The book is the brainchild of co-editors Jock Serong, Mark Smith and Neil A White and an exercise in ekphrasis, in which one art form inspires another – in this case, Kelly’s songs inspiring prose. The project was launched with Paul Kelly’s blessing and his front cover blurb is perfect.
I like to see my songs walking around every which way, dressed in different clothes, talking different ways. I wave to them and they wave back.
The songs – to extend Kelly’s metaphor – are dressed as memoir, narrative non-fiction, speculative fiction (from Claire G Coleman with a twist that made me laugh out loud), noir and literary fiction. There are stories of illicit love affairs, two of which – my own ‘Don’t Stand So Close to the Window’ and ‘Five-eight’ by Zoë Bradley – feature men named Tom. Several writers share stories of powerful memories associated with Kelly’s songs. Jock Serong’s ‘The Fastest Ford in Western Australia’ contains frozen prawns. And Michelle Wright’s ‘With Walt’ is in my opinion the best story to feature a pig since Charlotte’s Web.
The invitation to contribute to the anthology came mid-2021. Though I hadn’t written anything substantial for the better part of two years, I’d always longed to have work published in an anthology and the invitation gave me the incentive to get back on the proverbial horse.
My story was inspired by ‘Don’t Stand So Close to the Window’, a song Kelly recorded at least three times, originally on the 1987 album Under the Sun. My personal favourite is the country waltz-style version from Foggy Highway, the 2005 album he recorded with the Stormwater Boys. I aimed to echo both the narrative strand and the mood of the song, also referencing a few things I knew about Paul Kelly’s life.
My first creative choice was to set the story in Ballan in regional Victoria (where my father lived for the last ten years of his life) in the 1950s. Trawling around Trove, I discovered that a football team in the area called the Madingley Spiders had defeated the Melton Bloods in the 1958 Bacchus Marsh Grand Final. I decided that the Madingley Spiders needed to be immortalised in fiction and the story evolved from there. As a creative exercise, it got me out of my writing slump, reminding me of something Cate Kennedy wisely said: ‘The creative mind loves restriction.’
Minds Went Walking: Paul Kelly’s Songs Reimagined will be launched in Melbourne on Friday 18 November at the Church of All Nations, 180 Palmerston St, Carlton by Readings Books. As the event blurb says,
Join writers Jock Serong, Mark Smith, Neil A. White, Lorin Clarke, Matt Neal, Michelle Wright, Angela Savage, Alice Bishop, Bram Presser, Mirandi Riwoe and Zoe Bradley who all met the challenge: what would happen if a group of Australia’s finest storytellers were invited to let their minds go walking through the Paul Kelly songbook?
Like Paul Kelly’s songs, the stories tonight will take you anywhere, and everywhere, and they will keep coming back to you like a cork on the tide.
This event is free to attend but bookings are essential.
Crime fiction can be deadly serious, but it can also have a lighter, even amusing side. On Friday 28 October, on behalf of Sisters in Crime Australia, I take great delight in interrogating authors Kirsty Manning, Katherine Kovacic, and Lucia Nardo about how their plots and protagonists can lift readers’ spirits and crack smiles … the ideal way to loosen up for the end of 2022. All three of their novels are wildly entertaining.
Kirsty Manning’s latest novel, The Paris Mystery (Allen & Unwin), transports us to 1938 Paris, where Australian journalist Charlie James has come to break news and, even more importantly, to break with her past. Paris is in turmoil as talk of war becomes increasingly strident. Charlie is chasing her first big scoop, but it doesn’t stop her from immersing herself in the fabulous world of fashion…
Kirsty has several other novels under her belt: The Midsummer Garden, The Jade Lily, The Lost Jewel, and The French Gift. She is a partner in the award-winning Melbourne wine bar Bellota and the Prince Wine Store in Sydney and Melbourne.
Katherine Kovacic brought the character of Peregrine Fisher from screen to page in the playful Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries: Just Murdered (Allen & Unwin). She is the author of the award-winning Alex Clayton art mystery series and has also delved into true crime with The Schoolgirl Strangler and The Portrait of Molly Dean.
Katherine has a diverse background ranging from veterinary medicine to art history. When she’s not writing, she divides her time between work in the heritage sector, dog training, and running a family business. Her new book, Seven Sisters, will be published by HarperCollins in January 2023.
