Wednesday, 29 February 2012

International Women’s Day Event

Kirsten Tranter
Every year on International Women’s Day (IWD) thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. A global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, local theatrical performances, fashion parades though to a literary panel at your local Leichhardt bookstore.

Jane Gleeson-White
On the eve of International Women’s Day, Shearer’s Bookshop will host a conversation about the role of gender in the literary world. The event is one way Shearer’s participates in IWD’s aim of 'thinking globally and acting locally'. The panel, which includes the crime writer Lenny Bartulin (De Luxe), author and editor Jane Gleeson-White (Australian Classics), literary agent Sophie Hamley and author and critic Emily Maguire (Smoke in the Room), will be chaired by the author Kirsten Tranter (The Legacy and Common Loss) who is also co-founder of the Stella Prize, an annual literary award that promotes and recognises women’s writing in Australia.

Lenny Bartulin
Supporting women writers is still an important and relevant action in the new millennium. As the IWD website points out, “(m)any from a younger generation feel that 'all the battles have been won for women' [however, the] unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.”
Emily Maguire

In light of this, the International Women's Day event at Shearer's will talk about whether gender disparities influence the world of literature; and if so, how? The evening will also be a celebration of women and writing - just looking at the list of speakers on our panel and their work it is clear that Australia has a lot to be proud of. 

International Women's Day Event
Shearer's Bookshop - 99 Norton St, Leichhardt
Wednesday, March 7 from 7.30 – 8.30

Free refreshments
10% of all book purchases on the night

Monday, 20 February 2012

Everyday Kindness - An Evening with Stephanie Dowrick

“… it’s in your power to increase other people’s joy … through random acts of kindness.”

Stephanie Dowrick has been Shearer’s Bookshop’s first author event for each of the last three years. As the New Year ticks over, we are more reflective, have more aspirations and are more inspired – qualities that are enriched and encouraged by Stephanie’s writing and her words. As expected, the evening held to discuss her new book, Everyday Kindness, was full of insights that were delivered with Stephanie’s innate warmth, openness and generosity.

Everyday Kindness explores the nature of kindness and the role it can play in creating happiness within your life and the lives of others. Stephanie explained that there has been a consistent theme vividly emerging in her work over the last seven years which is how the quality of your connections with other people, arising from the way you see yourself, determines your happiness. For her, and I’m sure many other, it is a timely theme - often we don’t know quite what we’re hungry for until we receive it.

As with all Stephanie’s books, Everyday Kindness does not preach or instruct. Stephanie wants to avoid giving the public advice and instead sees her writing balancing on a precipice between sharing wealth, knowledge and her vast life experience (a life that includes 30 years of writing, being a minister, retreat leader and psycho analyst). This unique approach is expressed in Stephanie’s choice to use narrative to share her ideas. By bringing to life the substantial ideas of kindness, the reader can more readily envision a how to reach a kinder life. Through story and reflection she hopes to waken up a depth of possibility that our everyday encounters don’t quite match and don’t quite meet.

The encouragement that Stephanie’s books give the reader are necessary to evaluate and possibly change habits of thinking that get in the way of our goals. After all, Stephanie explains, kindness is both a concept and a value that only comes to life when it is activated by us. Such activation requires us to recognise that we can choose the paths our life follows and that these choices are highly relevant to our relationships and who we become.

We all know we must make significant choices in our life, but it is less easy to know how to we cultivate the confidence to make choices that in turn cultivate happiness and others. It seems simple, but often we need the courage to do what is going well and to do more of it; and similarly, to make choices about things that haven’t been going well in the past and unlikely to get better in the future.

Stephanie pointed out that we all share a condition – human life. From that, we can try to understand each other and learn to show our appreciation for one another more overtly. Stephanie believes that much of the sorrow over the agonies of loss of self and loss of self confidence stems from the need for appreciation and the inability to appreciate the gift of one’s own life. When we express happiness we lift our spirit and the spirits of others. Appreciation through kindness is the most valuable form of currency. Stephanie ended the evening with a reminder that kindness is strength, not weakness – it takes absolutely no strength at all to be nasty. 

Written by Natalie


Thursday, 16 February 2012

Video Interview: Eva Katzler

Today British musician-turned-Picture book author Eva Katzler stopped by to have a chat with us! Here she is discussing her upcoming book, Florentine and Pig Have a Very Lovely Picnic.

