Guest blogger: Mel Hall on making up a religion to deal with pain

Making up a religion to cope with chronic pain led to Mel Hall’s debut novel, The Little Boat on Trusting Lane. Today she has dropped in to share her story. Welcome Mel. 

The Little Boat on Trusting Lane by Mel Hall is a feel-good novel about a small spiritual community that hangs out on a boat in a scrapyard in Fremantle. An affectionate satire, the novel provides a funny yet critical commentary on belief, self-help, magical thinking and the mind/body connection. In this guest post, Mel describes how the novel, which was longlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award, came into being out of extreme adversity and the need give form and shape to her chronic pain.

Making up religions in the night

Back in 2016, I was awake at four a.m., reading the Conscious Living Expo guide. I couldn’t help but notice there wasn’t any mention of aliens or Jesus. This got me thinking: aliens and Jesus have a lot in common. People believe they are real, or don’t believe in them at all. People build their lives around them, or don’t pay them a second thought. But how often do we hear about aliens and Jesus together?

So, on that early morning in 2016, I decided to make up a religion that would feature aliens and Jesus. Perhaps it might one day be mentioned in the Conscious Living Expo guide.

I began writing ideas for this religion before work each day. The results were … weird and boring. (Some people don’t realise it’s possible to be weird and boring, but these are the two best words to describe me.) It seemed like this religion might not get off the ground. But in the process of writing, three characters began wandering around in my mind. I started to write a book.

Is this true?

Is anything I just wrote true? Maybe there is something that’s more true. Maybe I’ve spent many sleepless nights in pain. Maybe, in my tiredness, on that particular morning, I was reading whatever I could get my hands on. And maybe I wasn’t making up a religion, but wanting to create some kind of mythology: a place to plant this pain, in hope that some kind of meaning or sense might grow.

Mystery illness

I began experiencing mystery pain when I was eighteen years old. Abdominal pain, back pain, pain that shot down my legs. When I was twenty-two, I was diagnosed with sciatica. Then I ended up with RSI in both my arms: I had been studying jazz music and practising bass quite obsessively, for sometimes ten hours a day. The RSI forced me to quit my degree.

Soon, pain and tension were across my whole body. For a couple of years, I didn’t have full use of my hands. A physio told me I had huge muscle wastage across my back, and that many problems I experienced were those of an old woman. This was when I was twenty-four.

I was looking into getting a cane, going on disability payments, and sleeping a lot of the time. I was sent to a rheumatologist, and in some notes I received afterwards, I was described as a high-achieving young woman, and other words used were anxiety and fibromyalgia.

Getting better

But then, I read some books that helped me. I saw a psychotherapist. My pain got a lot better, and even nearly went away. I began to think it was all psychological after all. By 2010, when I was twenty-eight, I was pretty healthy, and even lived my dream of backpacking around Europe.

Getting sick again

Then, in 2016, the pain came back with a vengeance. I was almost blacking out at work, leaving the room to vomit, then coming back in to pretend nothing had happened. Sometimes if I told a person about the pain, they’d ask if I was pregnant. My lowest point was when I vomited on myself while driving, and had to stop in at a friend’s to shower, change and admit my desperation.

So, as well as the intellectual pursuit of wishing to marry aliens and Jesus, one of the first things that got me writing this book was an imagined therapy. In this therapy, a character tries to find the right image to give shape to their pain. I needed this for myself too.

Towards the end of 2016, I was sent back to a rheumatologist and diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of inflammatory spinal arthritis that affects many parts of the body. Getting a diagnosis and medication really changed my life, as my rheumie said the last time I saw her, in November 2020. But writing changed my life too.

Writing a book to cope with chronic pain

Writing this book gave the pain somewhere to go. I think of the book as a creation story, where I can let the pain unfold amongst other things, beings, events, places.

Creation stories are about beginnings rather than endings. Part of me would like to focus on endings, as I would like to know that this pain, or this disease, will never return. (I can never be sure of that.) But being able to place this pain in a big creaking boat on Trusting Lane was something like a transformation for me. I found new life in the daily act of writing – writing which became a book.

The Little Boat on Trusting Lane is available in all good bookstores and online.

Guest Blog – Michael Burrows author of Where the Line Breaks

Ryan O’Neill calls Michael Burrows’ debut novel, which was shortlisted for the Fogarty Literary Award, ‘an engrossing war story and a captivating tale of love and obsesssion’.  In this post Michael shares where his inspiration came from.

The idea to write Where the Line Breaks came to me at 4 or 5 am, Anzac Day 2013, sitting in Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli coast in Turkey after a long night of readings, stories, music, remembrance and moving testimony.

