What does this paperback novel have in common with a bottle of Chardonnay Pinto Noir Cuvee from the Adelaide Hills, you might ask?
Well, I discovered them both over Christmas and found them to be strangely similar after a few days' living with them.
Just as the fizz didn't cost me too much, wasn't an overly complex drop but went down a treat at the end of the day, Liane Moriarty's novel didn't make me work too hard but kept me delightfully pre-occupied during quiet moments over the festive season. If I ever appeared on BBC Radio 4's program A Good Read, this is the book I'd choose. It's not literary fiction but I found myself comparing it to the wine: great mouthfeel, lovely flavours, just the right amount of fizz and didn't give me a hangover.
It's a pleasing story about a suburban woman. There's complexity in the tale but an accessibility too. As a writer, you think, I could have written this! So great! Writing's easy! (It's not, and you couldn't.)
The book is written very deftly, with complete assurance in every component part. Characters are solid. There's a consistency in the way they think, particularly Ellen the hypnotist. Patrick's her fiance's thinking changes and you can see it happening, and so does Saskia's, who makes the most pronounced journey. Whatever their arc, it's all accomplished clearly and believably.
The plotting develops if not pacily - this isn't a thriller - then with a pleasing steadiness. I hate to feel manipulated by a narrative. I'm not particularly into suspense. It's a construct. I don't like to be led along by the nose so that I'm desperate to find out whodunnit or whadhappened. I just like a great story well told, whether it's literary fiction or something more simply diverting. There's no manipulation here, just a measured and assured building of events to a satisfying climax, and then a denoument.
The book is told from two points of view, with two character's voices. The two are very distinct, and as a device it's entirely successful. And there's just enough internal dialogue. They don't go on and on interminably: they make their point succinctly, and the story moves on. As a result it's a thickish book but not an overworked doorstopper that you wish you'd downloaded in e-form, and it's exactly the right length.
The writing style is deceptively simple. It's well told and easily absorbable. There are no particularly exceptional descriptive passages. The trick here is that it's an insight into another world. It's not pretendign to be Tim Winton, that other deceptively simple writer, and talking about surfing, breathing, life and death in big, broad, expansive gestures. It's a story about ordinary people told with complete assurance to keep you occupied.
No wonder this woman's books sell.
One thing I especially liked about it is that it's strangely comforting in tiny moments, like in the central message that love isn't black and white, it's a grey and shifting thing. That's very different from the sickly sweet and idealist Walt Disney version of things that we're probably all a bit sick of after nearly a bloody century.
And I'd wager that a thousand and one readers silently cheered at the remarks various characters made about Ellen's c-section, and her momentary regret not to have had a natural birth. 'Labour doesn't make you a mother, darling,' says one character. There would be many women out there who need to hear that message, with all the pressure on us to get everything about pregnancy, birth and parenting perfect. Seeing those conversations on the page in fleeting, distilled but punchy comments that dispel a few myths for the benefit of us all, I take my hat off to Ms Moriarty. Good on you.
It's a strange and frequently quoted fact that Liane Moriarty is Australia's least known best-selling author. Her books are sold in countries all over the world. I can't help wondering why she's not a household name. I thougtht this was a wonderful read, it kept me occupied, it didn't upset me and make me feel I had to go and embrace my children while they were sleeping - (I'd had to stop reading All the Light We Cannot See because I just couldn't face reliving the Second World War in moment-by-moment detail over Christmas) - and it was inspiring for me as a writer because you can actually see yourself writing something like this if you are lucky enough to be great at plotting, character construction, have a broad imagination and a deft turn of phrase. So probably not, then.
A great read, happily matched by my other great find over Christmas, a great quaff. I'm off to order the others from the library. Cheers all!
It was a beautiful early spring morning when Dermot McElduff of Duff Photography and I headed up to Brocklands nursery in the West Tamar valley hinterlands. Karen's a larger than life character and was ready for us with coffee and a gale of laughter.
Harry the dog accompanied us for most of the shoot. He's a self-possessed little fellow and he took a shine to Dermot. Later, as I prepared to leave, a horse wandered through the nursery and stopped for a brief encounter and a nose rub from Karen.
Beautiful light, lines and colour for photography in the hothouses, a person could go a little mad here with the camera.
Photographing the photographer is always fun. They're so helpless. He says he worries about what I'm doing. So he should.
