‘What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.’
― Neil Gaiman
In an age of Internet sales a humble bookshop could seem archaic. In a march to digitise and automate, something so small as a bookshop could be considered an afterthought. Yet, those of us who frequent shelves and bookstalls, who know of other lives and worlds and realms within pages, we know a bookshop is more. It is the soul of a place, wherever that place may be, and the heart of a community.
This Saturday 12 August marks Love your Bookshop Day, an occasion that invites anyone to celebrate his or her local bookshop, with events and programs throughout Australia. Drop into your local this Saturday to support and celebrate what makes your bookshop special.
A taste of the events happening around Adelaide:
- Booked at North Adelaide has a giant book raffle (drawn at 4 pm)
- Dillons Norwood Bookshop has book readings (2 pm), face-painting and giveaways
- Imprints Booksellers on Hindley Street has countless of activities and prizes
- Matilda Bookshop in Stirling has book-buying advice from authors, an illustrator in residence and a competition for a stack of books
- Mostly Books in Mitcham will be championing a young writers group along with raffles and more
And of course we are open with our Mile End store, 1 – 5 pm. All books are 3 for 2 (cheapest book free) with a free cat or dog book bag if you spend over $75. We have an I Love My Dog and My Dog Loves Me book giveaway as well.
Guys guys guys, the book world is out of control at the moment. Everyone’s having way too much fun and just needs to calm down a little.
For example? Well, the New Yorker has picked up on the fact that every single book seems to be called The Girl on the Something at the moment, and they’ve run this glorious spoof. Funny book-related content + an astute observation of the issues of depicting sexual assault + casual references to lacrosse teams? I’m in.
Next, romance seems to be the genre that just keeps giving. There’s this list of the greatest romance covers of all time, which also links to one of the most ridiculous readings of all time. Then there’s the news that KFC has legit released their own romance novella starring the Colonel, with their own schmaltzy promo video. Legit.
Finally – and this one’s for the editing dorks – the New York Times now has a copyediting quiz series so you can test your editing chops. Here’s a hot tip: it’s a good idea to be on top of your who/whom usage before you start. So much fun. So dorky.
And now, to get your weekend off to a good start, let Wakefield FM court. YouTube get you in the mood. A bit of Pharrell seems appropriate for a Friyay … Have a good weekend, everyone!
Sally van Gent has lived adventurously. She’s dined with the Bedouin, dived deep into the Arabian Sea, and climbed aboard a tanker for a midnight rendezvous. Her latest memoir, The Navy-blue Suitcase, is a collection of stories from her travelling life told with ‘optimism, humour, an indefatigable faith in a better future, and a powerful sense that life is what you make of it, no matter what cards you’ve been dealt’ (ANZ LitLovers LitBlog). Today we’re sharing a little snippet from the years that Sally spent living in Doha, Qatar.
Patterns in the rock
There are no fancy restaurants or indoor cinemas in Doha. Those Westerners who work for the oil company have their own pool and sporting facilities, but for the rest of us, our social life centres around a modest sailing club and whatever home entertainment we can devise.
We know all of the expatriates in Doha who drink and want to let off steam: the Lebanese, the Armenians and French, the Germans, Brits and South Americans, Singaporeans and Aussies. Between them they throw some wonderfully wild and varied parties – so good that no one wants to fly home for Christmas.
There’s no work on Fridays, and in summer we sail or swim. Winter brings with it mild, balmy days, and we take our children into the desert to explore old forts or to slide down sand dunes on cheap tin trays.
We’re heading north one afternoon, driving along a track parallel to the beach, when there’s a flash of pink and we spot a dozen flamingos wading through the shallows. To our left a limestone outcrop rises from the sand, and we drive over and park beside it. The children in the group run off to play on its slopes while we adults lay out the rugs,
unpack the picnic baskets and pour coffee.
Before we can drink it, Angus and his friend Hamish wave to us from the top of the hill and cry out, ‘Come and see what we’ve found!’
I climb up the slope and the boys lead me to where a rectangle has been cut deep into the rock, perhaps for the purpose of catching rainwater. Strange indentations spread out around it – circles, and holes set out in rows, reminiscent of a board game the locals play. There are boat-shapes with what look like oars. I call out to my friends and for an hour we search the rocks, finding more and more carvings. Who would do this? And why?
As evening unfolds the wind stills, and the late-afternoon light casts a rosy glow onto the desert. I look out over its vast sameness and am reminded of how the Bedouin pick out subtle variations in the sand, recognising landmarks that we Westerners will never see.