The moment came when someone approached the microphone and recited a few lines of war poetry. I can’t remember which poem exactly, but it was one I was familiar with – Owen or Brooke, maybe? There’s something special about war poetry; the juxtaposition between beauty and barbarity. So it was that night in Gallipoli – the poetry cut through the chill air and you could almost feel the crowd glowing with appreciation. I loved it. My only question was, why weren’t they reading Aussie or Kiwi poetry?

And then I thought, but who would they read?

Where the Line Breaks concerns the discovery of an anonymous Australian war poet, our very own Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon, called the Unknown Digger. At one point during writing, my novel was titled The Sky Where Red Stars Move, a line from the Leon Gellert poem ‘Red’. I hadn’t heard of Leon Gellert before researching my novel, strange as that seems. How was it that I knew of Brooke and Owen from school, but hadn’t even heard of ‘Anzac Cove’ or ‘The Last to Leave’?

Leon Gellert was born in Adelaide in 1892. He landed on Gallipoli on that first Anzac Day, was injured three months later and though he attempted to re-join the fight, he was repatriated as ‘medically unfit’ in June 1916. Maybe that’s why he isn’t better known – he didn’t have the tragic death of a Brooke or an Owen to push his poetry into the national consciousness. Unlike Graves or Sassoon, he stopped writing poetry after a few years and turned to journalism. He died in 1977 at 85 years old. But his poetry is wonderful, and in Gallipoli to Gaza, Jill Hamilton recognises him as ‘the only Australian poet whose work can be compared with that of the leading soldier-poets of the World War’. My personal favourite Gellert poem is ‘Anzac Cove’, with its devastating closing:


There are lines of buried bones:
There’s an unpaid waiting debt:
There’s a sound of gentle sobbing in the South.

Reading this poem for the first time, I really felt the gut punch of the Australian war experience, different to anything I’d experienced reading Brookes’ ‘The Soldier’ or Owen’s Latin homework.

Likewise, with the works of Clarence Michael James Dennis – or C. J. Dennis as he became known. Born in 1876, unlike Gellert, he never fought for his country, but his works, particularly The Moods of Ginger Mick, capture the sound of Australia like no-one else. Dennis was known as Australia’s version of Robbie Burns and the ‘laureate of the larrikin’. After his death in 1938, then Prime Minister Joseph Lyons said, ‘he captured the true Australian spirit.’ Read these lines out-loud in your finest Steve-Irwin-esque voice and tell me you don’t love it:

On the day we ‘it the transport there wus cheerin’ on the pier,

An’ the girls wus wavin’ hankies as they dropped a partin’ tear,

An’ we felt like little ‘eroes as we watched the crowd recede,

Fer we sailed to prove Australia, an’ our boastin’ uv the breed.

I love the dropped endings of words, the slurred ‘uv’ and ‘wus’. That’s why I opened my novel with an excerpt from The Moods of Ginger Mick.

Those two poets are my personal favourites, but there are plenty of Australians who deserve to be better known, like Private William M. McDonald (read ‘Camps in the Sand’), Archibald Nigel Guy Irving (read ‘The Dead’) or Oliver ‘Trooper Bluegum’ Hogue (read ‘The Horses Stay Behind’).

The Unknown Digger is a fictional creation, but he is inspired by the works of countless Australian soldier poets. I hope Where the Line Breaks encourages us to take a closer look at our own homegrown poets. Who knows, maybe this Anzac Day we can read a few lines of Gellert or Trooper Bluegum – something written by the original Anzacs themselves.

 

Where the Line Breaks is available in all good bookstores and online.

https://www.fremantlepress.com.au/products/where-the-line-breaks

You can visit Michael online at:

Twitter: @mperegrineb

Facebook: facebook.com/mperegrineburrows

Instagram: @mperegrineburrows_artist

Website/blog: www.mperegrineburrows.com

Guest blogger: Brigid Lowry on using reading and journaling to create a meaningful life

It is a delight to welcome Brigid Lowry to Aussiereviews.  

If you’re struggling to maintain grace and good humour amidst daily potholes and pitfalls, Brigid  may be just the warm, wise and witty companion you need. Her new book is called A Year of Loving Kindness to Myself and other essays.

Greetings. My name is Brigid Lowry.

I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I tried being a librarian, a schoolteacher, a waitress, a cook and a laboratory assistant, and had various other unmentionable jobs, then lived in a Buddhist community for many years, helping to raise children, run retreats and build adobe buildings. When I was 35, married with one son, I went back to university and realised that writing was the thing I loved to do.

