Dec 12, 2015

On Holidays & Hiatus

So I have made some very big decisions this week some to do with mental well being and some to do with reevaluating goals and aspirations.

I was asked two weeks ago by one of my full time teaching colleagues some questions about becoming a novelist - they were trying to give a year 11 student some guidance.

So I was letting him know the average earnings of Australian authors and the fact that its probably best if the student has a career or some training to fall back on.

But we got talking about what I was doing and how I work part time so I can write. This got me thinking that, while I have had some success with poetry publications over the last few years, I have taken to making myself busy with projects that are on the periphery of my writing, that don't stretch me and that allow my to "hide" from the task of improving my writing.

So for 2016 I won't be reviewing.  That is to say that I won't be taking review copy to read.  I will of course still support and share other's work via social media and you may see the occasional novel that I have read to take a break from the only project that I intend to do in 2016.

I will be engaging in a Year of Poetry.  I am still formulating the structure but the idea is for me to Read, Write & Rework, Study and Engage reflectively with poetry with a view to improving my craft and output dramatically.

In essence, take it seriously.

If you are interested in following along there's a link to the poetry blog above or you can go here.

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Dec 4, 2015

Book Review–Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

some-kind-of-fairy-taleI have been saving Some Kind of Fairy Tale to read for about two years, always putting it off to read review copy. 

I knew within the first few pages that it was going to be one of those rare books that performs the magic of immersion and so delayed reading until I needed a really good read to pick me up.

In that intervening period Graham Joyce passed away.  So my joy at reading this work was tinged with the sad knowledge that there’s no more of his work to be enjoyed, that we have lost an astounding talent.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale is one of those rare books that manages to balance a sense of realism with the fantastic, that manages to rework a fairy tale retelling in a field that is saturated with fairy tale retellings.

It is Christmas afternoon and Peter Martin gets an unexpected phonecall from his parents, asking him to come round. It pulls him away from his wife and children and into a bewildering mystery.

He arrives at his parents' house and discovers that they have a visitor. His sister Tara. Not so unusual you might think, this is Christmas after all, a time when families get together. But twenty years ago Tara took a walk into the woods and never came back and as the years have gone by with no word from her the family have, unspoken, assumed that she was dead. Now she's back, tired, dirty, dishevelled, but happy and full of stories about twenty years spent travelling the world, an epic odyssey taken on a whim.

But her stories don't quite hang together and once she has cleaned herself up and got some sleep it becomes apparent that the intervening years have been very kind to Tara. She really does look no different from the young women who walked out the door twenty years ago. Peter's parents are just delighted to have their little girl back, but Peter and his best friend Richie, Tara's one time boyfriend, are not so sure. Tara seems happy enough but there is something about her. A haunted, otherworldly quality. Some would say it's as if she's off with the fairies. And as the months go by Peter begins to suspect that the woods around their homes are not finished with Tara and his family.

Much of the success is achieved I think from what looks like effortless, straightforward writing and a subtle approach to presenting the fantastical elements. Some Kind of Fairy Tale could easily have been written as an urban fantasy where the acceptance of fantastical, or the reality of another world/dimension is taken for granted in the reader.  To me though that turns the story into some form of superpower/action story.

I actually felt Some Kind of Fairy Tale dragging my experience of the text the other way.  I’m well versed in common fantasy tropes so I find it easy to suspend disbelief when it comes to fairies, fae, etc. But Some Kind of Fairy Tale puts you in that borderland where, at least for a time you are unsure of where the story is going to go.  Has Tara, missing presumed dead for 20 years, really been “away with the fairies”  or is she suffering some trauma and supressing the memories?

I also suspect that its the focus on the relationships and reactions of Tara’s return that makes this more magical realism than urban fantasy. The tale or plot is less important than the examination of character.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale is fantastical literature and enchanting read in all senses of the word.


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Nov 30, 2015

Book Review–The Taste of River Water by Cate Kennedy


If you are a fan of Kennedy’s short fiction then I suspect that you will enjoy her poetry in The Taste of River Water

The collection presents poetry with a strong narrative structure and focus i.e. these poems tell stories, the diction and register is fairly plain/natural in its delivery.


I must plant the tree seedling
a friend left here on the step
find a place for the cards.
It seems important somehow
a matter of fumbling pride
to fold all this paper square for recycling
the florist wrap from such extravagant, unwanted flowers
the envelopes
I’m saving the envelopes
I forget why for the minute.

Kennedy has been criticised for this facet of her poetry and I certainly felt that some of the poems could easily have been flash fiction if not formatted into lines. 

Still there’s something to be said for poetry that entertains, that doesn’t require copious rereading for understanding, that gives you story and emotion.

This collection is fairly accessible to the inexperienced reader and I found it a  fluid and enjoyable read for me, combining an ease of understanding and artful narrative construction.  In terms of content it also ticked my boxes for nostalgia, history and emotional engagement.

Cate is a good storyteller and that shows in her fiction as well as her poetry.  There’s a solid sense of completeness in her poems, that she’s stopped at just the right point. 

That’s probably the biggest takeaway for me as a poet, her skill at crafting story through poetry. 

Are they memorable poems? I suppose time will tell.  They were all, however, enjoyable.

Not a wasted cent here.


This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.



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Nov 28, 2015

Book Review – Lifesaving Poems edited by Anthony Wilson


In some ways this book is a very personal collection of poetry, an anthology for one.  Lifesaving Poems was a notebook that then turned into a popular blog.

