Me and William Faulkner


A lot of unexpected things have happened this year. It’s a beautiful, brilliant year in the face of some great personal hardship. It’s strange the way life does both, but it seems to be the way it is. I am immensely grateful for it all! I am delighted to find my work reaching a wider world of readers, and I am deeply touched by the acknowledgement for so many years of hard work.

Along the way, there have been quite a few interviews, reviews and articles. This article by Jane Sullivan, published in the Age and the SMH, utterly surprised me (and totally delighted my Dad who has patiently waited to see if my books would ever be ‘discovered’ by people further afield.)

The first William Faulkner novel I read was As I Lay Dying. I must have been about 21. From there I read every novel of Faulkner’s, settling at last on Light in August as my favourite – and one of my top five favourite novels of my lifetime. I think it comes as close as any novel to being a perfect novel in form, characterisation, in tone and in the spectacular craft of good writing. So to find my words compared to Faulkner’s made my father cry, and me reflect on the wonder of life.

We never know how our creativity will touch other lives. For me that is a mysterious gift and a privilege that may yet keep me writing all my days.

It’s not easy to let the recognition in. But given everything that has unfolded, I wanted to acknowledge this very special observation by Jane Sullivan.

Here is the link to the article – and the complete text is below should the link fade.

“What a winning acceptance speech Heather Rose gave for the 2017 Stella Prize. She charmed everyone in the room: she was humble, honest and a little bit steely. To survive as a writer you need steel.

She liked to think of her winning novel, The Museum of Modern Love, as an overnight success. In fact it took 46 years from the moment her father told her a terrible thing when she was six years old.

She’d read him her poem about a rabbit, and he said, “You’re going to be a great writer.” For years she was devastated by the huge gulf that existed between her own writing and that of the great writers.

There was progress. Two failed novels; a first published novel (she remembers only the one unkind review); a second novel that once delivered her a royalty cheque for 57 cents in a 60-cent envelope; a third novel with ardent fans, but very few readers; a series of stories for children, written with Danielle Wood.

The Museum of Modern Love took 11 years to write, was rejected by Australian and US publishers, and finally found a home with Allen & Unwin.  Somewhere along the line Rose accepted she would never be a great writer. But she wants nothing more than to continue to write.

This is literary success in Australia. But what about in the world. Something prompted me to compare Rose’s words with the indisputably great writers’ award acceptance orations of the past, so i went to the Nobel Prize website and had a look. You know what? I preferred Rose’s speech. It seemed to resonate more.

The Nobel prizewinners whose speeches I found were all men. They usually began with a dutiful nod to humility, and some of them kept up that note. But others became Godlike. They made stirring calls to the writers of the future (who they assumed were men) and told them what they should be writing about. I began to think that if their dads had ever told them they’d be great writers, they’d just take that as their due.

Of course I found rhetoric and grand pronouncements about literature that are still frequently quoted.  Faulkner thought the writer must write about nothing but “the old verities and truths of the heart … love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice”. Hemingway thought the writer must always try “for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed”. Steinbeck believed that “a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature”.

These writers were speaking on a world stage, at a time when the world seemed a dark place at risk of nuclear annihilation. It’s still dark, though perhaps a different kind of darkness. Rose was speaking on a small stage, to an Australian audience, mostly women, after winning a prize for women. Inevitably it’s a speech about smaller, personal things.

Or is it? “Being a successful woman is not an easy path,” Rose said – especially in Australia, and she cited the case of Julia Gillard. And then she, too, rose to the challenge of defining the task of the writer: “to tell our stories. To reflect the human experience. To find what is common and what is uncommon. To explore the past, be with the present, to imagine the future … And if we do not foster our creativity when we hear it calling – whether in our children or as adults – then the world is poorer for it.”

None of those great men mentioned children.”

Janesullivan.sullivan9@gmail.com

 

 

Stella Shortlist 2017 & The Museum of Modern Love


The Stella Prize was established in 2011 when a group of bold, brave women took the step of acknowledging that Australian women writers were being under-represented in the books reviewed and the prizes that were awarded. For example, in 2011, 70% of books reviewed in the Weekend Australian newspaper were written by men. And the ultimate literary prize in Australia, the Miles Franklin – the legacy prize of one of Australia’s great writers (and a woman) – had only been won by a female author 10 times in the 54 years it had been awarded. So the Stella Prize was born.

