Second Half First by Drusilla Modjeska

Second Half FirstDrusilla Modjeska’s memoir Second Half First (Random House Australia) reads as excellent literary fiction. I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading fact rather than absorbing fiction. The author moves in exalted literary circles; making friends at university who have gone on to become lecturers, and socialising and travelling with literary friends of the ilk of Helen Garner, Robyn Davidson, Hazel Rowley, Gail Jones, Lynne Segal and author/illustrator and former Children’s Laureate, Alison Lester.

Man who loved chn

 

Modjeska tells us how she interviewed the seminal author, Christina Stead but, after an interview at the 2009 SWF with her friend Robert Dessaix she doesn’t believe went well, she hasn’t conducted another public interview. 2009 wasn’t a good year for her, though.

Modjeska structures her story by writing about the second half first, beginning with the breakup with her husband on the night before she turned forty. She writes using images of veils and mirrors from visual art, a field she knows well. She was inspired by artist Janet Laurence’s thoughts about, “A way of looking within the world rather than at it… What do we see when a veil falls?” to write, “What do we see if the layers open and we step between the veils into the hidden, or partly hidden places … veils …  occlusions and opacities”. Her traumatic breakup precipitated a new life and vision.

MountainBecause Modjeska is writing about real life, she ponders what is fair to reveal about people she knows and what the repercussions might be. Some of her settings are also indelible. The Sydney Enmore house that she shared with friends, including Helen Garner, and which was the setting for generous, informal gatherings and inspired writing; and the times and travel in Papua New Guinea, which readers of her remarkable novel The Mountain, would have already shared, are seared into my memory. The collection of cloth from a remote mountain village in PNG also raised questions about integrity. Should the cloth be taken and sold overseas to provide money for the Omie people or could the exposure this caused create more problems? Modjeska also comments on Manus Island and the co-existence of Christianity and traditional practices.

Issues such as how different cultures raise boys into men; feminism, spilling into how males and females may be treated differently – including the reception to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “hundreds of pages on the frustrations of not getting to the books he would be writing if he weren’t in the supermarket aisle with a stroller” and the skewed response by a journalist writing about “childlessness by choice” who only interviewed females and ignored suggestions of males such as David Malouf and David Marr.

OrchardDrusilla Modjeska’s other books include Poppy, The Orchard and Stravinsky’s Lunch, which I have long wanted to read.

Meet Bruce Pascoe: Seahorse

SeahorseThanks for speaking to Boomerang Books, Bruce Pascoe.

Where are you based? How has this influenced your new adventure story for children, Seahorse (Magabala Books)? I live at Gipsy Point near Mallacoota in Victoria. I have spent all of my life near the lighthouses at Cape Otway, King Island and Mallacoota and the sea is a big influence.

Is there a real Jack who you have based your story on?

Jack is my son and his courage on tackling the rough seas at Cape Otway is inspirational.

Was there an enormous koala colony when you lived at Cape Otway? Were they regarded as a pest?

They were re-introduced in 1976 but the population exploded and destroyed the forest. My son is the environmental scientist at Cape Otway Environment Centre and his opinion that the koalas were introduced from French Island where they were in plague proportions and consequently had lost the ability to control their own population. In the last 18 months Jack has grown 120,000 seedling trees (mostly manna guns and she oak) and has replanted Cape Otway. There was a small cull of the koalas and Jack is waiting to see how the Cape responds.

Your descriptions of place are a key part of the book. How have you crafted them?

Those places are etched in my memory and I often dream I am swimming or diving on their coasts.

 Why have you selected the symbol of the seahorse?

I’m entranced by seahorses but have only ever seen a few while underwater. I have a seahorse on my keyring.

In the book Jack’s grandfather’s mother died and so her son grew up in a Home where ‘they knocked the children around something terrible’. Has your family suffered in this way? Our family were shifted about but I’m not sure any of them were physically harmed by anything but poverty. The early days on Tasmania would have been cruel but I don’t know any family details.Bruce Pascoe

You have seamlessly incorporated some other terrible experiences that Indigenous people suffered at the hands at white pirates and sealers in the past. How were you able to incorporate these appropriately into this book for children? They have to enter the story naturally but most families can supply an endless number of examples so it’s reasonably easy.

Truganini is such an important figure in Tasmania. Did you consider using her story in this book?

Many Aboriginal people in Tas and Vic are related to Truganini so it’s a bit delicate to use her as an example. I made a short film, Black Chook, ABC later this year, which explored parts of her life. There are strict protocols around these matters.

The shady character wearing black shows contempt and a racist attitude towards Jack’s family. What do you hope your readers take from this scene? I want people to see Aboriginal families as a normal part of Australian life.