My first title was a mushy teenage love story in the Dolly Fiction series. Various twists and turns led me to a rather lovely career writing for teenagers and teaching creative writing to people of all ages, though I still published poetry and short fiction here and there. My MA in Creative Writing involved writing a semi-autobiographical adult novel and an academic thesis on the topic of memoir. Most of my YA titles were fiction, but one was non-fiction – Juicy Writing: Inspiration and Techniques for Young Writers. Although it was marketed this way, many adult writers have told me they love this book and use it often for inspiration. More recently, I have returned to writing for adults and, in 2016, my first adult title, Still Life with Teapot: On Zen, Writing and Creativity, was published by Fremantle Press.

A Year of Loving Kindness to Myself and Other Essays is my latest book and it’s about to hit the shops. I’ve been practising meditation in the Zen and Vipassana traditions for 40 years, and during those years I have also explored personal growth and therapy to process the events of a challenging childhood.  My work and themes have evolved from these sources. In my new book I offer insights and suggestions for anyone wishing to live a sane, nourishing and creative life in these difficult times, using humour to lighten the mood.

I am very much in favour of humour as good medicine. My favorite cartoonist is Roz Chast, who uses her own life and the lives of fellow New Yorkers in her wise, warm and excellent cartoons. I also love Anne Lamott, who is a recovered alcoholic, a Christian and one of the funniest writers I have encountered. She writes about her own neurosis and struggles, inspiring the reader by sharing her joys and triumphs. Life is good, but also weird and hard, she writes.

So, how do we navigate life’s challenges? Are our survival mechanisms healthy? Buddhist teacher and psychologist Josh Korda calls drinking a failed attempt at happiness, yet wine o’clock is common for many until health or financial issues become problematic, or one realises that the thrill is short-lived, that hangovers suck and that the problems you were trying to avoid did not magically vanish. Similarly, working too hard, emotional eating, recreational shopping or too much screen time are temporary fixes. A little may be good, too much proves hollow. In my own life, I have found creativity, meditation, exercise, the outdoors and human connection of benefit.

Reading and journalling are precious tools for creating a meaningful life. Savour books, keep a pile beside your bed, use them as islands of wonder. Read widely, read deeply, but skim if you need to. Give yourself permission to abandon a boring book. When feeling stale, make haste to the library or a bookshop, feasting on what you find there. Books provide an unlimited source of escape, fascination, knowledge and solace.

Journalling is a satisfying way of staying in touch with yourself and your feelings, a safe place to be yourself when the world seems murky. It can bring clarity in the midst of mayhem, comfort when one is world-weary. Choose a cheap exercise book or a fancy journal. Grab an old pencil or some rainbow pens. Collect ideas, memories, wise thoughts. Record your dreams. This life is so precious, so fleeting and so ready to be explored on paper in your own sweet way.

Try some lists. The five worst people to invite to dinner. The 10 things that bring merriment. The three best places to yell out loud. The six uses for a banana that are not eating it. The eight things you would like for your birthday that don’t cost any money.

Wishing you creativity and wonder, ease and delight.

A Year of Loving Kindness to Myself and other Essays by Brigid Lowry is available in all good bookstores and online.

https://www.fremantlepress.com.au/products/a-year-of-loving-kindness-to-myself

Guest Blogger: Emma Young, author of The Last Bookshop

It is lovely to welcome Emma Young, author of The Last Bookshop, to Aussiereviews, to speak on her favourite bookish books. Over to you, Emma.

I was once a bookseller. At various shops across Perth, Western Australia, I covered and stickered and flyleaf-labelled titles destined for libraries, I bought and sold second-hand volumes, and I special-ordered non-fiction and technical books. Across the years I saw the challenges: the tight profit margins; the hard physical work; the need to be knowledgeable, continuously upbeat and helpful; the commercial headwinds forcing shops to pack up and move, or reinvent themselves repeatedly. I saw how at the heart of a bookshop’s success is the strength and sincerity of its connection to bookish people. I met so many such people, who asked me so many weird questions, and had such astonishingly varied interests, that of course it was not long before I began to think to myself, ‘This stuff would fill a book.’

I have finally written that ode to bookshop life: the difficulties and absurdities, but above all the joys of a business that’s about more than money. It’s called The Last Bookshop and it’s just been published by Fremantle Press.

Fun fact: my book mentions a grand total of 78 specific books by name. I know this because my editor, Armelle, made a list of them, for no doubt excellent editor-y reasons best known to herself.

But it’s not just my book that celebrates books, bookshops and writing. I come from a grand tradition of such stories. And since compiling this shortlist of my favourites, I see the influences they have had on my story, so I’m pleased to share my top five.