It’s time to pack up the picnic things and take our children home. The sun is going down and on our way back to the city we pass cars pulled over to the side of the road so their owners can turn to Mecca. They prostrate themselves on the ground and pray.
Later we ask our Qatari friends about the carvings in the rock but few have seen them. Those who have tell us they are very old, ancient even, but as to who made them or for what reason, they have no idea.
Find out more about The Navy-blue Suitcase here.
We had so many wonderful entries for our January newsletter’s Summer Rose Giveaway, thank you all for taking the time to send us your beautiful roses.
We all agreed, however, that the $250 Wakefield Press voucher should go to Ray Tyndale who sent in this lyrical, floral poem:
scant apologies to Tennyson!
Come my poppy
Fling open your flaming petals
Give to me your black heart.
Come my pansy
Toss back your knowing head
Share with me your secret thoughts.
Come my rose
Fill the air with your pungency
I will swim in your scented sea.
Come into the garden
My poppy, my pansy, my darling rose
Entwine with me.
The sun shall succour your black heart
The moon will keep your secret thoughts
And I will drown.
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Okay guys, it’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, but it’s Friday funday! That’s a thing, right? Anyway, there’ve been some pretty cool links around recently and we wanna share.
First, we have the ultimate test of Aussie English. Okay, so it’s Buzzfeed, which means it’s a laugh, but there are some little beauties on this list – or should we say bloody rippers?
Next, to take it up a notch, Merriam-Webster have a quiz to test how strong your vocabulary is. You only have ten seconds to answer each question, and it’s bloody stressful. Especially for editors. We have a lot riding on this, guys!
If you actually want a good read, rather than endless quizzes (not that there’s anything wrong with quizzes!) trundle over to the Guardian, where there’s a piece about 2016’s word of the year: post-truth. Perfectly apt, given the situation in America at the moment (and elsewhere). Still, take us back to last year, when the word of the year was an emoji. Ah, simpler times …
And last but certainly not least, the Bad Sex in Fiction awards are back! Some of the quotes will leave you breathless – in a bad way:
I spill like grain from a bucket
My whole body had gone inside her. … My body was her gearstick.
The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors.
Oh, bless. There’s nothing like a brisk game of tennis.
And now, to welcome the weekend, to pay our dues, in memoriam, and just because he is/was/will always be the best, we’ll leave you with some Leonard. A man whose lyrics were never, ever, nominated for a bad sex award …
Music writer, bookseller and history buff Robert Brokenmouth paints a picture of the man and the circumstance behind the classic war novel, 101 Nights by Ray Ollis.
The night [was] whirling about them, tossing them easily on its powerful way… Their throttles were open now, straining against the storm. Hyde checked his petrol, checked his watch, and cast a troubled glance over his shoulder looking for the dawn. If this weather strengthened, the day might find them still over Europe. (101 Nights)
101 Nights is, as far as I can tell, the first book, fiction or otherwise, to accurately address most of the issues connected with the bombing of Germany during WWII, issues which became more distorted for decades after the end of the war. 101 Nights tells the story of Ray Ollis’s squadron, 101, and its operations over the skies of Occupied Europe, by night and by day.
In our September newsletter, we ran a giveaway for Ivor Hele and asked entrants to tell us about their favourite holiday destination. We just had to share this amazing response sprinkled with historic family photos from our prize winner, Meg.
A place where I have spent many wonderful holidays is Myponga Beach on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It’s a beautiful blend of rural ‘Southern Mount Lofty’ landscapes along with a crescent bay which can be so calm and benign at times, yet thrilling in its energy when the winds and tides change. As a child I walked to the nearby farm to buy milk, cream and eggs. We were “in another world” yet able to look across the sea to the twinkling lights of Aldinga – now much more extended – and the peaks of Mount Lofty. How privileged we were!
There is a long family history from my great grandparents’ time down there; many photographs; and it is the place where I first gained a childhood awareness of the aboriginal culture – artefacts having been found in the sandhills which were once a burial ground.
In 2016 the Friends of the Barr Smith Library have teamed up with Wakefield Press to present a series of talks by Wakefield Press authors. On 21 April, renowned novelist Stephen Orr entertained the masses (despite attesting that he prefers to ‘terrify’) with an overview of his writing career, beginning with this fitting reflection on the Barr Smith itself.
