Month: March 2021

Book review – The Spiral, by Iain Ryan

Title: The Spiral

Author: Iain Ryan

Publisher: Echo/Allen and Unwin, 2021

Be warned: things are not straightforward in Iain Ryan’s third novel. The Melbourne writer, twice a winner of the Ned Kelly crime fiction award, has gone meta in his third novel.

Ryan’s prose is clean, well suited to the genre as he weaves noir grit and fantasy brawn into an intriguing thriller.

As the book opens, academic researcher Erma Bridges has some explaining to do. There’s scuttlebutt about her relationships with colleagues and students, an attack and a suicide, and a stalled research project threatening to destabilise her career. As one might expect of a book called The Spiral, things go downhill from there.

As a counterpoint to Erma’s first-person narrative, Ryan offers the barbarian Sargo, referred to in the second person. Sargo is a figment drawn from the pages of a choose-your-own-adventure style book, sexless, lethal, on a quest to overcome an amnesiac state of being. The barbarian is a character created by a famed writer of choose-your-own-adventures who is at the centre of Erma’s research, a reclusive figure who just may hold the key to Erma’s career success.

Erma’s quest for the writer takes her from the sandstone halls of The University of Queensland to the seedy alleys of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley to the lush surrounds of a secluded mansion in the Gold Coast hinterland. In the background, there are female students being abducted, crime figures linked to Erma’s colleagues, and the central mystery of Jenny: Erma’s research assistant, a woman with a link to the writer, a handgun and an axe to grind.

As Erma descends into the mysteries, Sargo’s branching narrative intrudes, requiring the reader to choose their own path through the barbarian’s maze that offers insights into Erma’s secrets.

It’s a journey of self-discovery and revelation, for Erma and the reader as Sargo. Of course it ends in blood. Of that, there is never any choice.

Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung, March 2021

Jason Nahrung is Ballarat Writers publicity and communications officer

Writers Corner – travel writing

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

Do you have a favourite piece of travel writing? Has reading stories of travelling inspired you to pack a bag and take to the road, jet set off to strange lands?  What was it about that writing that inspired you?

The discussion topic for our first Writers Corner, on Tuesday 6 April, is travel writing. This creative form of nonfiction is often based on the writer’s encounter with foreign places.  However, it can also take several other forms, which is something we can explore.

There is a practical side to travel writing: tips and advice, the must see’s and do’s, and how to get from one place to another.

In these restricted times travel writing would seem questionable. Writing about travel may fuel aspirations that cannot be achieved, or alternatively make how-to’s and itinerary planning even more critical.

Travel writing is not simply a product of the industrial revolution or the jet setter age; this popular form of writing has been written since Classical times. A couple of early examples include:

· Rutilius Claudius Namatianus (fl. 5th century)  

De reditu suo (Concerning His Return, c. 416) – the poet describes his voyage along the Mediterranean seacoast from Rome to Gaul.

·  Xuanzang (602–664)

Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (646) – narrative of the Buddhist monk’s journey from China to India.

More recent examples would include:

  • Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck (1962)
  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain(1869)
  • Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1939)
  • The Sea to Sardinia by D H Lawrence (1923)
  • On the Road is a 1957 novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across the United States.
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson (2015)

Want more travel writing? Check out this event with Tamara Sheward, being hosted by Ballarat Libraries on 16 April!

event details at trybooking

Travel writing takes many different forms, they might more readily be described as follows:

  • Destination pieces
  • Special interest for types of travel, e.g., hiking, cycling, caravanning, backpacking or something more quirky.
  • Holidays and events – family vacation
  • festivals.
  • Personal adventures
  • Travel blogging
  • Itineraries
  • Travel guides
  • Memoir of personal travel.

Questions to help kick off your thoughts:

  • Why do you want to write about travel?
  • Do you have a collection of tips for other travellers going to a particular destination?
  • Is the travel just a backdrop to another adventure or drama, a setting for a romance?
  • Could Murder on the Orient Express be thought of as writing with a travel theme?
  • How to transport your reader to a new place?
  • Travelling during pandemics?
  • Places to publish – do you have suggestions?

