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Posts from the ‘Writing’ Category

2018: Looking back, looking forward

800px-Replica_of_Neanderthal_Skull_in_St._Michaels_Cave,_Gibraltar.jpg

Replica of Neanderthal Skull in St. Michaels Cave, Gibraltar, CC 2012, Bjorn.

I’m planning to do a round-up of my favourite books of the past year later in the week, but before I do I thought I might just pull together a list of a few things of my own over the past twelve months.

The most significant, obviously, was the publication of The Buried Ark in June. The second part of my Change Trilogy, it picks up immediately after the events at the end of the first book in the series, The Silent Invasion, which was published in 2017.

Because of the way it begins, it’s a little difficult to talk too much about it without spoiling the first book, but I’m really proud of it, not least because I think it manages to avoid the second book sag that afflicts so many trilogies. It’s also had some fantastic responses from readers and great reviews from people such as Ian Mond in Locus and Cameron Woodhead in the Fairfax papers.

The latest issue of Island, No 155, which was published just last week, also includes a story of mine, ‘High Country’. It’s available by subscription or in good bookstores.

I also published quite a bit of non-fiction, perhaps most notably my Walkley-nominated, ‘The End of the Oceans’, which was in the August issue of The Monthly, and ‘An Ocean and an Instant’, a long and very personal essay about Adelaide, extinction and the death of my father for Sydney Review of Books’ New Nature series. These were complemented by‘A Family of Disguises’, a long review of Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight.

In addition to these longer pieces I did a lot of reviewing. Some of the highlights of that include Joy McCann’s wonderful history of the Southern Ocean, Wild Sea, climate scientist Joelle Gergis’ excellent Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change in Australia, Ryan O’Neill’s wildly entertaining and incredibly inventive Their Brilliant Careers, Christopher Priest’s deeply strange An American Story, Jock Serong’s terrific historical thriller, Preservationand Micheline Jenner’s The Secret Life of Whales Eelco Rohling’s The Oceans: A Deep History and Jeff Goodell’s The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities and the Remaking of the Civilised World. And although it wasn’t reviewing exactly, I was lucky enough to be asked to write about Sydney’s inner west for a wonderful feature about Sydney in summer for the Herald.

Mostly though, I’ve been working on a series of projects that won’t see the light of day for some time. The first is the final book of The Change Trilogy, A Vastness of Stars, which will be published late next year. It’s the most ambitious, the most cosmic and the most challenging of the three, but I’m really excited about it.

The second is my new novel, Ghost Species, which will be published by Penguin Random House in March 2020. I’ll talk about it some more a bit closer to the time, but it’s about time and loss and extinction and de-extinction, and I think it’s strange and beautiful and very timely, so I’m very much looking forward to people reading it.

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November update

I’m deep in the middle of two books, so not here all that often, but just a few quick updates.

The first is the wonderful news that my essay, ‘The End of the Oceans’, which was published in The Monthly in August, has been nominated for the Walkley Award for Feature Writing (Long). I’m thrilled for all the obvious reasons, but I’m also delighted because it’s a subject of the utmost importance that I care about very deeply. If you enjoy it please share it.

I’ve also had several other pieces of non-fiction published over the past few months. The most significant was ‘An Ocean and an Instant’, a long essay about Adelaide, extinction and the death of my father for Sydney Review of Books’ New Nature series. It’s a very personal piece and was extremely difficult to write, but I hope people find something in it.

Also in Sydney Review of Books I have ‘A Family of Disguises’, a long review of Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight, in The Australian (and staying with the oceanic theme), a review of Joy McCann’s terrific new history of the Southern Ocean, Wild Sea (possible $$$). And finally, I’ve recently uploaded a long review of the imaginary history of Australia Rodney Hall mapped out in the Yandilli Trilogy, The Island in the Mind and The Day We Had Hitler Home. It’s a few years old now, but they’re marvellous books, and it would be wonderful if they found new readers.

 

Winter Solstice

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By Heiser [CC BY-SA], via Wikimedia Commons

Today is the shortest day of the year here in Sydney, and the longest in the northern hemisphere. So I thought I’d celebrate with ‘Solstice’, the first chapter of Clade:

As Adam steps outside the cold strikes him like a physical thing, the shock still startling after all these weeks. For a moment he pauses, looking out across the bay, the crowding floes of ice. Then, adjusting his goggles, he descends the short ramp to the scoured stone upon which the building stands and strikes out towards the headland.

It is quiet out here today, the only sounds that disturb the silence those of the wind, the occasional squalling cry of the birds. Down by the water an elephant seal lies on the rocks, its vast bulk mottled and sluglike; around it tracks of human activity scar the snow like rust, turning it grey and red and dirty.

In the building behind him the other personnel are celebrating the solstice, an occurrence those stationed here have long observed with an extended meal and drinking and dancing. The event is a way of marking not just the date but the peculiar rhythms of life at the base, the annual cycle which means that from here on the arrivals will slow and departures increase, until only the skeleton crew who maintain the facility through the months of cold and darkness remain.

Passing the Klein-blue boxes of the power distribution units he finds himself wondering again about this tradition. Humans have observed the solstice for tens of thousands of years, but are those festivities truly celebrations, or something more ambivalent? Symbols of loss, of the running down of things? After all, the solstice also marks the beginning of summer’s end, the first intimation of the year’s long retreat back into the dark. 

