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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

Book review — Max by Alex Miller

Title: Max

Author: Alex Miller

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

Castlemaine-based Alex Miller is the winner of multiple national and international awards and a recipient of the Manning Clark Medal for outstanding contribution to Australian cultural life. His latest work, Max, his first non-fiction book, is a tribute to a man he loved and who loved him, a man who was his mentor and inspiration.

Imagine you are a writer. A friend shares with you mysterious fragments of his past. This friend shuns the limelight yet you have always suspected that “beneath his modesty, lurked a secret wish to have the story told”. Then your friend dies.

Max is a Jewish/German socialist intellectual who opposes the rise of the Third Reich. He is deported to Poland in 1933 and emigrates to Australia in 1945. His torture at the hands of the Gestapo, the demise of the German Labour Movement and the destruction of ideals to which he has devoted his life, have broken Max and brought him to the end of hope.

When Max dies, Miller feels he has betrayed his friend by not writing his story. He goes to Berlin in search of Max’s mysterious past as a resistance fighter. Miller believes that the torture Max suffered is the reason his memories are so fragmented. His quest leads him to a darker suspicion. He begins to fear that his friend was not a hero, after all. He gets to know Max better by meeting people who suffered similar experiences. The fragile Jewish community of Breslau, for instance where latent anti-Semitism still hovers.

An interview with Alex Miller about his book, Max

with david speers at abc radio’s the drawing room

Miller compares the rise of the Third Reich with the extreme right in the Western world today. A constant theme is that many Jews couldn’t believe what was happening until it was too late – they didn’t believe it was possible, they just didn’t see it coming. Miller suggests history seems fated to repeat itself and offers the chilling warning: “By the time we are aware of it, it will be too late to bring it down.”

After the war, Max was denied compensation because he was unable to provide documentary evidence. Miller points to this inhumane situation repeating worldwide today: failure to produce paperwork is often an excuse for governments to avoid helping refugees.

Honouring Max’s telling, the writing is divided not into chapters, but “fragments”. It is rich with sensitively portrayed images of place and human interaction …Miller’s reluctant visit to Auschwitz … his walk through the Thuringia forest … the post-war decay still evident in parts of Europe and the loving restoration of buildings that were burned to the ground because they were Jewish.

For me this book was a gift, emphasising as it does the importance of listening to traumatised people, and the value of every life. The story of futile resistance against an evil power will resonate with today’s refugee advocates.

Reviewed by: Maureen Riches, October 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group

Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize deadline extended!

The closing date for the Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize, to be judged this year by Terry Jaensch, has been extended by one week.

The competition has an open theme and accepts poetry to 40 lines.

It now closes on 18 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.

Book review — The Crossing by M.M. Riches

Title: The Crossing

Author: M.M. Riches

Publisher: Ginninderra Press, 2020

This intriguing Australian debut novel by M.M. Riches, a Ballarat Writers member, takes the reader back to the 1960s. A young nun travels to Cobbs Crossing, a country town in the Mallee, to work as a trainee teacher at St Cuthbert’s, an orphanage run by the Catholic Church.

Sarah, the protagonist, finds more than she bargained for at St Cuthbert’s. Most of the children are Aboriginal and although supposedly orphaned, she discovers many are not. A newspaper reporter befriends the young nun and together they uncover disturbing facts about the orphanage. Sarah is conflicted between her role and beliefs as a Catholic nun and her commitment to the children and to the truth.

The book shines a light on the devious and misguided ways that resulted in the mistreatment of Indigenous people by white Australians in the not-so-distant past. The author cleverly weaves humour and humanity into the more sinister and shocking aspects of this story. The book is finely researched and carries with it a poignant and important message. The characters are engaging and believable.

M.M Riches captures the essence of what it is to stand up for fairness and equity with a story arc that holds the reader until the very last page. The author is to be congratulated on this well-structured and beautifully written book. 