You can listen to Stephen’s speech in its entirety here thanks to Radio Adelaide.
I first came to the Barr Smith twenty years ago. Sat in a corner, somewhere. Admired the spray-on concrete ceiling, the flickering lights, the books about mycology. Eventually, I sharpened my pencil and began. What might’ve been a career; although it’s mostly felt like a hobby; what might’ve been the Great Australian novel; although the remaindered fragments of the 2000 Vogel-runner-up, Attempts to Draw Jesus, are scattered far and wide. The pages yellow; the glue fails; the spine cracks. You find a copy (inscribed) at the Port Dock market. $3.00, or negotiable.
Point being. I was off and running. On a career that’s had more downs than ups, lows than highs, disappointments than vindications. Henry Lawson went through something similar. His advice to Australian writers was to ‘study elementary anatomy, especially as it applies to the cranium, and then shoot yourself carefully with the aid of a looking glass.’ Ninety years later, George Johnston felt the same way. Living on the Greek island of Hydra in 1958, he explained his and Charmaine Clift’s combined income of 125 pounds ‘comes from five books in circulation or accepted, two foreign translations, one sale of foreign serial rights, an earlier novel and certain magazine extracts. For this, and all the work it represents, the return…I’m sure you’ll agree is hardly worth while.’
Hardly worth while. But, he explained, ‘I have all sorts of writing plans and shall probably go on producing a novel a year for many years to come.’ This, as all writers know, is the curse of perpetual frustration. He explained it away by saying, ‘I have, you see, enough confidence in myself at least…’
Back to the Barr Smith; two levels below here. The terrazzo dunnies with their outstanding graffiti. Phil Grummet, a character in my second published book, Hill of Grace, studies pharmacology at Adelaide University, but he has a bent for other things (if you know what I mean). This includes perfecting his poetic gifts on the dunny walls (a sort of budget Mastersingers of Nuremburg). Someone drills holes in the walls. Just enough to cop an eyeful. But Phil writes messages like, Not Recommended for Children, or, Insert Here. He adds the predictable: Arts Degrees, please take a single sheet, above the bog paper, and tries some Eliot on the back of the door. We shall never cease from exploring. And he doesn’t. Ending up at Mt Crawford vomiting mushrooms he mistakes for the magic variety.
The Barr Smith has changed. I spent hours watching flies trying to escape from cobwebs, the spider emerging, the worst of natural selection as my fiction went unwritten. I wrote my first five books here. Longhand. Clearing my throat when people talked, and the librarians didn’t spring to life, jumping on the miscreants like an elite SS troop. Eventually I’d give up and move, throwing a angry glance, not that anyone cared. Silence, I think, is the most valuable thing of all. Up there with love, wisdom, an unexpected sunburst.
I loved the Barr Smith’s retro fifties feel, although it wasn’t actually retro. The desks, the chairs, the Khrushchev-era windows. The idea that a million people had written a million books about a million topics and, if I had the time, I could explore them all. That’s always what’s excited me. The potential to know. I could never understand sport. That only ever had the potential to kick a bit further, run a bit faster. So what? So I’d sit there for an hour after I’d finished writing. Looking through maths texts, wondering why I was looking through maths texts. Reading a history of sans serif types, or the Hitler Youth. The same thing I did as a kid, at school. The grass was always green, the sandwiches stale and sweaty. But if you were early enough, and got a copy of Asterix, your lunch would be bearable.
That’s why libraries matters. Why the Barr Smith matters. All of this knowledge is held in trust. For our great great grandkids. God knows they’ll have Weatherill’s plutonium to deal with, so we should leave them something they actually want. I hope the books remain. The heavy, smelly paper types. I hope someone doesn’t come in, digitise them, and then arrange a book burning on the Barr Smith lawns. Or maybe others have that in mind? The Advertiser. Winston Smith snipping away at the truth, producing a world view pleasing to the North Terrace mob. Bill and Ben, flower pot men. Praising ham strings and high octane stupidity in equal measure.
So, now you’re saying. My, he’s a bit angry, isn’t he? To which I reply: Moi? Problem being, speaking writers, it seems, are meant to entertain audiences these days. I prefer to terrify. And at this, Patrick White was the best. If I can share a selected quote: ‘The Bicentennial circus tends to hide from us the fact that we are no longer a democracy. We are a country run by and for millionaires and by a prime minister who toadies to them.’ Or: ‘In a society where there has been such a serious lapse in integrity, our politicians’ attitude to uranium isn’t surprising.’ Wonder what he’d make of Kimba, glowing with golden wheat, sheep, and other things?