Anthony Wilson’s inspiration came from a Seamus Heaney quote questioning how many poems a person can recall responding to over a lifetime.

Answering that question, as this book does for Wilson, is going to make for a very select and subjective collection of poems. What the success of the blog showed though was that this didn’t seem to matter.

Lifesaving Poems presents each of the selected poems that Wilson recalls having an impact on him followed by a page or more of commentary.  What I liked about the commentary was that it wasn’t academic analysis.  Sure Wilson may have directed the reader to technical proficiency but overall I found the commentary clear, concise, conversational and engaging.

Indeed, while some of the poems did not inspire a response in my own reading, a thoroughly enjoyed all the commentary.  Sometimes that commentary caused me to review what I’d read and develop a new understanding.

A side effect of reading Lifesaving Poems was of course being exposed to some UK poets who I hadn’t heard of.  I did experience some frustration upon discovering (and getting excited about) new UK poets only to find that their works were only out in short print runs or from small publishers whose operational costs were high and priced the works out of the market for me.

But Lifesaving Poems might just be my favourite poetry book of the year.  It’s approach to discussing poetry doing much more for me in terms of developing understanding and taste than the standard approach to reviewing and critiquing poetry.

If you’d like to sample some of the commentary go here.  The commentary text is similar if not the same to that in the book, though the formatting is different.

A worthwhile spend for lovers of poetry whether poets or readers. And as a bonus its readily available in Australia through Booktopia.

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Nov 24, 2015

Book Review– The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith


The second of three Cormoran Strike novels, The Silkworm is  the weakest of them, though perhaps that’s because I read Career of Evil prior to this and some of the tension that’s built up outside of the central plot in The Silkworm is undermined by knowledge of what happens in book three.

The Silkworm is still good crime fiction though.  I did find the plot a more convoluted than book one or three and perhaps a tad unrealistic but to tell you the truth I enjoy having the killer revealed to me this time almost as much as I like trying to figure out who had done it.

If you enjoy reading about the rather cloistered world of traditional publishing and don’t mind a few swipes at the self-publishing market the The Silkworm certainly hits the required tension of a well paced crime thriller.

Despite knowing what happens to the main characters in book three, I still found Rowling’s characterisation enjoyable.  I love the subtle sexual tension between Cormoran and Robin and the depth of characterisation provided.

I was unwell for most of the reading of this work and found just participating in the story enough of a buzz to keep reading. 

It’s not necessary to read these books in order, they do stand well on their own.  But as I have remarked previously, the best thing about the series is its central characters and their growth.

Great holiday reading.

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Nov 14, 2015

Book Review: Classic Haiku - A master’s collection by Yuzuru Miura


How much you enjoy this work will depend I think on your individual path to Haiku, whose translations you may have read first and your own experience and perhaps practice of English language haiku.

I find that I have a preference for the translations that I am most familiar with and so Miura is at a disadvantage for a great number of the included classic master’s (Basho, Issa, Buson, Shiki) Haiku that I had experienced previously. 

That’s not to say that there weren’t a number that I thought (and could still change my mind on) were interesting additions.  Compare the following:



Calm and serene

The sound of a cicada

Penetrates the rock.

- Basho (trans. Miura)


Lonely silence,

a single cicada’s cry

sinking into stone

- Basho (trans. Hamill)


What was a welcome addition to my reading and knowledge was the inclusion of lesser known (in the West at least) but still historically significant later masters like Kyoshi, and Dakotsu:


A woman

Taking a bath in a tub

Is coveted by a crow.

- Kyoshi

The 100 or so haiku are set out in seasonal format, including a section on New Year’s.  Each poem is written in English, Romaji and Japanese script, one poem to a page with attendant calligraphy or sumi-e painting.  When a poet’s work is introduced a short biographical note is attached. 

Though by all means easy for a novice to read, I do wonder if this work might provided more interest for someone with a fair bit of Haiku reading under their belt.  A worthy addition to your Haiku collection, though perhaps not a must have.

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Nov 2, 2015

Book Review–First Light : a selection of poems by Philip Hodgins


It’s perhaps a sign of how divorced from the larger Australian culture poetry is, that I missed Philip Hodgins’ rise and impact on the scene. 

The accolades don’t seem to gel with my experience: - “one of the major poets of his generation”, “a leading poet in any terms”. 

I knew nothing of him until two years ago.  And in my work as a relief teacher I have not once come across him being studied in classrooms (a crying shame considering the content and variety of his form).

This is not a criticism of the poet nor of the scene.  It is, I think the times we live in and they way that poetry survives as an art form in this country.

While much of Hodgins works can be viewed for free at the Australian Poety Library, First Light gives the reader the chance to hold a curated collection in their hand.  Something that’s suprisingly hard to do (there’s only one copy of one collection in the entire South Australian Library system)

I had searched the country for second hand copies of his Selected Poems to no avail.  That First Light is produced by an American publisher is also curious for a poet that is held with such high regard.

I am, however, an unabashed fan and although I think we may have had some differences of opinion on some things, he is my favourite Australian male poet.  I have read a library copy of New Selected Poems and in comparison First Light does as good a job of showcasing Hodgins’ best work: the skill with which he uses form and free verse, his updating of the realities of farming life in the poetry cannon and his poems on the subject of his own death.

