Tweeters: Budgerigar by Sarah Harris & Don Baker

Writers Go Forth. Launch. Promote. Party. is an online community set up on Facebook by my friend and fellow Transit Lounge author Kirsten Krauth (Almost a Mirror, 2020). Kirsten established the platform up to give writers with works coming out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic a chance to still enjoy some form of book promotion at a time when public talks, launches and other associated celebrations were not possible. During a recent call-out for posts from authors directly impacted by COVID-era publication, I chanced upon a post from Sarah Harris with a link to a book called Budgerigar. I started reading a sample on Google Books, and was so hooked, I went out and bought the book.

Budgerigar, sub-titled ‘How a brave, chatty and colourful little Aussie bird stole the world’s heart’, is co-authored by Sarah Harris and her partner Don Baker, described in their author blurb as ‘veteran journalists’. This background shows in their writing, which is engaging, well-researched and accessible — and they clearly have an eye for a good story. The book’s 25 thematic chapters are interspersed with extracts from bird books, magazines and newspapers, creating a conversational tone to the work.

Budgerigar both outlines the history of the bird, and uses the bird as a lens through which to view historical events. A bird’s-eye view, if you like.

A chapter called ‘Budgerigar Dreaming’ describes the significance of the bird–known as ngatijirri in Walpiri, dingleyerung in Noongar, and gidiyirrigaa in Wiradjuri–to Australia’s First Nations people as bellwethers and food, as well as ancestral spirits and constellations. The shipping of vast quantities of budgerigars, live and dead, from Australia to the UK aptly illustrates the colonial project of expansion, appropriation and dislocation. We learn of the budgerigar as status symbol, as fashion accessory, and as vector of zoonotic disease that bears an eerie resemblance to COVID-19. Budgerigars played a role in Allied war efforts by being trained to chant anti-Nazi slogans and were renowned for alerting their owners to incoming bombing raids. There are celebrity budgies, therapy budgies, fortune-telling budgies and ‘Budgezillas’, birds so inbred as to be unrecognisable to their wild Australian (distant) cousins.

The roll-call of the rich and famous who were devoted to their budgerigar companions is impressive, ranging from Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama and Marilyn Monroe to Vita Sackville-West and Betty Cuthbert, the latter quoted as saying, ‘They are my only love outside of running.’ Among the photographs included in the middle of the book is a smouldering black-and-white shot of Clint Eastwood in a tight polo shirt with two budgerigars on his shoulder.

There are aspects to the budgerigar’s tale which are disturbing. As Harris and Baker note, ‘Generation upon generation of captive and selective breeding has produced, at best, a much-loved and cosseted companion and, at worst, a feathered Frankenstein that’s not so much a bird as a caricature of the original wild creature.’ But they are careful not to judge their subjects, allowing the reader to reach their own conclusions about the good, the bad and the budgie (sorry!).

The final chapter, ‘Wild thing’, may well find you, like me, adding ‘Witness a budgerigar murmuration’ to your bucket list.

Budgerigar by Sarah Harris and Don Baker is published by Allen & Unwin, 2020.

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Coming soon to a library near you

 

 

What makes a great read? What gives books their power over us? Have you ever read a book that changed you?

I am chairing event called On Reading with authors Kate Mildenhall and J P Pomare for Ballarat Libraries — a wonderful opportunity to dive deep into the reading history and habits of two talented Australian writers.

The event will be held IRL [in real life] at Ballarat Library on Fri 19 February 2021, 178 Doveton St N, Ballarat Central, from 7.00PM – 8.00PM.

Tickets are free but you need to register here.

Next month I will be appearing as a guest of the Campaspe Regional Library Service alongside author Favel Parrett for their International Women’s Day event on Sunday 7 March 2021, 2.15PM at Echuca Library, 310 Hare St, Echuca.

Again, the event is free but bookings are essential to meet COVID safety guidelines. Book here.

The day before, Saturday 6 March, Favel and I will be running a writing workshop/inspirational session for the Town Hall Writers Group in Kyabram — at the Kyabram Town Hall, naturally. We’ll also be on hand to help the Town Hall Writers Group launch their anthology of local women’s writing, Celebrating Women, in the afternoon.

