Ruins and Rajith Savanadasa

RajithIn a sold-out session at the weekend’s Brisbane Writers Festival, Rajith Savanadasa spoke to me about his assured debut novel Ruins (Hachette Australia). Amongst other things, I was fascinated to hear that his favourite place is a quiet room in which to read.

Ruins gives an arresting insight into Sri Lanka at the end and aftermath of the Civil War. Rajith uses an intriguing cast of five main characters, four from the one family, to provide different perspectives. Rajith explained how his characters of husband/father Mano, wife/mother Lakshima, daughter Anoushka, son Niranjan and servant Latha are archetypes.

Her recently discovered brother is perhaps coercing Latha to return to the village and help care for his children. She serves the Colombo family of four well but feels that perhaps they don’t care for her in the way she hopes. It was interesting to hear Rajith’s comments on his own family servant Yasa and the novel is dedicated to her. She will always be looked after.

RuinsMano works for the newspaper, publishing only what will keep the staff safe, and is a voyeur until the woman who attracts him dies suddenly. He and Lakshima have a mixed marriage, He is Sinhalese and she is Tamil. He is Buddhist and she is Hindu, but also believes in Buddha. The family savings were used to send Niranjan to study in Australia but he doesn’t seem to be one of the “good children” who return and work hard. Anoushka has many of the difficulties faced by a gay teenage girl who doesn’t follow the demands of the popular group. Rajith revealed that he does share some of her taste in music.

Mano is shocked when Anoushka doesn’t realise there’s a difference between Tamils and the terrorist Tamil Tigers. “The war was against terrorists, not Tamils.”

The novel is ingeniously structured around the ancient artefact of the moonstone where animals represent elements of the life cycle, the vine is desire, the fire-ring shows life’s difficulties and the lotus flower is nirvana. Latha’s thoughts go around and around, becoming cyclic like the structure until she learns to let go of everything and just be.

It was enjoyable to watch the enthusiastic faces of the audience, particularly Rajith’s co-writers from the Queensland Writers’ Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development Program. He would have felt well supported.

Rajith was also on the panel with Sudanese-born Brisbane author Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Korean-American author Suki Kim, which was formed quickly by the BWF as a right-of-reply to Lionel Shriver’s infamous opening address.

 

YA at the BWF16

AuroraThere was a plethora of YA authors at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival.

I enjoyed hearing Meg Rosoff speak about Jonathan Unleashed (Bloomsbury). It’s a memorable story about a youngish man living in New York City with two dogs his brother has asked him to mind. He hates his job in advertising and is being pushed into marriage with his girlfriend who works for a bridal magazine. It’s not a YA novel although Jonathan acts like a boy for much of the book. It certainly did seem to reflect parts of Meg’s own life story and also reminded me of reading Graeme Simsion’s Rosie stories. This means I liked it very much!

It was also a delight to hear Maxine Beneba Clarke speak to secondary school students. She’s not a YA writer but her Foreign Soil and The Hate Race (Hachette) have garnered widespread praise. Maxine helped students appreciate poetry and her performance of several of her poems was breathtaking. I felt that these students were honoured to hear her and that she would make a powerful impression on their attitudes and writing.

WinterThere were other exciting YA and children’s writers I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to hear but I was involved in facilitating a panel of debut YA authors at Brisbane Square Library’s ‘Love YA!’ day. Mark Smith, a teacher and surfer from coastal Victoria, spoke about his post apocalyptic novel The Road to Winter, Queensland Sunshine Coast’s Elizabeth Kasmer shared her thoughtful look at identity, racism and aging in Becoming Aurora (which has a fascinating connection with a painting in the Qld Art Gallery) and celebrity Brisbane bookseller Christopher Currie spoke about his well written exploration of Clancy in a small Qld town in Clancy of the Undertow.Clancy

Their characters were all sixteen (or almost 16), a pivotal age for change; all the authors had interesting reasons for choosing their characters’ names (Finn, Aurora and Clancy); all incorporated sport in their novel (surfing, boxing, cricket); all showcased nature or a special place in their characters’ lives and, perhaps unusually in YA novels, all featured kindness either through their major or minor characters. These three authors were all a pleasure to interview. Seek out their books. Find them on social media.

Jay Kristoff was also riveting at ‘Love YA!’ (and had a very long signing queue!) where he spoke about Nevernight. He and Illuminae (Allen&Unwin) co-author Aime Kaufman were later treated to Argo’s musical performance of Illuminae back at the State Library’s stunning Red Box as the sun set over the Brisbane River. The space opera was composed and performed by Ben Heim and Connor D’Netto and included electrifying cello solos by Patrick Murphy, a cast of strings and voice-overs from the novel. It was a very sophisticated and atmospheric finale to my BWF16.

Argo
Illuminae by Argo

Midge Raymond and My Last Continent

Midge_Raymond_photoOne of the most delightful and enthusiastic authors at the Brisbane Writers Festival this year was Oregon-based Midge Raymond. I was fortunate to moderate one of her sessions in front of an informed and interested audience. We spoke mostly about her new novel My Last Continent (Text Publishing) but Midge also told us about her boutique publishing company Ashland Creek Press, which publishes books about the environment.

My Last Continent is one of those novels that is enjoyable and thought provoking and also lingers afterwards. I missed it after I’d finished reading, particularly learning about and understanding Antarctica and human interaction with the continent. I wanted to read more, so it was wonderful to have Midge continue the action, adventure, danger, science, history and romance of her tale in person.

People have a range of reasons for visiting Antarctica. They run out of places to hide or, in contrast to early explorers, want to be the last to see its sights and inhabitants. Midge celebrates the untamed beauty and danger of Antarctica and also offers a personal and literary affinity with its creatures, mainly here through her protagonist, naturalist Deb, whose personality, longings and hopes are shared with the reader. The major relationship in the novel is between Deb and Keller, an elusive man who also comes to love the far south and its creatures. He even discovers an Adelie penguin who sits in his lap to be stroked and Midge revealed how this is actually based on a penguin in Argentina, Turbo.

ContinentThe structure of the novel builds to the pivotal episode of the shipwreck of a cruise ship. Chapters oscillate expertly between ‘5 Years Before Shipwreck’, ‘5 Days Before Shipwreck’, ‘One Week Before Shipwreck’, hours before shipwreck and ‘Afterwards’. Foreshadowing also creates an ominous tone.

Tension from how far south ill-equipped ships travel for sights and experiences to thrill their passengers and when they should turn back for the sake of safety is threaded into the story.

A scientist and Antarctic voyager in the audience endorsed the accuracy of Midge’s research and her tale in glowing terms.

Midge is also the author of Forgetting English, which won the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, has taught communication writing at Boston University and has written two writers’ guides, Everyday Writing and Everyday Book Marketing.

As well as reading My Last Continent, it is worth exploring Midge’s blog. I feel privileged to have met her.

midge-turbo