  1. 84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff

This gentle, charming story is a collection of real letters between outspoken New York writer Helene Hanff and antiquarian book dealer Frank Doel from Messrs Marks and Co, at 84 Charing Cross Road, London, beginning in the 1940s. What begins as a simple back-and-forth to fulfil Ms Hanff’s insatiable need for rare books blossoms into an epistolary friendship that spans decades. I can’t overstate how sweet, funny and touching this book is.

The 1987 movie adaptation is also good, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins: lovely escapism with a cup of tea on a wintry afternoon.

2. Underfoot in Show Business, Helene Hanff

Helene Hanff’s account of her early days trying to make it as a writer in New York, employed as an apprentice playwright by the New York Theatre Guild, is equally enjoyable. It’s side-splittingly funny and utterly absorbing, a fascinating account that transports you effortlessly into her world.

If you loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls, this is very like it – but the real thing. It’s most likely out of print, but I urge you to find a second-hand copy.

3. The Diary of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell

Wigtown, Galloway, Scotland: officially designated Scotland’s National Book Town. The largest of the second-hand bookshops is The Bookshop, run by Shaun Bythell. His published diaries are caustic and bad-tempered. He is Black Books’ Bernard in the flesh, though a big heart is just visible beneath the misanthropy. A hilarious book – the sort you constantly read bits aloud from to your partner, though they wish you would shut up, because strangely they don’t love books about books as much as you. It’s cruel Bythell wrote this; he essentially stole the book I wanted to write.

If you need more when you’re done, he’s also written three more books in this vein.

4. The Red Notebook, Antoine Laurain

 Bookseller Laurent Letellier finds a handbag on a Paris street and commences a journey to find its owner. The best clue he has: a notebook inside, filled with scribbled notes that drive him mad with curiosity to locate the writer. A beguiling tale of a meeting of hearts and minds, this is a light and cosy read written with a delicate touch. It’s incredibly French.

Now that I think of it, this would be a nice Mother’s Day gift

5. My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff 

A New York literary memoir, a coming-of-age tale and a fitting accompaniment to Underfoot in Show Business. Rakoff is another penniless wannabe writer new to the city, this time 1990s NYC. She takes a job as assistant to the literary agent of the reclusive J.D. Salinger, tasked with answering his fan mail. She’s supposed to send form letters, but – partly bored, partly touched – she begins writing back …

This is a nostalgic evocation of a pre-digital New York. I read it after a month’s stay there, which I highly recommend, but since that’s impossible right now, reading this is an excellent substitute. A big-screen adaptation has just been released starring Sigourney Weaver (though I just happened upon two scathing lines of review by the Guardian that I can’t unsee, so we’ll view at our own risk, shall we?).

 

Thanks for sharing Emma – I am off to add some titles to be wish list.  The Last Bookshop by Emma Young is available in all good bookstores and online.

 

Connect with Emma here:

 

 

Guest Blogger: Susan Midalia – My Writing Life

 

On the cusp of releasing her new novel,  Everyday Madness Susan Midalia shares how loss compelled her to become a writer.

I’ve been an enthusiastic reader for decades, but one particular event in my adult life impelled me to become a writer. A few days after my father died, I found myself scribbling words onto a page without understanding why. The writing initially resembled a series of diary entries – spontaneous, private jottings – about my difficult relationship with my father. But soon I began to see patterns, a shape, a sense of purpose in those muddled beginnings. The story became, in short, a therapeutic exercise: a way of trying to understand what it might mean to be a daughter who didn’t love her father, who indeed had no respect for him. Then, by a series of coincidences and without any planning on my part, my story ended up being published in a literary journal. What happened next was both unexpected and immensely gratifying: I had responses from readers telling me that my story had encouraged them to reflect on their own fathers, on the process of dying, on the nature of grief, or the inability to feel grief. I realised that my story had moved from self-expression to communication: that my words had made some kind of difference to people I didn’t even know. I realised, too, that I wanted to keep doing this wonderful thing: turning black marks on a screen into something for people to believe in. So, in 2006, and with the blessing and crucial financial support of my husband, I quit my teaching job and embarked on a full-time writing life.

Since then, I’ve published three short story collections: A History of the Beanbag, An Unknown Sky and Feet to the Stars, all shortlisted for major Australian literary awards. I have also published two well-received novels: The Art of Persuasion (2018) and Everyday Madness (2021). I’m keenly aware that my writing life is a highly privileged one; most writers I know need a day job to pay the bills, but I have the luxury of spending unlimited, unpressured time doing what I love. It also helps that our children have left the parental nest, both of them leading happy and productive lives. One of those children told me I had to stop writing about sex (definitely an exaggeration). My husband told me I had to stop killing off husbands in my fiction (I tell him it’s simply a device to move the plot along).