On International Women’s Day itself, which is a public holiday in Victoria (though sadly not for IWD), I’ll be appearing at an event in Castlemaine…but more about that later.

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(Library) Love is in the air

In the midst of a sad and difficult year in 2020, I managed to start a new job that I love, as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria. As someone who loves reading, who knows that knowledge is power, who recognises the danger of ‘false news’ and the value of a reliable source, and who believes in inclusive public spaces, working to support the public library sector is a dream come true.

Valentine’s Day on February 14 coincides with #LibraryLoversDay. The theme for 2021 is ‘Make a date with your library’. While Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, I’m sure libraries would be happy to welcome early ‘dates’. And with the availability of ebooks, audio books, movie and music streaming services, and remote access to information databases and programs like Ancestry, there’s always online dating.

I’ve been making a few dates with libraries myself. I visited the atmospheric St Kilda Library, with its wonderful painting by Mirka Mora and original 1970s light fittings and desks and, on the same side of town, the stunning, newly renovated Sandringham Library, complete with reading nooks, craft room and forested children’s area. Last week a colleague and I travelled to south west Victoria, meeting with library managers and local councillors in Colac and Warrnambool.

Biblio Art Prize Storyteller’s Prize Winner Dianne Jacono’s ‘After the Sea Rises – Nest’ inspired by Alice Robinson’s ‘The Glad Shout’

Our visit also involved a quick side trip to Port Fairy to see this year’s Biblio Art Prize exhibition at Blarney Books. The brainchild of bookshop owner Jo Canham, the Biblio Art Prize matches books with artists and exhibits the fruit of this inspiration. In 2020, Jo threw her support behind authors who published works in or just prior to 2020, when launches and festivals and everything else a writer relies on to promote their book were no more. Artists were randomly allocated a title to use as inspiration for their artwork, often being given books they wouldn’t ordinarily choose to read themselves. The artwork that results from this creative practice sheds new light on the literary work, while vividly illustrating in visual language the dialogue between reader and writer. I loved the exhibition — and not just because my own 2019 novel, Mother of Pearl, inspired one of the artworks. That said, I may just have bought Isabel Szabo’s exquisitely embroidery Pearlescent Mirage…

Later this month I will be appearing at an event at Ballarat Library, chairing a session called On Reading with authors Kate Mildenhall and J P Pomare. Ballarat Libraries produced a number of these sessions online during the COVID-19 lockdown and it’s a wonderful opportunity to dive deep into a writer’s reading history and habits. Pandemic permitting, the event will be held in person at Ballarat Library on Fri 19 February 2021, 178 Doveton St N, Ballarat Central, from 7.00PM – 8.00PM. Registration details to follow.

It will be almost a year between live literary events, my last being sessions with Tara June Winch and Miriam Sved at Adelaide Writers Week on 29 Feb and 1 March 2020. It seems like a lifetime ago.

Which reminds me of something I read yesterday in The Library Book by Susan Orlean: ‘In the library, time is dammed up — not just stopped but saved. The library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever.’

Stay tuned for more dates with libraries…and be sure to make one yourself.

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Tweeters: Fly by Jess McGeachin

Welcome to ‘Tweeters’, a new series (I hope!) of monthly posts in which I write about books that feature birds in some way.

I’m starting off with a picture book Fly by Jess McGeachin, shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) 2020 New Illustrator award. Here’s the blurb from the publisher Penguin Books:

Fly is a beautiful story of determination no matter the odds, and love in the face of loss.
Lucy had always been good at fixing things, and Dad needed a bit of help. It was just the two of them after all.
So when Lucy finds a bird with a broken wing, she’s sure she can fix him too. But not everything that’s broken can be fixed.

Fly is a deceptively simple story. There’s a subtext about how children deal with loss, but the story’s magical quality means it is neither heavy nor didactic. And while there’s an injured sparrow at the centre of the story, birds are the heroes of the tale, too.

The illustrations support the narrative beautifully, Lucy’s world becoming more colourful and vibrant, the further she rises from the earth into the sky in her efforts to show her injured sparrow how to fly. I particularly liked the plates at the end showing different types of birds, many of them native Australian species.

