EWF Sessions

I’m proud to be one of the Ambassadors for this year’s Emerging Writers Festival (EWF) in Melbourne, which starts today. It’s a great festival if you can get along, with lots of industry tips for aspiring and emerging writers. Weekend tickets are really good value.

This year’s ambassadors were apparently selected for “telling stories others won’t.”

“Our ambassadors are women who change things. They break barriers. We’re thrilled for them to mentor the next generation of writers,” says Artistic Director Izzy Roberts-Orr.

I’m looking forward to all of the sessions, but particularly talking about Writing the Environment with Anna Krien, Tony Birch and Sally Abbott.

10am Sat 17 June
5×5 Rules of Writing

EWF Ambassadors (Anna Krien, Melina Marchetta, Rebecca Do Rozario, Michelle Law and I) share the tips and tricks we wish we’d had when we started out. More here

3pm Sat 17 June
Control Room: Inga Simpson

Ask me the big questions, the little questions, the good questions. Now’s your chance! Details here

11am Sun 18 June
Writing the Environment
With: Anna Krien, Sally Abbott, Tony Birch and me

In a world on the brink of ecological collapse, what responsibility do storytellers have to speak for the planet? What role (if any) can good nature and science-focussed writing (both fiction and non-fiction) play in pulling us back from the edge? Panelists discuss the writer’s role in educating, provoking conversation and changing attitudes through storytelling. Details here

4pm Sun 18 June
Hachette case Study: Writer, Editor and Publisher – Inga Simpson with Kate Stevens, Robert Watkins.

I’m in conversation with my editor and publisher, which is an opportunity to hear about all aspects and perspectives of the publishing process. (And possibly how difficult I am!) More info here

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Understory events

I have a number of events coming up to celebrate the release of Understory on 30 May.

It’s a chance to help launch Understory‘s passage into the world, hear a bit more about the writing of the book –  and have your copy signed and stamped with a special copper “tree woman” stamp.

5.30 pm 6 June – Kim Mahood launches Understory @ Muse Canberra

free with wine and nibbles but please register online here

 

6.30pm 7 June – Author Talk with Better Read Than Dead

@ Camperdown Commons, Newtown

$5 with wine and nibbles, tix here

 

6pm 8 June, Author Talk with Annie’s Books
Noosa Parks Environment Centre, Noosaville

$15 with wine and nibbles, pls book here

 

10am, 9 June – morning tea @ Books of Buderim

Free event, and a free seedling with each purchased copy of Understory!

 

6pm, 9 June – Kari Gislason launches Understory @ Avid Reader, West End.

Free, with wine and nibbles but pls register here

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Miles Franklin longlisting

WHERE THE TREES WERE has been longlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award.  WTTW is a personal book for me, and as a lifelong student of Australian literature, I’m grateful that it has been recognised in this way.

 

Congratulations to all of the other longlisted books and their authors. What a nice looking pile!

The shortlist will be announced 18 June.

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Re-release day


My three novels  – Mr Wigg, Nest and Where the Trees Were  – have just been re-released in a new format. A bit like a nice matching box set. And they’re reasonably priced, at $19.95. You can buy them at a special rate here.

Their re-release is a bit of an appetiser for the 1 June publication of my eco-memoir, Understory: a life with trees, which you can pre-order here.

Details soon on launches and events in Canberra, Sydney, Sunshine Coast and Brisbane.

 

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the end of the garden

This gallery contains 2 photos.

I’m chuffed to have my short story, “The End of the Garden” in Review of Australian Fiction 19:4. The story was inspired by Sarah Blasko’s album What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have, during a week on the far south … Continue reading

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Chasing rainbows

RainbowBridgeI’ve wasted a lot of time chasing rainbows. Turns out, they come to you.

I drive up to Baroon Pocket Dam, on the Blackall Range, with the modest hope of a bushwalk and a few photo opportunities. I park in the picnic area, and before I even get out of the car, I’m grumpy. It’s all blue metal, fences and signs, and a dodgy-looking white van has followed me out. There’s a short walk behind the weed-ridden spillway, from where I can hear the comforting sounds of wrens and fantails, but I’m uneasy. The van-man is there, eating his lunch, staring straight ahead. I walk past the fences and signs to look out over the dam. Wind-waves lap at the shore. It’s bleak: no sound, no signs of life. I’m cold, and it starts to drizzle. This was a terrible idea.