I’ll leave you with links to some select poems contained within this collection:

Shooting the Dogs


I think any serious Australian poet should know of Philip Hodgins, particularly any one writing of a rural experience. First Light is a good compact collection that I think would appeal to lovers of more traditional form, rhythm and rhyme as well as free verse. 

First Light is available at all good bookstores and online via Booktopia.

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Oct 31, 2015

Book Review–The Storyteller and his Three Daughters by Lian Hearn



Lian Hearn has been recommended to me on a number of occasions by a number or people who know my tastes and hobbies.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why I haven’t taken them up on the recommendation.  Perhaps it’s my reaction to hyped up books and authors (I still haven’t read Harry Potter).

Sometimes other people do know you best.

Hearn is most well known for her immensely successful Tales of the Otori series, a fantasy series inspired by pre-modern Japan.  The Storyteller and his Three Daughters, however is a historical fiction set in late 1880’s Tokyo.

This book is deceptive in the best possible way.  Unassuming, quiet, steadily paced it ingratiates itself with the reader and before you know it we have gone from a tale about an aging and unhappy storyteller, to a tale of brutality and political intrigue.

There’s a skilled hand at work here, a lightness of touch in the telling of the tale. It also paints an evocative and realistic (as far as I can tell) picture of Japan in the throws of cultural crises, the fall of the Shogunate and the effect of the European colonial powers plying their culture and interests.

Not afraid to experiment, Hearn presents the dialogue in the book as it would be rendered in early novels of the Meiji era i.e. like a play script. This may pose some issues it you are particularly attached to conventional dialogue presentation, but I didn’t notice it after awhile and  I think it adds a certain verisimilitude.

I loved it for the focus on storytelling on the ancient arts of Japan and for the tales within tales, drama intrigue and subtle horror - I think an expanded version of The Tale of the Nose would sit very well in a horror anthology.

A lovely book to read, a fine example of craft.  I will be reading more.

An Australian writer you should be able to find Lian’s work at your closest library or it can be ordered from Booktopia.

aww-badge-2015_thumb[2]This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this pagefor more great writing from Australian women.



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Book Review–The Sea is Ours (eds. Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng)


This is the second volume I have read edited by Joyce Chng who shows a talent, along with Jaymee Goh, for selecting quality work and writers.

The Sea is Ours – Tales of Steampunk South East Asia quite directly presents itself as Steampunk.  I want to say though, that it’s a bit more than that.  It’s quite easy to dismiss Steampunk in general as a sub-genre that’s been overworked.

From very early on in my reading though, it was apparent that The Sea is Ours, had greater depth.  Here’s what I wrote via a Goodreads update nearly halfway through the reading:

An intriguing selection that is reminiscent of Alternative Alamat in some ways. This *is* steampunk, but where that might cause potential readers to roll eyes and think "not another clockwork collection", The Sea is Ours is much more South East Asian alternative history and is all the better for it. The steampunk is subtle in most cases and where it isn't it’s original.

Collections like the The Sea is Ours is what I think of when talking about diversity in genre.  Each of the stories contained brought a new angle or a fresh perspective on some old tropes. 

But ultimately what excited me was the stories and characters of South East Asia.  In and age long past half my history major was on Ancient South East Asian history, so for me The Sea is Ours brings back memories and adds additional threads to the tapestry of my experience.

Steampunk can feel “bolted” on a times, a clich√©, but what I found with each of these stories was a much subtler integration into both story and culture.  In some stories the technology arrives from outside the narrative’s culture and it’s adapted, in others it forms an integral part.

There’s also a good balance of the mythic and fantastical, Alessa Hinlo’s, The Last Aswang, and Timothy Dimacali’s On The Consequence of Sound, immediately spring to mind. Each author brings something fresh to this work though and for a collection that has its fair mention of airships and automatons, The Sea is Ours delivers variety in the type of story as well. 

This is a fresh and original collection that reworks Steampunk in interesting ways while showcasing talented authors who present us with the reworked and reimagined stories of their own cultures and traditions. 

Alter your perspective.


This is a review copy offered by the publisher.

The Sea is Ours is available in Australia through Booktopia from November 1st

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Oct 28, 2015

Haiku in English–The First Hundred Years

haiku-in-englishI previously reviewed The Haiku Anthology by Cor van den Heuvel, Haiku in English is perhaps best seen as a companion collection to it. 

Some of the content is duplicated in each volume but they both have different objectives. 

The former is a third edition of mainly North American Haijin (the third edition IIRC dropped some important early contributors like Janice Bostok from Australia) and it tends to provide a number of poems from prominent Haijin, enabling the reader to get a real sense of each poets oeuvre.  I believe Cor attempted to choose the best examples of the form he could.

Haiku in English broadens the field of poets to include European, UK and Australian Haijin (current and historical) and attempts to reflect the history of the form, showcasing proto-English Haiku at the beginning and highlighting experiments in short poetry that stem from this Japanese form.

Indeed the jacket copy calls it “the first anthology to map the full range of Haiku in the English tradition”. So, as the editors forewarn in their foreword, it’s not a collection of the best of the best in the form. Which is not to say that those haiku selected are deficient in any way.

Where a Haijin may have made an impact or pursued a variation to great enjoyment and success, only selected poems have been chosen to illustrate the achievement. Some poets only have one Haiku listed and it may not be that which is considered best from their body of work, more that it might illustrate an important step in the tradition.