I was introduced to this book when asked by Karen Fleischer’s to record a video for her Facebook page, Reading for Kids Gippsland. A link to the clip is below. My fabulous 15-year-old shot and edited the video (bless her!), which includes images of some of my ornithological #literarycritters. In a sign I should have done my homework, I incorrectly refer to author Jess McGeachin as ‘she’ instead of ‘he’. And I wish I’d recorded a day later after I had a haircut! But I hope you enjoy it all the same.

Can you recommend another kids’ book involving birds?

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Reading 2020

For the past few years, I’ve reflected on my previous year’s reading using Reading Bingo as a framework. But 2020 being the year it was, I’ve decided to go rogue.

I was surprised to find I’d read 13 fewer books in 2020 (total of 45) than I did in 2019, because I feel like I was constantly reading during the year. That said, I suspect I missed recording a few books, my powers of concentration not up to normal standards, given all that was going on.

As usual, I read more fiction than anything else (33 novels, six novellas and one short story collection), mostly by Australian women writers (29); of the 30 Australian authors whose books I read in 2020, 22 of them were known to me personally (which is why I’ve largely stopped reviewing books).

The novels I read fall into roughly two categories: books that resonated with the times, and books that took me away from those times. The books that resonated included The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean Mckay, The Trespassers by Meg Mundell, The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar and The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall. All excellent reads.

And I made #LiteraryCritters inspired by Laura and Meg’s books.

Of the books that helped me escape at times from what was one of my toughest years on record, my stand out reads were: The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy (also a contender for a resonate novel with its themes of climate change and mass extinction), Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe, The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen, The Crying Place by Lia Hills, The White Girl by Tony Birch and The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. The funniest book I read was Mammoth by Chris Flynn. And before the year went to hell, I read Tara June Winch’s two novels, Swallow the Air and The Yield, which led me to conclude that she is one of the finest writers Australia has ever produced.

A number of these books inspired #LiteraryCritters, too.

I also confess to reading a couple of books in order to make #LiteraryCritters to go with them, notably The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers (couldn’t resist the cute little Tasmanian Devil pattern by Paw Paw’s Studio). And then of course there was the whole Animals Make Us Human project (soon the subject of another post).

I read three books by American writers, an eclectic mix of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, all of which were excellent.

And I read one poetry collection, Turbulence by Thuy On, which inspired a crocheted koi fish.

I read more non-fiction than usual in 2020, nine books, compared with six in 2019. Included among these was A Better Death by Doctor Ranjana Srivastava, which I found incredibly helpful when my mother was dying.

Towards the end of the year, I felt strong enough to start reading about grief. My first of these books, and my last read of the year, was Melbourne Circle by my friend Nick Gadd. The book documents the ‘psychojogging’ that Nick and his late wife Lynne did of inner city Melbourne over two years, combining history, travelogue, pyschogeography and memoir. The book is a beautiful tribute to Lynne, a poignant reflection on loss, and a wonderful account of Melbourne’s more hidden history. It has also inspired a #LiteraryCritter (a work in progress).

Nick writes: ‘In grief, we act for reasons we don’t understand.’ I took up two practices in the wake of my mother’s death last year, which I continued through Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown and the death of my father: crafting #LiteraryCritters and birdwatching. For months I have not been able to make sense of this. But I’m starting to see how these activities, which occupy my mind and commandeer my attention, have provided a buffer against an immense sadness that might otherwise overwhelm me. Helen Macdonald trains a goshawk when her beloved father dies, which she documents with great poetry and poignancy in H Is For Hawk (my first read for 2021). She writes, ‘I had no use for history, no use for time at all. I was training the hawk to make it all disappear.’ Perhaps I read and craft (and go birdwatching) to make it all disappear, too.

That said, I am encouraged when Nick writes, ‘Change and loss are everywhere, but so are survival and regeneration.’ And for Helen, ‘There was no patience in my waiting, but time had passed all the same, and worked its careful magic. And now…the grief had turned into something different. It was simply love.’