Then I see it. A rainbow, arching over the dam like a bridge. A massive perfect rainbow. It’s close. I walk out beyond the railing to photograph it. Through the lens, the spectrum of colours is brighter and clearer. It’s coming closer. I’m shooting all angles, and for a time I can see where the rainbow ends – right in the middle of the dam. I could swim to the pot of gold waiting for me. Still it’s coming closer, wind-borne. I turn off the camera, and just sit on the railing, watching, as the rainbow passes over and through me.

The van starts, and I tense as it stops beside me. ‘Right place, right time,’ he says, and gives me a thumbs up. We’re both grinning, for the gift we’ve been given.Rainbowlens1

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Little fish

WTWRosie&IngaCanbLaunchI was so moved by Rosanna Stevens’s Canberra launch speech for Where the Trees Were, that I have included it here for all to read. If I have pulled off half of what Rosanna suggests, them I’m thrilled. We’re all little fish, but it seems to me that only by learning more about the natural world, and all of the histories of those places where we live, can we know ourselves – and this country.

 

 

“Let’s begin by acknowledging the First People of this country, the Ngunnawal People, on whose land we meet tonight to launch this book. I acknowledge their elders past, present and future, and extend my acknowledgement to all First People present here this evening. This always has been, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

“Initially, I found it hard to imagine a way I could talk about all the things that happen in this book without being disappointingly vague: this is no fault of the writer, in fact I was marvelling at how one book could contain so much complexity and simplicity while I audibly swore at the book for containing so much complexity and simplicity. Where would I start from, I wondered, if I were going to praise a book about trees, that is also not about trees? It turns out, I just needed patience. Like all good writers, Inga had quite naturally planted her own metaphor for the entire story right toward the end of it, and when I read these two pages, they winked at me and enticed me to make them come alive this evening. The scene is a pastoral one – set around a river that sits central to our protagonist – Jayne’s – childhood memories and adventures. She is living out her final weeks of high school and has taken herself to the river to pick mushrooms.

After all the rain, I took an afternoon off, at the river. All my major assessment pieces were in, and sometimes field mushrooms grew under the tree where Kieran had fallen. I had a craving for mushrooms on toast. Mum did them up with cream and parsley and pepper, and since I had stopped eating meat, she was trying hard to come up with new dishes we would all like. Especially leading into exams.

I couldn’t have timed it better; some of the mushrooms were just opening out, fresh pink gills beneath the white caps. I soon filled a bucket but left it on the bank. The river was demanding my attention. It was as full as I had ever seen it, creamy, and sliding past rather than flowing. There had been heavy rain upstream, washing a lot of soil into the water.

There was talk of another flood at Forbes. It happened every seven years, sometimes worse than others. I always thought rivers flowed to the sea, but ours flowed west, into great marshlands and then the Murrumbidgee. They were big on rivers at school, with our houses named after them. I had learned the whole history and course of the Lachlan, the reference to it in “Clancy of the Overflow”, and the building of the dam. But I got its real name from Ian: Kalare. He was in Murrumbidgee house, the only one of our rivers still carrying its Wiradjuri name.

I bent to pick up a stick, to stop myself slipping, and realised that it wasn’t just silt and muck sliding past. It was a seething crust of shrimp, and yabbies in all sizes and colours poking their claws up through them, as if calling for help. Every now and then a claw would snip a shrimp in half, but perhaps by accident. I couldn’t tell if they were feeding or just trying to breathe.

A turtle popped her head up through all that living flotsam and pushed through to the shore, blinking, as if she couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. It was how I felt, too. A water rat scampered up the bank and sat not ten feet downstream. We watched the river together. It was one of those moments when I couldn’t turn away, in case I missed something, and in case it was gone when I looked back. Then the fish started coming up. First just their noses broke the surface, as if sniffing. Then the water boiled and surged and turned an even more awful brown. Hundreds of them breached at once: catfish, yellowbelly, perch, things I didn’t recognise. All sizes and shapes swarmed together, from fingerlings to a great old Murray cod, all gasping for air. I could hear them sucking.