What do I love most about writing? I love the challenge of creating characters who are not like me. I love encountering the unexpected: characters who refuse to do what I want; a plot that changes tack; a new character who didn’t feature in my original intentions; reaching a conclusion that surprised me. I also love the process of self-editing. Rethinking, changing words or the structure, making sure that every word in a sentence is necessary, or tossing 20,000 words in the bin and starting all over again. It’s both a lot of hard work and a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t write if it wasn’t fun.

My subjects are typically ‘domestic’ – marriage, family, relationships in general, and the daily world of work. While ‘domestic’ writing, especially by women, is often dismissed as a trivial or predictable depiction of ‘ordinary’ life, I believe that no-one and nothing is ordinary. A good writer can make putting out the rubbish an interesting, even an extraordinary, experience; it’s only a matter of finding the right words.

My new novel, Everyday Madness, is darker than my previous fiction, but I’ve injected some humour into the narrative. I think humour not only alleviates the gloom; it can also encourage us to think about human motivation and actions, about social problems and the necessity for hope. As the great comic writer Oscar Wilde observed: ‘Humour is the most serious form of literature.’ Even something as crude as a fart joke can make people think. As small children, my sons loved playing with a toy called a whoopee cushion, which made a loud, farting noise whenever someone sat on it. They did it so many times, and every time they would collapse with laughter (as did their parents, I have to confess). Now why do some people find that joke hilarious? I’ll leave you to think about that!

 

Thank you f or visiting, Susan.

Everyday Madness is in all good bookstores and online.

You can find Susan on Twitter or at her website

 

 

Guest Bloggers Deborah Hunn & Georgia Richter on How to Be an Author

Guest blog post: introducing an indispensable new book for writers

Between the pages of How to be an Author is everything you need to know about the business of being a writer, from people who live and breathe books. In this guest post, co-authors Deborah Hunn who is a lecturer in creative writing, and Georgia Richter, a publisher and editor, talk about how the book came about, what you might learn from it and the joys they find in their everyday working life.

Deborah Hunn says:

When Georgia and I began to discuss writing our book How to be an Author, I  remembered how a former Curtin colleague was fond of saying she’d rarely met a creative writing student who didn’t have a great idea for a story; the real problem was with what came came next: taking that great idea and transforming it into a viable, well-crafted, fully developed piece of writing. In short, what makes an author is not just (perhaps not even) some magical innate streak of creativity. It’s putting in the work, doing the business.

Georgia and I aimed to provide our readers with help and advice in understanding that business when we drew on our varied experiences in teaching, writing and publishing, and when we decided to include the voices of an additional 18 authors in this book. Whether the apprenticeship of young and emergent writers (for not all new writers are young) is through a university or one of sundry other pathways, they must learn and sharpen through practise – developing skills with language and syntax, with structure, plot and characterisation as well with voice and point of view; building an awareness of the possibilities of genre, an eye for observational detail and other modes of creative research, and an ear for how to pitch to their target audience. However, doing the work of a writer also requires persistence and a willingness to be open to advice and critique. It means developing a workable routine, managing to write through the bad days as well as the good, and committing oneself to editing and redrafting, dealing with rejection and finding a way through when imagination runs dry.

As well as cultivating persistence, the developing writer needs to find their tribe. For some who start outside established educational or community networks, it may mean locating like-minded others to share writing, information and ideas with; for all it will mean learning to recognise and take on constructive criticism through peer workshopping and editorial feedback, and then making good use of that in refining a draft.

Then of course there’s the next big step towards being a writer: understanding and utilising the mechanics of pitching and publication.

 

Georgia Richter says:

Some people write as an end in itself – for them, the satisfaction of laying down words on a page, like bricks on a path, is enough. There is the joy of the hard, exacting slog of it, and the satisfaction of looking back and seeing a path that has been shaped, travelled and wrought.

For others, finding an audience for their work is an essential component of their sense of themselves as a writer – and so publication is a necessary part of their practice. If it is an audience a writer seeks, then there is much to think about. A writer can ask questions like:

  • What is an author brand, and how do I authentically create my own?
  • What’s in a contract and do I need an agent to get one?
  • What takes place during the editing process?
  • What are the important relationships I need to work on before and after publication?
  • What is success and what is reasonable to expect?
  • How will I bear the bumps and setbacks and rejections and learn to carry on?

Deb and I, and the contributing authors, provided as many insights and practical suggestions as we could to help emerging writers answer questions like these.

There are lots of things I love about my job as a publisher.

One is the feeling of reading a submitted manuscript and experiencing the affirming excitement of being in the hands of an assured storyteller who knows what they want to say and who has found exactly the right vehicle to say it.