To that end Haiku in English is more about the form and its English history than individual poets or groups of poets.

We begin with Pound’s:

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Examine parts of Wallace’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:

Amoung twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird

and then it’s more or less off into more familiar Haiku territory.

There’s some 800 poems here including those from many top poets still active in the form.  The collection is capped off with a comprehensive historical essay by Jim Kacian, which in conjunction with the various introductions collected in The Haiku Anthology, serve to preserve the history of the form and the important achievements of its Haijin. 

There is a very real danger that due to a lack of interest from the core of Western poetry tradition (despite works being included from Heaney and Collins) that much could be lost. This collection serves to head off this possibility.

Haiku in English should form part of a core reading cannon in anyone seriously attempting the form.  There’s also sufficient variety in the Haiku selected, that as a reader of The Haiku Anthology I don’t feel as though I have paid for the same material.

Haiku in English is currently available in hardback, though a paperback version is slated for release in January.

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Oct 21, 2015

Book Review–Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith


Career of Evil is the third Cormoran Strike novel.  I wouldn’t call it a series but I do think there’s some tangible benefit to reading them in order – if only to see the main characters development in sequence.

Don’t let this put you off grabbing it in the airport lounge, if you are looking for a good solid read on a long haul flight; it’s a thoroughly engrossing read.

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman's severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible - and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them...


I don’t regularly read crime (I do enjoy the genre in TV & Film) but that’s more a result of the type of reviewer I have become.  I’ll read anything that’s well written.

And Career of Evil, is exceedingly well written and paced as one might expect from Rowling.  The delivery of the story is smooth but what I really enjoyed in Career of Evil, beyond the problem solving goodness of a well written crime thriller, was the choices in character development.

I imagine in a field as well dug over as Crime Fiction, that it’s hard to not rehash plots and types of killers, so the only real area for freshness is in the characters and the drama/ tension that exists between them.

I particularly enjoyed Robin’s (Cormorant’s Assistant/Partner) story arc, indeed I feel as though Career of Evil ended up being more about her than Strike.  I don’t want to give too much away but I did feel that Rowling made some very good choices that showed Robin to be a character with psychological depth.  There’s quite a few places where I felt Robin’s character could have slipped into stereotype, but Rowling’s choices present  Robin with a good mix of vulnerability and strength that make her feel solidly fleshed out and real.

Career of Evil is a clever, well paced Crime Thriller that should keep you glued to the page.  You’ll love the characters (especially if you have read the other two books) and this character development paired with smooth delivery of a well articulated crime thriller will have you hankering for the next one.  It’s no surprise that there’s a TV series in the works.

The review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Sep 27, 2015

Book Review–Galore by Michael Crummey


galoreI have friends who are enamoured of this book, I bought it at the Adelaide Writers Festival after hearing Crummey read an excerpt during an interview with Margo Lanagan.

If authors want to sell books, develop some public reading skills and choose your passages wisely.  Crummey reeled me in hook, line and sinker.

He read (in a faint Newfoundland accent if I recall) a selection of pages from near the beginning of the novel; a  dying whale washes up on the shore and the townsfolk set about harvesting it.   Cutting it open they discover the body of a naked man, determined to give him a Christian burial…


Mary Tryphena’s father lifted the corpse by the armpits while James Woundy took the legs and the sorry little funeral train began its slow march up off the landwash. There were three stone steps at the head of the beach, the dead man’s torso folding awkwardly on itself as they negotiated the rise and a foul rainbow sprayed from the bowels. James Woundy jumped away from the mess, dropping the body against the rocks. —Jesus, jesus, jesus, he said, his face gone nearly as white as the corpse. Callum tried to talk him into grabbing hold again but he refused. —If he’s alive enough to shit, James Woundy said, he’s alive enough to walk.


It has taken me about two years to get around to reading it though, plenty of time hopefully to let the praise settle, to let the initial excitement fade.  It’s a prize winning book but I wanted to approach it as cleanly as possible.

So what is Galore?

It’s a story of people and place, the families Devine & Sellers chiefly and the community and locale of Paradise Deep, Newfoundland.

So it has elements of a family saga set in a remote and bleak locale, in a time of changing attitudes and mores.  Not perhaps a book that you want to read if you are searching for an uplifting experience. 

In terms of narrative fulfilment I was left feeling a little unsatisfied at the end of what seemed like a long tale.  The nature of the book, its focus on family members over the period of a couple of generations made it hard to really form strong attachments to characters. That and a lot of the characters were not particularly likeable. They live a bleak and oppressed existence on the edge of starvation for much of the book.

Still that being said, it was an immersive experience, the characters were tangible, the place and tone bleak and depressing in a thoroughly enjoyable way.  I was absorbed.

There are elements of magical realism, ghosts and shades that are interacted which I found no objection to, having come largely from a fantasy/science fiction background, there’s also an echo of biblical allusion – a family member cut from the belly of a whale and called Jonah.

You may note too from the excerpt above that Crummey eschews the use of quotation/speech marks using a dash instead.  It was an interesting choice, but didn’t really cause any issues once I got used to it.

It’s been compared by some to The Shipping News and tonally I’d say they were similar, neither perhaps an advertisement for Newfoundland but they are both very distinct in their representation of people and place.

I enjoyed Crummey’s writing enough that I’d pick up another work of his. 

