Friday, September 28, 2012

Jill Meagher, SlutWalk and Reclaim the Night Sydney Road

Australian readers, and some abroad, will be aware of the sad events of the last week surrounding Jill Meagher's disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her body today. Like many other Melbourne women, I've been preoccupied with thoughts that it could so easily have been myself or one of my girlfriends walking along Sydney Road in the early hours of Saturday morning. It's a walk I have taken many times before.

Sydney Road has held a special place in my heart the last ten years. My first share house was in Brunswick West and I spent a lot of time in Sydney Road cafes, bars, and shopping at Savers and Spotlight. It's remained one of the few unpopularised main drags of the city. It has a natural quality that I adore that's been lost from streets like Brunswick Street in Fitzroy and more lately Gertrude and Smith Streets in Collingwood. Fun places to hang out, but without the multicultural, unvarnished atmosphere of Sydney Road.

By the time I attended the University of Melbourne from 2002, a lot of radical feminist activities that had been so popular there during the 90s had disappeared. More recently, we've had SlutWalk. While I'm pleased to see a resurgence in radical feminist activities, I did not and never will march in a SlutWalk. I see no advantage in women "reclaiming" a word that has been flung at us as an insult. One that has never had any good connotations that need rescuing. I find the ideology of SlutWalk to be a little immature and misguided; immature in that it succeeded at grabbing headlines but little else, and misguided in that to a casual onlooker, the intention of a march with 'slut' in the title can so easily be misconstrued. ("Women WANT to be called sluts now?") I did consider briefly marching in my street clothes instead of an artificial slut uniform, but in the end decided not to be a part of it at all. In the words of a famous feminist whom I can't remember the name of, there are a million ways to be a feminist. SlutWalk just isn't one of mine.

Today I came across Reclaim the Night Sydney Rd 2012 on Facebook. It's a march that is part memorial, part activism. The page has already attracted over 4,700 likes at time of writing. Reclaim the Night is so apt in this circumstance, as Jill Meagher's rape and death highlights what we already knew about violence against women: that it has absolutely bloody nothing to do with the clothes you're wearing.

I want to leave flowers at Duchess Bridal, where the CCTV footage of Jill and her accused killer was recorded. I want to attend tonight's gathering at the Baptist church on Sydney Road. But neither of those activities are 'me'. But I will march in October on Sydney Road, in defiance and sadness, and hope to reclaim a sense of safety in a much-loved area of Melbourne.

Note: Before anyone gets on my case about SlutWalk, these are my opinions and I know others feel very differently. I agree with the reasons the march was set up, just not it's manifestation.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please, please, please, do not speculate on or discuss the man accused of Jill Meagher's rape and murder, especially online. This could result in the case never being heard in court as Adrian Bayley's defense lawyers could argue that he's already undergone a trial by social media, and thus will be unable to receive a fair trial.

Please 'like' the Reclaim the Night Sydney Rd 2012 page, and unlike any pages calling for Bayley's hanging or similar, and delete any photographs of him or posts speculating or damning him.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review and Interview: Emily Maguire's Fishing for Tigers

Six years ago, Mischa Reese left her abusive husband and suffocating life in California and reinvented herself in steamy, chaotic Hanoi. In Vietnam, she finds satisfying work and enjoys a life of relative luxury and personal freedom. Thirty-five and single, Mischa believes that romance and passion are for teenagers; a view with which her cynical, promiscuous expat friends agree.

But then a friend introduces Mischa to his visiting eighteen-year-old son. Cal is a strikingly attractive Vietnamese-Australian boy, but he's resentful of his father, and of the nation which has stolen him away. His beauty and righteous idealism awaken something in Mischa and the two launch into an affair that threatens Mischa's friendships and reputation and challenges her sense of herself as unselfish and good.

Set among the louche world of Hanoi's expatriate community, 'Fishing for Tigers' is about a woman struggling with the morality of finding peace in a war-haunted city, personal fulfilment in the midst of poverty and sexual joy with a vulnerable youth.

You know when you're reading a book and you could swear that you were really reading a memoir? This was one of those times. Perhaps it's because Emily Maguire is a talented non-fiction writer and essayist as well as a fiction author. I came to know her work via Princesses and Pornstars, which examines the new Madonna-whore dichotomy. (Favourite chapter title: Your Vagina is Not a Car.) But Fishing for Tigers is not a memoir. It's just that good atmospherically and in its characterisation. 

I adore south east Asia. I love the heat and the humidity, perhaps because it reminds me of growing up in north western Australia. The food, the watery beer, the crazy roads. Despite some similarities with the weather up north, it's a far cry from sedate, organised Australia; the ideal place for a woman who wants to lose herself to go. There are very few expectations placed on Mischa, and as she doesn't understand much of what many people around her are saying to her, she's free to escape. 