Another is building a relationship through the editing process with an author as together we hone and refine the submitted work so it is as perfect as it can be.

A third is placing a book, fresh off the printer, into the hands of an author. Here is the hard, beautiful proof of all they have worked on – here is the moment when they are on the brink of sharing it with the world!

A fourth is when authors tell me about reader responses – conversations with strangers who have told the author how they were touched or moved or consoled or entertained by a book.

I derive huge satisfaction from having been a part of a writer’s journey to publication. Deb and I hope that this book will serve a similar purpose. We know that the greater work is always with the creator – from the clearing of the path and the placing of the first brick to the invitation to others to come walk that path too.

The book is available in all good bookstores and online

To connect with Georgia Richter, Deborah Hunn and other writers, join the How to be an Author in Australia Facebook Group.

Georgia Richter has also launched a new podcast series How to be an Author which features interviews with passionate members of the Australian publishing industry. You can listen on your favourite podcast app or using one of the players provided here.

 

Thanks for visiting, Georgia and Deborah. 

 

 

Guest Blogger: Josephine Taylor author of Eye of a Rook

Guest blogger Josephine Taylor hopes her historical novel will shine a light on a condition many women have but most don’t discuss

I’m always reassured when I hear other writers advise, write what you feel passionate about, because that’s why I wrote Eye of a Rook.

I was angry. Angry that so few people knew about a condition that was so debilitating and that affected so many women, including me: vulvodynia. And I felt frustrated and helpless – at least at the beginning, way back in 2000. Then, in 2003, I started writing about my experiences, and I began to feel more in control, more an agent in my own life. I researched and wrote and eventually began a PhD, which turned into a memoir – a kind of embedded sociological detective story that delved into the history of vulvar pain and hysteria, and that explored more recent understandings of pain that won’t leave, from psychoanalysis, psychiatry, neurophysiology, feminist studies… The resulting investigative memoir, Vulvodynia and Autoethnography, won several awards, but it was an unwieldy beast from a publisher’s perspective. So, while I continue to draw material from it for my personal essays, with many published, I’ve left a full-length memoir to one side – for the moment at least!

After I finished my PhD in 2011 the pressure inside me remained. I knew that somewhere between 10% and 28% of all women would experience vulvodynia in their lifetime, so how could I contribute to beneficial change for them? What was I to do about the BIG story I wanted to get out into the world? I had no conscious idea. Fortunately, my creative life had its own plans, and at a writing workshop in 2013, two Victorian men came to life in response to a writing prompt. One was a man called Arthur, with fine brown hair and dressed in a frockcoat, and the other was a real-life surgeon I’d been researching, Isaac Baker Brown. It seemed that Arthur was consulting Brown about his wife, Emily, and contemplating the surgeon’s radical ‘solution’ to hysteria. This initial scenario turned into a short story which now also included a scene with a contemporary Perth couple driving tensely to an appointment. It seemed that the modern-day Alice had the same pain as Emily – the same pain as me – and both women needed answers. The short story, published in an anthology as ‘That Hand’, became the first chapter of Eye of a Rook.

I wrote my novel in timelines separated by almost 150 years because I wanted to show how little has changed since 1866. In fact, my research had shown that the understanding of chronic pelvic pain and specific pain states like vulvodynia has stayed largely stuck for many centuries. It’s men who have, until very recently, studied, written about and treated mystifying female complaints across recorded history, and medical understanding has been based on a male model. Knowledge skewed even further in the twentieth century, as the theories of Sigmund Freud were taken up by psychiatry then gynaecology, especially in the US. Under this influence, vulvar pain was interpreted as psychosomatic, a woman’s way of acting out unresolved unconscious conflict, a ‘defense mechanism’ against intercourse. The onus was placed upon the woman, rather than the limits of medical knowledge, with women generally told or made to feel that the pain was ‘all in her head’.

Both Alice and Emily come up against this kind of ignorance and dismissiveness, enduring harmful treatments and worse. Both reach out for help, with Alice finding community in a support group and Emily relying on her husband at a critical moment. I hope that readers will be able to relate to or empathise with Alice and Emily’s pain and the decisions all the characters make, for themselves and their futures.

My biggest hope is that my book will be read by women with vulvodynia and that it helps them in tangible ways. More, I hope that the people these women depend on read it: family, friends, GPs, physiotherapists, gynaecologists, dermatologists, urologists and psychologists. I hope that those who live with chronic pain, who may have been made to feel that they could be doing more for themselves or that they are exaggerating their symptoms, read it. I hope that Eye of a Rook will shine a light where one is so desperately needed and bring this conversation into the public domain.

Eye of a Rook is available in all good bookstores and online.

