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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

Kiran Bhat’s advice for writers

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

Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize 2020 is now open

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.

Book review: Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe

Author: Mirandi Riwoe

Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Year: 2020

Mirandi Riwoe wrote a prize-winning novella The Fish Girl before writing Stone Sky Gold Mountain. She lives in Brisbane and has a PhD in creative writing.

This historical novel tells a poignant story of two young Chinese siblings and is set in Australia in the late 1800s. Ying, disguised as a male, and Lai Yue, her older brother, arrive in the North Queensland goldfields after fleeing their home in China. Their aim is to accumulate wealth before returning to China to find their younger siblings. They exist in meagre and sometimes dangerous conditions with long working hours panning for gold.

Driven from the goldfields, Ying takes refuge with and works for a Chinese storekeeper. It’s during this time she meets Meriem, a young woman who has experienced her own troubled times and works as a housekeeper for a brothel worker. The intriguing friendship between Ying and Meriem slowly develops over time. Lai Yue, after squandering his gold to buy opium, joins a droving crew as a cook in an attempt to redeem his losses.

Find out more about Mirandi Riwoe at The Garrett

Mirandi Riwoe tells a compelling story, it’s both gentle and harsh.  The author demonstrates an acute understanding of human frailty and resilience, highlighted by the injustice and discrimination dished out to minority groups on the goldfields. The issues of racism and sexism are explored through acute story telling and beautiful writing.

The three main characters are memorable, the pace, structure and the ending developed to perfection.  The plight of early Chinese miners in Australia is rarely explored in its own right but this book brings the lived experience to the page, which, in my view, makes this story unique.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, June 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group

Book review: Beloved: a Word Banquet by Amy Tsilemanis

Author: Poems by Amy Tsilemanis with images by the late Susie Surtees

Publisher: Amy Tsilemanis

Book Design: Tiffany Titshall

Year: 2020

Genre: Poetry

ISBN:  978-0-646-82011-8

Cover of Beloved: a Word Banquet

The Author

At the time Ballarat’s Word Banquet was running, Amy was a PhD student at Federation University working across the Collaborative Research Centre in Australian History (CRCAH) and the Arts Academy. This research was based on her practice as curator at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute (2016-2019).

In 2019 she was nominated for the Ballarat Heritage Awards‘ inaugural Mayoral Award for emerging heritage and design practitioners

Amy has always loved storytelling and creating unique, beautiful and thought-provoking things. She loves making ideas happen through innovative projects and events.

Amy is based in Ballarat and is involved with curation and research on various local projects around arts, culture and heritage.

Word Banquet

Word Banquet was a monthly literary discussion group run by the late Susie Surtees with assistance from Amy Tsilemanis at the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute in 2018: “a participatory experience with other lovers of the words and ideas that move, inspire, and change us”. 

The Book

They say good things come in small packages. This book is more than a simple book of prose, it is a commemorative item, desirable and collectable. Beautifully presented, from the hard cover with the symbolic image of ginkgo leaves to the luxurious, thick pages, it is a tactile delight. Beloved: a Word Banquet is an apt title for a book in memory of friendship and kindred spirits.

I must admit to a slight bias, having attended three Word Banquet sessions and thoroughly enjoying each of them.  They opened the door to a richer world.  This book perfectly captures the mood and sentiment of those relaxed, civilised conversational events.

Beloved: a Word Banquet is to be launched online on 1 August, 2020; see the Facebook event for details

The images in the book are a mixture of symbolism, memory, and natural beauty. The cover image of ginkgo leaves with their soft rain-laden colours and association with peace and duality is a testament to how Susie viewed the world.

The images and writing are informed by deep philosophical understanding, years of reading, learning and research.  Amy’s poem for May I found particularly resonant for its observations of the social impact of advancing technological communications.

To me this book speaks of a richer life, where ambition is not about possession and power but for learning and love. Communication, through words and images, transcending place and time, but always with respect and consideration for others.

I am glad to have this book – a beautiful memory.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, July 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!

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