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Book Review–The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu


I always enjoy Ken Liu’s work, whether it’s translations like The Three Body Problem or his own short work and it’s been interesting from a writers point of view to observe the difference in style between short works, translations and now a longer work in the form of The Grace of Kings.

To get a sense of what Liu presents I’ll quote an answer he gave on The Quillery blog:

The Grace of Kings is a re-imagining of the rise of the Han Dynasty in a new, secondary fantasy archipelago setting. This is a foundational narrative for Chinese literature much as the Iliad and the Odyssey are foundational narratives for the West.

By re-imagining this story as an epic fantasy using tropes and narrative techniques drawn from Chinese and Western epic traditions, I’m trying to create a new, blended aesthetic that transcends the Orientalism and colonial gaze that tends to hobble many “magical China” narratives.

The first book in The Dandelion Dynasty series, The Grace of Kings charts the rising fortunes of two friends Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu against an epic backdrop of an empire in decline. My knowledge of Ancient Chinese history is limited, perhaps even non-existent; the only points of reference are computer games set in the Warring States period and Wuxia films where the details seem to blur.  That being said there is a similar feel in the focus on heroes as agents of change, and rising and falling fortunes that have far reaching effects.

There has been some comparison made with the epic nature of A Song of Ice and Fire Series by Martin and here is where I feel that there’s a bit of a stylistic difference worth commenting on. 

Martin tells a tale by having a larger number of point of view characters and we get to witness the building of the world through their eyes.  This results in long books and lots of them. 

I think Liu achieves the same effect with a more limited focus on character, for sure there are a number of point of view characters but not as many and the world is sketched in a way that I want to say resembles the best creatively presented history books.

I had to borrow The Grace of Kings from the library and so can’t lay my hands on the text to give you an example. 

What I am trying to articulate, perhaps poorly, is that we are given a story and a comprehensive historical and cultural artefact.  To that end I didn’t find the writing as immersive in a narrative sense as I usually do with Liu’s short work, but I don’t particularly care because the world building balances that out.

There were other points of interest that tickled me intellectually: the inclusion of poetry that was not merely window dressing but that sat nicely in the cultural aesthetic that Liu was presenting, the presentation of interesting roles for women including but not limited to an extremely capable General, and some very light feminist commentary.

I enjoyed the tale and the world presentation.  It has elements that I am sure will tick a number of boxes for people, pitched battles, airships, and legendary heroes.  It’s fresh and I think Liu has managed to hit the targets he was aiming for in the quote above.

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Aug 29, 2015

Book Review: Day Boy by Trent Jamieson

day-boy (1)I recall Lisa L. Hannett writing about the Australian Gothic in Wide Open Fear, a piece for her column in This is Horror.  Trent Jamieson is part of that cultural/ literary trend in Australian genre writing and his previous short works and his Death Works series make valuable contributions to a cohort of  writers and writing that holds its own internationally. 

Then comes Day Boy , which I think might be the finest book Trent Jamieson has written to date, and perhaps the finest articulation of Australian Gothic in a single novel yet.  There’s elements of his Nightbound Land Series, the imagery and the tone, but its subtle and more powerful for that. There’s a strong voice (haunting in its poetry) that firmly pins you down to this nightmarish world and makes you believe.

DAIN SAYS WE fight to breathe. We fight to be born and forever after we’re all rage at the brevity of the world and its multitudes of cruelties. I’m not sure about that. But we fight. And we Day Boys fight like we’re men angry and sanguine. Little soldiers marking doors with chalk, sketching the seven-pointed Sun upon the wood. Working and walking, all strut and talk—until we fight. And then the talk doesn’t matter anymore.

Writing good, entertaining stories is difficult in itself, writing stories that work one subtler levels at the same time is a sign of craft and this book is a work of well honed crafting.  You could say that Day Boy is a tale of post-apocalyptic Australia ruled by vampires as seen through the eyes of one of it’s yet- to-be masters and you would not be wrong but you’d be missing much: Jamieson’s artistry at bending well used genre tropes to his will, his explorations of relationships between fathers and sons (even if they are proxies), about the relationship or tension of living with the Australian environment (even in its post apocalyptic state) and about loving, losing and growing up.

It’s a work that the Australian Speculative Fiction community needs to notice not just because its a fine rendition of what one of our best writers is capable off, but of what can separate Australian writers from a homogeneity of genre tales internationally. I commend Text Publishing for publishing it, for recognising why it’s an important tale and for perhaps exposing it to a slightly different audience.

Buy it or borrow it. Just don’t miss it.

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Aug 22, 2015

Book Review- Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

not-my-father-s-sonHow do you judge a memoir? Are we judging the quality of the writing or making value judgements on the life displayed within? Both?

Looking purely at its technical aspects Not My Father’s Son was exceedingly well structured.  The writing fits with Cumming’s public persona - it’s lively and cheeky and witty but not silly.  Above all I’d say it feels honest and perhaps that’s what enabled it to get under my guard. I wouldn’t say that I am a fan of Alan Cumming but I have certainly enjoyed his work since first seeing him in Circle of Friends.

I read Not My Father’s Son without any forewarning as to the contents, I hadn’t seen the episode of Who Do You Think You Are referred to in the book.  If I had to pin down what piqued my interest I’m not sure I could tell you, other than having seen him recently on Australia’s Book Show and thinking to myself that he’d be an interesting character to read about.