Thanks for visiting, Josephine. You  can learn more about Josephine, and connect with her

At her website here.

On Twitter.

On Facebook.

And on Instagram .

 

Guest Blogger: Author in the Wild – Cristy Burne

Author Cristy Burne shares her top six survival techniques for touring authors.

So, it’s been a while since you’ve been on tour. In this new-normal, COVID-19 world, we’ve all grown used to the comforts of home: skyping in your PJs, talking to yourself, not wearing pants.

If you’re like me, it’s been a while since you’ve packed your Meet-The-Author bags to head into the [Big] Wide World.

Well, that’s about to change. This month I have a new book out (YAY!!!), and that means, COVID-19 lockdowns permitting, I may need to actually leave the house.

The book, Beneath the Trees, is a junior fiction adventure about teamwork, family and survival.

It’s based on the true story of a 2019 hike my family went on in Eungella National Park, Queensland. A hike I’m really glad we all survived! (Spoiler alert?)

Eungella is one of the best places in the world to see wild platypus, and that’s how everything really started … In the book, Cam and her little sister, Sophie, are looking forward to seeing a platypus, but when they finally spot one, something is wrong.

And then things just get worse. Soon they’re lost in the rainforest with their bossy older cousin, Jack. And they need all their resilience and courage to survive …

Just like you’ll need when you step out the front door on your next author tour.

So, because I’ve been thinking loads about survival, I’ve written up a list of top tips totally recommended if you want to make it through your next author tour alive …

  • Find water

Dehydration leads to headaches, lethargy and hallucinations. Only one of these things will serve your career as a children’s writer. So it’s essential you secure a source of water early. Your voice will last loads longer if you’re sipping all day. Also, your brain needs water for proper functioning. Just saying.

Score additional points if you bring along your own reusable bottle.

  • Signal to rescuers

If you’re drowning, not waving, you have an issue with communication.

If you’re an author on tour, it’s essential that you master the basic skills of effective signalling. Personally, I practise survival signalling every day, before I even leave the house. Techniques such as ‘I’d love a flat white, please’ may just save your life.

  • Navigate to safety

We all get lost at some stage. I usually get lost on the way to the venue. Or on the way home from the venue. Or on the way to the bathroom at the venue.

The point is, if you find you’re losing your way, don’t panic. Just pause, get your bearings, and then strike out in a better direction. If you get lost onstage, the pause is your friend. It’s a survival tool you can use. Any. Time.

  • Build a shelter

Protect yourself from sweltering heat, bitter cold, buckets of rain and billions of fans by ensuring you have shelter. This could take the form of a green room, staff room, hotel room, even the inside of your car. It’s way more fun if you actually build your shelter, so feel free to use library furniture, cushions, cardboard boxes and BYO mattress.

  • Pack basic medical supplies

Throat lozenges, headache tablets, dark chocolate, instant coffee. Your melt-down bag should provide a strong sense of safety. Whether you’re suffering from a blister, bruised ego, or muscle cramp from signing so many books, packing some basic emergency supplies is always a good idea. Include a second thumb drive. And a second shirt.

  • Make fire

Fire helps us cook, keeps us warm, and burns inside our souls for the rest of our lives.

Fire drives us forward, even when our slides don’t work or there’s an unexpected evacuation drill.

As children’s authors, our job is to start fires. A spark here, a spark there. Starting fires is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. It’s what drives me out of my front door. So make books, find your pants, and practise these survival techniques. Let’s start a fire in the hearts of children everywhere.

Cristy Burne’s new book, Beneath the Trees (Fremantle Press), is available from all good bookstores and online. It’s one of a trio of junior outdoor adventure stories that includes To the Lighthouse and Off the Track.

 

Thanks for visiting, Cristy.. You can find out more about Cristy at her website

 

The Power of Suffering, by David Roland, reviewed by Leonie Callaway

The Power of Suffering is a beautiful book. Exquisite storytelling, and a   book that could only be written by someone with the unique causes and conditions of David Roland – a personal journey through suffering, a psychologist’s eye and the capacity to weave his own story and observations with the stories of others. For me, the reflections on the suffering of “moral injury” were especially pertinent, and David’s explorations of spirituality and suffering are nuanced, generous and encouraging. This book was launched as our world launched into the unprecedented changes of a global pandemic, and perhaps there has never been a time when a book about suffering has been more relevant?

You can learn more about David Roland and his books at his website  here: www.davidroland.com.au

 

Guest Blogger: Sally Bradfield Discusses the Genesis of Not Quite 30-Love

It’s always a pleasure to meet another Sally, and today I am excited to be welcoming Sally Bradfield as a guest blogger at Aussiereviews. Over to you Sally. 

