REMEMBERING BRETT MARTIN

[From the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre website, here: ‘Remembering Brett Martin’]

The team at the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre was shocked and hugely saddened to hear about the death of local writer and photographer Brett Martin last week.

Brett was a former member of the TWC Board, including a spell as chair in 2008 and deputy chair in 2009.

Before moving to Tasmanian and taking up a role as librarian with the State Library of Tasmania from 2003, Brett previously worked at Wagga Wagga City Library in NSW. He published two novels and was actively involved in the arts in Canberra, throughout regional NSW and in Tasmania. He also served on several editorial committees as well as tutoring at Charles Sturt University.

Brett’s best known book was Marion, which launched at the Hobart Bookshop in 2014. The book and accompanying website reflects on the life of Marion Oak Sticht. Marion was born in 1865, grew up in Colorado, was educated at Vassar and travelled widely in Europe. She married the American metallurgist Robert Sticht in 1895 and they set out almost immediately for a mine on the remote west coast of Tasmania.

Robert Sticht carved an international reputation and amassed a world-class collection of rare books and fine art prints, all housed in Penghana, their magnificent house on the hill in Queenstown. But a calamitous investment trapped the Stichts in debt and they were unable to return to the USA. After Robert died in 1922 Marion was forced to retreat to the ghost-town of Balfour, exchanging the grand house with its many staff, for a bare-walled wooden shack. The trajectory of her life is tragic and largely unknown. Marion is representative of a class of well-educated, middle-class women of those times, whose stories are usually lost in the shadows cast by their husbands. Brett’s novel based on her life seeks to bring her into the light.

In 2014, Brett was an adviser on the Looking for Marion exhibition, which took place at the 2014 Queenstown Heritage Arts Festival.

In addition to his writing and research, Brett was a talented photographer. and has had a number of photographic exhibitions across the State. You can see details of his most recent at the Devonport Gallery here, and of his 2011 exhibition at Ritche’s Mill here.

Brett Martin will be hugely missed, and the team at TWC wishes to send its deepest condolences to his family and close friends.

There will be a celebration of Brett’s life in Swansea later this month, please contact the Writers Centre if you’d like to be kept informed of the details.

SHARON OLDS, GWEN HARWOOD AND DOROTHY HEWETT: TRUTH, LIES, POETRY

In 2008, US poet Sharon Olds came out about her poetry, admitting that her writing is based on her own life. Since the publication of her first book, Satan Says, in 1980, when she was thirty-seven, she’d been evading questions about the biographical basis of her work. In her rare interviews, she would gently correct ‘personal’ to ‘apparently personal’ as a description of her poems and emphasise with kindly patience that they were works of art, not autobiography. Then, in her late sixties, she changed her mind. She confirmed that the man dying slowly from a throat tumour in her book The Father was her own father; that the woman who in a number of poems ties her young daughter to a chair was the poet’s own mother; that the marriage whose end is painfully documented in Stag’s Leap was Olds’s own thirty-two-year marriage. In an email to an interviewer, she explained her re-think with reference to a reading she once gave at a high school. ‘A student said: ‘If I thought you’d made up all the stuff in your poems, I’d be really mad at you,’’ she writes. ‘And I knew how he felt, and in his place I’d feel the same way.’ Far from being offended by the idea that a reader might connect her poems with her life, she had taken that link for granted. She had assumed that the reader would know the poems had emerged from her own experience, even if she had never explicitly said so. ‘It had not crossed my mind really that anyone would make up a life, make up these stories,’ she goes on. ‘It seemed so obvious to me they were being told, sung, from some inner necessity that rose in an actual life.’

By Ann-Marie Priest; more at Cordite

THE LORD OF THE DANCE AND EVERYONE, MALE AND FEMALE, WAS HIS MATE, HIS EQUAL

I wrote an essay on Hazy in Island magazine about 10 years ago titled “A Tasmanian Intellectual”. It concluded: “Peter Hay was the only teacher I met during my university years who excited in me the belief that the place I was from, its stories and ghosts and mystifying absences, were deserving of serious explanation…”

By Martin Flanagan; more at The Age, 7th Oct 2016.