Of all the days not to have a camera.

I did what anyone would do, waded in and started grabbing fish. They were slippery, but couldn’t get far. I went for the silver perch, glinting like jewels, and threw them up on the bank behind me. I stopped at two plate-sized fish each, but not before I had slipped and fallen in. I was wet through and slimy with mud and filth. I picked shrimp out of my hair, unhooked a crayfish from my sleeve, and threw them back. Then the water seemed to clear a little and the fish thinned, the yabbies dived, the turtle and water rat disappeared underwater with a plop. The river was back to normal, full and brown, but flowing on by as if nothing unusual had happened.

“While I soaked in the language and rush of this luscious and crustaceous scene, I was reminded of the Yolŋu theory and story – a First Nations community up north, from where the band Yothu Yindi hail – of gaṉma. Gaṉma is one of my favourite stories, and as a white person from the mountains I know so little about it, but what has been told to me is that there is a point at which the salt and freshwater meet to form a foaming body of water that is both and neither. There are small anchovy-like fish that live in gaṉma – gunmurra. Yothu Yindi sing about gunmurra. These fish are one of the few creatures who enter this brackish, swimming among the stirred up foam that exists like connective tissue between watery worlds. It is an ancient metaphor, but I have heard this story used to illustrate the two worlds that now exist in Australia: the Indigenous and non-Indigenous. The little fish are those who enter the water between worlds, to try and learn how to live, represent and navigate that difficult territory. It has always seemed to me that First People are often forced to be fish between worlds: but colonisers get to choose whether it’s a place we are ready to enter.

“Earlier this year, Hannah Donnelly, a writer and Wiradjuri woman from NSW who grew up on Gamilaroi country, wrote a piece concerning the ways in which white writers depict native and colonised country, for the Writers Bloc website. The piece, titled, The Unnatural Way of Things, stated:

‘Today when I read Australian literature I am perplexed as to how writers continue to colonise country through their writing… Australian literature perpetuates a white central narrative rooted in a colonial ignorance of country so deep and untrue. My favourite colonial angle is the old trope: ‘My personal narrative of connecting with the alien landscape’.

‘I could tell you that since settlement, hundreds of our native species have become extinct. That your narrative of connection felled ancient trees for farming, killed our totems, degraded our topsoil and polluted our water systems. It is not the landscape that is alien; it is you who is alien to our landscape.’

‘Our species are far more than a casual backdrop. The story within our native species cannot be separated from the narrative. Species signify whose country you might be imagining. At the mention of a particular tree you could be identifying that the location is a sacred space protected by spirits. Species can signal the season and where the dhinawan is sitting in the stars on the horizon. They are creation.’

“It is not my place to reassure you that Where the Trees Were ascribes to Donnelley’s call for a change in perspectives and awareness by white writers. It is not my place to tell you how successfully or deeply this book interrogates the relationship between black and white, colonial and native country through a plot. But what I can say is that unlike many contemporary works of literature by white writers, Where the Trees Were engages very exactly with a story about native land, colonisation, responsibility, and belonging to place. I am excited to listen to the most qualified responders, reviewers and critics of all – the First People of this country whose presences are strong and crucial to the plot of this book. By swimming in this water, Inga is offering us as readers, a place to begin to understand what white Australian literature can be if it makes native country and cross-cultural conflict so glaringly present, through a seething crust of stories of human friendship, love, loss and growth. Inga’s book is a little fish, swimming in this area between white and First Nations culture, history, and environment. As I read Where the Trees Were I felt like I was watching a development in Australian writing – I was watching Inga wading into the water where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers are already swimming strongly. I was watching her show me that we can also learn to swim in this churning body of intermeshed stories and lives without denying the side of history white writers come from.

“Of course, a novel isn’t a novel without it being being able to seamlessly carry off even more complicated layers of life than we could possibly imagine. I feel like I can absolutely get away with figuratively pressing this book into your hands right now, and I’m going to take full advantage of this opportunity – I have never read a book that has made me miss my childhood, or want to go camping, more. This book made me realise I was not the only kid in Australia who decided tying meat to string and throwing it into a hot dam would successfully yield yabbies.