Listen to the rest of Stephen’s speech here thanks to Radio Adelaide.
The man sitting next to me introduces himself as Michael Robotham. Someone stops to talk to David Malouf by the side of the harbour. Kerry O’Brien walks by. This could only be Sydney Writers Festival.
But the writers aren’t the only stars. We are here for the Visiting International Publishers (VIPs, indeed). The main game is two days of speed dating between these visitors and Australian publishers and agents hoping to reach beyond our shores.
The event opens on Wednesday with a series of panels about the state of publishing across the globe. Each VIP seems to open by saying their market is ‘much the same’ as the last, before presenting us with something completely different. The Australian sense of humour translates well in Slovenia, where libraries are king. Koreans do not read for pleasure, but will buy Liane Moriarty when it’s framed as self-help. A newborn mobile publisher is hoping to capture the ‘one device’ market of India, delivering serialised books by politicians and adult film stars to smartphones in carefully timed instalments (just in time for the news cycle? Or at 10pm each night?).
In the afternoon, the focus turns inwards but the content is no less stimulating. Sandra Phillips of the First Nations Australia Writers Network challenges all publishers to include at least one First Nations writer on their list every year – not because we should, but because there’s so much wonderful work (Dark Emu, of course, winning Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards on the Monday night). A roundtable on Australian writers festivals, including the directors of the Sydney event, sparks fiery discussion about platforms for Australian writers. Our independent bookshops – looking at you, Readings – come up again and again.
And all to the backdrop of proposed changes to the Australian publishing industry and angst about where the arts sit in this election campaign.
There is certainly a lot to be said.
And there is time for the Writers Festival as well, to discuss Kate Tempest’s electrifying opening address (and the ensuing media storm). To see our authors, Sydney local Jane Jose and New Caledonian visitor Jean-François Vernay, take to the stage to share their insightful books with new audiences. And for a sticky cinnamon scroll from the festival coffee stall (or maybe two).
The Sydney sun is warming, but so is the conversation. Or there is certainly enough to be said.
On April 17 we were excited to host the launch of Mike Ladd’s new collection Invisible Mending right here at Wakefield Press.
Rachael Mead had the honour of launching Mike’s book. We recently hosted an exhibition of Rachael’s photography alongside the launch of Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s Here Where We Live, and it was a pleasure to have her back.
If you weren’t able to make it to the launch, don’t worry we’ve got you covered. You can read Rachael’s speech below!
Hello and thank you all so much for coming. It is my great pleasure and honour today to be launching the latest book by one Australia’s most loved and lauded writers – Mike Ladd.
I’ve just used the label “writer” and while we are here to celebrate the launch of Mike’s ninth book, to call Mike a writer is to try to squeeze him into a box that doesn’t properly contain him. Don’t get me wrong, Mike is one of Australia’s most esteemed poets and you can find his work in just about every anthology of Australian poetry in existence. Mike started his career as a poet at seventeen and by 25 he published his first collection The Crack in the Crib.
Just as he was launching his literary career, he started work for the ABC in Adelaide as a sound engineer and by 1997 he’d worked his way up to creating and producing his own Radio National program, Poetica which ran for 18 years until 2015, when it was taken off the air much to the outrage of Australia’s literary community. Mike’s current role with Radio National is in the features and documentary unit but once again the box of documentarian doesn’t contain him either.
In the 80s Mike was a musician in the new wave band The Lounge and he frequently collaborates with musicians and artists, writing poetry for the screen and live performance with groups such as The Drum Poets, newaural net, and Max Mo. He writes, films and edits video poetry and I would recommend finding Zoo After Dark, and The Eye of the Day on YouTube.
Most recently he and his partner the wonderful visual and installation artist Cathy Brooks have been running projects that put poems on street signs as public art and you can see their work in the Adelaide Bus Station and Tram Stop 6 on the line to Glenelg.
Now the reason I’ve gone on about Mike’s rich and varied creative career is that the book we are here for today, Invisible Mending, draws the many threads of his past work together. Invisible Mending is more than a poetry collection; it contains essays, creative non-fiction, personal vignettes and photographs. While on the surface this seems incredibly diverse it is a remarkably coherent mediation on themes of human impact on the natural world and how to mend the rents that grief, loss and change tear in our lives.
