Questioning the state of literary blogging in Australia

Book bloggingLike my own humble blog, the life and noise the literary blogging scene in Australia makes varies from times of excitement to relative silence. There are some periods where there are scores of bloggers offering their thoughts on the publishing industry, festivals, their writing process, things like NaNoWriMo – and other times, we seem to have little to say about anything. And it can heap on itself, because one blogger can inspire others, but also a quiet blogosphere leaves us with nothing to respond to. It’s a collaborative effort.

I feel like we’re in one of those periods now. Perhaps it’s post-NaNo funk, but a lot of writer-bloggers I know didn’t even do NaNoWriMo. It could be the end of the year. Or it could be there’s nothing to really talk about. Some of the spurts in lit blogging were inspired by debates and thoughts around digital publishing, events like the Emerging Writers’ Festival and the swathe of issues and questions arising out of that. More diligent bloggers or group blogs seem to produce things all year round, including reviews and interviews, seeking out content rather than just responding.

The launch of the new Crikey lit-blog, Liticism by Bethanie Blanchard gives me hope. With the new blog on the scene, and Angela Meyer reinvigorating her blog, LiteraryMinded at her own address, I’m hoping for discussion to spur me on to think and discuss my own writing and the issues I’m grappling with like the role of an editor especially when self-publishing. Don’t get me wrong, reviews and interviews have their place, but I can’t help but want more. I don’t read all reviews in my RSS feed. I often skip over them. I think I’m looking for questions or debate.

Perhaps this is just my perception, the blogs I’m reading etc. but I’m looking for a re-invigoration, probably because talking about writing usually leads me to actually do some writing (primarily fiction), because I’m thinking about it, and I’m in the right mode of thought, I guess. Whether this be through an issue, an event or whatever, I’m not sure. Perhaps this could be the start of a discussion.

What are the issues, questions, debates, concerns, etc. of the literary world at the moment?

New priorities, upcoming blog posts and book winners

As the dust of NaNoWriMo settles, and I finally get a chance to breathe after the protests outside the Labor Party’s national conference, I thought I’d pay some attention again to the blog in a hope to hone my renewed enthusiasm for writing as well as political activity and education.

Every once and a while, I find enough energy to drag myself out of ruts of laziness with a desire to organise myself better, write and submit more as well as dedicate myself to the cause of building a revolutionary movement and fighting to overthrow capitalism. As one of my recent posts points out, sometimes these two priorities are in conflict with each other and I need to put writing aside in order to focus on activism, but now I feel like there’s a bit of room to breathe.

So this month, I hope to do the writing projects on the table, such as preparing the suite of poems for 3CR’s spoken word radio show with Santo Cazatti, my article for EWF’s The Reader, as well as work on my web serial, Robbin’ Toorak, and some poems and short stories.

Coming up on the blog is a bit about why I’m writing Robbin’ Toorak as a web serial, a post on the protests outside the ALP conference with a video, and another book giveaway.

Finally, I’d like to announce the winners of the Ocean of Blood giveaway. The runner-up, and the winner of a copy of Ocean of Blood by Darren Shan is Toni Rakestraw. And the winner, who will receive a copy of Ocean of Blood as well as a copy of the first book, Birth of a Killer is Michaela Sanderson. I’ll be in contact with the winners regarding postal details in the next day or so.

Book Giveaway: Ocean of Blood

To celebrate the release of Darren Shan’s blood-soaked vampire tale, Ocean of Blood, HarperCollins have kindly given me copies to give away to lucky readers of Blood and Barricades.

Ocean of Blood is Book Two in the Saga of Larten Crepsley series:

The epic tale of the vampire Larten Crepsley continues. The question is — how far can Larten go… alone?

Free from their mentor Seba Nile, Larten Crepsley and Wester Flack join the Cubs — wild young vampires with little respect for human life, and a taste for mindless enjoyment.

For the Cubs, everything is easy. But nothing has ever been easy for Larten, and soon fate throws his life into another spin. With dark paths to travel, Larten finds himself far from the Vampire Mountain and its rules. A long way from home, sick and alone, he must decide what kind of vampire he will be. Whether he will stand firm, be true to his master and his principles — or whether he will lose himself in blood…

To go into the draw to win a copy, email benjamin@benjaminsolah.com with your name, contact details (email, Twitter handle etc.) before Sunday, the 27th of November. First prize will receive a copy of Ocean of Blood as well as Book One, Birth of a Killer with the runner-up receiving a copy of Ocean of Blood.