Where, when and what to bring

Bunch of Grapes Hotel, 401 Pleasant St, Ballarat, on the first Tuesday in April: that’s the 6th, at 2pm; the bar will be open. Come along for a relaxed, loosely moderated discussion about the topic. It would be useful to bring a pen and paper in case we decide to get creative.

Click for the Facebook event

Email publicity AT ballaratwriters.com with queries

Book review – From Where I Fell, by Susan Johnson

Author: Susan Johnson

Title: From Where I Fell

Publisher: Allen and Unwin, March 2021

The author

Susan Johnson is a well- known and accomplished Australian author who has produced eight novels, a memoir, and a non-fiction book. She is internationally published and has lived in Europe for periods of her life. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia.

The book

From Where I Fell is a clever and engaging novel based on two women living completely different lives, continents apart. Pamela Robinson from Australia sends an email to her ex-husband and by mistake the email finds Chris Woods in the United States, who happens to have a similar email address.

The two women continue exchanging correspondence and an unlikely friendship ensues. It is a time of intense change and soul searching for both although their circumstances couldn’t be more diverse. Pamela, a single mother of three boys who chose to leave their father, seeks guidance and support from those around her. Her sons are out of control and she battles each day to be the parent she expects herself to be. Pamela is highly anxious, doubts her own ability to cope and struggles to set boundaries, for herself or her sons. Her ex-husband refuses to have contact with her.

Chris is married to a quiet man who’s almost invisible. They have no children, but Chris’s elderly Greek mother is noisily threatening to return to Greece to die in her home country.  Chris carries the heavy burden of being a martyr, at work, with her friends and at home. She carries disappointment stoically and is kind but stern in her approach to life. She is known for her strong tendency to lend a helping hand where needed, until she oversteps the mark and is oftentimes condemned for her severe remarks and actions.

Pamela and Chris are both on a journey toward personal change. Their emails bounce back and forward progressively revealing current details of their lives. The two individual narratives are poignant in their own right and as the unusual friendship of the two corresponding women develops, so too does the intensity and honesty. A third story is represented in their interactions. Often brusque, apologetic, empathic, at times brutally truthful, beautiful, cringe worthy and pithy.

Reading From Where I Fell felt slightly voyeuristic and yet the compulsion to keep reading was all consuming. The struggles that surround the lives of women in caregiving circumstances, grief and disappointment are subtly identified and to some length unpacked. Cleverly, Susan Johnson leaves Pamela, the sender of the mistaken email, with the last word.

Trent Dalton gave praise to Susan Johnson’s latest book. ‘This is Susan Johnson at her most original, daring bone-deep and deliciously raw. I fell, too, with aching heart and tickled rib, under the spell of this extraordinary book.’

An intriguing and clever novel born of (but not in) COVID-19 times when emailing and electronic communication was and still is substituted for personal contact. The modality of this work replicates and extends our experiences over the last year. Susan Johnson never disappoints.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, March 2021

Ballarat Writers Inc Book Review Group

Introducing Writers Corner

Writers Corner is an afternoon get-together of writers to chew the fat, kick the can down the road, or just an opportunity to put in your 2 cents’ worth on the topic of the day.

Held at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel on the first Tuesday of the month, making the first meeting on 6 April.  The session will start at 2pm and finish no later than 4pm. While there is no cost to attend, supporting Bunch of Grapes by purchasing drinks or nibbles would be appreciated.

Open to members and prospective members of Ballarat Writers.

Discussion will be loosely moderated to manage the time and to ensure we stay roughly on topic. The Ballarat Writers website and Facebook page will have posts with ideas, questions, and links for related material. This will be available for reading prior to the event. Please register your interest at the Facebook event or by replying to this email. Questions: hit us up on Facebook or publicity@ballaratwriters.com

Our first topic will be Travel Writing. Travel writing has been around since the early times and comes in numerous styles, from straight itineraries to full-blown adventure thrillers. Travel has been a driver in shaping our modern world, and writing about your experiences can be a great use of self- expression. Come along and share your experiences, ideas and questions about Travel Writing.

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