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A couple of things before the end

Photo by Edmund Blenkins (Sulari’s son) of bushfire affected landscape near Batlow, NSW

As I near the end of this sad, sad year, there is light at the end of the tunnel. After writing little more than a few blog posts and short tributes to my mother and father, I managed to write a short story, ‘Eucalyptus Regnans’, for ‘Dark Forest’, a installation initiated by my dear friend and fellow writer Sulari Gentill, as part of the Snowy Mountains Arbour Festival. The Arbour Festival is a response to the devastating bushfires of January 2020, which very nearly razed Sulari’s hometown of Batlow in New South Wales and destroyed the nearby iconic Sugar Pines Plantation. The Pilot Hill Arboretum survived, however, and the festival, running from 28 Dec 2020 – 15 Feb 2021, commemorates this history and celebrates hope.

Here’s the description of ‘Dark Forest’ from the Arbour Festival website:

‘Trees have always stood in the background of our lives, silent witnesses to our joys and tragedies. In the mountains we have taken their abundance for granted, but now, there are spaces where their shade once fell. This work gives voice to the trees of Pilot’s Hill, assigns them stories of their own beyond that of survival.

Dark Forest is not so much a collaboration, but a collective of authors each contributing their creativity and talent to make the trees speak, and to help the people of this region memorialise and celebrate. They are participating simply because Sulari asked them for help. This in itself is an echo of the generosity we of the Snowy experienced from across Australia and the world during the fires—and so Dark Forest nods to that overwhelming spirit of solidarity in its creation, as much as it commemorates the green giants we lost to the flames, and celebrates what survived.’

Sulari allocated trees to a group of her writer friends and asked us to write a short story from the perspective of the tree. I was given the Mountain Ash, eucalpytus regnans, the world’s tallest flowering tree. My story was dark and nihilistic, though with the suggestion of a redemptive ending—consistent with the tone of many of the stories, according to Sulari, which is not surprising, given the year we’ve all had. Local actors have recorded readings of the stories, which can be accessed by festival-goers using QR codes. The participating trees/authors are: The Elm, Robert Gott; The Montain Ash, Angela Savage; The Sitka Spruce, Karen Viggers; The False White Pine, John M. Green; The Red Spruce, Victoria McGrath; The Big Tree, Dan O’Malley; The Ponderosa Pine, Melinda Louise Smith; The European White Birch, Josh Langley; The Japanese Larch, Kaaron Warren; The Scots Pine, L.J. M. Owen; and The Incense Cedar, Sulari Gentill.

I also participated in Artists in Residence, a virtual exhibition and book published by my uber-talented photographer friend Suzanne Phoenix. During Melbourne’s Lockdown 2.0, Suzanne took the photos of 52 participating Victorian artists via zoom, then had us create our own artworks from the image, with text to accompany the final piece. My portrait was in large part a tribute to my mother, who had died not long before Suzanne approached me to be part of the project.

Image by Suzanne Phoenix and Angela Savage for Artists in Residence by Suzanne Phoenix

In terms of creative process, I pinned the photo Suzanne took of me to a corkboard and surrounded it with knitted and crocheted items (clockwise from bottom left): a kraken inspired by Meg Mundell’s COVID-prescient novel, The Trespassers; a kingfisher, adapted from Barbara Lennon’s kookaburra pattern, a critter I made for my mother years ago; one of two ‘COVID Hearts’, pattern by Rosina Plane, designed to be given to people separated from their loved ones due to the pandemic; a red poppy inspired by Pip Williams’s beautiful novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words; and a red-tailed black cockatoo, adapted from Barbara Lennon’s galah pattern (I often saw red-tailed black cockatoos where my mother lived on south coast NSW). The blanket that frames my portrait was knitted by my mother Olgamary Savage and sewn together by my cousin Mary Latham. Mum was still knitting squares for this blanket while in palliative care. It was intended for Wrap with Love, but I can’t bring myself to part with it.

Speaking of knitting and craft more generally, I was interviewed briefly on final episode of ABC Radio National’s Book Show for 2020 by Sarah L’Estrange about my literary critters (which I wrote about here), and specifically the work that a 31-strong team of crafters did to help promote Animals Make Us Human. Sarah paid me the great compliment of saying that my literary critters gave her ‘such joy during the deepest, darkest moments of lockdown’—which is precisely what I intended. You can listen here (I’m on at the 40:42 min mark).