The book weaves together poetry and prose pieces, picking up and elaborating on themes that Mike has explored in past work; displacement and marginalization from Picture’s Edge, family and suburbia from Close to Home, and politics and social injustice in Rooms and Sequences. However, the themes of his most recent works clearly still preoccupy him. Transit explored the compounding effect of momentous life events in the construction of identity and healing after loss is a thread that weaves its way through Invisible Mending. Mike also continues to draw on his deep cultural and ecological understanding of Adelaide that was so beautifully expressed in Karrawirra Parri. Environmental devastation, particularly human impact on our natural world is another of Mike’s ongoing preoccupations. With these themes in mind we can see his choice of title is perfect. It is taken from a line in the final piece, “A Country Wedding”, where Mike notices the landscape healing itself after the devastation wrought by flood. This book is an intensely personal account healing after wreckage – both ecological and emotional.
To me, one of the most significant aspects of this book is that all these pieces are non-fiction. Mike is a documentarian and this book showcases his skill at observing subjects from different angles and digging at the surface until what lies beneath is revealed. The piece that best illustrates this is “Traffik” – a story set in Malaysia and Japan that resembles short fiction but is in fact drawn from real events. Mike produced this work of creative non-fiction from television and newspaper reports while he and Cath were in Malaysia and faced with the unavoidable evidence of deforestation and species loss as a result of the palm oil industry. But even so, the documentarian sees that not everything is black and white. At the heart of this piece is the understanding that emotional bonds can exist between species, and that as humans we do things, often inexcusable things for love and connection. While the ends don’t justify the means, those ends can be understandable, even beautiful. It is not easy, being human. Mike as documentarian observes and reports but does so with empathy and it is his ability to interweave reportage with compassion that makes this book both compelling and insightful.
I’d like to read you one of my favourite poems from the book now – “Travelling the Golden Highway, thinking of global warming”.
I read this to you not only an example of Mike’s brilliance as a poet, showing his mastery of minimalist style and his potent combination of natural and industrial imagery to powerful political effect. But to me this poem demonstrates how Mike, with so few words can embed us in an experience with him. We are there, both crammed into the backseat and crammed inside his head in that moment, thinking about the landscape and climate change. Again, Mike the documentarian is working with Mike the poet to translate his sensory experience of the world into such effective imagery that the reader is given an almost visceral understanding of being Mike Ladd at that point in time. It is this ability to transport us that also makes him a brilliant radio documentarian – in a world where sight is the prime sense he delivers stories that engage the mind by stimulating the minor senses, giving us access to experiences and situations that inspire and fascinate us, allow us to perceive the world differently, peel back layers and feel our way to understanding what lies behind the things we see.
There is so much to say and this book is so diverse yet so coherent I’m really struggling to make this concise so I’m just going to pick out one more thread from this book – a thread that runs through the whole collection – that of grief over the rents and losses that accrue throughout life and the ongoing work of mending to make oneself whole again. While the book moves geographically from Adelaide across Australian highways to the east coast then on to Malaysia, Sydney, South America, Spain and back to Australia the themes of family and loss travel with us – reinforcing that the things make us and break us in life are inescapable – love and grief.
Mike introduces us to his father and the heartbreaking progress of his dementia in the book’s first section, which is grounded in Adelaide and family. We are in Malaysia with Mike as he is researching the Malaysian roots of the pantun form when he hears of the death of his father. Like the Malaysian journey, the essay on the pantun veers into the personal as grief overwhelms all else. “The Book of Hours at Rimbun Dahan” is one of the most moving pieces on grief I have read. Please read it. Then look up the award-winning video poem Eye of the Day on YouTube. It is a gorgeous combination of a selection of tunggal pantun, sound and film and an immersive illustration of the experience grief, regret and distance.
I’m going to read for you now Winter Light.
This book illuminates a writer’s commitment to the mending of grief, the work to close distances that gradually widen in families, the reclamation of lost histories, and the healing of land after centuries of abuse. We look at Mike and see the laid-back, generous, thoughtful man we think we know. But like all of us, this is just the coherent skin we show the world. Turn us inside out and you see all the darning, all the messy stitching holding us all together. And, to me, that’s what this book represents – these poems and stories, insights and observations – these words are all the stitches that hold Mike together. Turn him right side out and it’s Invisible Mending.
Congratulations Mike. It is truly brilliant work and I am honoured to declare Invisible Mending officially launched!