Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 31, 2014

Six, short stories (2014) by John Clanchy, Guest review by Mairi Neil

Some weeks ago when I reviewed Meredith McKinney’s new translation of The Wild Goose by Mori Ogai, the publisher, Finlay Lloyd, also sent me a collection of short stories called Six by Canberran author John Clanchy.  This now gives me the opportunity to introduce a new guest reviewer and her review of this collection.

20579002Mairi neilMairi Neil believes stories make the world go round. Fascinated by life’s quirks, she indulges her love of words to explore where we fit in that world.  She founded and still coordinates the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, and she has edited and published eight anthologies of their poetry and prose, enabling some of her most talented authors to go on to prize-winning publication elsewhere.  She also teaches writing at three community houses: Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, Godfrey Street Bentleigh and Longbeach Place Chelsea.

Mairi has stories and poetry in  the Mordialloc Writers’ Group anthologies plus poetry, short stories and memoir in other anthologies, newspapers, magazines and online.   A writer who loves challenges, she adapted one of her short stories to become a ten minute play performed in the City of Kingston’s Write Up festival last year.  (I was there, in the audience!)

Her most recent writing was included in an anthology called Seasons of Our Lives: Autumn).   Her Masters degree from Swinburne has led her into scriptwriting and many of us are hoping that her passion for telling women’s stories will soon make into onto the screen.  (ABC TV, are you listening?)

Writing reviews is also a new venture for Mairi!  Here is her review:

Six (john Clanchy)Six is a collection of short stories, or tales as the author John Clanchy prefers to call them. However, with one of the stories near novella length at 18,000 words, these tales are longer than expected if you read literary magazines and anthologies. By not restricting himself to the average word limit, Clanchy is able to develop characters to the depth expected in novels. We learn more of their backstory and gain a deeper understanding of motivations for their behaviour and reasons for the particular conflict they face. Readers have more than a glimpse of another world as they engage with characters at moments of change in their lives.

Short stories suit my lifestyle and when well-written, they display all the techniques of a craft I love, in a shorter time than it takes to read a novel. Every 10-15 minutes, I visit somewhere different to stretch my imagination, extend my knowledge or challenge my assumptions about life. John Clanchy’s latest book does this, and more, with – as the blurb advises –  ‘humour, insight and compassion’. No surprise, of course, because Clanchy is a prize winning author and foundation director of the Graduate Teaching Program at ANU.

These Six new tales explore loss and grief as well as self-inflicted emotional pain, family relationships, marital breakdown, sibling rivalry, community values, morality and ethics. Along the way Clanchy challenges notions of gender, fidelity, race and loyalty. In an interview published in the Sydney Morning Herald, he said the tales in Six were “Reflections on mortality,…I am now seventy after all!” Certainly, the exploration of the human condition in these stories has the maturity of someone who has indeed lived life and observed people in a variety of situations.

For me, some tales worked better than others because they were about relationships and situations I could identify easily. This is the subjective nature of fiction critique –– we are drawn into worlds we either like or dislike, characters we can recognise, feel empathy or sympathy for, or don’t want to know! In Clanchy’s own words:

 I’m interested in the psychological dramatisation of moments of shift, of crisis, in the life of an individual or in partnerships, or in family or social settings. Where small moments have enormous consequences. The ripple effect. Something’s shifted, a crack has opened. I don’t mean apocalyptic events, but a death or a sickness or a betrayal. Or it could be a perception. Or a spiritual moment. A friendship dying off, or a new one forming and life is different after that.

Every story in Six has merit and is memorable and I appreciate the recognisably Australian settings of universal themes.

If I had to choose a favourite it would be Slow Burn an entertaining tale that had me laughing aloud –– a rarity in a world where so much of the fiction mirrors grim reality. I won’t reveal the storyline, but encourage people to invest in a copy of Six and be entertained by an accomplished Australian author.

Clanchy has also authored some novels, so I’m going to track them down once I’ve made a bit more of a dent in the TBR.

Thank you Mairi, for sharing your expertise in short story here at ANZ LitLovers!

Author: John Clanchy
Title: Six
Publisher: Finlay Lloyd, 2014
ISBN: 9780987592934
Source: Review copy courtesy of Finlay Lloyd


Direct from Finlay Lloyd

and from all good bookstores.






  1. […] to investigate, I decided to start in my own area.  I set out today with my friend Mairi Neil (occasional guest reviewer on this blog) to walk some of the Bayside Coastal Trail.   We parked the car at Middle Brighton – […]


  2. […] being encouraging and honest when reading my drafts. Thanks too must go to writer and friend, Lisa Hill who writes an amazing award winning blog and has encouraged me to publish book reviews and increase […]


  3. […] I don’t often do book reviews because as a writer I’m more comfortable reading and writing short stories and I’ll leave book reviews to my dear friend Lisa Hill who has a well-deserved prize winning blog prioritising books by  Australian and New Zealand writers, but who was kind enough to have me as a guest reviewer last year. […]


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