You can see the full story, with proper photographs by Dermot McElduff, in the summer issue of Graziher magazine, available on the website. Published quarterly, it's Australia's newest and best magazine all about women on the land, with stories and insights about women from every state. Recommended!
The drive up to Brocklands nursery in the Tamar Valley hinterlands wends its way between hidden fairy glades and sweeping hillsides that rise and fall like a series of sighs. Then suddenly there’s a biosecurity gate and beyond it a ute careering down the driveway, Karen Brock at the wheel all fluoro jacket and cheery helloes, and Mango the Spaniel barking madly from the window. This woman has more gusto than a kangaroo on coffee.
Karen gives every impression of a woman in command of her plot who could turn her hand to anything required. She puts this down to her early years on a mixed farm in Meander. 'I’m from a diverse farming background and I was just blessed by my upbringing. Dad taught us to be self-sufficient and independent decision makers from a very early age,’ she says. ‘At the age of eight, I had my own horse, my own dog, and I’d be bringing eight hundred sheep out of the bush on my own. The bastards would sit down, and I’d be chucking them over the horse and walking with it, just to get them home!’ She’d be cursing all the way too, she adds, having learned ‘every flowery word you can think of,’ at a very early age.
It's finally here. Two years in the writing, months in the design studio, weeks at sea on the journey from a Hong Kong printer. A Place in the Stockyard, the book I authored for Tasmanian Women in Agriculture, arrives on my desk today!
I met the farming women I was to work with on this over scones one evening. They were an impressive lot, and stand-out advocates for rural living. One of them, Joan, was in her seventies but could undoubtedly have thrown her leg over a horse and beaten me to the post anytime.
'Don't look at my hands!' she exclaimed. 'I've been feeding calves.' I looked at her hands. They were beautiful. Worn through years of hard work into gentle scoop shapes, muscled and strong, clean and pink and glowing with energy.
Joan was one of the founders of Tasmanian Women in Agriculture twenty years ago, and came to be quite the inspiration for me. When she helped start the organisation she was 'flat out, and just really tired,' she told me, like a lot of farming women at that time. What she started didn't just change things for farming women, it went on to change the culture of farming in Tasmania. Those who passed through the door over the years became stronger. They took succour from meeting other women in the same position with the same challenges as them. They did courses and educated themselves. Some of them took pivotal roles on industry boards or became high profile spokespersons. They started farm safety campaigns, found funding, lobbied government.
Most importantly, they got off their farms and met with each other regularly, in regional groups where they mostly knew each other already, or soon got to know each other. You know how you bump into someone you know and say 'Gosh we haven't seen each other for ages!' These women made sure that never happened. They recognised how vitally important respite from the farm was, when you're the pivotal person holding everything together. And their husbands and partners recognised it too, and some of them liked to come along.
What they were doing, says Caro Brown, Senior Project Officer in Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries and long time Tasmanian Woman in Agriculture, was maximising their social capital. Getting together to enjoy a speaker and a cup of tea, catching up, talking and learning and helping each other out with knowledge and pointers, and making decisions on issues they would take forward to government or community. Changing things, as well as their lives, for the better.
Ultimately they made farming women and their contribution in Tasmania visible and acknowledged, which is was not previously. They had the law changed, winning an exemption on stamp duty when farms were passed from one family member to another, something which had crippled many a farming family. They launched initiatives supporting farmers during drought. They campaigned for better contract deals with big corporates on commodity prices.
The name Tasmanian Women in Agriculture piques the interest of many you mention it to. It sounds intriguing even if the listener hasn't heard of them before. To those in the know, such as the successive government bodies and individuals who have encountered it, the group is a formidable lobbying and activist group, widely acknowledged to play an important role in connecting those out in the Paddock with those in Parliament and in the Boardroom. Game changing stuff.
This is reflected all over Australia. There's a group in every state, and a national body too, Australian Women in Agriculture. But Tasmania is smaller. Members are closer here in every sense, and closer to their two city centres of learning and commerce. It has made for a greater sense of thriving and potential over the years. Tasmanian Women in Agriculture now numbers over one thousand members with new generations of farming women and new styles of farming and sub-sectors, gourmet produce growers and agri-tourism operators, joining the conversation.
All very inspiring. For me, i count myself lucky to have met these women and learned so much from them. But when I want real inspiration, I still look to Joan Field, with her calf-rearing hands. Joan was around the age I am now when she became a founder member. When I look at everything she helped achieve in the subsequent twenty years, that's a massive source of inspiration.