And still on the craft theme, I was delighted that my novel Mother of Pearl inspired a work in this year’s Biblio Art Prize hosted by Blarney Books in Port Fairy. Established in 2009, this year’s competition focused on books published in the last 12 – 18 months, with local artists randomly allocated a title to use as inspiration for their artwork. Isabel Szabo of Williamstown North in Victoria created a piece called ‘Pearlescent Mirage’, comprised of two embroidered hoops, the images reflecting on themes in the novel to do with ‘longing and dreaming for more, despite already leading a seemingly flawless life’ (see catalogue entry below).

Incidentally, this blog post takes its title from Sean O’Beirne’s engaging, often funny short story collection, published in February, one of 45 books I read in 2020. But that’s for another installment.

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Rhythm of Life: A tribute to my father

After what he called ‘a rich and relatively happy life’, my beloved father Haydn Savage died on 24 September 2020, less than two weeks after his 85th birthday. Last weekend, we were finally able to celebrate his life with a memorial service in his hometown of Ballan, having waited until COVID-19 restrictions eased and my brother Julian could join us from NSW.

I wrote a small tribute to my father for Stereo Stories, the site that invites writers to share memories attached to music. Stereo Stories ‘is music and memoir, narrative and melody, story and song’. I wrote a piece for my mother Olgamary after she died in May. Follow the link below to read the piece about my father Haydn:

The Rhythm of Life performed by Sammy Davis Jr: Story by Angela Savage

I told part of this story in the eulogy I gave for my father at his memorial service. The image below comes from the commemorative postcard (designed by Jennifer Turner) we had made for Dad’s friends in honour of a lifetime of thoughtful letter-writing. The photo was taken in 2016 at the National Gallery of Victoria in front of Ai Wewei’s work, ‘With Flowers’ (2015). On the reverse is a quote from Oscar Wilde: ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation.’

Speaking of Oscar Wilde, I have not been able to get the quote from The Importance of Being Earnest out of my mind, as irreverent as it is: “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

I have lost both parents this year, though not for carelessness. Indeed, the saving grace was being able to spend time with both of them, caring for them, before they died, despite the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Melbourne’s hard lockdown and the closing of state borders. For those unable to be with the people they loved as they lay dying in 2020 I extend my deepest sympathy.

In a strange way, I think lockdown has helped me to manage the grief of this sad, sad year. I was forced to do less, to see few people, to focus inward, to find joy in simple things. And I have my parent’s love to draw on, to comfort and fortify me.

Turns out the Phantom of the Opera was right: love never dies.

Vale Haydn Joseph Savage, 12 Sept 1935 – 24 Sept 2020

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#LiteraryCritters for wildlife conservation

In a new epic #literarycritters project, I’m getting behind the launch of a forthcoming book, Animals Make Us Human, edited by Leah Kaminsky & Meg Keneally, to be published next month by Penguin. Animals Make Us Human features the work of a stunning array of writers and photographers; and proceeds from the sale of the book will support the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

When I first heard about Animals Make Us Human, my initial response was disappointment that I’d not been invited to contribute. Then I got over myself and wondered how I might be able to use my literary critters to help promote the book in order to help raise funds for wildlife conservation. I contacted Leah and Meg to see what they thought and they were keen; so was the team at Penguin. However, with over 42 creatures featured in the book and only a couple of months before it was due to be launched, I figured I couldn’t do it on my own.

I put a call out through my networks and, after a brief moment of panic thinking no one would come to the party, I soon had another 26 crafters on board, many of them also writers, others editors, librarians and avid readers. As of now, they have committed to making 33 critters–an outstanding result and a testament to the generosity of the arts community (the same generosity we saw manifest in the #authorsforfireys initiative earlier this year).

I’m aiming to make a few critters myself, the first of which (pictured above) is the Glaucus Atlanticus or Blue Nudibranch, a glamorous seas slug that Ashley Hay writes about in Animals Make Us Human, alongside photos by Steve Smith. The pattern (yes, someone had actually made a crochet pattern for a Glaucus Atlanticus) is by Joy Koestner aka The Craft Frog.