2009 Australian of the Year Mick Dodson said in his testament to M.M. Riches’ novel, “Characters in this book are real. I have met them in my lifetime. They are part of the story of the Stolen Generations, an integral part of the shared history of our country. Every Australian should read this book”.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, September 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. book review group

Book review – No Friend But The Mountains by Behrouz Boochani

Title: No Friend But The Mountains – Writing from Manus Prison

Author: Behrouz Boochani; translated by Omid Tofighian

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018


Journalist, writer, filmmaker with a Masters degree in political science,
Behrouz Boochani fled Iran, came to Australia as a refugee and spent six years on
Manus Island. He chronicled prison life with only a hidden mobile phone.

A forward by Richard Flanagan ranks his work with world prison literature.

After a horrific sea crossing, Behrouz arrives at Christmas Island on 23 July
2013 – four days after the ruling against boat arrivals. He and his companions are
confronted with wire fences and CCTV cameras. They are stripped, body-searched, handcuffed, paraded before the press and transferred to Manus prison.

The men no longer have names but numbers. Games are prohibited. Soccer
balls are forbidden but cigarettes are supplied – cigarettes that can be withdrawn. They must stand in queues for the phone, toilet, cigarettes and long queues of
paracetamol dependency. They must queue for meals. Often no food is left. A
mango tree outside the fence tantalises starving men.

In small rebellions, the men sing and dance, infuriating the Australian guards.

Many guards are ex-military. They wear black gloves with little metal spikes
and terrorise the prisoners.

A naked prisoner escapes the terrifying solitary confinement cell. Guards pin him down, crushing his face to the ground. His back is bloody. He is cuffed. They beat him with a stick and laugh. They leave him lying there, wounded.

The Immigration Minister visits and issues terrifying threats: stay here forever
or return to danger.

Some have coping mechanisms, many do not. Fear, torture and neglect lead to suicides and the terrible riot of 2014. After the riot, the men are paraded to witness the dead and injured bodies of fellow prisoners.

Behrouz Boochani granted asylum in New Zealand

Behrouz unflinchingly describes the worst of humanity and one of the darkest
chapters of Australian history, a regime designed to break its victims, yet his account is a triumph of the human spirit. Producing such a masterpiece with only a
contraband mobile phone was an extraordinary achievement, the skill involved
breathtaking.

Barbaric cruelty is exposed through exquisite writing, haunting poetic
passages and even moments of merriment.

The effort to do justice to such an epic has been daunting. Many times I felt
an over-whelming sense of national shame but I could not turn away.

Reviewed by: Maureen Riches, August 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. book review group

Ballarat Writers email hack

We’re sorry to advise that our email has been caught up in a virus attack and has been sending out weird emails, many dredged from archives, with potentially nasty attachments.

If you have received or do receive one (or more), we advise sending it straight to spam and running a virus/malware check on your device. Do not open the attachment.

If you have concerns about your anti-virus software, Malwarebytes is a free program that may help.

We’re trying to get to the bottom of it and stop the spamming.

We’re so sorry for the annoyance and confusion this has no doubt caused.

Book review: Pretty Girls by Lisa Portolan & Samantha McDonald

Authors: Lisa Portolan and Samantha McDonald

Publisher: Big Sky Publishing

Year: 2020

About the authors

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. 

Review

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.   

Pretty Girls slated for production

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

Book review: The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal

Title:                The Deceptions

Author:            Suzanne Leal

Publisher:        Allen & Unwin, 2020

Suzanne Leal has published two previous novels—The Teacher’s Secret and Border Street.

She was the senior judge for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards from 2017 to 2019.

Suzanne is a lawyer experienced in child protection, criminal law and refugee law.

This current novel, published in 2020, is a work of fiction. However, it was inspired by a story as told to Suzanne by her neighbour, who, along with his wife, was a Holocaust survivor.

The novel centres on the main character Hana, who tells of her life and experiences as a young Jewish woman during the Second World War. She lives with her family in Prague, then is interned in a Jewish ghetto in Theresienstadt.   There she meets Karl, a Czech gendarme, who has been assigned to the camp. This event leads to catastrophic changes in the direction and outcome of Hana’s life.