Fog a DoxI reviewed your excellent prior novel for younger readers, Fog a Dox for Australian Book Review. This book went on to win several awards including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (YA Fiction). How has winning this prestigious award affected your life? It gave me a lot of confidence that people were noticing my work. Writers lead a lonely working life so it was encouraging to get some feedback.

 What books have you enjoyed reading?

Anything Jack London wrote. Faulkner, Steinbeck, Sholokov. Birds without Wings is one of the best books I’ve read.

Who do you admire in the Australian literary community?

Ali Cobby Eckerman, Alexis Wright, Anita Heiss, Archie Weller, Kim Scott, Carmel Bird, Helen GarnerRuby Moonlight

What I’m reading this Christmas: Jane Pearson, Text Publishing

 

 

This House of GriefThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Jane Pearson. You’re a senior editor at Text and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.

Text Publishing (based in Melbourne) is known for its adult list, as well as its YA/children’s books. Which do you work on?

I work right across the Text list: on YA and adult fiction and non-fiction. I love having that range. It keeps me on my toes.

You’re a senior editor. What does a senior editor do?Jane Pearson

I work with writers from the initial acquisition (in many but not all cases) right through the editorial process to arranging printing and delivery of the stock. Along the way there’s blurb writing, and working with the designer on the cover and with the publicity and marketing team who will get those copies out into the world. And did I mention reading? There’s lots of reading—I’m always in search of the next great author.

How did you get this job?

I’ve been at Text for seven years. I applied for an advertised position—I must have been lucky, or perhaps it was the shoes!

I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.Minnow

It’s hard to narrow it down but here goes. There’s the winner of the 2013 Text Prize, Diana Sweeney’s The Minnow, a gorgeous tale of a girl who has lost all her family in a flood and is putting her life back together in a very quirky and magical way. This book will always be among my favourites. And there’s the amazingly huge (it’s the size of a newspaper) A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. It took him about twelve years to research and illustrate the most fascinating details of this gruesome part of Tasmania’s history, and it includes stacks of stuff that’s never been published before. The highlight of my year was working with Helen Garner on her latest book This House of Grief. It’s the saddest most harrowing story, and it’s told with such raw honesty and respect. And I just have to squeeze in one more: In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame, which she held back for posthumous publication because of all the people she knew it would offend. It’s brilliant Janet Frame and most deliciously scathing, and when the Frame estate decided it was time for publication, it landed on my desk. How lucky was that!

In the Memorial RoomThe Text Classics have brought exceptional out-of-print Australian and NZ books back into circulation. Do you have anything to do with these? If so, which? If not, which have you enjoyed reading?

I work on the Young Adult classics. It’s been great rereading some of the books I loved as a kid, like Ash Road by Ivan Southall, and discovering wonderful new old authors, like James Aldridge who wrote The True Story of Spit MacPhee. Choosing which books to include is just one stage in the process—there is often some curly detective work in tracking down the rights holder for books long out of print, and the search for an introducer. Chong Weng Ho’s covers for the YA Classics are inspired by illustrations used for the original covers or interiors. The True Story of Spit MacPhee is my favourite at the moment. Ask me next week and it may well be something else: Joan Phipson’s The Watcher in the Garden or Nadia Wheatley’s The House that Was Eureka.

What is different/special about Text?

For me it’s the people I work with. We’re a small company—we work hard, and we laugh and cry (and drink) together. And the view from the office balcony is spectacular.True Story of Spit McPhee

What are some awards Text has won that have particular significance for you?

Alyssa Brugman’s novel Alex as Well won the WA Premier’s YA Book of the Year this year. It’s a confronting transgender story about sexual identity and acceptance, with one of the most stop-you-in-your-tracks opening chapters I’ve ever read. It’s not one for the faint hearted, but it’s real and gutsy and super clever. Alex as Well is Alyssa’s first book with Text and her first book to win an award. So I’m extra proud of that.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry? My Brilliant Friend

Change is part of life and it’s certainly part of the book industry. But I think there’s a constant that will remain at the heart of the industry whatever twists and turns lie ahead, and that is that good books matter. We’ll always want to read good stories, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction, digital or print, literary works of art or trashy guilty pleasures.

And what are your must-reads over Christmas?

Academy streetMy picks for Christmas reading are Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. This is the first of four novels about the friendship between two women in 20th Century Naples. I guarantee you won’t be able to stop at one. Mary Costello’s Academy Street—I’ve been recommending this one to everyone since I read it earlier this year. It’s one to read slowly and savour—Mary Costello writes perfect sentences. And Well May We Say… The Speeches that Made Australia, edited by Sally Warhaft. I’ve been dipping in and out of this one since the advance copies arrived in the office and can’t wait to spend a few uninterrupted hours getting lost in it.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Jane. Well May We Say