A Place in the Stockyard - celebrating Tasmanian Women in Agrilcuture is available through select Tasmanian bookshops and on order through the website, priced at $40.
Contact me today to discuss your book project.
Getting the tone, voice and content spot on in what you write for your business or organisation is a fine balance. You may know what you want to say, but saying it right can make the difference in whether you stay true to your branding – and whether you get your branding right in the first place.
Below are three case studies in which good writing and editing has helped get the positioning right.
Case Study One – an accomplished business man newly elected to his local Council. It’s important that what he says on his new website subtly aligns him with Council practice, policy and thinking, making him seem like a natural fit within Council, with already established connections and knowledge of its workings. That’s not to say he can’t have his own opinions too. But expressing them and positioning him carefully is important, so that he doesn’t appear too much of an individualist, or outsider.
Case Study Two – A book for a state-wide not-for-profit organisation. The book features stories about members and chapters on the achievements of the organisation. Most crucial is that is does not look, feel or read like a report. It must be intensely readable, with a flow and fluidity that carries the reader through the entire work enjoyably. The stories about individuals must be entertaining, insightful and possibly moving, but they must also speak to the status and accomplishments of the organisation. The writing has a challenging job to do here - smoothly blending the personal and the organisational in an enticing and engaging way for readers inside the organisation and out. After all, this book will be both a celebration and also a promotional tool for growing the membership. Additionally, it has also come to be seen as something of a blueprint for the future executives, given the achievements of the past. That’s a hard working product, and the most expensive this organisation has ever produced – big reasons to get it right
Case Study Three. A delightful coffee table book publicising a global network. The writing must align seamlessly with the branding which is highly quirky and fun, using vintage imagery. This calls for particular language and cute phrasing. The trick is to make it seem highly polished without being overworked. The network appeals to baby boomers and Gen X individuals who are well-read, travelled and cultured. The book is sprinkled with literary, cultural and historic references which must make sense and be correctly applied. Make sure your editor has an arts degree.
Ever thought you might have a newsworthy story, or a business success which you'd like to see celebrated in local newspapers?
And ever suffered from a sense of frustration at not being able to bring that news story to fruition?
It helps to know a few of the ins and outs of dealing with newspapers. They're often looking for stories - but they need as much help as you can give them. Here's why.
Putting together an article, press release is easy for someone with the experience in areas like journalism, copy-writing or advertising.
If you haven't got that experience, or you're just one of those people who can't put pen to paper, why not get a professional to do it for you? It may not cost as much as you think, or take as much time. You'll end up with a well written story that you can deliver to the media in completed form, and perhaps more of an idea of how to create stories about your business which are of interest to the media, next time round.
Copyright Fiona Stocker 2014.
This article appeared in the Tasmanian Times on 24th November 2014.
Last Friday I had the privilege of watching children from northern Tasmania’s public schools play at the annual Esk Band Extravaganza, and wondered how many more years I would be able to do so before the present government ‘comes after’ the program with its cost and opportunity cutting scythe.
During his compering on Friday night, Esk Band Director Peter Quigley was at pains to point out the benefits of the program, specifically its relevance to an education system now obsessed with numeracy. Has ever a word been co-opted in such a stultifying manner? That he should have to do so is an insult to his skills, and the creativity, confidence, accomplishments and capability the Esk Band generates in our young people. This program sets them uprichly for life, and is run by real, dedicated and knowledgeable educators, people who know how to take a child and form them into a successful, well rounded young adult whose talents and ability to integrate and succeed in society are fully realised.
Through the teaching of the Esk Band team and Launceston College, four students were accepted into the Australian National Youth Orchestra in 2012. This is an outstanding achievement in a state where such excellence should be treasured, and the people and institutions generating them fostered and nourished.
Despite the Esk Band concert, Friday was a depressing day for me. In my work as a writer, I interviewed a community leader in Avoca where the school will shortly be closed. When the school closes, the shop will close and that will be the end of that rural community. In Meander Valley the school, which this year achieved joint second NAPLAN results in the state, will also be closed, and another community will be scattered and dispersed.
I have witnessed the systematic dismantling of communities, industries, health and education systems once before, during the Thatcher years in England. There is no recovering from it. The health system in England continues crippled. The education system is characterised by cut throat competition for places and young people under extreme pressure. In some ways, those former mining towns in the north may have recovered after the coal industry was shut down, but in many ways they have not and those century old communities with all their social heritage and history are dead and gone. More broadly, the legacy of those years leaves an unbreachable north-south divide in England, and a sense of a ‘them and us’ society split between the haves and the have-nots.