Florentine and Pig will be released in Australia in July. The book is full of recipes and crafts for children to create and there are tons of these on the website!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A Brief Chat With Peter Griffen

With the launch of his new book upon us, we posed artist Peter Griffen these questions about his process.
Further celebrating In And Out of Abstraction, Peter will be hosting an event on Tuesday February 28th at 7pm, at his studio in Emma St, Leichhardt. Peter will open his studio and demonstrate what goes in to creating a piece of art, with wine and nibbles for the audience.
Tickets are $18 (or $15 for Frequent Shoppers) and available by calling Shearer's on 9572 7766.

How would you describe your work?
I work in an abstract “dreaming” way in my studio. When on location, en plein air, I respond directly to the landscape in front of me. I see the latter activity as serious painting, and also “note taking” for my studio abstract work.
My work is usually colourful and energetic, reflecting my buoyant positive approach to life. At times it is quite non-representational, at other times recognisable symbols and shapes appear. The en plein air work is of a more traditional format.

Where is it that you find your inspiration?
Mainly in the landscape; Central Australia, The Kimberley, opal mining sites, farm yards and estuaries are most important.
I am slowly becoming more interested in the human figure and still life subjects. You’ve spent some time on the land and working with Indigenous artists.

Did this influence your recent works in any way?
All art influences me in some way. Australian Indigenous art does influence me in terms of its “look” but more in it’s “message”. Also I do like to include a feeling in my work that there is a group of people living in this land that are very close to the land, so much so, that they seem part of it. I use symbols and marks that appear to have their influence to do this.

You exhibit all over Australia and the world. How do Australian patrons compare to the rest of the world?
I find a similarity in people throughout the world in most ways and when it comes to buying art. Abstract art challenges people throughout the world just as it challenges Australians. People seem to buy more readily if they have heard of you or are well promoted, and so on. The one consistent thing throughout the world is diversity of taste.
I have heard that Australians generally speaking only buy Australian art. Perhaps this is a difference then, because I have sold quite a lot of paintings to the French and the English. Perhaps in Europe people are more open to, or more fascinated by, artwork "foreign"?

We are holding an event in your studio at the end of February. What will people find
when they visit your studio? Do they have access to all areas of your workspace?

People will surprisingly find a large exciting space and will feel free to investigate it once they are over the initial impact. There will be lots of paintings to see, including our own collection of other artist’s work. My wife, Denise, is a textile artist and her work will be on display as will her studio too.
Our workspace is our home. This will be quite apparent and we welcome all.

Is there an etiquette for visiting an artist’s studio? Like, don’t touch and don’t run?

Relax, enjoy and just say nice things, please.....
What do you want people to take away from the experience?
Happiness mainly and something learnt. I hope that some will have more idea of what goes on in an artist’s head, how decisions are made, what drives them, etc.; why someone like me writes a book about my art, why not just paint?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Currawalli Street by Christopher Morgan

Christopher Morgan’s first novel, The Island of Four Rivers, is characterised by a distinct humour and inherent sense of hope - qualities that carry through to Morgan’s second novel, Currawalli Street.

Following three generations of families living along Currawalli Street from 1914 – 1972, Morgan creates a touching and engaging story about friendship, secrets and love through characters whose lives are punctuated and shaped by war. It is a modern classic that gently draws you in on the first page and stays with you well after the last.

To celebrate and support Currawalli Street’s  release, Allen and Unwin are donating 50 cents from every copy sold to charities selected by various bookstores. We at Shearer’s have chosen Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) - a not-for-profit organisation committed to helping people on the autism spectrum achieve their potential. Aspect builds confidence and capacity with people on the autism spectrum, their families and their communities by providing services such as educational outreach, a parent support network and family and information services.


Currawalli Street is available now and thanks to Allen & Unwin, 50 cents from every copy sold in Shearer's Bookshop will go to Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect).

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Chemistry of Tears: Review

Despite Peter Carey winning two Man Booker Prizes (The History of the Kelly Gang and Oscar and Lucinda), I can’t help but notice the trepidation with which many people approach his novels. Since the release of The Chemistry of Tears I have had several conversations about this in which people admit to having extremely varied reactions to Carey’s writing - loving some books but failing to find a way in with others. Similarly, I admit that I was curious but wary of The Chemistry of Tears. However, two days after starting the book I had finished it and many days after that I was still thinking about it. So to any of you that are hesitating over, or flat out resisting, The Chemistry of Tears, stop. This book is good. Really good.