The scenes between her and Cal are fascinating when they're talking, and delicious when they're not. But this book is so much more than it's steamy (*fans self*) passages. It's a challenging one for Australians, as you see yourself in the expat crew that makes up Mischa's rag-tag group of friends. It's a confronting book in places, but also very uplifting. Highly recommended.

Interview with Emily Maguire

Your descriptions of what it's like to be an expat in Hanoi are very detailed. How long did you spend living there? Although I've spent quite a lot of time in Hanoi, I've never actually lived there. I first visited on an Asialink literature residency for three months in 2008 and I fell seriously, deeply in love with the place and have returned for at least a month each year since then.
In Fishing for Tigers, Cam's reaction to the attitude of expats towards the locals is one of revulsion. Did you share a similar experience?
Not really. Certainly I met some deeply unpleasant characters in hotel bars, but I could say that about every place I've been to. (I should probably stop talking to drunk strangers in hotel bars. Bad habit.)
Cal's response to the expats in particular, and to Vietnam general, are very much rooted in his personal situation, which is as the child of a Vietnamese refugee who wants nothing to do with the place, and an Australian man who chooses to live there even though it means he rarely sees his son. To Cal, every expat is his selfish father and every Vietnamese person is either the communist thug of his mother's childhood or a reminder of what his own life might have been had his mother not escaped. Mischa and her friends do act appallingly sometimes, but Cal's judgement of them is not always clear-eyed or fair.
In several scenes, Mischa extracts herself and Cam from seemingly innocuous situations whilst in Hanoi, such as when she makes them leave bars when she thinks they've been overheard. There's also a scene where she doesn't let Cam interfere with a man who is brutalising his wife. Are these examples of Mischa's reticence to immerse herself in Vietnamese life, or is she right to behave so, and why?
It's complicated. Mischa spent her twenties in an abusive marriage, before escaping to Hanoi. I think once you've lived with violence in the way she has, you're always alert to danger, worried about offending someone, angering them, causing a scene. So Mischa is all about staying under the radar, avoiding conflict, keeping the peace. I think she'd be like this wherever she was living, but the complicating factor in Hanoi is that she is very much an outsider and so there's a real chance that if she did get involved in conflicts with local people that she would be blundering in some way, possibly making things worse due to a lack of understanding. So it's partly a defence mechanism and partly the sensible caution of an outsider. Whether her behaviour in any given situation is right or not is up to the reader! 
4. The "cougar" relationship has risen in prominence in recent years. What did you like best about writing an older woman-younger man relationship, and what did you like the least?
I rarely thought about in those terms. I think it's so important to not think of characters as age groups or types or whatever and so Cal was always this complicated, unique individual and so was Mischa. What interested me most about their relationship was how their unique sets of life experiences and prejudices and fears played off each other. I loved discovering the ways in which his resentment about his father and his idealism about how good people should act conflicted with Mischa's live-and-let-live, determinedly disengaged way of life. Having said that, I did have a bit of fun with the more overtly teenaged aspects of Cal's behaviour. I love how utterly relaxed and casually generous he is as a lover, and I love his righteous idealism which I remember from my own teen years and bitterly regret having lost.

One of the interesting things in talking about age (and age differences between lovers) is how much people project their own ideas about what any given age looks or acts or feels like. I was very aware while writing that although Cal is a teenager, the adults around him are, in many ways, less mature. They're certainly less honest and thoughtful. I don't think this is an exceptional situation. I remember being a teenager and thinking that adults knew what they were doing and only did things for sensible reasons which they understood and could justify. Now, of course I realise that people in their thirties and forties and beyond are just as impulsive and selfish and clueless about their own motivations as teenagers, but they get away with it because every other adult is in on the conspiracy.
5. You are well known for your articles and feminist non-fiction such as Princesses and Porn Stars (which I loved) as well as your fiction. How much fiction versus non-fiction do you see in your future?
I am very much in love with fiction at the moment - reading it, writing it, thinking and talking about it. But I also love the way that my non-fiction writing allows me to feel part of a huge, inspiring, important movement towards social justice. So the answer, I suppose, is that I hope to be writing lots and lots of both forever and ever.

Thanks for answering my questions, Emily!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Launch Date and Review Copies: Possessing Freedom

If you can’t see yourself, how do you know you exist?

Melbourne, Australia: 2026

Alice Travers, 17, is stuck in a psych ward. When she discovers her imaginary friends are ghosts, and that some of them are not so friendly, things get complicated.

Told in 12 short stories by four authors, Possessing Freedom plays out a supernatural thriller for Young Adult readers through 6 interlinked point of view characters.