The Genesis   

Hi, My name is Sally Bradfield and I spent many years (try twenty) travelling the globe working in marketing and communications on the professional tennis circuit. Yes, I met and worked with all the household names you can think of: Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Anna Kournikova, Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic…

My first real tennis job was a WTA Communications Manager. The WTA stands for Women’s Tennis Association. Watch the movie on Billie Jean King (who I am also proud to know), called ‘Battle of the Sexes’ to understand how the women’s tennis tour began.  I remember starting this job and being blown away by being paid to travel around the world, staying at five star hotels, eating room service and watching tennis. I said to a few long term employees – how could you ever get sick of this? Then the real work began. As the meat in the sandwich between getting players, sponsors, fans and tournaments together, the communications team are always fighting an uphill battle. You work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week and get yelled at a lot.  But you do meet amazing people, see unbelievable places and watch astonishing athletes at play.

About ten years ago, I gave it all up to settle back in Sydney. I am married to a former professional player, now coach – Nicole Arendt (who is American, but moved here so we could live in the greatest country in the world). I missed tennis and some of the travel. A bit like Hotel California, they kept calling me back. Each year when the tennis came ‘down under,’ I worked at the Sydney tournament, visited my friends at the Australian Open. Every couple of years, we went to Wimbledon. Nicole often played the legends event and we are given special access forever as Nicole’s a member of the Last 8 club (having reached the Wimbledon Doubles Final). We feel very lucky and blessed to be able to keep in contact with the old and new crews, without having to travel full time.

A few years ago, I talked about writing a book about my life on the tennis circuit. I enrolled in and completed a Masters in Creative Writing at Sydney’s UTS. There I started my fictional novel. The first title was ‘Balls in my Face.’ My UTS lecturers hated the title, but I thought it was brilliant.  The first draft took my several years and it was way too close to a thinly veiled autobiography.  Fun for me and interesting to others, but likely to end up in litigation.  At some point, I will write my autobiography, but it will be truthful, rather than hiding under the fiction tag.

As the drafts evolved, the protagonist, Katie Cook, became less Sally Bradfield and more her own person. An amazing thing happened, she started to speak to me. She was her own woman (twenty-eight and full of opinions). She was certain of the way her story should be told. I was not always in agreement. She mostly won!

The tennis characters in the book are all fictional, but the world they live in, is very real. It was important to me that those in the know, felt the book was an accurate depiction of life on the Tour. So far the feedback from those people has been extremely positive, which was really fulfilling. They said it was like ‘reading about my life.’

There have been books about life on the Tour before, but they always felt like they were written by outsiders and they mostly were. I’m proud to have my book stand on its own feet and hopefully entreat people to want to know more about the tennis world. It’s a great place to visit…

You can purchase the Ebook via this link;  https://books2read.com/u/bzvzx

My website www.notquite30love.com has more information and links how to buy.

My author Facebook page: https://bit.ly/357v5bs

Instagram: NQ30love

Twitter @sallybradfield

 

Below is a little more about the book and about me.

Twenty-eight year old Katie Cook lands her dream job in the world of professional tennis.

It was like being invited to the Academy Awards, except they were all wearing branded tracksuits.

Katie finds life in Sydney to be not quite measuring up and makes the move to follow her childhood obsession with professional tennis, running away to join this circus of a world and finding work as a publicist.
Racing around the globe faster than a Contiki tour, creating internet scandals wherever she goes, Katie is seduced by the appearance of glamour and her weakness for bad boys.

She falls for one of the troubled champions and starts a trending relationship.
With an archenemy placing social media bombs in her way and hashtags haunting Katie in her sleep, she navigates her way through a series of social media and love crises.

Katie has some decisions to make. Does she want a hero or a career? Will she end up happily ever after? What does that even mean?

One thing is for sure, she will never schedule an Instagram post again! #Girlscanbeheroestoo.

The story is written by a tennis insider and has been described as The Devil Wears Prada meets the exciting world of professional tennis.

Author Bio

For almost twenty years Sally Bradfield has worked with the who’s who of professional tennis. 

She has travelled the globe working as a Communications Manager/publicist for the WTA Tour. She worked alongside Venus and Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Anna Kournikova and hundreds more.

Subsequently she joined the men’s tour as Brand Manager for the ATP. She ran major events with Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and many other household names.

Wanting to leave the suitcases and hotels behind, Sally settled back in Australia with her retired tennis champion partner, Nicole Arendt. Together they live in the Blue Mountains in NSW running tennis and fitness businesses.  

To find out more visit www.notquite30love.com

Sally also has a Podcast series called  No Challenges Remaining.