Catherine, an horologist (expert in timepieces) who works at London’s Swinburne Museum, discovers that her secret lover of almost ten years has died. She falls into a reckless and self-destructive grief from which Eric, Catherine’s colleague and only person who knows of her affair, tries to save her. He gives her a project to restore a 19th century automaton through which she finds a series of notebooks amongst the boxes of mechanical parts. They are the journals of Henry Brandling. Henry is a wealthy gentleman who embarks on a journey to have an automaton duck built for his sick son. He travels to a foreign land where he meets the opportunistic and eccentric Sumper and a mysterious mother and child who take Henry’s money and faith in order to service their own visions; and so the second part of Chemistry of Tears falls into place. Carey weaves together two seemingly disparate stories into one cohesive narrative on the nature of grief and love. It is in this structure that I have my one criticism of the book. The danger of a narrative alternating between stories is that the reader will prefer one story to the other. Indeed, I found myself looking forward to Catherine’s story more.

Chemistry of Tears is a confronting commentary on the high place that machines occupy in everyday life. Carey is making the point that machines, whether it be cars, automatons, “frankenpods” (smartphones), the internet and computers, are the new gods in today’s society; it is in them that we place our faith and emotions, it is through them that we express how we feel. Brandling tries to save his son through a mechanical duck and Catherine’s affair is represented by emails trapped on a work laptop and a second-hand car that the two lovers restored together. On a more dire level, the BP Gulf of Mexico spill is ominously present in the later half of the book - a tragic and insistent reminder of the destruction that can occur when technology becomes too powerful and too trusted. If machines are our gods, then the oil spill is a plague that has been inflicted on the earth; the price we have to pay.

The pace and tension of the novel is heightened by Amanda, a beautiful assistant who is placed on the project to monitor Catherine’s behaviour, yet who also proves to be unstable herself. She is an important addition to the book, taking it beyond Catherine and Henry’s grief and yearning to into the realm of a thought-provoking perspective on the relationship between technology and society, and technology and the individual. 

Carey’s novels hooked me on two levels. I was drawn to the raw emotion of Catherine’s grief and the subtler version of loss in Henry; yet I was also engaged by the larger arguments swirling around in the background - many of which I have yet to put together, but will attempt to do so on a second reading. 

Reviewed by Nat

The Chemistry of Tears is available now and one of our Shearer's Books of the Month.

A Brief Chat With Peter Twohig

What’s a good Sydney resident like you (Peter lives on the Central Coast) doing writing a book set in Melbourne?
I was born in Melbourne (it was raining, as I recall) and raised in Richmond. So I remember the area, and the kind of things we used to get up to. However, when I first conceived the book, it was going to be set in the outer burbs somewhere. Then I realised that I was never going to find a setting more moody and dark location than Richmond in the 50s (though other suburbs might rival it: Collingwood and Footscray immediately come to mind.) But it was always going to be a Melbourne novel, as I didn’t become a Sydneysider until 1992.

The Cartographer was started as part of the NaNoWriMo programme in 2009. Can you tell us a little about the programme and how it worked for you?
The idea of the programme is to encourage writers to write 50,000 words in a month (November). When I first heard of the programme, earlier in the year, I was working on another novel, and I realised that if I finished it in time I would be able to tackle the NaNo challenge. I finished the earlier novel on 31 October 2009 and began writing The Cartographer the following day. I wrote one chapter a day for 23 days, and that was the first draft done. In 2010 I added nine another chapters during the writing of the second draft.

Tell us a little about the plot.
The difference between the first draft (worried boy avoids bad guy because he wants to stay alive) and the second draft (grieving boy has to avoid bad guy while trying to assuage guilt) is the difference between a story and a plot. The kid of the story would do anything to have his dead twin brother back, and, as a distant second, would go a long way to forgive himself for what he half believes is his part in his brother’s death (in not trying hard enough to prevent it, or to save him). To make matters worse, he is at real risk of being tracked down by a murderer because, he wrongly believes, he can identify him. In fact he is at risk of being killed for a set of counterfeiting plates he scored at the crime scene, under the Finders Keepers rule. The crushing pressures of his guilt and fear, together with a terrific propensity for getting into trouble regardless of the circumstances, inevitably cause him to seek relief in a world of pretending, with mixed results.

