Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 6, 2017

Authors from Tasmania (Australian Authors #2)

It’s ironic… I was working on a draft of Authors from Tasmania (Australian Authors #2) when a crisis in WA arts funding prompted me to jump ahead to publish Authors from Western Australia (Australian Authors #3).  And now the Tasmanian Writers Centre (TWC) is itself struggling with funding cuts, which will affect their capacity to support their authors.  What can a blogger who loves TasLit do about this?

Well, make a donation first of all.  I have, and you can too.  Here’s the link.

Next, I can raise awareness of Tasmanian writing, so that you too might want to do something else I have done: I wrote a cross extremely polite letter to the Premier and Cabinet, copied to the Leader of The Opposition.  If you don’t have time to write a letter, get a postcard and write #FundTheTWC on it.  It’ll cost you 50c to post it. Perhaps if the Tasmanian government realises that they will earn the opprobrium that still attaches Queensland for its cuts to funding for the literary arts, they may reconsider.

But the most important thing to do is to make people aware of the value of Tasmanian writing, so here’s my tentative list of beaut Tassie writers.  Tentative because I’m sure there may be more.  Tasmania as a state punches well above its weight in terms of literary talent, but it’s true that many authors who hail from Tassie have made their way across to the mainland or beyond so there may be others who could be on this list.

First up, let’s start with authors I’ve reviewed on this blog.  (Links are to my reviews, to Meet an Aussie Author profiles, and sometimes to the TWC Writers Database)

Rachel Leary is a debut author whose historical novel Bridget Crack is getting rave reviews, (including mine).  It’s the story of a female bushranger, set in the period of Tasmania’s colonial history – which has always been a great source for fiction, starting with Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life (1874).  His Natural Life paints a sorry picture of convict life in Van Dieman’s Land, but you can’t fault its value to tourism and the Port Arthur Historic Site!

Rohan Wilson has written prize-winning and unforgettable novels also set in this period, including The Roving Party (2011 and To Name Those Lost (2014).  These novels bring to life the stories of Tasmania’s Black History, as I’ve read about it in works of non-fiction by authors who must surely be considered as honorary Tasmanians: Lyndall Ryan, for Tasmanian Aborigines, a History since 1803; and Rebe Taylor for Into the Heart of Tasmania which won the 2017 Tasmania Book Prize.  And although I haven’t read any novels by contemporary Indigenous Tasmanian authors, the TWC includes in its Writer Database poet, playwright and short story writer Jim Everett, who also goes by his Aboriginal name, puralia meenamatta, and I hope to source some of his short stories soon.  Through the TWC database I’ve also discovered Grease and Ochre: The Blending of Two Culture at the Colonial Sea Frontier (2011) by Patsy Cameron from Flinders Island, who can trace her Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage through her mother’s line to four ancestral grandmothers.

Some Tasmanian writers are imports from other states.  But Peter Timms has been a Taswegian so long now that he sounds like a local in In Search of Hobart.  He’s also written a novel set in the 1950s, called Asking for TroubleHis partner Robert Dessaix has written some exquisite books, but I haven’t reviewed any of them on this blog because I read them so long ago.  His novels include Night Letters: A Journey Through Switzerland and Italy (1996); Secrets (1997); and Corfu (2001); but I also liked his non-fiction A Mother’s Disgrace (1994) and I have Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev (2004) on my TBR.

Secrets was co written with Drusilla Modjeska and fellow Taswegian Amanda Lohrey.  I’ve been following Lohrey’s career ever since I read Camille’s Bread (1995); The Philosopher’s Doll (2004); Reading Madame Bovary (2011); and most recently A Short History of Richard Kline (2015).  But my favourite of them all is Vertigo from 2008. Very few writers have written about bushfire so compellingly, though Tassie-born Karenlee Thompson’s collection of short fictions called Flame Tip (2017) commemorates the 1967 fires in ways that will break your heart.

Heather Rose has been writing for a while, but she sprang to prominence with her prize-winning novel The Museum of Modern Art (2016).  For a while there it was on shortlists everywhere, but I bet it’s winning the 2017 Tasmanian Margaret Scott Prize that means the most, although it’s not the most money.  It’s knowing that your local community values your work that means a lot, I am sure.  Another notable novel that I really liked was Sean Rabin’s Wood Green which was nominated for the Readings Prize in 2016.  Set in the misty hills beyond Hobart, it has a cunning twist that took me entirely by surprise.

Set in an even more isolated environment is Robyn Mundy’s Wildlight (2016) which features the travails of a young person marooned without her c21st communication devices on a remote island off the southern coast of Tasmania.  I loved this book because it treads a fine line between YA preoccupations and a more satisfying story that explores the impact of tragedy on the adults we become.  It also explores issues of trust and betrayal, themes which feature strongly in the novels of the late, great Christopher Koch whose novels Out of Ireland (1991) and Lost Voices (2012) are for me, quintessentially Tasmanian.