In Lucia Nardo’s debut novel, Messy Business (self-published), the week begins like any other in Jacqueline Burne’s messy life. And it just gets worse. Jac’s business is in trouble, her husband is up to no good and her eccentric housekeeper, Draga, is nagging her with unsolicited advice. Then Jac’s annoying teen stepson lands on her doorstep and wants to stay. Everything goes horribly wrong. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of the law, where handcuffs and prison jumpsuits become a real possibility…
Lucia began her career as a social worker and community development manager, later moving into a corporate career as a company executive and business writer for some of Australia’s largest corporations. Since leaving the private sector, she has written non-fiction titles, articles, and short stories. Lucia has taught creative writing in the TAFE sector and conducts writing workshops in the community.
Friday 28 October 2022, 8 pm. Rising Sun (upstairs), 2 Raglan Street, South Melbourne.
$12 Sisters in Crime and Writers Victoria members; $10 under 19; $20 non-members; $15 concession. Book here by 3 pm Friday 28 October.
Tickets not sold prior to the event will be available at the door for $22/$18/$15/$10. Dinner from 6.30-7.30 pm. Men or ‘brothers-in-law’ welcome.
Hilary Mantel’s death led me back to my article, which I was surprised to discover was near complete. I wrote the ending, gave it a polish and submitted it to The Monthly Online. To my delight, they agreed to publish it. You can read the article here.
I don’t often write personal pieces, but I feel like my mother would approve. Among the loveliest feedback I’ve had on the article is that readers who knew her can hear my mother’s voice.
I am greatly looking forward to returning to Tasmania next month for the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival 2022 (TAF2022). I had the great pleasure of being part of the inaugural festival in 2019 in Cygnet and the digital festival in 2021. This year, I am returning to launch the Tasmanian chapter of Sisters in Crime Australia and to deliver two masterclasses in Franklin.
Sisters in Crime Tasmania is being inaugurated on the 100 anniversary of crime writer extraordinaire Dame Agatha Christie’s visit to the island state. In her 1977 autobiography, Christie writes: “From Australia we went to Tasmania [sic.], driving from Launceston to Hobart. Incredibly beautiful Hobart, with its deep blue sea and harbour, and its flowers, trees and shrubs. I planned to come back and live there one day.” While Christie’s plans to move to Tasmania never came to fruition, it seems fitting to mark the anniversary of her visit with the establishment of a local branch of Sisters in Crime, an organisation committed to supporting local readers and writers – sisters and brothers-in-law – of crime fiction.
The Sisters in Crime launch, Let the Heist Begin, is a ticketed event that includes dinner at Frank’s Ciderhouse, on Thurs 6 Oct at 6.00PM. I’m being interviewed by Sisters in Crime co-founder, author and CEO of Clan Destine Press Lindy Cameron about the (considerable) impact that Sisters in Crime has had on my writing career. Details here.
On Sat 8 October, 3.00-5.00PM, I’m delivering a masterclass called Pathways to Publication. While there is no one pathway to publication, there are steps that writers can take to increase their chances of success. I will be covering this terrain in my workshop and providing resources for participants to follow up. Bookings here.
On Sun 9 October, 12.30-2.30PM, I’m presenting a workshop on one of my favourite topics, ‘Never Just Description – Using Setting to Enhance Your Story.’ There will be at least three writing exercises in this workshop and again, participants will be provided with resources, if not homework. Bookings here.
The masterclasses are classes suitable for aspiring, emerging and established writers working in general, literary and genre fiction.
The full program for the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival 2022 is available here.
Launch of The Settlement by Jock Serong Hosted by Angela Savage Sat 3 Sept, 6.30PM – 7.30PM Reardon Theatre, 35-37 Bank St, Port Fairy (free but book here)
Here’s the event blurb: ‘The final volume in Jock Serong’s Preservation trilogy is about to hit our shores! We are gathering the local community and friends to the official Port Fairy launch of Jock Serong’s sixth novel. Hosted by Angela Savage, author, executive, and champion of the writing community! This is a free event but registrations essential.’
Stereo Stories Gala Event With Jock Serong, Angela Savage, Matt Neal, Lynny Mast Sat 3 Sept, 6.30PM – 7.30PM Reardon Theatre, 35-37 Bank St, Port Fairy (tickets here)
Stereo Stories is a concert celebration of the songs that shape our lives, featuring established and emerging writers and The Stereo Stories Band. The concert numbers are based on pieces published on the Stereo Stories website. I published two stories on the site in 2020, one inspired by my mother and the other by my father. I have always wanted to do one of the live events and I’m thrilled to be reading one of these pieces (it’s a surprise) at the Port Fairy Literary Weekend, accompanied by a seven-piece band. My fellow guest writer is Jock Serong, and we’ll be joined by guest readers Matt Neal and Lynny Mast.