What was the last book you read and what are you currently reading?
The last book I read was Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. I’m currently reading Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle (HarperVoyager, 2011), and Kirsten Tranter’s A Common Loss (HarperCollins, 2011).

Which fictional character do you most identify with?
That’s a tough question, because I’m pretty impressionable. I remember when I was about fifteen being struck by the character in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Alex Du Large (who was a particularly nasty young man the same age as me); and when I was in my twenties being very sympathetic to Capt. Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Then there was Brother William in Eco’s The Name of the Rose. I suppose these days I see myself as a character in one of Jorge Luis Borges’s labyrinthine tales, because that’s how life strikes me.

What are you working on next?
Right now I’m rewriting the novel I was writing up to the beginning of The Cartographer. That will be followed by the prequel to The Cartographer, which has the kid’s grandfather, Archie Taggerty as the main character. Actually, that book is now finished (it was my 2010 NaNoWriMo project), so I’ll be writing the second draft this year. I reckon I’ll always have at least two unfinished novels on the production line.

The Cartographer is available now and is one of Shearer's Books of the Month.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Interview: Carrie Tiffany

It’s always a pleasure to talk to Carrie Tiffany, especially about writing, and with her new book Mateship with Birds* out on the shelves this month I jumped at the opportunity to interview her.

‘The miracle of water into milk via grass must be
performed at the start of each new day.’
--- Mateship with Birds

The primary story of Mateship with Birds centres on Harry, a dairy farmer in a small town, Cohuna, in regional Victoria in 1953.  We are shown Harry’s world, his deepening relationship with his neighbour Betty and her two young children, and the quiet solidness of Harry’s dairy farming existence. It is a quiet novel brimming with longing, and led by the cycle of the days.

PN: Your first novel Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living also took us out into the rural and remote areas of Australia. I wonder if you have a fascination with the regional areas of Australia?

CT: My work as a farm journalist involves talking with farmers, visiting them on their farms often when they are the only person there. The kids are at school, the wife is at work, the farmer might spend most of his days by himself. And I often wonder, as I leave, how someone lives in some of these places, what they do, how do they fill their days. It is something about a person being in the landscape that intrigues me. I was a park ranger in Central Australia years ago and being in that particular landscape and feeling a sense of ownership over the tremendous space and a responsibility to care for it, really affected me.

PN: That’s an interesting reaction to that huge amount of space as most of us do prefer to live on the coast in or near big cities. I wonder if your response might have something to do with you being 6 years old when you arrived from England and first met the idea of Australia. A curiosity rather than a fear?

CT: I’m not sure, although I do remember quite clearly that the first house we lived in in suburban Perth had a nature strip out the front. I had never seen anything like it. Just a scrubby gum tree and some grass right out the front of our door. I was fascinated by all the nature strips. I really felt that the strips were all joined together and that if you followed them they would lead to the bush. At school we did the poetry of Henry Lawson and we had a roll down screen in class that was a manky old, sun-faded Fred Williams painting of the bush. So, perhaps I was simply fascinated by the whole idea. I really wanted to go to the bush.

PN: In Mateship with Birds dairy farming has never sounded so beautiful and essential. Why a dairy farmer? What does dairying allow you, as a writer, to explore? 

CT: Even as a child I was fascinated with farming. I would draw squares on paper and call them paddocks and then decide what I was going to put in each paddock. How many horses, where the sheds would be, that sort of thing. And I think I always imagined living on a farm. Through my journalist work I’ve come to believe that different types of farmers are different. Farmers who work with machines, cropping and harvesting, for instance are different to farmers who work with animals. And dairy farming is even a bit more than that. I’ve stood in herds with farmers whose cattle show no fear at all. They lean into the farmer and nibble at them and the farmer is completely comfortable inhabiting their space. I did a lot of research for Mateship with Birds at the State Library of Victoria and I came across one particular journal about dairying with a great quote from a farmer from years ago: The role of the dairy farmer is to keep each individual cow in the prime of her sexual health. It is an intimate job. Even the act of milking, despite its mechanisation these days, requires intimate knowledge of each animal’s health.