So the fact that he starts with the physical and emotional abuse perpetrated by his father came as a little surprise.  That’s not to say that it was structured this way as to hook in the reader, more I think that Cumming decides from the outset that you, the reader, are going to get the truth straight up.

Despite its rather harrowing content, it felt like it had the pacing of a page turner. Sure, famous peoples lives can be interesting, can fulfil a morbid curiosity but I don’t think it was some perverse voyeurism that kept me glued to the ereader screen.

Not My Father’s Son, is billed as a family memoir.  This is an apt description, for though it focuses on Alan’s early life and his abusive Father, it also investigates and interrogates( with help from the Who Do you Think You Are program) the death of his maternal Grandfather.  Cumming switches between childhood,the present and the near past weaving three parallel narratives together and finishing with a heart warming conclusion.

It’s part catharsis, part historical mystery.  If it weren’t true I don’t think the events that stretch across generations and families would be believable in fiction.

I had an idyllic childhood by comparison.  That Alan Cumming was still here to write and reveal this story is a testament to his spirit and humanity.

Kate Forsyth Answers 3 quick questions on The Beast’s Garden

Kate Forsyth’s latest novel is an Historical Thriller set during World War II. Based on a Grimm’s fairytale, The Beast’s Garden is a mix ofthe-beast-s-garden tense wartime espionage and enduring love. It’s a very human story, about what small groups of people can do and what we hope people would do when faced by an evil that is unacceptable.


1. What challenges or advantages does reworking a fairy-tale or folk tale present to you?

One of the biggest challenges in reworking a myth, or legend, or fairy tale, is that people often know the story, and so it can be difficult to build suspense, or to surprise the reader. I think suspense and surprise are two of the most crucial ingredients in any story, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can subvert or confound readers' expectations, while still remaining true to the spirit of the story.   

2. The setting and characters of The Beast's Garden bring with it the added requirement of sensitivity due to the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi's.  What was your greatest concern in dealing with the Holocaust as part of your fictional tale?

It was soul-harrowing research and soul-harrowing writing. I was conscious at all times of the need to show, as much as I could, the true horror of the Third Reich, while not losing sight of hope and love and the small acts of kindness and courage that helped to save a few - only a few - from the horror of the death camps. 

Isabel Allende says to write what must not be forgotten. I wanted badly to honour the lives of those who did their best to resist Hitler, even at the cost of their own lives. It's been a great relief to me that so many readers have contacted me, and told me that they found the book incredibly beautiful and moving as well as heart-rending and sad. 

3. Your Doctorate in fairy-tale retelling and your recent novels would suggest that you have a far greater exposure to the genre than most people.  What discoveries have you made about the genre that might surprise those of us who grew up on abridged versions of Grimm's tales?

It was fascinating to me to discover that fairy tales have their roots in ancient myths of death and resurrection, from the very dawn of human language - around 300,000 years ago.  I had not truly realised just how old such wonder tales are. 


I’d like to thank Kate Forsyth for taking time out of a relentless schedule to pen some thoughts for the blog. You can purchase The Beast’s Garden from all good bookstores or if you’re remote like me, Booktopia.

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Aug 7, 2015

Fae Visions of the Mediterranean – Call for Stories

Fae-logo The wonderful folk over at The Future Fire (who brought us We See A Different Frontier) have just extended the cut off date for their latest venture Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.

To be edited by Valeria Vitale and Djibril al-Ayad, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean hopes to showcase the Mediterranean sea, and all the myths, legends and history related to it.

Here’s the Call for Stories:

Quivering mirages, ghost ships, glossy scales slipping away beneath the waves; we are seeking progressive and inclusive short stories about wonders, terrors, omens, sea-monsters, apparitions and other folk creatures and horrors from throughout the Mediterranean region. You might find inspiration in medieval bestiaries and the margins of maps and manuscripts; stories whispered by pirates in the long nights at sail; horrible and marvellous visions shaken travellers barely dare to recall; names of creatures known by everyone in the streets around the harbour; particularly troubled nightmares you had or someone shared with you.


You have until September 30 and the guidelines are to be found here

It’s worth noting that they are also running a Kickstarter for the Tenth anniversary of The Future Fire Magazine on Indiegogo. Check that out here.

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Aug 2, 2015

Book Review – The Beast’s Garden


Very well known for The Witches of Eileanan Series, Kate Forsyth continues to establish a foothold as a writer of historical fiction for adults. 

It began (at least in my reading of her work) with Bitter Greens, which managed to blend historical fiction with myth and fairytale; to give the reader a set of tales that inhabited a narrative borderlands where the fiction and non-fiction elements were separated only by a thin veil. 

Then with The Wild Girl, (Forsyth’s tale based on the life of Gretchen Wild), the fairytale element formed part of the backdrop, informing the story or perhaps underlining it.  Readers were given a well researched and imagined historical.

The Beast’s Garden, is slightly different again.  It’s a reimagining of one of the early Grimm tales, The Singing, Springing Lark.  So if you know the tale then the plot might not present too many surprises.  Then again part of the fun in reading fairytale remakes is seeing what the author does with the story.  I must stress though, while based on the plot of The Singing Springing Lark, The Beast’s Garden is not in the least bit fantastical.  Indeed in the afterword, Forsyth informs us, that apart from the central characters and their families, all the other major players are historical figures.