The Stereo Stories show has been a hit at festivals since its debut in 2014 at the Williamstown Literary Festival, where its audience has grown from 60 in its first year to 400 in 2022.
As the event blurb says, ‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hear iconic songs in lovely and ever-surprising ways in this tightly-curated, finely-tuned concert.’
My partner, Andrew Nette (Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950 to 1985), is also on the program, appearing alongside First Nations writers Mykaela Saunders and Jack Latimore (editor and contributors to This All Come Back Now: An Anthology of First Nations Speculative Fiction). Matt Neal (ABC radio) will host this other-worldly discussion, Sat 3 Sept, 2.30-3.30PM at Blarney Books and Art, 37 James St, Port Fairy (tickets here).
The full festival program looks fabulous. I want to attend every session, and may well do so, at least on the Saturday.
‘Grab your book, blanket and beanie – we’re hibernating with books this winter!’
In my day job as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria, I’m part of a working group behind the Warm Winter Read, a campaign designed to encourage readers to develop a daily reading habit by tracking the days they read over June and July 2022.
We have eight high-profile Victorian author-ambassadors supporting the campaign, each of whom has recommended four books for your consideration. We’ve put these recommendations, together with the author’s latest book, on to bookmarks. Our author-ambassadors are:
Maxine Beneba Clarke
Claire G Coleman
Among them, they have recommended 32 books across all genres, most by Victorian authors. Maxine and Claire recommended each other’s books, while Emma Viskic takes the prize for being the most recommended author. The bookmarks are available for free at your local library. Collect the set!
The campaign is being rolled out in nearly all of Victoria’s library services. You can register online via the Beanstack app and use the app to track your reading. Once you create an account here, you can log your daily reading, participate in optional challenges and share book reviews. Challenges include things like: read outside your home; read aloud to a pet, person or plant; and talk about what you’re reading in person or online. Get rewarded with cute badges, designed by my talented library colleagues.
Or visit your local library and pick up a paper form: a drawing of books on shelves that you can also use to track your reading.
No prizes, because after all, reading is it’s own reward.
This time around, I’m in a chairing role. My sessions are as follows:
Epic Fiction We love reading it but what compels an author to take on the challenging task of writing it? Find out from two award-winning writers at the top of their game. Steven Conte (The Tolstoy Estate) and Jock Serong (The Burning Island) in conversation with Angela Savage. Full $20, Conc. $18 Sat 18 June, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm The Chamber, Williamstown Town Hall Tickets here.
I’m a huge fan of Jock Serong’s writing and both Preservation and The Burning Island are cracker reads, set in eighteen and nineteenth century Australia respectively. Steven Conte is new to me as an author. The Tolstoy Estate is his second novel in 15 years, following on from his award-winning debut The Zookeeper’s War. Set during the disastrous German invasion of Russia in 1941 and narrated primarily from the point of view of a German military surgeon, The Tolstoy Estate is an epic read about war, politics, literature and love. I’m greatly looking forward to talking with Jock and Steven about their outstanding novels.
Questions Raised By Quolls A nature writer reflects on fatherhood and conservation in an uncertain world. Harry Saddler in conversation with Angela Savage Sat 18 June, 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm Committee Room, Williamstown Town Hall Full $20, Conc $18, Early $15 Buy tickets here.
Questions Raised by Quolls was one of my favourite non-fiction reads of 2021, inspiring a #LiteraryCritter and ultimately leading to an amazing bird watching visit to the Werribee Treatment Plant with author Harry Sadler. I’m looking forward to asking Harry all the questions raised by quolls when we get together next weekend.
All the following events are on Sunday 29 May in the evocatively named Heroes Lounge at the St Kilda Army & Navy Club, 88 Acland St, St Kilda.
In a series of interviews called Crime on the Couch, I will be interviewing crime writers Robert Gott and Vikki Petraitis:
2.45-3.15PM Robert Gott 3.30-4.00PM Vikki Petraitis
Robert Gott is the author of eight novels. They are all set in the 1940s. What he does essentially is sit at home and make shit up. This is the meaning of fiction. He was born in Maryborough in Queensland and, as always, he would like you to take this into consideration and perhaps admire this courageous admission.
Vikki Petraitis is a true crime author of so many books, she’s lost count. She’s also tried her hand at podcasting and to her surprise, had about a bajillion downloads. Her debut novel, The Unbelieved, won the inaugural Allen & Unwin Crime Prize, will be released in August 2022.
Following the Crime on the Couch sessions is the Sisters in Crime Dicks vs Dames debate on the topic, ‘The female of the species is deadlier than the male’. I will be chairing/wrangling the Affirmative team of Dicks, Robert Gott, RWR McDonald and Hugh McInlay, and the Negative team of Dames, Vikki Petraitis, Narelle M Harris and Leigh Redhead.