When I look at the current program in Tasmania of closures and cost cutting, staff reduction, unwanted amalgamations, mooted closures of teaching programs, and schools increasingly cut to the bone, I see that our private school children will continue to engage with the Chinese President and enjoy all the privileges and advantage of wealth, and our public system school children will continue to have opportunities punitively grabbed away from them. I see an education system which takes away richness and creativity and replaces it with a system designed to satisfy bean counters who have no real investment or interest, who are not educators, and who appear to have zero social conscience about the two tiered system and society they spawn. I wonder how they sleep at night.
Over the next few days I will be contacting Keith Wenn, the Principal of Launceston College where the Esk Band program runs, and Peter Quigley the Director of the Program, to ask what I can do as a parent to prevent the Esk Band program or indeed Launceston College from falling to the sweeping scythes of the cost-cutters. I will be contacting the President of my School Association, and my School Principal, to ask that they write a formal letter to the Department of Education and the Minister, instructing them to reverse their decision.
If you are a parent of a child in the state school system, I suggest you look to your guns and do something. Your child’s rights and opportunities are at risk. As a teacher at my school put it, we must all be very careful how we vote. That includes you parents who educate your children at a private school – your vote affects my child as well as your own and I would like you to remember that.
Those in power are not infallible or all-seeing or all-knowing. They are our public service employees, elected and placed there to do the job we expect of them, and they are failing us and our children miserably, and they are set to continue doing so. For the sake of our children, we should stop them.
*Fiona Stocker is a freelance writer based in the West Tamar. Her two children attend Exeter Primary School.
What defeated me in Wolf Hall, the prequel to Bring Up the Bodies, was the writing style. It's called 'close third person' and it's a Mantel signature. She often refers to the narrator / protagonist as 'he', sometimes at the start of the sentence when you've been reading about another character. The result can be very confusing. Often you struggle to know who she is referring to. I guess it facilitates an awareness of an inner dialogue and closeness to the character's thoughts, but it's pretty hard work.
Bring Up the Bodies was my Book Club title and I was determined to get through it. It's impeccably researched and full of historical detail and is one of those historical novels that teaches you far more that you learned in O-level history at school. How Anne Boleyn was conspired against, and the terrible, sordid charges they brought against her of treason, by taking as lovers a host of probably innocent courtiers, including her own brother. 'Bring up the bodies' is the cry given at the Tower of London when those due to be hanged are brought up from their cells, Queen or no.
And it's a fascinating, conflicted portrait of the central character, Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minister for Henry VIII. The loss of his wife and two daughters to 'sweating sickness' is sensitively told. And he's portrayed as an early social reformer, attempting to introduce income tax so that the fat cats of the land fund work for the poor in building infrastructure. A man ahead of his time. But then again, it's he who leads the conspiracy against Anne Boleyn for the King's convenience, turning a blind eye to torture, taking testimony from witnesses he knows to be false.
There is stunning writing here. A beautiful passage on what happens to the dead now that purgatory is gone, after Henry has abolished the Catholic church. 'Imagine the silence now, in that place which is no-place, that anteroom to God where each hour is ten thousand years long. Once you imagined the souls held in a great net, a web spun by God, held safe till their release into his radiance. But if the net is cut and the web broken, do they spill into freezing space, each year falling further into silence, until there is no trace of them at all?'
So glad to have persevered, and to have finally seen why she is the only author to have won the Man Booker prize for consecutive novels, Wolf Hall and this one.
Yesterday it was my husband's honour to provide lunch for Julian Burnside QC and his wife the artist Kate Durham. Today it is my hope that they return, so I can give them pro bono sausages, for all the work they do with asylum seekers and refugees. It may be a tiny gesture, but it would make us happy. My parents grew up in northern Ireland. We should all be so lucky to have a stable and peaceful homeland in which to live - it's a privilege not to be taken for granted.
It's a delightful feature of this small business that we have wonderful customers - like minded people with similar views about how food should be produced and mindful eating and living. Yesterday we had many comments, moreso that usual, about how delicious the sausages were. 'My wife said you just sold her the best sausage she's ever eaten!' said Christopher from Tasmania 40 Degrees South magazine. We promptly provided him with his own, so he could see what she meant.