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Posts tagged ‘James Bradley’

Locus Recommended Reading List

LocusJust a quick post to say how delighted I am to discover Clade is one of the titles selected for Locus Magazine’s Recommended Reading List for 2015. You can check out the full list over at Locus, but needless to say I’m completely thrilled to be on a list that features books by Ann Leckie, Kim Stanley Robinson, Adam Roberts and Dave Hutchinson, and by the incredibly generous comments about the book in the issue itself. My sincere thanks to all concerned.

And just a reminder that if you’re in Australia Clade is available from any good bookstore, your favourite online retailer or as a ebook, and worldwide through Book Depository.



Pascall Prize for Criticism

I’m incredibly excited to be able to say that on Saturday night I was awarded the Pascall Prize for Criticism. It’s a huge honour, and needless to say I’m delighted, although in a way the really wonderful (and weirdly humbling part) has been how many people have written, tweeted or sent messages to say congratulations.

If you’d like to read my acceptance speech, it’s available on the Pascall website, as is the Judge’s Report, but since I suspect most of you won’t make it over there I’d like to say again how grateful I am to the judges, Geordie Williamson and Alison Croggon (both of whose work I admire immensely) and to the Pascall Foundation itself, for its commitment to the idea of criticism as something important and worthy of celebration. You can also read an extended interview with me over at Stephen Romei’s blog, A Pair of Ragged Claws.

I should also thank all of you, since at least part of the reason I was chosen was the work that appears on this site, work that has been shaped considerably by the generosity and intelligence of the many, many people who have taken the time to comment and engage with each other here. I’m aware things are a bit slow around here at the moment but hopefully that will change once I’ve got a couple of the things I’m working on locked away.


How do you do that? she asks, seated on the stairs to his loft, How do you know which notes to play without sheets?

Memory, he says, I do it by memory.

It is Boxing Day, and Anna has woken to the sound of the piano. Downstairs Seth seated before it, his fingers moving slowly across the keys.

What is it? I’ve never heard anything like it.

Seth smiles, his fingers continuing to pick out the notes in ones and twos, each separated by a gap, the space between them seeming as important as the notes themselves, the way they fade into it, leaving the memory of their resonance hanging. She shivers.

It doesn’t have a name, he says, An artificial intelligence composed it.

In front of her she can see the muscles in his back shift beneath his skin, the articulated cage of his ribs beneath them.

I have a recording of it, but I prefer to play it myself. There’s an alien quality to it, a sense of another way of being I can get closer to.

It sounds . . . sad. No, she corrects herself, listening to the strange, ghostly sound of the piano, the dying notes, not sad, something else I can’t quite describe, Like the sound of wind in grass or moving water, that quietness, that colourless feeling. She hesitates. Maybe I can’t find the words because there are no words.

It’s like trying to describe the sound of geometry, isn’t it? Can you imagine what it must be like to be conscious, aware, but without matter, without form? Without place. A ghost in a machine.

Anna shakes her head. But listening to the slow patterns of this music she can hear the loneliness of this thing of bits and light, this artificial mind shifting like the aurora through the circuits of some optical computer, like the siren call of a whale in the oceanic night, the long, clicking song that goes unanswered.

 From The Deep Field.

A blast from the past: me talking about The Resurrectionist

I was chatting about book trailers this morning and it reminded me of the video below, which was produced and directed by Steve Macdonald to coincide with The Resurrectionist’s inclusion as one of Richard and Judy’s Summer Reads in 2008. If you can get past the fact I look even more crumpled and feral than usual, my hair’s about a foot high and my stammer is particularly noticeable, it’s actually not too bad. And of course if you’re so excited after you’ve watched it you want to buy a copy, you can check out Booko for prices on the Australian and UK editions.


Blogging and telling the truth

I’ve got a review of Sam Lipsyte’s scabrously funny new novel, The Ask, in this morning’s Australian, and while I don’t necessarily advocate reading the review I absolutely recommend reading the book, which is hugely entertaining.

This morning’s Australian also features a fascinating piece by Geordie Williamson about blogging, which attempts to resituate the deeply tedious debate about the value of online writing by asking some questions about the aesthetics of blogging, and how the form alters the way we write.

Before I go any further I should point out that Geordie (who’s a friend) says nice things in the piece about me and this blog, and in particular the posts I’ve got reproduced in Karen Andrews’ new anthology of Australian blog writing, Miscellaneous Voices (‘On Novels and Place’ and ‘The Day of the Triffids . . .’). But his kind words about me notwithstanding, I think the piece makes some interesting and valuable points, not the least of which is the manner in which many writers who operate in more controlled forms are made uneasy by the immediacy and gregariousness of the online environment, and the importance of recognising that for all its apparent openness, online writing still seeks to control the terms of the reader’s interaction with the writer by controlling what aspects of the writer’s life and experience they have access to.