Join from 4:30pm for drinks at the Heroes Lounge upstairs at the St Kilda RSL (St Kilda Army & Navy Club) for this witty and humorous debate – who is the deadliest of the human species, male or female?
I am delighted, excited and also a little hesitant to say that I have been invited back to Adelaide for Writers Week in 2022 to chair a couple of panels. Delighted because Adelaide Writers Week is a wonderful cultural event, guaranteed to feature outstanding authors in engaging discussions. Excited because of the panels I will be chairing, the friends I hope to catch up with, the new authors whose work I will learn about, and the visiting literary luminaries I hope to meet. And hesitant because if the last two years have taught me anything it’s that “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley” (to quote Robbie Burns). As the entire festival takes place outdoors at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, it is probably more Covid-safe than most. And besides, “hope springs eternal” (to quote Alexander Pope) and so lay schemes I will.
My first panel The Centred Victim takes place on Mon 7 March 12PM on the West Stage. Here is the program blurb:
Turning the crime genre on its head, Jacqueline Bublitz’s Before You Knew My Name and Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s The Newcomer both centre the victim in their stories of violent death and the investigations that follow. The haunting, strangely joyous Before You Knew My Name tells of Alice Lee arriving in New York with just a camera and hope, destined to be a Jane Doe one month later. The Newcomer, which fictionalises an infamous 2002 murder on Norfolk Island, is a smart, provocative portrait of prejudice, violence and grief.
Having recently finished The Newcomer and started Before You Knew My Name, I am so looking forward to speaking with Jacqueline and Laura about these brilliant books and their themes.
My second panel is A Bloody Good Rant with Thomas Keneally on Tues 8 March at 3.45PM on the East Stage. Here’s the blurb for that one:
For over fifty years, Tom Keneally has been writing about everything that makes us tick – and the contentious, disputed land that is ‘Australia’. In his new collection of thought-pieces, he moves seamlessly between deep questions of our past and moments of private revelation. A Bloody Good Rant is exactly what it says it is – a bit of ratbaggery, some judicious hindsight, and a generous serve of wisdom. The author of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Schindler’sArk and CorporalHitler’sPistol gets a few things off his chest.
A bloody good rant with the legendary Tom Keneally – how much fun will that be!
I’m planning to hang around in Adelaide for long enough to attend sessions with one of my literary heroes, Isabel Allende, and with Anthony Doerr, whose novel All The Light We Cannot See, I absolutely loved. In between, I aim to listen to a range of awesome authors, both known and new to me.
Normally at this time of year I post a ‘Top Reads’ or ‘Book Bingo’ type list. But this time around, inspired by my partner, Andrew Nette, who blogs at Pulp Curry, I’m extending this list to cultural highlights of 2021.
In another year characterised by successive, extended lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts have provided a lifeline. Australia’s current political leaders seem not only indifferent, but actively hostile towards the arts, which have not received rescue packages on par with other industries, despite being harder hit, and despite being what many of us turn to during tough times. In whatever forms — literature, music, film, visual art, gaming — the arts have provided escape, solace and resonance. For my 16 year old daughter, it was the soundtrack to ‘Moulin Rouge’ that kept her buoyant during the darkest times — and being able to see the live show when it opened in Melbourne in November was definitely a cultural highlight of our year. But I am getting ahead of myself.
New books I read at least 42 books in 2021. I say at least because I changed the method I used to record my reading mid-year and I think a few titles fell through the cracks. More than half of the books on my list were released in 2021, over 80% were by Australian authors and over 60% were written by women. No surprise, then, that my highlights are books by Australian women. Emily Bitto’s Wild Abandon (Allen & Unwin, 2021) stands out as a lush read, the first book I’ve read in a while that required me to consult a dictionary (which I loved!). Both the language and the story — a cautionary tale of excess involving a legal menagerie of exotic animals — are utterly engrossing. Charlotte McConaghy’s debut Migrations was one of my favourite reads of 2020, and her second novel, Once There Were Wolves (Penguin, 2021), is a worthy successor. Premised on a plan to ‘re-wild’ the Scottish Highlands with grey wolves, the novel is a captivating thriller-cum-love story. Yuwaalaraay writer Nardi Simpson’s powerful, lyrical, generous debut novel, Song of the Crocodile (Hachette, 2020) was one of the first books I read in 2021 and it has stayed with me all year, as has a comment Nardi made in an interview: ‘We are the in and the out breath, nature and people. We are intrinsically linked’.