I have never read a book that has articulated better exactly what riding a bicycle down Northbourne Avenue in the heart of winter feels like: of anybody, you all here tonight should appreciate how rarely Canberran experiences are reflected in the Australian literary imagination. We got one! This book accurately describes the public service as part of an interesting queer feminist plot. And among all that flotsam, Where the Trees Were sustains a universal story: one of realising things as we grow up into teenagers, and carrying those realisations into adult responsibilities.

“This book has all of the things, tied into two intertwining stories, set out in the signature Inga Simpson way – sixty two short, edible chapters that form a tapestry between memory and now. And no matter where we are from, we, like the water rat staring from the shore in disbelief, are invited to watch and be part of Inga and her protagonist, Jayne’s, complicated and thriving world. We are reminded to celebrate that the human and every element of the world around us are destined to intertwine, and there will always be rich and complicated stories there.

“It is with great pleasure that I announce Where the Trees Were very much launched.”

~ 6 April 2016 @ Muse

WTTW Canb launchWTTW Canb launch tableWTTW Canb launch Friends

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Kangaroo Island & Birds of Extinction

Emma Lindsay 2013, Dwarf kangaroo island emu (extinct), Oil on linen, 121 (w) x 149 (h). Photo: Elouise .

I recently met the lovely and talented Brisbane-based artist, Emma Lindsay through fellow PhD student and birdwoman, Melissa Ashley (whose forthcoming novel, The Birdman’s Wife, about Elizabeth Gould, is a must read).

I stumbled across Emma’s work while writing my novel, Nest, and again while researching my PhD in Australian nature writing, and then again while researching the extinct dwarf emu for an upcoming writing retreat to Kangaroo Island (Emma’s striking portrait of the dwarf emu is pictured above). So when Emma – and one of her paintings – were at Melissa’s post-Phd party, I was not surprised.

Emma’s Extinction Project began in 2007 as a series of portraits of endangered and extinct Australian bird specimens held in natural history museums. Her interest is in human relationships (historical and contemporary) with the environment, and bearing witness to the escalating global problem of mass species extinction.

It’s a concern I share, but the works are exquisite in their own right, and I was thrilled to discover that the first public exhibition of Emma Lindsay’s Extinction Project will be held in Brisbane next year as part of the inaugural World Science Festival Brisbane, 9-13 March, at the Queensland Museum.

© Emma Lindsay 2012, Paradise Parrots (extinct), oil on Belgian linen. Private collection. Photo: Carl Warner.

Trouble is, that’s when I’ll be in Kangaroo Island, looking for evidence of dwarf emus in situ … So unless I can kid Emma and The Museum to let me in while they are setting up, it looks like I am going to miss out.

Do get along if you can, not only for Emma’s works. This will be the first time the World Science Festival has been held outside New York City. The festival brings together great minds in science and the arts to show the wonders of science to a broad general audience.

If you’d rather come along to Kangaroo Island for an immersion in writing and place, you can find out more here.

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Lifted

 

 

 

for those double rainbow days

In the mornings, the sun caught the coloured panes in a splintering rainbow while she played. Each note found a corresponding shade, dancing and darting up the pillars and away into the day.

On Sundays, when the practitioners filed in, swelling the pews, she roamed the meadows instead. While the cathedral was both audience and vessel, her god was not found inside.

It was on the grass beside the river, naked and alone, that her song met his, lifting her bare feet from the ground.

(This piece was a response to a writing exercise with two pictorial prompts – below).

Lifted1Lifted2

 

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Vote 1 for NEST – Courier Mail People’s Choice Award

CM People's ChoiceA lovely surprise: Nest has been included in the shortlist for this year’s Courier Mail People’s Choice Book of the Year award.

The winner is decided by readers, not judges and panels.

If you’d like to vote for Nest (you don’t have to be a QLDer), you can do so here.

Polls close 5pm 18 September.

The winner will be announced Friday, 9 October, at the QLD Literary Awards.

 

 

 

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