I’ve set up an Instagram account (@literarycritters) where you can see more.

Meanwhile, here’s the full blurb on what is a stunning book:

A fundraiser for our wildlife, from land, sea and sky. Proceeds go to the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

A response to the devastating 2019–20 bushfires, Animals Make Us Human both celebrates Australia’s unique wildlife and highlights its vulnerability. Through words and images, writers, photographers and researchers reflect on their connection with animals and nature. They share moments of wonder and revelation from encounters in the natural world: seeing a wild platypus at play, an echidna dawdling across a bush track, or the inexplicable leap of a thresher shark; watching bats take flight at dusk, or birds making a home in the backyard; or following possums, gliders and owls into the dark.

Hopeful, uplifting and deeply moving, this collection is also an urgent call to action, a powerful reminder that we only have one world in which to coexist and thrive with our fellow creatures. By highlighting the beauty and fragility of our unique fauna, Australia’s favourite writers, renowned researchers and acclaimed photographers encourage readers to consider it in a new light.

Featuring: Barbara Allen, Robbie Arnott, Tony Birch, James Bradley, Mark Brandi, Geraldine Brooks, Anne Buist, Melanie Cheng, Claire G. Coleman, Ceridwen Dovey, Chris Flynn, Nayuka Gorrie, Dan Harley, Ashley Hay, Toni Jordan, Leah Kaminsky, Paul Kelly, Meg Keneally, Tom Keneally, Cate Kennedy, David Lindenmayer, Ella Loeffler, Maia Loeffler, Jen Martin, Angela Meyer, Sonia Orchard, Favel Parrett, Marissa Parrott, Bruce Pascoe, Jack Pascoe, Sue Pillans, Nick Porch, Holly Ringland, Euan Ritchie, Antoinette Roe, Kirli Saunders, Graeme Simsion, Tracy Sorensen, Shaun Tan, Lucy Treloar, Karen Viggers, Emma Viskic, John Woinarski, Clare Wright.

And photographers: Tim Bawden, Kristian Bell, Rohan Bilney, Justin Bruhn, Andrew Buckle, Matt Clancy, Amy Coetsee, Craig Coverdale, Angus Emmott, Jayne Jenkins, Vivien Jones, Sue Liu, Michael Livingston, Caleb McElrea, Nick Monaghan, Richard Pillans, Gillian Rayment, Linda Rogan, David Maurice Smith, Steve Smith, Colin Southwell, Georgina Steytler, Wayne Suffield, Heather Sutton, Peter Taylor, William Terry, Patrick Tomkins, Matt Wright.

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Dealing with the unfamiliar in Lockdown #2

Melbourne emerged from a 10-week lockdown designed to ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 infections on 1 June 2020. Life was starting to resemble something akin to normal, when a friend commented over (a socially distant) lunch that she felt like we were walking along a beach, admiring how calm the water was, not realising there was a tsunami on the way. I’ve thought about that comment several times since the second wave of infections hit, sending us back into lockdown again after less than six weeks. And a hard lockdown at that. As of Monday 3 August, we are on Stage 4 restrictions. Limited to travelling in a five kilometre radius of home and only for approved activities, subject to a curfew from 8pm-5.30am, and required to wear a mask whenever we leave the house. As Anna Spargo-Ryan points out, ‘it’s worse this time‘. Her theory: ‘It’s not just that the actual figures are scarier. We used up our energy getting through the first round, had the fixed timeline in our heads and allocated resources accordingly. We didn’t realise (or denied, anyway) we would need to keep some in reserve.’

Like Anna, I believed that if we did the right thing the first time around, we would now be on the other side of this pandemic. In Lockdown #2, I’m finding it harder to hope that doing our best is enough to make a difference. The uncertainty is killing my creativity. For me, to create — at least, to write — means moving away from the familiar to the unfamiliar and not backing away when things get tough. To sit with the discomfort. To reflect. To find a way through. (Kim Wilkins speaks eloquently about this in her TEDx talk, Creativity in the Age of Distraction).

