Authors: Lisa Portolan and Samantha McDonald
Publisher: Big Sky Publishing
Lisa Portolan is a journalist and author from Sydney. She has previously published two books, including bestseller Happy As (Echo, Melbourne).
Samantha McDonald is an Australian director and producer. She has a degree in Law and Communications. Growing up there was always a focus on looks and it took her years to reclaim her own story.
The main character in Pretty Girls, Evie, is based on Samantha’s own story, though fictionalised.
What has brought Evie, a thirtysomething single parent back to Redfern? Her excuse – her dying father in hospital with cancer.
There is no love for her father, an abusive embittered old man. Her return is almost instinctive: part obligation, part need; a last chance? Life during her early Redfern years was hard; her brother and mother did not survive. The trauma of Evie’s teenage years is told through a series of flashbacks to mid 1990s Redfern interspersed with her current-day struggle.
Set against the backdrop of family violence, racism, and predatory male attitudes towards stereotypically attractive girls, Lisa and Samantha do not hold back on the gritty realism. However, it is told honestly, not overdone or grotesque.
It takes a relationship with Indigenous ex-boxer Mr G for Evie to begin to find her way. Initially she wants closure and an understanding of who she is, there are questions needing answers.
The relationships with her own daughter and Mr G set up a juxtaposition with her own life and these relationships are important for Evie’s eventual self-reconciliation.
There is a certain amount of irony in this story, Evie’s survival is likely to be largely due to a fighting spirit inherited from her father, but it is tempered with empathy, not bitterness. It is this duality that Mr G finds attractive.
Pretty Girls could easily be dismissed as just another account of male violence, racism, and hardship. But this is not a story of exposure or retribution; it’s a story of healing and self-reconciliation, of Evie taking back her life story. It is about finding love and of giving and receiving, a story of optimism.
Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, June 2020
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group
Why is it that we choose to write? For almost all of us, there would be a different answer to this question, though I would say for most of us, it stems from this almost unquenchable and indefatigable urge to have something deep inside of us heard. What does that even mean? Just because we believe we have something to say doesn’t mean that someone else will feel the same way. And are we writing things that are truly, earth-shatteringly important? Is it important because we are tapping into something that goes beyond us, or is it important only because the walls in our ego-chamber lead us to believe so?
I don’t want to say that I write important things. I know that I write, and I know that I write with a certain belief as to what I want my work to do. I’ve lived a life of travel for over a decade now, because I really wanted to connect to the various cultures of the world which weren’t mine, to the fullest extent a foreigner or a no-nothing could. And from that life, and from the books I wrote from that space, I will say this:
Learn to humble yourself. It’s the hardest thing to do. Life is hard on the artist. We’re born with a different way of seeing the world, and society isn’t kind to such people. So, rather than developing a thick skin, we develop a lot of excuses in our head as to why the world has damned us, and we grow rancorous, and easily triggered. You need not be the victim all the time. And when people are telling us something, it’s for a reason. For thousands of years, artists on all corners of the Earth have been creating works of timeless art. While we believe in the deepest parts of our hearts that we have what it takes to rival them, there’s a more likely chance than not that your writing isn’t going to be that good.
And that’s okay. It’s okay to be a work in progress. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay not to write well, and it’s okay to do the best you can do. You only live in your head, you only live the life you have been given, so do your best with that, whatever that means.
Listen as well as you can. This is on the harder side. Our egos train us to listen to some things and not to others. The truth is that we can learn from anyone and everyone, and we should be willing to take things into ourselves that might hurt us, but also help our minds improve.
Yet, learn what you should listen to, and what you shouldn’t. There are a lot of things that people say that will just lead you further down the rabbit hole of negativity and wear at your self-esteem or sense of self. Learn how to learn from others, but also learn what is worth learning.
Finally, read widely, but experience wildly. There is a reason why in my mother tongue we have the adage ‘desha nodu kosha odu’ (or, ‘see the world, read dictionaries’). As much as it is important to be in conversation with the greatest of artists and their work, it’s also important that you are connected to the events that are happening in the world, and that you are responding to things people can relate to. The more that you learn to connect yourself to others, the more likely you are able to create characters that are outside of yourself and have tendencies and mentalities of their own.
And the more that you connect with others, the more likely that you will find yourself belonging a little bit more than you believed you could, and from that will come peace, stability, and self-discovery.
Kiran Bhat is an Indian-American polyglot, traveller and writer. He has been to 132 countries, has lived in 19 pockets of the planet and picked up 12 languages. He is the author of the Spanish-language poetry collection Autobiografia (Letrame Editorial, 2019) and the Mandarin-language poetry collection Kiran Speaks (White Elephant Press, 2019), as well as the Portuguese-language story collection Afora, Adentro (Editorial Labrador, 2020) and the Kannada-language travelogue Tirugaatha (Chiranthana Media Solutions, 2019). In 2020 he published the English-language story cycle we of the forsaken world… (Iguana Books). Find him online at kiranbhatweldgeist.com
Ballarat Writers is now accepting entries into the Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize, to be judged this year by Terry Jaensch.
The competition has an open theme and accepts poetry to 40 lines.
It closes on 11 October 2020
Entry Fee: $25 first poem
$20 first poem for members of Ballarat Writers
$15 for second or subsequent poems
Prizes: First $1,000; Second $400; Third $100
Finalists and winner will be announced in November 2020.
Please see the competition website for details on how to enter.