While ostensibly a love story, there’s tension and action reminiscent of the World War II thrillers I grew up reading and watching.  The setting is Berlin 1938-45, covering the rise to prominence of the Nazi’s and the effect of the regime not only on the Jewish-German Berliner’s but on those who saw their beloved country torn apart by an ideology of hate.

In The Beast’s Garden we have Ava (the Beauty) the third daughter of a previously prominent Professor of Psychiatry, she’s inherited her mothers Spanish looks and talent for singing. Her family is close with the Feidlers, a Jewish family whose father worked with hers and whose mother practically raised Ava after her own mother’s early death.  We have Graf Leo von L√∂wenstein.(The Beast) an officer in the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) who is smitten by Ava’s beauty and her forthright spirit in the face of the regime.  What follows is chiefly Ava’s and Leo’s story as they struggle against the fear and the regime, each in their own way.

Writing an historical fiction set during World War II is a daunting prospect – it’s a period that’s been worked over considerably in non-fiction, fiction and by Hollywood and countless other entertainment industries.  Indeed some 75 years on and it isn’t hard to find a contemporary project based on this era of conflict.  Then the writer must consider the Holocaust, how to handle a reality that still effects so many.

So the bar is set high, I think for a writer who wants to write fiction that entertains but is also true, not only to the written history but the emotional one.  I think in this case Forsyth has done well.  The holocaust is not glossed over and it’s not played on to manipulate our emotions.  There are scenes set in Buchenwald, but Forsyth keeps the emotional focus tight on particular characters and their attempts to survive. The enormity of the holocaust (hard to envision on a personal level) is revealed through juxtaposing reports received by Leo of the mass exterminations with what the reader knows from the prisoners point of view – a personal response magnified by numbers on a page, large numbers.

I also felt that Forsyth captured particularly well the state of fear brought to bear by the Nazi’s not only on the Jews but on other Germans who didn’t support the regime - fear of being reported to the Gestapo by your own servants or family members.  Much of what propelled me through the novel was Forsyth’s ability to sustain tension, fear of the authorities, fear of being discovered engaged in subversive activities, fear of those you love.

There are many stories in war and with 75 years of storytelling the action adventure angle has been done with varying degrees of success.  The Beast’s Garden is not about strikes and counter strikes, hero’s storming the beaches but it’s every bit as engaging. It’s a very human story, about what small groups of people can do, what we hope people would do when faced by an evil that is unacceptable.


This review is based on an uncorrected proof.

aww-badge-2015This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.




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Jul 20, 2015

Book Review – Shifting Infinity by Patty Jansen

infinityShifting Infinity is the second novel set in Patty Jansen’s ISF – Allion Universe and continues the story and characters presented in Shifting Reality.  I thoroughly enjoyed Shifting Infinity for the same reasons I enjoyed its predecessor and the various novellas before that which have slowly built the wider universe.

So what do I like?  The story chiefly.  I read it in two sittings and if I’d had another book in the series to read, I’d have read it as well.  Stylistically, I think the prose is fairly transparent, it does a very good job of letting the move along and makes it approachable.

I find it can be hard to categorise the content.  Jansen includes aspects of Military SF, Space Adventure and Competence SF.  She underpins the whole world with solid Hard SF world building and manages to introduce a diverse set of characters (diverse genders, religions, races).  All of these combine to give the work broad appeal.

There’s also a wider universe with epic potential. There are teasing snippets/clues laced through all the works that Jansen has written in this series that hint at larger forces at play but Jansen brings the focus down to one character Melati, a scientist/ teacher of Indonesian background. 

The character has grown in confidence and ability from the first book and I am really enjoying Melati’s development. At one point I felt that Melati’s training in weapons might have been a little to quick to achieve the competency she later displays but then again I am forced to confront my own lack of experience and knowledge of firearms training and question my assumptions.

So what’s happened since Shifting Reality?

After Allion ( the forces that oppose ISF)  captured the New Jakarta space station, Melati  made it to the safety of the ISF warship Felicity but had to leave her family behind.  She joined the ISF force division in the hopes that they would liberate the station.  Instead the Felicity has laid siege to New Jakarta for 10 months.  Melati is increasingly frustrated with the slow movement of the ISF which seems to be content to play a conservative approach, and not care about the thousands of civilians trapped under deteriorating conditions

A rare escape from New Jakarta, a merchant who appears to have been tortured, is caught by ISF patrols.  Melati with her specialisation in constructing Mindbases (AI intelligences for vat grown clones) is called in to help, although the ISF seems keen to execute him as quick as possible as a spy.

The reality is much more interesting though.

Shifting Infinity is a page turner and should have something for everyone.  A believable, if at times annoyingly self-doubting protagonist(don’t get me wrong I really like the character and my annoyance is a good indication that I am invested) who is not your usual hero.

Please write more Patty Jansen.

aww-badge-2015This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.





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Jul 16, 2015

The Haiku Anthology by Cor van den Heuvel (editor)

the-haiku-anthologyFor any compendium of Haiku to make it to wide publication seems amazing (from my reading, Haiku was/is generally supported almost exclusively by small press in the west) but The Haiku Anthology made it to a 3rd edition and until Haiku In English - The first Hundred Years, was probably the latest and largest collection of quality English Language Haiku and Senryu in print.

It catalogues works from the beginning of the genre in the west to the late 1990's and reading it does give you some idea of the various historical changes and trends while  also displaying the variety of approaches in what seems like such a restricted form.  If I have one minor gripe, it’s the absence of works outside of North America.  I understand that in earlier editions it included the work of  Australian pioneers like Janice Bostok and possibly for space and target market reasons these have been dropped.