From this premise, the story moves back and forwards over time and countries, as Hana’s life, and the family she creates, evolve.  No one person is left unscathed by their life’s experiences.

The novel brings together the present and the past, when the titular deceptions are finally disclosed, and the repercussions for all are tragic.

The author has taken a story of the Holocaust and written a novel that is gripping. It is not an easy read. Suzanne Leal has written in graphic detail life in the concentration camp to which Hanna was eventually sent. It opens our eyes to the horrors experienced by so many millions of people, and the long term effects of the war on extended families. 

It is confronting, but these stories need to be told, and Suzanne Leal has certainly done that in The Deceptions.

Reviewed by: Linda Young, July 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group

Book review: The Lost Jewels by Kirsty Manning

The Lost Jewels

Author: Kirsty Manning

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

The Author

Kirsty Manning is almost a local girl.  She lives with her husband and three children in the Macedon Ranges. However, Kirsty grew up in country New South Wales. Her travels and study have taken her to most of Europe, United States of America, and parts of Asia. Kirsty’s first novel, The Midsummer Garden, was published in 2017 and was followed by bestselling The Jade Lily.

The Lost Jewels, Kirsty’s third novel, is inspired by a true story, the finding of the Cheapside Hoard — “the greatest single collection of Elizabethan and Stuart jewellery in the world” — in 1912.  

The Book

Romance and intrigue; fact blended with fiction; and travel to exotic locations — what more does one need in these locked-down times?

The principle character, Dr Kate Kirby, historian and jewellery specialist, is asked to write a cover story for a luxury magazine on the jewellery hoard discovered at Cheapside, London, in 1912.  An exciting research project, just the antidote Kate needs at this low point in her life

Kate’s research uncovers a complex history of events surrounding the jewels and an unexpected connection between Essie, Kate’s beloved great-grandmother, and the jewels.

Aussie photographer Marcus Holt is assigned to take the photos for the story.  Marcus comes with a reputation and not just for his individual and energetic style; and on this occasion direct from Heathrow he is replete with surfboard and late for their London Museum meeting. 

Writing in third person, Kirsty has given the reader an easy-to-follow multi-layered story. It is woven around the jewels and three women — Aurelia, Essie and Kate — in three eras: the seventeenth century, Edwardian London and present day.  The storytelling mainly switches between Kate and Essie; after all they are family and a lot of the underlying theme is about family.

However, it is through Aurelia that the seventeenth-century possible origins of the hoard are explained. 

After the London meeting, Kate and Marcus jet off to Hyderabad in India looking for the historical influences that have shaped the history of the jewels. 

Eating in quirky, out-of-the way cafés, touring the mines, then a short break in Sri Lanka before Kate heads back to Paris.  It all seems so easy. I loved this little throwaway phrase, “Kate sat at her favourite table at Chez George”, as a way of giving Kate just that little extra sense of social polish. 

The Lost Jewels was an enjoyable, well-paced and entertaining book. I can thoroughly recommend it.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, June 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group

Ballarat Writers online meetings

Unfortunately, the uncertainty of Victoria’s COVID-19 situation has forced Ballarat Writers to cancel its scheduled monthly members meetings until further notice.

Consequently, a Members Night (substitute) Group Chat via Zoom is being held instead, from 7pm on the last Wednesday of each month.

Please see your newsletter or drop us a line here or on Facebook for details if you don’t have them already.

Note: our regular venue, the Bunch of Grapes hotel, is doing takeaway during lockdown.

Write Club

Members are invited to visit the Facebook page on Sundays 2-5pm to share writing time and discussion. Note: our regular venue, Racers, is doing takeaway, including dinners some nights a week.

Ballarat Flash

Our monthly members-only flash writing contest is proceeding as usual. Please see the website for details.

Tuning in from home

We also have a list of online events and opportunities to engage with the writing community. Please let us know if you’ve come across other great resources.

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