year with rejections and failed rejections, if people want to follow along. If you’re keen, drop me a line at chairperson AT ballaratwriters.com and we’ll work it out. And hey, if no one emails me, then I guess that can be rejection one of 100 — just 99 to go!

Ballarat Writers Inc. chairperson Rebecca Fletcher is a Ballarat-based writer who has recently escaped the tertiary education system. Wondering about her odds of getting published? You’re not alone. You can read more of her writing (well, her blogs and her failed rejections, anyway) at saltyturnip.com.

Book review – Infinite Splendours, by Sophie Laguna

Title: Infinite Splendours

Author: Sophie Laguna

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

Sophie Laguna is a multiple award-winning writer. Her second adult novel, The Eye of the Sheep, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2015. 

I read Infinite Splendours with my heart in my mouth. There were times when I wanted to stop reading but the power of Laguna’s storytelling and her stunning craftsmanship kept me in there. The tension in the book is brilliant, as is the descriptive work, particularly the surrounding landscape.

Set in 1953,  the story is about Lawrence, ten, and his brother, Paul, who is eight, raised by their mother in Victoria’s Grampians. The boys’ father, known only through a shadowy photograph, died in service during the war.

Lawrence, a sensitive and clever child, is central to the story. His mother dotes on her son’s school achievements and his future looks bright. He has a favourite teacher and on Fridays, art day, he begins to discover his love and enjoyment of art. A long-lost uncle arrives to stay and takes an interest in Lawrence. Fatherless, the boy is hungry for attention and quickly they develop a bond. Paul, the younger brother, is not at all taken with the uncle and avoids him.

Eventually, Lawrence is betrayed in the worst way possible and his carefree childhood days are taken from him. Shattered and lost, he limps into adulthood, develops a stutter and his younger potential is behind him. Lawrence works for a short time on a local dairy farm. His mother dies and he becomes a hermit, living alone in the family home at the foot of the mountain. Paul returns to bring him food and what little support he will accept. Lawrence discovers his artistic passion again and paints prolifically.

A new family moves in next door with children. The ten-year-old boy quickly becomes a focus for Lawrence as he lives out his own regressed development and faces a situation that could lead to him repeating the wrongs done to him in the past.   

This novel raises questions of psychological and societal importance – the acts of childhood betrayals and the potential or actual impact on the lives of victims.  The pace is slow and leaves the reader nowhere to hide, but it’s a brave and courageous write by Laguna, into a darkness that most of us don’t want to know about, although we do.

Infinite Splendours is a harrowing but compelling read. A story I’ll never forget.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, November 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

MRMPP & Pamela Miller Award winners

Ballarat Writers Inc. is pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize and the Pamela Miller Award.

The MRMPP, run every two years, was judged by Terry Jaensch. To read Terry’s comments, click here, and click on the entries to read the poems.

BWI thanks Terry for his insightful comments and all those who entered for their support, and offers congratulations to the winners and those highly commended.

First Prize ($1,000)

Bee Hives at Night‘ by Nathan Curnow, Ballarat East, VIC

Second Prize ($400)

Banksia‘ by Claire Miranda Roberts, Edinburgh

Third Prize ($100)

What Time It Is In Auckland‘ by Colin Montfort, Padbury, WA

Highly Commended

‘Piano Concerto’ by Helen Bradwell, Williamstown, VIC

‘Burden’ by David Terelinck, Biggera Waters, QLD

‘Ibis Roost’ by Pippa Kay, Hunters Hill, NSW

‘The Georges Sand, Eliot and Lewes’ by Anne M Carson, Bonbeach, VIC

‘The Way’ by Damen O’Brien, Wynnum, QLD

‘Your Coma Is A Half Death’ by Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Padbury, WA

The Pamela Miller Prize is for members of BWI, with the winner chosen by the committee and the people’s choice by an online vote. The entries can be read at the Ballarat Flash website.

Judge’s Choice ($100): ‘Double Act’ by Polly Musgrove

People’s Choice (BW pen): ‘Spontaneity’ by Kirily McKellor

Prizewinners and picnickers

It’s an action-packed week as we bid farewell to 2020, with prize announcements on Wednesday and a picnic on Sunday!

Our last monthly members’ meeting for the year is on Wednesday November 25, at which the winners of the Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize (judged by Terry Jaensch) and the Pamela Miller Prize will be announced, as well as affording members a chance to catch up. The meeting will be held online using Zoom. It will start slightly later than usual, at 7.30pm. We look forward to returning to in-person meetings in the new year!

Details for joining the meeting have been sent in the members’ newsletter. Please get in touch if you’ve missed it or need help accessing Zoom.