But at this moment, everyday life is unfamiliar. We are isolated in our immediate family unit. Our freedom of movement is drastically curtailed. Small things we took for granted — spending time with friends, going to bars and cafes, walking along a beach, walking anywhere without having to wear a mask — are not permitted, and its hard to see through to a time when they will be possible again. How can I wade into unfamiliar territory in order to write, when unfamiliar territory is where I’m currently living?

Instead, I find comfort in reading, crafting and cooking: small, achievable tasks that allow me to add in some small way to the sum total of happiness in bleak times. Following on from my Literary Birds initiative, I’ve branched out from knitting to crochet, and from birds to beasts, making critters inspired by my reading. Recent pairings include Meg Mundell’s eerily prescient and compelling novel The Trespassers with a young kraken from Genuine Mudpie; and Thuy On’s stunning poetry collection Turbulence with Kate Wood’s gorgeous, koi-like Fancy Goldfish Amigurumi. I have a quite few more pairings in mind, notwithstanding a brief hiatus to knit a beanie for my beloved (inspired by the one worn by Stanley Baker in The Guns of Navarone).

Given at least six weeks in hard lockdown, I might end up with a whole menagerie!

In other news, my Yarra Valley Writers Festival book club session with Brook Powell and Michael Veitch is available to watch here. I greatly enjoyed the chance to talk about my novel Mother of Pearl with both the hosts and participants, and appreciated all the thoughtful questions and comments.

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Some news

libraries-change-livesIt’s mid-winter and Melbourne is in lockdown again due to a second wave of COVID-19 infections, making it an odd time for announcements. But here goes: I have a new job. After nearly three years as CEO of Writers Victoria, I have secured a new role as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria (PLV).

The appointment was made public on Friday 24 July in announcements on both organisations’ social media streams.

Though nearing the end of my contract, I wasn’t in a rush to leave Writers Victoria. But when two friends alerted me to the PLV role, I felt I had to seize the day. I was absolutely thrilled to be offered the job, and I’m grateful to both the friends who helped me update my CV and fine tune my application, and those in the library sector who helped me prepare for the interview.

I joke that I am moving from Writers Victoria to Readers Victoria — although today’s libraries are so much more than repositories of books. They are, to quote my new employer, a ‘primary source of information and 21st century literacies.’ They are also going through a crucial transition: from passive, product-based environments to ones that deliver active, service based experiences that are relevant to the community’s changing information, content and literacy needs. This makes for a fascinating time to be working in this sector.

Here’s the media release, which was picked up by Books + Publishing and ArtsHub:

Public Libraries Victoria Announce Inaugural CEO

Dr Angela Savage has been appointed CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.

PLV Chairperson Chris Buckingham said: ‘Dr Savage was recruited after an extensive process that attracted a strong field of candidates. Angela stood out because of her intelligent, values led approach and success as CEO of Writers Victoria and Neighbourhood Houses Victoria.’

Dr Angela Savage’s appointment marks another significant milestone in Public Libraries Victoria’s evolution and growth as the peak body for public libraries in Victoria.

Dr Savage said: ‘I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to champion Victoria’s public libraries in this new role. I look forward to bringing my experience in both the community and arts sectors to support our state’s readers, writers and all whose lives are changed by libraries.’

Mr Buckingham said, we have been on an incredible journey of change as an organisation and are now well positioned to support the sector through what will undoubtedly be a sustained period of disruption.

Mr Buckingham said: ‘We are grateful to Katrina Knox who served the organisation as Executive Officer for two years and played a significant role in positioning PLV as the Peak Body for Public Libraries in Victoria.’

Dr Savage will serve out her three year contract as CEO Writers Victoria and then commence as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria on September 28th.

Mr Buckingham concluded: ‘We are thankful to Writers Victoria for working with us to ensure a smooth transition and look forward to working with them on projects that encourage reading and writing in our community.’

*Ends*

And here is the image description of the above portrait, which was posted on Facebook–much to the amusement of several friends:

Image description: Dr Angela Savage, a fair skinned woman with black plastic rimmed glasses and shoulder length curly, black and grey hair poses for a studio portrait with a black background. Her right hand, with one red resin and one silver ring, is positioned under her chin. She has a large red flower in her hair to match a red earing [sic.] and her red lipstick.

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