Beyond the last building the land opens out, the dirty grey of rock and mud and melting snow giving way to the white glare of ice. The wind is stronger here, and even colder, but he does not slow or turn aside; instead, closing his hand around the phone in his pocket, he shrugs his neck deeper into his collar and quickens his step. Read more (or just go crazy and buy it already)

On writing and not writing: depression, creation and fiction

Resurrectionist coverAbout fifteen years ago, when I was working The Resurrectionist, Ivor Indyk from Giramondo Publishing approached me and asked me whether I’d be interested in writing a piece about my work in progress for Heat. Although the book was slowly moving toward completion it had been an incredibly difficult process, both emotionally and creatively, and at first I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to open up about how hard it had been. Eventually I decided I would, but in the process I found myself having to think about a whole series of questions about the way I worked, what I thought fiction did, and the ways in which my experiences with depression had shaped both the book and my life and work more generally.

I hadn’t thought about the piece for a long time, but recently I found myself going back to it after somebody asked me whether I’d ever written about process. Reading it again was surprisingly difficult – many of the feelings and experiences it discusses are ones I have no desire to revisit. But simultaneously I was struck by how little had changed, especially in regard to the mysteriousness of the actual process of writing:

“Novels – or at least the ones I am able to write – always seem to me to be curiously fragmentary things, at once prismatic and elusive. These pieces, these fragments, are part of a pattern, and they take their meaning from the whole, even as they reflect the whole within themselves. Finding these pieces, fitting them together, is not so much an act of creation as one of uncovering, of giving voice to something that is already there. This thing, the unwritten book, is like a potential, and to find it you need to learn to give way to the lines of force within it, the invisible tensions and attractors which give it its shape.”

I’ve now uploaded the piece. Although I don’t discuss it explicitly a lot of the piece is about depression, a subject I explored more fully in my essay ‘Never Real and Always True’. And if you’d like to read more by me about how I write, I recommend Charlotte Wood’s fantastic collection of interviews with writers, The Writer’s Room, or my interview with Catriona Menzies-Pike in Sydney Review of Books.

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Publication day for The Buried Ark!

9781743549902My latest novel, The Buried Ark, hits Australian bookstores today. It’s the second part of The Change Trilogy for young adults, and the sequel to last year’s The Silent Invasion.

The Buried Ark picks up immediately after the events at the end of The Silent Invasion. Callie has made it to the Zone, the region controlled by the alien presence of the Change, but only at the cost of everything she holds dear. Broken and alone she fights to survive in the alien landscape of the Zone, until a shocking discovery suggests a way of destroying the Change. Pursued by the Change she flees south again, only to find unexpected sanctuary in a secret installation known as the Ark. But the Ark is not quite what it seems, and before long Callie – and the entire planet – are in more danger than ever.

I’m really proud of it, and excited it’s finally in the world. When The Silent Invasion was published I said my plan was for each book in the trilogy to have a quite different focus and feel, so while The Silent Invasion is very intimate and closely focussed on the central characters and their journey north to the Zone, The Buried Ark would have global implications, and the final book would have a cosmic dimension.

I think – I hope – I’ve achieved that. The Buried Ark is bigger and more exciting than The Silent Invasion. But it’s also richer and stranger, and touches on a series of questions about the human and the inhuman, love and loss, and the weirdness and uncanniness of a world in which environmental change is dissolving the boundaries between us and the world we are destroying.

If you’re in Australia it’s available as an ebook, and at all good bookstores. Overseas readers should be able to buy it on Kindle. And if you’d like to read the first few chapters, they’re available on Wattpad (although don’t read them unless you’ve already read
The Silent Invasion, since they will ruin its ending). You can also read a little bit about how I came to write the series.

And just in case you’re wondering, the third book will be out next year.

Publication Day!

Clade Titan.jpgClade is out today in the UK, Ireland, USA and Canada through Titan Books. You can pick up copies at good bricks and mortar bookshops or online.

It’s already had some lovely responses: SFX gave it 4.5 stars and said it was “beautiful, terrifying and – despite everything – uplifting”, and Robert Macfarlane says Clade is a brilliant, unsettling and timely novel: a true text of the Anthropocene in its subtle shuttlings between lives, epochs and eras, and its knitting together of the planet’s places”. 

If you’d like to know more you might want to check out my interview with Ecofiction about it and some of the challenges of writing about climate change.

My thanks to everybody at Titan for making this possible. I’m so pleased the book is going to find new readers.

 

Fish have feelings too

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Steve Dunleavy, ‘Big Eyed Scad, Kona Hawaii’, cc by 2.0 2010

I’m delighted to be able to say my article, ‘Fish have feelings too’, has been shortlisted for the 2017 Bragg/UNSW Bragg Prize for Science Writing, alongside pieces by Jo Chandler, Alice Gorman, Elmo Keep, James Mitchell Crow and Laura Parker. Originally published in the March 2017 issue of The Monthly, the piece is about recent research into fish cognition and intelligence. It will also be published later this year in The Best Australian Science Writing 2017, edited by Michael Slezak. I’m incredibly grateful to everybody at The Monthly and to Jodi Pini-Fitzsimmons and Culum Brown from Macquarie University for being so generous with their time and research. The winner will be announced in November.