But Tasmanian authors range far and wide in their preoccupations.  In The End of Seeing (2015) Christy Collins wrote a beautiful mediation on grief which situates her characters in the wider world.  By contrast Helen Hodgman in Blue Skies (1976) is more domestic in her concerns, capturing the inertia of suburban life for women in the 1950s.  Favel Parrett (who now lives in Melbourne but will always be thought of as Taswegian because of her vivid settings in Hobart) has a focus on disadvantage in her novels Past the Shallows (2011) and When the Night Comes (2014).

Carmel Bird lives in Melbourne now too, but she was born and educated in Tassie.   Her aptly-named novel Cape Grimm (2005) is set on Cape Grim on the north-western point of Tasmania, but here on the blog I’ve only reviewed Family Skeleton (2016) and Child of the Twilight (2009).   And although it’s not reviewed here, I should mention Danielle Wood’s The Alphabet of Light and Dark (2006), a lovely novel set on Bruny Island and which brings together family and colonial history in an unforgettable way.

I haven’t mentioned non-fiction authors!  The most prominent is James Boyce whose history 1835, The Founding of Melbourne (2011) is as much about Tasmania as it is about the settlement in Victoria. He is also the author of Born Bad (2014), and Van Diemen’s Land (2008). which won the Tasmania Book Prize and the Colin Roderick Award and was shortlisted a swag of other awards.  Stephen Dando-Collins is the prolific author of many books, but the one I’ve reviewed here is his biography of Henry Parkes (2014).  And then of course there is former leader of the Greens Bob Brown whose many publications are focussed on environmental issues, while Ron Brooks deserves mention here because he is a brilliant illustrator of children’s books, and I loved his quasi-autobiography Drawn from the Heart when I read it in 2011.  I recommend that you check the list of his children’s books at the Tasmanian Writers Centre site and make sure you buy them all for the little people in your life.

The most prominent of contemporary Tasmanian authors is Richard Flanagan: highly regarded internationally and winner of international prizes including the Booker Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Flanagan is the author of Death of a River Guide (1994); The Sound of one Hand Clapping (1997); Gould’s Book of Fish (2001); The Unknown Terrorist (2006); the exquisite Wanting (2008); his masterpiece The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013) and First Person (2017).

The honour roll of Tasmanian authors no longer with us includes

There are of course also numerous other authors writing plays and poems, children’s literature and commercial fiction but it’s outside the scope of this blog to name them all!

 

 

 


Responses

  1. Great blog and very informative!

  2. Hi Lisa

    For some reason the link to your page doesn’t work.

    And have you read John Tully’s Robbed of Every Blessing? A very good book that didn’t get the attention it deserved (now reduced to $9.95, but of course I’m happy to send you a copy if you’d like).

    Regards Anna

    Anna Rosner Blay Managing Editor HYBRID PUBLISHERS PO Box 52 Ormond VIC 3204 Australia

    Tel: (03) 9504 3462 See our website at: http://www.hybridpublishers.com.au https://www.facebook.com/HybridPublishers/

    >

    • Hi Anna, I think all should be working as it should now. #HumanError #LoTechLisa.
      I have read Robbed of Every Blessing, is he from Tassie? I didn’t know!

  3. What a wealth of knowledge you have Lisa. A great post full of interesting authors to investigate. I have read quite a few of the authors you have mentioned but haven’t got to all of them yet.

    • *chuckle* You may have noticed how obsessively I tag and categorise everything… I do it to make it easier to do posts like this because all I needed to do was to find my Tasmania category under Origin of Authors:)

      • Now that’s a good idea 😀

  4. When you list all the authors out like this, there are a lot of them! Tassie might be small in size and population, but it’s shooting well above its weight! :)

    • That'[s right. Their population is only about half a million, but they have produced some of Australia’s best writing, and generated its very own label ‘Tasmanian Gothic’ i.e. novels that are basically cold, wet, and moody!

  5. Please add the wonderful Tasmanian poet, Sarah Day. And thank you for a great list of writers to add to my Must Read list

    • I just looked Sarah Day up on the TWC database: she’s been nominated for a PM’s award so I was hoping that Tony Messenger might have reviewed her work, but unfortunately, so far he hasn’t. Do you know of anywhere she’s been reviewed that I can link to?

  6. I got here eventually! Taswiegians certainly produce some fine work. Re Flanagan, In today’s Crikey the publisher who worked with him on the work fictionalised in First Person is complaining about the way he has been depicted.

    • Who was it who said, (perhaps more elegantly than this) hang around with authors, you’re bound to end up in a novel one day….


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