In a way this is an unsurprising thing to say. Despite the illusion of openness, all writing is fundamentally an exercise in controlling the terms of the reader’s access to the writer’s inner life. This is probably clearest in forms like the personal essay, but it’s equally true of fictional forms, in which the raw material of feeling and experience is encoded and transfigured by the process of creation: even at their most honest writers are always withholding, shaping, controlling. A good reader understands that, just as they understand that a writer often reveals as much or more about themselves through what they don’t say, through their tics and blind spots, as they do in the things they choose to tell us. But it’s also something we sometimes seem to forget in our rush to celebrate the openness and collaborativeness of the online environment. Because whatever else it is, online writing is still about inventing versions of the self, whether as pleasing personas, disguises or simply creations to be deconstructed and analysed, and as such needs to be understood within a critical framework capable of making sense of the complexities of that process. All of which makes pieces like Geordie’s, which is attempting to make connections between the ways we talk about more ostensibly “literary” forms such as the essay, and blogging (and indeed books like Karen’s, which seeks to place blogging in a wider context) all the more valuable.

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On novels and place


The Beaumont Children, who disappeared in Glenelg on Australia Day, 1966.

If this blog’s been looking a bit neglected lately, it’s because I’ve been frantically trying to knock over a first draft of my new novel. I had been hoping to have a draft done by the time our second child is born in November, and while I suspect that goal has now slipped away from me, I’m at least halfway there, so I think there’s a good chance I’ll have something by Christmas.

Writing first drafts is always a weird process. A lot of writers are planners, but I’m not, or not particularly. I’ve usually got a rough idea of the shape of the book, and at least a few key scenes, but I usually don’t have a terribly clear sense of how those pieces stick together, or what order they happen in. So mostly what I’m doing when I write first drafts is looking for the rhythm, and the energy. Sometimes that can be exhilarating, but mostly it’s a matter of feeling my way forward, looking for the moments when the thing chimes into life.

I’m still not quite sure what I think of this one (which is currently called Black Friday, though that may change). If you’d asked me a few weeks ago I would have said I wasn’t sure if it would work, but in the last fortnight or so I’ve become a lot more confident it will. Partly that’s because I’ve slid past the halfway mark, but mostly it’s because I can feel the characters beginning to live, and breathe, and the narrative beginning to develop the forward energy it needs.

That’s not to say all’s right with it. I’ve got a point of view problem that won’t go away, and the plotting of the section I’ve just finished is a shambles. And it’s precisely the sort of dark, disordered book I promised myself I wouldn’t write after the experience of writing The Resurrectionist. And my central character is pretty spectacularly unpleasant (as is the subject matter), but she also feels scarily real to me, which has to be a good thing.

What’s been strangest though, has been the manner in which the setting of the book has come bubbling out of me. Although it begins in the present day, the bulk of the action tales place in the early 1980s, and focuses on the actions of a small group of political radicals who decide to kill the Prime Minister. These characters come from a variety of backgrounds, but one of them – the central character – grew up in Adelaide, and there’s an extended sequence near the beginning depicting her absorption into the alternative demi-monde of the time in the backlots of Glenelg.

Although the scenes in question take place in 1980, and I didn’t finish school until 1984, the world this section takes place in is absolutely one I remember. The characters go to school at the school I went to (though it’s not named) and though they live a couple of suburbs further north along the coast, most of the action takes place in Glenelg, where I grew up (I’ve actually based the share-house she becomes entangled in on the house an old friend’s mother bought not long after we finished school).

In a way it’s unsurprising that the book has such a definite location. All three of the novels I’ve published so far are powerfully anchored in the places they’re set. Given that two of them – The Resurrectionist and The Deep Field – are set in places which don’t actually exist (the London of the 1820s and the Sydney of the future, respectively) that might seem an odd thing to say, but it’s true. Whenever I write about a place I need to feel I have a connection with it in an emotional sense, and to feel it’s an integral part of the larger symbolic and textural landscape of the novel. And so while the places they describe may not be real, in a literal sense, they need to be real to me, and to resonate with the book as a whole.

The curious thing is that I never had any desire to write about Adelaide. I left the best part of 20 years ago, and though when I visit it still seems almost overwhelmingly familiar, it’s been a long, long time since it felt like home. And although the South Australian landscape I grew up in has found its way into my work from time to time (the sandhills on the southern coast of New South Wales in which much of the action of Wrack takes place are imaginary versions of the Coorong, and the sandhills at West Beach, rather than anywhere you’d find on a map) I’ve not just not written about the place I grew up in, but actively not wanted to write about it.