Then, on Sunday, the easing of COVID restrictions means we can go ahead with our end-of-year picnic! Please join us at South Gardens, Ballarat Botanic Gardens, on Wendouree Parade, from 2pm on Sunday 29 November. BYO snacks, chairs and rugs as we exercise COVID-safe distancing to finally catch up in the flesh, reflect on 2020 and look forward to a more social and active 2021. 

Bonus: We will have a signed copy of Lament, by Beaufort’s Nicole Kelly, to give away to one lucky picnicker!

Book review — One Punch, by Barry Dickins

Title: One Punch: The tragic toll of random acts of violence

Author: Barry Dickins

Publisher: Hardie Grant, 2020

The author

Barry Dickins is a well-known Australian author, journalist, playwright, actor, artist and educator. He is the author of numerous books – fiction, memoirs, non-fiction, collections of essays – and plays.

In 1995 he was awarded the Louis Esson Prize for Drama for his stage play Remember Ronald Ryan, and the Amnesty Prize for Peace through Art.

The book

Barry Dickins writes of the random acts of violence perpetrated upon individuals, and looks at the gratuitous violence witnessed daily within our society. He researches ‘one punch’ deaths – whereby one punch to a victim results in their death. He describes the history of the events, the perpetrators, the court cases and the verdicts, and interviews the families of the victims.

In Barry’s search for information and understanding, he speaks with witnesses, medical staff who attend the victims of violence, school teachers, a former judge and a priest.  

Unable to interview the offenders, he wonders at their remorse.

Research update: 127 Australians killed by coward punches since 2000

JENNIFER SCHUMANN, VIFM/MONASH UNIVERSITY,2019

The author describes, in down-to-earth prose, the many acts of violence seen within society, including unprovoked attacks perpetrated on vulnerable people and property, and aggressive acts by motorists.

Throughout the book, Barry looks back on a safe and loving childhood and ponders the differences between those earlier years and now.

Violence touches Barry’s life when a family member, out walking with friends, is brutally attacked by a group of young men.  This leaves Barry with a ‘revolving disbelief’ that anyone would want to do harm to an innocent person.

Stop the Coward Punch

DANNY GREEN’S FIGHT AGAINST ONE-PUNCH ATTACKS

Reading this book was like sitting down with a long-time friend and listening as he tells his story in a gentle and caring way.  Barry writes of the violence and trauma in such a manner the reader is not traumatised by the reading. Instead we come to an understanding of the complexity of this subject.

Barry does not offer a solution, nor does he try to solve the question of why these things are happening – for who can?  But he has opened our eyes to it.

One Punch is a book that needs to be read.

Reviewed by: Linda Young

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Book review – The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Author: Garth Nix

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

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As Garth Nix prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of his popular Old Kingdom series next year, his latest book also offers some nostalgic touchstones.

The 1983 UK depicted in The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is a slight variant of the one in the history books, as flagged by subtle touches such as the all-female leads of the TV show The Professionals. And then there’s the magic, of course, firmly grounded in the tradition of the likes of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper.

By centring his action in a secret cabal of magicians operating from London bookstores, Nix – at one time himself a bookseller – gives himself room to dip the hat to writers seminal and popular. He also gets to have a lot of fun.

The booksellers, whose magical inclinations are indicated by their handedness, operate as a kind of CI5 for the magical realm, keeping a lid on the folkloric, mythical and magical creatures and societies who interrupt the mundane workings of the human world.

Watch an interview with Garth Nix about The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

WITH DODD AND SUMNER AT FORBIDDEN PLANET TV

The story starts with a bang, when Susan is exposed to left-handed bookseller Merlin, whose personal quest intersects with her attempt to find her mysterious father.

Nix keeps the action coming as the pair are joined by Merlin’s (right-handed) sister Vivien in an ever-deepening plot that draws in the conventional authorities as well as the resources of the booksellers. Spells and swords, machineguns and helicopters are deployed as the stakes – and the body count – continue to rise.

Nix manages the action well, manoeuvring his engaging characters without contrivance and allowing enough downtime for breaths to be drawn and romance to stir. Their world makes sense, too, with a consistent and understandable magic system, and the relationship between the booksellers’ Old World and the mundane authorities of the New World in logical balance.

With the re-release of Sabriel and its follow-ups to court a new generation of fans, the booksellers’ tale is a reminder of why Nix is one of Australia’s most successful writers, and a fine addition to his bibliography. One can only hope this is but the first chapter in the booksellers’ adventures.

Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung, November 2020
Jason Nahrung is Ballarat Writers’ publicity officer

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