BOOK REVIEW: MELISSA ASHLEY’S ‘THE BIRDMAN’S WIFE’

Too often I hear (usually from men) that women never did anything in history to write about. What they are generally referring to are those ‘great deeds’ of men who were able to dedicate their lives to and sustain an uninterrupted focus on their area of specialisation. Women’s yearnings were sidelined and their lives circumscribed by multiple childbirth.

A.H. Chisholm wrote a ‘complete’ biography of Elizabeth Gould in 1944. In contrast, Melissa Ashley has written a fictional biography, or biographical fiction, of her in The Birdman’s Wife, which revitalises Elizabeth, colouring in her passions, her struggles, her continual negotiation of the demands of being a working artist and a mother.

This beautifully written novel presents a ‘complete’ picture of a family unit—that one man’s crowning achievements were in fact a family enterprise. John Gould may have been able to strut about like a peacock, but his ‘story’ his more complete when put in context alongside the female of his species, their young, and the materials from which he made his nest.

(From Kali Napier’s blog at Kali Napier)

REASONS TO WRITE

1. To make something beautiful. Beauty does not have to mean prettiness, but can emerge from the scope of one’s imagination, the precision of one’s words, the steadiness and honesty of one’s gaze.

2. To make something truthful. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty.’

3. To make use of what you have and who you are. Even a limited talent brings an obligation to explore it, develop it, exercise it, be grateful for it.

4. To make, at all. To create is to defy emptiness. It is generous, it affirms. To make is to add to the world, not subtract from it. It enlarges, does not diminish.

5. Because as Iris Murdoch said, paying attention is a moral act. To write truthfully is to honour the luck and the intricate detail of being alive.

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‘Reasons to write’ is part of Charlotte Wood’s acceptance speech (19th April, 2016), on winning the 2016 Stella Prize literary award – celebrating women’s writing – with her novel The Natural Way of Things.

GILLIAN MEARS: WRY, POETIC, UNMISTAKABLY AUSTRALIAN AND GONE TOO SOON

Born in 1964, Gillian Mears was heralded as a bright new literary talent in the late 1980s. She wrote prolifically in her 20s and early 30s, and won several awards before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “Imagine, at the age of 31, beginning to stagger like a Kurt Vonnegut syphilitic,” she wrote. On the eve of her 38th birthday, Mears almost died from acute endocarditis – an infection of the heart. “The duel decline of my body,” wrote Mears “is a mystery I’ve yet to decode”. Her health hampered her career. She is as talented as her peers Tim Winton and Richard Flanagan, yet her work has never received the same attention here in Australia or overseas.

Nonetheless, in 2011 she published the novel Foal’s Bread. Set on the show-jumping circuit of 1930s Australia, the novel was both a love story and a tale of illness and unfulfilled dreams. It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award and won the Prime Minister’s Literary award. Despite this acclaim, it was to be her last novel. By the time Mears wrote to me in February 2016, she had been bedridden for five years and was perhaps better known as an advocate for voluntary euthanasia than a novelist.

By Philippa Chandler; more at The Guardian, 20 May 2016

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Further reading

Foals Bread by Gillian Mears – review (by Alfred Hickling, The Guardian, 12 May 2012)

Vernacular at a gallop (by Helen Elliott, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 November 2011)

Podcast … ‘Gillian Mears: Foals Bread and living life’ (Sydney Writers Festival Blog, 26 May 2013)

A writer of rare talent: Kate Pardey reviews Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears Rochforde Street Review, 30 April 2012

Gillian Mears, author of Foal’s Bread, answers Ten Terrifying Questions Booktopia (John Purcell), 04 November 2011

Authors lose out again in Amazon pay-per-page scam

Authors are earning less from Amazon’s new pay-per-page model than they should be, thanks to a rash of scammers taking advantage of the company’s self-publishing platform.

The scammers are exploiting a loophole in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service – which allows subscribers to read an unlimited number of books for a flat monthly fee – to earn much more money from short books than they ever would if they were sold fairly.

By Alex Hern; more at The Guardian, 26 Apr 2016

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VS Naipaul finds no woman writer his literary match – not even Jane Austen

In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the “greatest living writer of English prose”, was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: “I don’t think so.” Of Austen he said he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.

He felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

By Amy Fallon; more at The Guardian, 02 June 2011