It’s hard to express how meaningful it can be to have the books we write acknowledged by a wider circle of people. Publishing is not a world awash with funds to promote books. For literary writers, the most we can usually hope for is a good review in a major newspaper. But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the support of enthusiastic distributors and bookshop staff can promote a book, or a lucky invitation to a writer’s festival. Sometimes there are rare moments that see our works transformed into films or plays or video games. Almost as rare is the sale of our work into foreign countries. Invitations to festivals are not easy to come by. I have attended one major festival. It was with my first novel – White Heart – at Sydney Writer’s Festival. That was in 1999. Festival budgets do not stretch to flights and accommodation for largely unknown authors from far flung regions of Australia. And there’s the catch. Without publicity we cannot achieve sales. Without sales we cannot forward our careers.

British publishers do not generally pick up novels already printed in Australia. US publishers are just as tough. And even when we are picked up, there are rarely any royalties that flow beyond the initial (and sometimes quite modest) advance. The average advance in Australia for a novel is $5000.

Prize money is a gift of time. Prize money is so rare! Any money for writing is rare! And every prize has different eligibility criteria. Because The Museum of Modern love is set in New York, with no reference to Australia at all, it is ineligible for the Miles Franklin which is only for books that ‘present Australian life in any of its phases.’

Writing is hard work. It requires enormous focus and stillness. It requires creating an almost meditative space where we can convey the story that is urgently trying to flow through us. That urgency can obliterate all other thoughts. It is devastated by interruption. It is dissuaded by a failure in the writer to just sit down and do the work.

Writing takes time. Because it is very rare for Australian writers to earn any substantial income from their work (currently the average income for Australian writers is $13,000 pa) we must then do our work around other work. Writing a novels usually takes years. That’s years where writers have to choose writing before the other demands of life. In my experience what gives is socialising, movie-going, tv watching, gardening, cooking, renovating, reading, sleep and any other number of ways we humans spend our time.

So it’s something of a miracle when, after many years of work, a book with it’s own special life beyond the clandestine world of the author’s mind and the author’s computer, finds its way onto a major prize shortlist. And the Stella shortlist is a huge boon. It will have a significant impact on the number of readers who discover a book. It gives the book a profile that opens up the possibility of sales into other countries and other mediums. For a little while we ride on a bubble of acknowledgement. And it’s precarious. Like a flower in bloom. We know there are other days ahead, other cycles to come. So it’s important to celebrate.

I think for most of us writers, it’s always a surprise to receive widespread acknowledgment for our creative efforts. This fragile idea that came to visit, that was gathered up and written down and worried over for months and years and became a novel or a work of non-fiction or a prose or poetry collection, is the result of a kind of fight against all the odds. If the book gets published that is the first miracle. If it attracts a shortlisting for a major prize that is another miracle. There are so many good writers and good books.

So thank you Stella judges for whittling down your longlist to a Stella shortlist 2017 that includes The Museum of Modern Love. I am enormously and profoundly grateful.

Stella shortlist 2017
Stella shortlist 2017

5 favourite works of art – on RN Books & Arts Top Shelf


Michael Cathcart and Radio National’s Books & Arts have a lovely section called Top Shelf. In this 10 minute edition I’ve shared a few cherished memories across art, film, music, novels and a Mary Oliver poem  http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/top-shelf:-heather-rose/8075752

Bel Canto by Anne Patchett


[vc_row fullwidth=”false” attached=”false” padding=”0″ visibility=”” animation=””][vc_column border_color=”” visibility=”” width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]From an occasional series of reviews in collaboration with the Islington Hotel to celebrate great writing and the discussion of literature.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I have come to this book late in the scheme of things. Bel Canto won the Orange Prize and the Pen/ Faulkner Award in 2002. But somehow I missed it. 2002 was a busy year. My children were 2,7 and 13. Not much time for reading. I was also writing The Butterfly Man, being something of an activist, and running an advertising agency. It was a busy year. But having waited all this time to discover it, I suspect I have enjoyed Bel Canto more.