In a way, of course, all I’m saying here is something I think any writer, and most readers understand, at least intuitively, which is that place, or location in fiction is never physical, or at least not in any simple sense. Place is always really a psychological space, a thing evoked through the layering of detail, and emotion. And like the strange, almost mystical capacity of characters to be conjured into life by a few words of dialogue or description (not for nothing, I think, do Christians understand God’s Word as a living thing; language has a primal and often quite unsettling power to take on life of its own) places are brought to life by the suggestion of great strata of meaning layered beneath the details we use to evoke them.

I’m not sure precisely what led me back to Adelaide, and the world I knew as an adolescent. What I do know is that it’s a process that began when I was struggling to finish The Resurrectionist. One of the inspirations for that book was the Snowtown murders, and having heard me talk about them, and about Adelaide and its history of serial murder more generally, my agent, David Miller, convinced me I should write about them, and about what seemed to me the very particular experience of growing up in Adelaide in the 1980s.

I still think the piece that came out of that conversation, ‘The Element of Need’, is one of the better things I’ve written in recent years. For contractual reasons there was a lag between me writing it and it being published, but a version was published in Heat last year (you can read a brief extract on the Giramondo website) and it’s recently been picked up for inclusion in Best Australian Essays 2009.

But good or not, writing the piece seemed to unlock something inside me. For a time I toyed with expanding it into a full length book, but for various reasons to do with my reluctance to spend too long in the headspace it inhabits that didn’t happen (though it still might). But alongside the book I didn’t write I found myself playing around with stories and novels which used the landscapes of my childhood and adolescence in quite direct ways. And although few, if any, of these are ever likely to find their way into print, the thing I kept running up against was the manner in which the landscapes they inhabit are so vivid and so particular.

I always think it’s dangerous to assume you know why you find yourself writing about particular things (and I’m painfully aware that even when you think you do know you’re often wrong, and the real reasons are hidden from you). But I do wonder whether this process of moving back, into the past, isn’t at least partly to do with growing older. My father is 76, and he routinely says his childhood, which he once barely remembered, is now almost frighteningly vivid. And while he’s got three and a half decades on me, the last few years have been pretty tumultuous. I’ve turned 40, become a father, felt the always unstable cycle of my moods spin frighteningly out of control, felt the only thing I ever wanted to do – writing – leave me, and then, tentatively at first, but then with greater certainty, return, all experiences which have left me painfully aware of the fragility of life, and of our vulnerability to its vicissitudes.

Yet at the same time the spaces I’m exploring are not simply memory. Despite various disruptions I had a pretty happy childhood. But the landscapes of the writing that draws on it are alienated and often downright creepy, populated by people with important parts of themselves missing. This is partly to do with my sense that there is something haunted and even sinister about Adelaide, some sense in which the outward peacefulness and order disguises something cruel and brutal. But I’m also aware that this view is itself coloured by my own fairly uncomfortable relationship with the place, and the person I was when I lived there.

I’m not sure this is terribly surprising. Like a lot of people who have left places I’ve allowed Adelaide to stand in for my past, and going back is always a pretty uncomfortable experience. But it’s also a reminder of the way fiction takes elements of our inner lives and gives them shape. For the Adelaide (and more particularly the Glenelg) I’m writing about in my new book isn’t a real one, in any literal sense, but an expression of whatever it is in me that has drawn me back there. I’m not going to try and unpack that part of me here – that’s what the novel’s for – but it is a reminder of the dangers of assuming fiction is, in ever, in any narrow sense, autobiographical, and simultaneously an illustration of Faulkner’s dictum: “The past is not dead. It is not even past”.

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Gertrude, Alice and the Flight of the Mind

balloonsIn case you’re at a loose end over the next couple of weeks, I’m doing two events. The first is a literary breakfast this Friday (16 October) at Gertrude and Alice Bookstore here in Bondi Beach. Tickets are $12, and bookings can be made by emailing or by phone on 02 9130 5155. I’m going to be talking about my most recent novel, The Resurrectionist (all that darkness and death seem so appropriate for breakfast in Bondi, after all).

And the weekend after next (24-25 October) I’m one of a very impressive line-up of writers appearing at the National Library of Australia’s Flight of the Mind Conference in Canberra. Held over two days, the Conference is designed to explore a range of questions about creativity and the writing imagination, and speakers include Alex Miller, Peter Goldsworthy and Sophie Cunningham. I’m speaking on Sunday morning at 10:00am, and given what a big part of my life this site’s become over the last year, I’m planning to speak about the way technology is altering both what and how we write. The full Conference program is available here, and bookings can be made by emailing or calling 02 6262 1122.

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