Comparing print and digital book formatting

As most of you know, I bought two eReaders last year, the Sony Reader and the Kindle (which I’m both yet to properly review or compare) and eBooks and eReading has been a major focus of this blog for some time now; a lot of it has been complaining but I do really love the Kindle and where eBooks are going.

But at the moment, the two books I am reading are in print, not digital. I’m reading them because they’re not out as eBooks (one’s not released yet at all) which I’ve spoken about before, but also, I’m enjoying reading in print again, especially new print books.

You see, one of the things that bothers me about both print books and digital books is the way they’re formatted, especially with long form text. Reading short pieces on the Kindle is a dream, better than scrunched up print outs out of your bag and so loading lots of beta reading is fun, but it becomes split even when it comes to novels.

I hate text that is small, bunched up, dense, not spaced out. I’m big fan of double-spacing, normal paragraph sizes and eloquent fonts. If something isn’t formatted right, I find it harder to read, even a deterrent. This is a bit OCD of me and I realise a lot of people won’t have a problem with this like I do, but hey, the internet gives us the freedom to rant about small things to only some people care about.

Comparing eBooks to old out of copyright titles, the eBook with its standard formatting beats the tatty second hand copy or the old editions. With newer paperbacks though, I think eReaders and eBooks are a bit behind.

Firstly, a lot of books are just badly formatted and full of errors. My copy of Cell from Kobo Books has really wide margins in an eReader, my partner’s copy of The City and The City has all accented letters in capitals. I’ve seen numerous mistakes and from professional publishers, it’s more than disappointing. The quality of formatting seems more lax than in print. Not to mention no response from publishers or retailers about fixing problems.

But secondly, there’s even a problem with the lack of options in the eReaders themselves. You can only change the size of the font on the Sony Reader and the only font is damn ugly. You can choose two or three fonts with the Kindle but even that doesn’t suffice, but it is better. Fonts in print books seem to often complement the content and style of the writing which is then harder to replicate with an eBook when there aren’t that many options. I’ve heard that you can embed fonts but haven’t seen publishers utilise this yet. If you’ve seen them do this, then point me in the right direction.

Some people prefer books formatted in different ways to other people so the benefit of a digital version should be the ability to have a choice, to change it according to your own tastes instead of the one size fits all of print publishing but at the moment, my two print books look much nicer than the stuff I have on my eReaders.

Defenders of print books cite how the books look and feel as to why they won’t switch but I don’t think it has to be this way. With a little effort, eBooks could look much nicer and more personalised.

eBook Review: Ur – Stephen King

A quick review for a pretty quick read. Ur is a short novella by Stephen King that he wrote exclusively for the Kindle platform. I started reading it after ordering my Kindle and whilst waiting for the thing to arrive began reading this little tale on the Kindle iPhone app, and finished it off on the Kindle.

UrIt’s about a ‘different kind of’ Kindle that’s delivered to a slightly technologically backward English professor. The first odd thing is that it’s pink, not white or charcoal like the only one’s available from Amazon. The other thing is that is has experimental features not available on any other model. It’s linked to alternate realities and lead this professor to discover some strange things.

It’s not a particularly unique plot, nor is the writing particularly mind-blowing. People are right when they describe it as ‘brain candy.’ But I guess toward the end, King was trying to explore the whole “if you knew Hitler was going to do bad shit before he did, would you kill him?” type plot, except instead of Hitler, it’s an alcoholic so the premise doesn’t quite match up.

It was a fun read to introduce me to the Kindle, though I might’ve thought I was wasting my time if it was any longer.

Book Review: Princesses and Pornstars – Emily Maguire

I picked up Emily Maguire’s book, Princess and Pornstars upon recommendation from socialist women in order to gain a better and deeper understanding of women’s oppression and one that goes beyond the hard calculated theory but goes into the personal and contemporary. And that’s how I would recommend it to others, especially other men.