I made a few Literary Critters as a show of gratitude to each of these authors.
My top crime pick for 2021 is Debra Oswald’s The Family Doctor (Allen & Unwin, 2021), a novel very much for our times, a thriller with a moral dilemma at its heart about women, violence and justice. Read more top crime read recommendations from the Sisters in Crime here.
Older books Of fiction released prior to 2021, a highlight was The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley (Affirm Press, 2016; my review). Given my love of birds, and a long-time interest in John Gould’s work, I can’t believe I was so late to the party on this wonderfully imagined life of painter Elizabeth Gould. The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall (Allen & Unwin, 2015) is another novel that has been on my TBR for some time, which shares the same premise as Once There Were Wolves, but is a very different and outstanding read. And I finally got around to reading Carrie Tiffany’s award-winning debut novel, Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living (Pan Macmillan, 2005), which I loved as a reader and found inspiring as a writer.
Non-fiction I read nine non-fiction books (more or less) in 2021 and they were all very good. My Friend Fox by Heidi Everett (Ultimo Press, 2021) is a captivating, generous memoir that grants rare insight into living with mental illness. H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Penguin, 2015) spoke to my grief following the deaths of both my parents in 2020. Questions Raised by Quolls by Harry Sadler (Affirm Press, 2021) looks at conservation and extinction in the context of climate change, while allowing for hope. Lapsed by Monica Dux (HarperCollins, 2021) resonated strongly with me as a post-Catholic raising a secular child. And Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving Was Isn’t Ours by Sarah Sentilles (Text, 2021) is a devastating, but deeply rewarding account of becoming a mother through foster care, which poses questions about what it means to love any child. Sarah’s extraordinary compassion makes me feel honoured to share the planet with her.
A couple more Literary Critters were inspired by this reading.
Short stories I read five short story collections this year. Among my favourite stories were Tony Birch’s darkly comic and delightful ‘Starman’ in Dark As Last Night (UQP, 2021), and two poignant and compassionate stories with a great sense of voice, ‘A Little Bit of Scrapbooking’ in Margaret Hickey’s Rural Dreams (Midnight Sun, 2021), and ‘Hush’ in David Guterson’s Problems With People (Penguin, 2015).
Film I owe most of what I watch on film to my partner, Andrew, who sources amazing material for us — it’s like having my own streaming service (Nette-Flix, anyone?). This year, we watched a lot of American noir from the 1950s and 60s, which he wrote about here. My personal favourite among these was City of Fear (1959). Another highlight was A Bullet for the General, a 1966 Italian Zapata Western film, with a strong anti-capitalist vibe. Speaking of Westerns, The Naked Spur (1953), directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker and Millard Mitchell, is a tightly scripted, beautifully shot film that plays out like a psychological thriller.
While the pandemic limited access to cinemas for most of the year, I managed to see Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story just after Christmas. As someone who loves the original 1961 film, I was skeptical about the remake. Minor misgivings about tweaks to Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics notwithstanding, the new film is a triumph. Spielberg manages a fresh take on a well-known story and the casting is perfection.
Television TV streaming this year was mostly about comfort viewing with my daughter. Our favourites included Schmigadoon, an affectionate, spot-on spoof of musicals, with an outstandingly talented cast including Aaron Tveit (who won this year’s Tony Award as Christian in the Broadway production of Moulin Rouge) and Ariana DeBose (who plays Anita in Spielberg’s West Side Story). We are also loving Brooklyn 99, which only gets better as the seasons progress. Other viewing highlights include re-watching the 1992 Australian true crime miniseries Phoenix, which manages to feel relevant 20 years on; and the 2018 Australian series, Mr Inbetween, which, as Andrew notes, ‘seamlessly combines pitch black noir, with sharp social observation, moments of real poignancy, and laugh out loud comedy.’
Exhibitions Despite successive lockdowns, I managed to see some outstanding exhibitions in 2021. Endeavour Voyage: The Untold Stories of Cook and the First Australians at the National Museum in Canberra, explored views from the ship and shore on the 250th anniversary of the 1770 journey of the Endeavour, and provided vivid, often devastating insight into its impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Treasures of the Natural World at Melbourne Museum (until 16 Jan 2022) showcases items on loan from the Natural History Museum, London, and is curated with a sense of fun and wonder. And Rising: A Miracle Constantly Repeated by Patricia Piccinini (currently showing) is a provocative and life-affirming exhibition that blurs the boundaries between nature and technology, animal and human.
What were the cultural highlights of 2021 for you?
And here’s wishing us all a happy, healthy and creative new year in 2022.