PN: And the book is set in 1950s with all that that entails regarding morality and sexuality – is that why you chose this time period?

CT: Well, I’m a slow writer and I had written a whole other book before writing this one. That one won’t ever see daylight but it was set in an earlier period, a similar time to Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living because I was comfortable writing about that time. Gradually though, and this was towards the end of the Howard years when the phrase ‘fifties values’ was being bandied about, I began to be interested in what the 1950s would have meant for people living in regional areas and, specifically, their sexuality. 

PN: In Mateship with Birds Harry takes on the challenge of educating Michael, Betty’s son, about sex. He writes letters to Michael detailing his limited experience from his childhood and then with his ex-wife Edna. Pragmatic, with a veil of science, these letters form a kind of exploration of Harry’s own sexual desires. Why the letters? Is Harry simply unknowingly channeling his desire for Betty into these letters? Or is there something else going on?

CT: I’m terribly dyslexic so letters were impossible for me before computers. Now, though, I have a couple of very good friends I correspond with via lengthy emails and there is real pleasure in crafting the emails and I am really interested in the refashioning of yourself that goes on in letters, the thinking through of things.

Mateship with Birds is also completely in third person, which I find very difficult to write, and, as a writer, the letters allow me to break the convention of third person. Once I’ve been writing a character for awhile, I can hear their voice really strongly and letters allow them to have their say, in their own words, on the page. Their turn of phrase at their own pace.

But I did read letters that the psychoanalyst Freud wrote to his very good friend Wilhelm Fleiss. This is at a time before Freud’s theories were established and in them Freud undertakes a sort of self-analysis. These letters allowed him to almost test his ideas about speaking your mind in free association to learn about yourself and I think Harry’s letters have a similar effect on him. They unstop Harry’s desire in someway. Or make his desire tangible. In writing about his sexual past, his sexual, and emotional, future becomes possible.

PN: Harry’s inherent pragmatism and simple joy in observing the creatures he shares the bush with forms a large part of the novel. Is this joy something you think we miss or have lost in our contemporary urban world?

CT: I think the ‘creaturelyness’ of people, the instinct within people to recognise another creature is highlighted in rural areas with animals. One creature to another brings forth an inherent response. I think that to be in the bush and just use your body in the bush is enough. You don’t need the scientific names for anything or to be educated in how to save the bush. Being amongst the bush puts things back in scale and just to be there is enough.

PN: Betty, Harry’s neighbour, is the touchstone for the 1950s morality of a small country town, a single woman with two children with two different fathers. How did Betty appear in your imagination?

CT: I’m really interested in regret and how sometimes events that happen in a passionate youth can shape and fill your life but you don’t realise how big they were until later, sometimes a long time later. There’s this whole modern idea of rewriting yourself and your past but I just don’t believe it’s true. Your past is your past and Betty is coming to terms with her sexual past at an age, she’s 45 years old, that in 1953 was much older than 45 is today.

PN: The one thing that has really stayed with me from the book is the compassion you have for your characters. Even with the character Mues, regardless of how awful he may be, we have an understanding of a life lived. Is this something you set out to consciously do while writing the book?

CT: I’m not interested in writing moral lessons. I’m interested in how we piece things together, how we make sense of our lives after we have lived them. The story of Mues shooting the cockatoos is actually true. Someone had written a letter into Emu, the ornithological journal, detailing his observations of the female cockatoo after he had shot and killed the male. And as we sit with Mues as he watches the female cockatoo trying to feed her dead partner we know that Mues is despairing of the fact that no one cares for him like that. The desire to be desired is the most critical human emotion, to belong to someone, and in that instant, the tenderness of the birds is unbearable for him and so he shoots them all.

PN: And while that may sound downbeat or dark, the novel is full of light and shade with the desire to be desired sitting at its heart. Mateship with Birds, a novel that relays everyday joy with nuance and heartfelt understanding.

Thanks for your time, Carrie. It has been a real pleasure.

*Mateship with Birds is the title of a book of bird notes by Australian nature writer Alec Chisholm []. It was first published in 1922 and can still be found in opportunity shops and second-hand bookstores. Carrie recommends it highly.

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany is available now in paperback for $19.99.

Carrie Tiffany interview conducted by Pip, 31 January 2012.