This is Possessing Freedom, the new YA ghost novel I've been working on with Beau Hillier, Belinda Dorio and Steve Rossiter, and it's out Monday September 21, worldwide as an ebook and locally in paperback.

Review Copies
Do you like ghosties? Do you like psych wards and violent possessions? Who doesn't? If you're a blogger, review copies are available from the publisher Steve and can be requested via email. Best thing is, they're available worldwide, just like the book will be. Hurrah!

Add it on Goodreads.

Visit the Facebook page.

Enter the $2000 fan-fiction competition.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blog Tour for Blood Storm

The blog tour starts tomorrow! Here's the schedule:

SEPTEMBER 20 Inkcrush

SEPTEMBER 21 Refracted Light

SEPTEMBER 22 Little Book Owl (Blood Song)

SEPTEMBER 23 Intrepid Reader (Blood Song)

SEPTEMBER 24 The Rest is Still Unwritten

SEPTEMBER 25 Tales of the Inner Book Fanatic

SEPTEMBER 26 The Tales Compendium

SEPTEMBER 27 Larissa Book Girl (Blood Song)

SEPTEMBER 28 The Eclectic Reader

SEPTEMBER 28 Beauty & Lace (Guest post)

SEPTEMBER 29 Treasured Tales for Young Adults (Blood Song)

SEPTEMBER 30 Ticket to Anywhere (Guest post)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Recent Reads: Gaysia by Benjamin Law & Confessions of a GP by Dr Ben Chandler

I became familiar with Benjamin Law several years ago when he was writing for Frankie magazine. Hilarious stuff. I haven't properly read his work again until now, though of course I see him on Twitter. Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East is a fantastic country-by-country look at the main issues affecting LBGT people throught Asia. Law talks to moneyboys in Bali, beauty pageant contestants in Thailand and "invisible" gays and lesbians in Japan and China. The interviews and commentary are amusing as well as illuminating, while some are downright angry-making, especially the ones with religious and spiritual zealots who claim to be able to cure homosexuality. The pathos Law feels for those who are unable to embrace who they are due to cultural and political pressures is palpable. A fascinating book about some of our closest neighbours. Highly recommended.

Confessions of a GP is a vignette-style memoir that's part reminiscing about memorable (kinky, unusual, sad) patients, part musing on the NHS and part exploration of what it really means to be a doctor. It's a quick, amusing read. My favourite parts were the insiders view of the NHS, the things patients demand and do that cost the NHS thousands of pounds per year. Thank goodness the NHS, and heath care countries like Australia, is free, but Daniels has identified places where changes could be made to prevent monumental wastage. (That makes me sound a bit conservative doesn't it. I hate talking about money.) I picked this up for $1.99 on iBooks. (Oh jaysus there I go again.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Two exciting opportunities for writers

Harper Voyager, the fantasy and sci-fi imprint of Harper Collins, is open for digital submissions from unagented authors for two weeks only.

And for the romance writers, Harlequin is running So You Think You Can Write. (Now if that was a TV show, I'd watch it.) There's heaps of awesome tips and guides, and the prize is a publishing contract.

Will you submit to either?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

REVIEW: The Ghost's Child, Sonya Hartnett

There was a lovely Australian YA novel retrospective on Kill Your Darlings a few weeks back, and one of their highlights that caught my eye was Sonya Hartnett's The Ghost's Child. I've only read one Hartnett novel (more on which anon) but I knew I'd be in good hands. She's a beautiful writer.

The Ghost's Child is set somewhere back at the turn of the last century, in a big house on the coast, just outside a big city. Maddy is a girl who seems to adore all things beautiful; especially natural, vibrant things like sea eagles and ocean waves. She meets a young, enigmatic, almost wraith-like man on the beach one day, and she falls desperately in love with him. But she learns just how heartbreaking it can be when your love puts the object of your affection in a cage.

The story is told by an old woman to a young boy, looking back over a rich life; a life which, while at times happy and always full, was not without great heartache. It's real lump-in-your-throat stuff. Short, sweet and painfully beautiful.

The other Sonya Hartnett novel I've read is Sleeping Dogs. You really couldn't find two novels more different in theme and mood, though you could argue that some of the parental relations had similar overtones. Sleeping Dogs is a raw, snapping-jaw of a novel, brutal as it is brief. I have to say I enjoyed Sleeping Dogs more, only because my tastes run towards violent and dark things, rather than weepy cups-of-tea stories. It probably does The Ghost's Child a disservice to put it quite like that. It's a vivid story, and intensely beautiful. Read it if you would like a good cry. (But read Sleeping Dogs if you'd rather something dark and shocking.)