Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 3)

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balls are forbidden but cigarettes are supplied – cigarettes that can be withdrawn.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.

Tuning in from home

As we maintain our physical social distancing, here are some options for keeping a finger on the pulse of the writing community online.

Most writers centres are offering webinars on craft and industry topics in lieu of face-to-face workshops. Check out Writers Victoria’s offerings at the website.

Online critique or writing races: tap a friend or three and share some words for feedback, or set a date and time to “meet” online to knock out some wordage and share some messages of encouragement. Or pick a contest from our competitions page, get a posse together and brainstorm and workshop each other’s entries.

EVENTS

The Wheeler Centre runs a fortnightly offshoot of last year’s Broadside Festival, Broadly Speaking, on issues of feminism and gender.

Dymocks is running online author interviews in its Chapter One program.

Clunes Booktown is running Sunday author sessions online and has put together a bookclub hub.

The Guardian has a rolling list of streaming events in the arts and literature and welcomes additions.

The Wheeler Centre has new and archived livestreams available at its website.

The Garrett presents regular interviews with “writers on writing”.

The First Time Podcast talks to writers and industry insiders about first-time publications.

Bendigo Writers Festival is running a Backstory program of writer interviews.

Adelaide Writers Week has made many of its events from this year available online.

The Queenscliffe Literary Festival has had to cancel, but is running an online book club.

The Facebook group Writers Go Forth. Launch. Promote. Party. is promoting writers, especially those whose new books and launch events have been disrupted by COVID-19.

The Social Distancing Festival lists online activities by artists from around the world.

More festival news at this calendar

WORDS

Writing prompts and other cool material with which to while away lockdown couresty of Suleika Jaouad

Melbourne Spoken Word is running a channel on Twitch for live poetry readings with plenty of open mic opportunities. It also has an audio journal, Audacious, of spoken word and poetry from various gigs.

Hundreds of free audio books on Audible

The State Library of Victoria has tooled up its online offerings.

The National Gallery of Victoria has a rolling banquet of art and music drawing on its collections and exhibitions.

The Victoria Together website has plenty going on, collecting online offerings from readings and stand-up comedy to movies and livestreamed animal action.

Favourite kids books read by famous actors at Storyline Online

Poetry readings at Poetry Unbound

Ballarat’s Megan J. Riedl is sharing daily ‘Pandemic Poetry’ on her Facebook page

Come across great online content to help inspire your writing? Please share it with us so we can spread the good word! Leave a comment on this post or email publicty AT ballaratwriters.com

BONUS CRITTERS: At the risk of distracting from writing time, Melbourne Zoo is livestreaming footage from some of its animal enclosures – including penguins and OMG snow leopard kittens!

Members’ book discounts

If ever there was a time for saving money on books, this could be it (who are we kidding? It’s always the season for buying books, right?).

So members, please remember that these businesses are supporters of Ballarat Writers and offer a 10% discount if you show your current membership card.

March members night cancelled

In light of current advice about trying to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-1), the committee has cancelled the members’ night scheduled for next Wednesday, March 25.

This is a blow for our members and our venue, but the committee feels the response is appropriate at this stage of the crisis.

The committee also suggests Sunday Write Club gatherings might best not be held in a shared space, given the importance of keeping a social distance at this critical time in the mitigation effort, but online options, such as writing at a common time and sharing word counts, could be investigated.

BW’s friends at Words Out Loud have also cancelled their March event, scheduled for March 19 in Creswick, and are taking a watch-and-see approach to the April event, back in Ballarat.

Likewise, BW will follow expert advice over the coming weeks in deciding whether April’s members’ night will run as scheduled.

The flash fiction contest is open for voting and will be announced at the usual time, and a contest for next month will be run as usual.

Useful links:
Further information about COVID-19 in Australia is available at the federal government website.

Arts practitioners who have lost work or are feeling the strain can get information at I Lost My Gig.

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