Princesses and PornstarsEmily Maguire approaches a variety of issues to do with women, sexism and oppression today in a direct and open way, sometimes using her own personal experience as well as the experience of others to illustrate the issues. Topics range from sex, sex education, consent, body image, role models and porn.

One of the freshest things to read was when Maguire tackles the vilification of both the ‘slut’ and the ‘frigid.’ She is completely unapologetic that women have the right to have as little or as much sex as they desire, for their own personal desire and not just the desire of men. She dismisses the idea that a woman who has a lot of sex must be damaged or have low self-esteem. With the media constantly judging women’s sex lives to the extent they are blamed for being raped, it is welcome that someone is willing to stand up and defend women.

Her openness about female sexuality extends to a call for sex education that goes beyond biology and a frank admission that there is nothing wrong with female masturbation. These are things many feminists or progressives shy away from, but I completely agree with Maguire tackling these issues.

Further to this, I felt the chapter on pornography was an admirable effort tackling the complex issues without just saying ‘all porn is bad’ like when she refuses to judge women who do use porn. I agree with Maguire’s assertion that there is nothing inherently problematic about someone enjoying watching other people have sex on film and that it is the misogyny and sexism in the industry as well as in greater society that is the problem. But I admit to feeling uncomfortable about the attempts to define ‘ethical pornography’ as even the most conscious film cannot escape the oppression of greater society, and Maguire does admit that it has its limitations.

The book is argued under the banner of ‘feminism’ which is described as a broad range of ideas and often I felt like Maguire agreed with many Marxist points on women’s oppression like that working-class men don’t benefit from women’s oppression and that we live in a class society. I often agreed with many of her theoretical points but cannot say I agree with patriarchy theory, that all men oppress all women but I’m not sure Maguire agrees with this either. Sometimes I felt that we agreed on the same point whilst using different terms to describe them.

Princesses and Pornstars is a great way for people, especially men, to gain an understanding of women’s oppression and sexism. Maguire has written very accessible book that doesn’t dumb things down at the same time.

Book Review: Kalinda Ashton's The Danger Game

Kalinda Ashton’s debut novel, The Danger Game has been talked about around the Australian literature scene as one of the key texts in the last few years and it is easy to see why as it deals with issues of class in such a compelling way with Ashton’s gift of metaphor and description. I definitely should have read this earlier.

The Danger GameThe Danger Game deals with the lives of three siblings in a clearly working-class family, each from a unique point-of-view. Jeremy’s story is in the past as children and his two sisters deal with his death and other situations as adults in the present. Alice is a school teacher and Louise’s story is seen through the prism of a very compelling second-person voice.

There are multiple plots to deal with; what happened to Jeremy, Alice’s school being closed down, Louise’s desire to find their mother, and Alice’s relationship with a married man, Jon, but all of it is seen under a great texture that colours the whole novel. It is put beyond doubt that their lives are shaped by their working-class upbringing and the choices they’re given are confined by this. It is the key strength in the novel.

I loved how it was shown through the little things in their lives such as their father shamefully piecing together a sweet snack with what he had available, eating it with his back to his daughter as they spoke.

And the characters have this healthy distrust of authority that can only be through their own experiences. This and other issues that are dealt with in the novel are explored genuinely through the lives of the characters even to the extent of Alice’s dealings with her school closing down and the union campaign. It never seems forced into the plot.

I also found the writing diverse in how simple some things could be told and then how details are described with striking metaphors. The description fills it all in whilst the plot and characters continue to carry you along. Writing a point-of-view in second person is usually a tough ask but even these chapters are done well and fit with the character.

I cannot help but heap praise on this work though I found it could’ve done with more at the end. I was expecting it to smack me in the face with the build up of tension and dread that fills you whilst reading.

Even without looking at how well the novel is constructed overall, it is significant there is even such a novel dealing with working-class lives that is widely talked about. In a 2009 essay in Spectrum, Emily Maguire speaks about this novel being an exception. It stands out to people like myself because class just isn’t talked about any more, especially in Australian literature. People deny it exists let alone discuss that is systemic.

The Danger Game is an amazing debut novel and one I would recommend highly, especially to emerging writers like myself. I hope that it can influence a few of us to touch on some of the things Ashton has and that there can be a revival of working-class literature. Though, an awareness of class in greater society may be needed first.