The story appears to be so simple that I found myself thinking that Patchett could never sustain a novel on such a premise. A world-famous opera singer is invited to sing at the lavish birthday dinner of a high profile Japanese business man. The setting is an unnamed and (possibly) Central American country and the dinner is the idea of the President of that unnamed country. The guests are a multi-cultural lot drawn from the international business community and diplomatic services. The food is beautiful. The flowers exquisite. The opera singer splendid. But things quickly go wrong.

Just as the last note of the diva is heard, the grand residence is invaded by a group of armed terrorists. It’s easy to call such people terrorists, now, in the 21st century. It’s become a favourite label. Yet in truth these people are protestors of the current government. They have seen children shot down in the street, and friends and relatives incarcerated. They want the people they love who are in jail to be released. They think that by kidnapping the President they will acquire a powerful bargaining chip.

Unfortunately the President has cancelled his attendance at the dinner at the last minute. Uncertain how to proceed, the small band take the guests hostage, hoping their demands will still be met.

And so the story ensues. Where we might imagine violence and hysteria, Patchett brings a tone of strange calm. The same sort of calm before a tornado hits. There is an electricity in the air borne of emotion. And those emotions grow and distil. From this most unusual and traumatic experience of being held captive at gun-point, and of being a captor, unusual relationships form based on a love of music, chess, literacy and language.

A young Japanese interpreter, Gen, becomes a central character in helping this disparate group understand one another. The terrorists slowly becomes individuals, not the faceless gun-toting bandits of the first night. The guests find commonality.

There is a sense of metaphor about this novel that alludes to the entire human condition. Being thrown into a single world with disparate needs and agendas, cultures and histories. What brings us together? The things we discover that we share in common. Food. Time. Fear. Intellect. And love.

This is a most unusual love story. Not only between individuals, but for life itself. In the splendor of nature. The fragile experience of being human. We know it will end – and badly for some of us. But still it is an experience of days. And in this evocation, Bel Canto is luminous and unforgettable.

This is an occasional series of reviews in collaboration with the Islington Hotel to celebrate great writing and the discussion of literature.

PS. The Islington is Hobart’s (and one of Australia’s) most beautiful and elegant places to stay. Perfect for couples wanting the ultimate retreat. For more about the luxurious accommodation at The Islington visit: www.islingtonhotel.com

And for the most beautiful place for groups to stay in Hobart (especially those who love to read) discover our own Library House – www.libraryhouse.com.au[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The exquisite Islington Hotel in Hobart asked me if I’d like to write about books. So here is the first in a new monthly review of a book I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed. And stay tuned for more about books and writing at the Islington through winter …

The Burgess Boys – by Elizabeth Strout

My grandfather was a Burgess – the youngest of many brothers – so the title of this novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Elizabeth Strout – felt warmly familiar.

In the novel, the lives of the three Burgess children are shaped by a freak accident. Now grown-up, the Burgess boys have settled in New York – both are lawyers, one famous with a rich wife from Connecticut, the other divorced and working for Legal Aid. The brothers are called back home to Shirley Falls in Maine where their frosty sister, Susan, still lives. Their nephew has just committed a hate crime.

BURGESS BOYS 1This is a novel of its time – yet without a moment of preaching or misplaced passion. Strout has a crisp, vivid style and evokes a range of classes and political views in this extraordinary novel of connection and dislocation. Like J.K Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, Strout is fearless in her evocation of character, and it’s the characters that will hold you until the beautifully woven end. (How rare to find a satisfying end to a novel these days – but The Burgess Boys is flawless.)

Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of connected short stories. One of these stories becomes a chapter in The Burgess Boys. I haven’t read Olive Kitteridge yet, but now it’s waiting on the To Read shelf.

Heather Rose

PS. The Islington is Hobart’s (and one of Australia’s) most beautiful and elegant places to stay. Perfect for couples wanting the ultimate retreat.  For more about the luxurious accommodation at The Islington visit: www.islingtonhotel.com

 And for the most beautiful place for groups to stay in Hobart (especially those who love to read) discover our own Library House – www.libraryhouse.com.au