The Haiku Anthology includes the previous two edition’s introductions (yes that’s three different introductions) all in reverse chronological order.  This was  informative and provided historical information that’s likely to get forgotten as the genre moves on.

There’s a broad range of nature and urban Haiku and the Senryu vary from the rude and obviously comic to being difficult to decide whether they are Senryu or Haiku:

Alan Pizzareli’s Senryu vary from:


the fat lady

bends over the tomatoes

a full moon



reaching for

the wind-up toy

it rides off the table


There’s some early work by JW Hackett in the 5-7-5 format:


Half of the minnows

within the sunlit shallow

are not really there


and then there’s Nick Virgilio’s work, which demonstrates the form’s applicability to urban situations:


approaching autumn:

the warehouse watchdog’s bark

weakens in the wind


and it’s power to handle grief and passing


my dead brother…

hearing his laugh

in my laughter


In terms of gender representation the collection is about 70/30 in favour of males, which I found interesting in the context of the Australian scene which seems largely dominated by women.  Perhaps its the effect of early proponents such as the Beat Poets (Kerouac and Ginsberg) who lent it some early legitimacy/cool for men interested in the form.

For the poet who intends to write Haiku, the anthology is a must have (either this one or Haiku in English above, which I take as a 4th edition, Cor van den Heuvel I assume, having passed on the editorial reins) even if it’s just for the ease of having a large number of quality Haiku readily at hand.  Additionally If there’s one thing that is annoying about Haiku, it’s not being able to easily track down print collections of quality proponents.  I have been trying to track down copies of Anita Virgil’s work and this collection is about the only place you’ll find a large number grouped together in print.

For the general reader, it might be a bit much to take in at once.  Haiku is one of those forms that gains depth with more understanding of the technical aspects.  So it’s worth figuring out how a good Haiku is constructed while reading the collection.  That being said, some of the Haiku and Senryu contained don’t require an understanding of the form and are “wordless” in getting their image across.

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Jul 15, 2015

Book Review - Suspended in Dusk by Simon Dewar (Editor)

suspended-in-duskWhoa! Is this review overdue?  Initially received before I entered into reading for the Aurealis Awards, it’s survived a couple of e-reader crashes and short fiction burnout. 

A first outing for Dewar, Suspended in Dusk is a solid foray into horror short fiction with some great work from more well known names and some pleasant surprises.

It’s also the work that made me confront my own high(unrealistically so) standards for horror.  I don’t now what it is but for some reason if you slap the word horror on something I expect to be horrified and really that’s an unrealistic expectation, one that’s not applied to my reading of say fantasy or science fiction.  Indeed in most speculative fiction I am content to be merely entertained.

And horror can be so personal.  I can remember being terrified by Dracula as a preteen but now Vampires have lost most of their horror for me.  No, for me the horror is in the real.  In those situations that can occur.  Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves are the stuff of action tales.

So the only tale that approached that ridiculously high threshold for horror was Tom Dullemond’s Would To God That We Were There, a story about a human mission to Mars.  On reflection I think its Dullemond’s ability to get the psychology right in this one that made the horror work.  We are presented with protagonist who is matter of fact in telling the story. We are drip feed you details that allow us to piece together the horror just before it becomes blatant. It’s the everyday monster that we can’t see. I shivered.

If we view the work through the prism of entertaining and engaging stories Taming the Stars by Anna Reith gives the reader a different angle to the vampire milieu.  It’s not that this sort of story hasn’t been written before, but I enjoyed the language and style. Likewise with Alan Baxter’s Shadows of the Lonely Dead, I saw the ending coming but sometimes you like to have some types of stories repeated, even if it’s to confirm the fantasy that justice prevails.

Interesting for its unique take on both the Post Apocalyptic and Ghost Tale genre’s is SG Larner’s Shades of Memory, sort of the Dark Tower meets MR James plus a touch of gore.  It’s the first story that feels noticeably Australian to me as well.

Sarah Read’s Quarter Turn to Dawn was another case of putting a new spin on an old idea.  Despite the fact that what was happening in the story was blindingly obvious, I was engaged in the story, characters and her evocative descriptions of coral zombies.

Finishing the collection with The Way of All Flesh by Angela Slatter was a judicious approach I think.  So much of what I have commented upon above, is present in this story ie standard horror tropes and settings . But oh, the tone, the word choice, the register and the structure- damn near perfect.  Slatter could probably write a shopping list at the moment and make it an engaging bit of art.  Did it horrify me? No.  But it was like drinking a fine wine, knowing you were drinking a fine wine and having all expectations met.

There were stories that didn’t grab me at all.  But I’ll go back to my point about Horror being intensely personal, possibly more so than the other subgenres.  The stories that stood out to me, play to my likes and preferences or were just damn good.  It’s a solid collection with some standouts.  A good collection for a debut editor especially around so slippery a theme as Dusk.

The review copy was provided by the editor.

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Jul 11, 2015

Orange is the New Black - My Time in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

orange-is-the-new-blackIt’s school holidays and I have just mainlined series one of the TV show Orange is the New Black.  It’s an engaging series and particularly refreshing in that the cast is weighted towards women (obviously being set in a women’s prison).  Lots of women’s stories and back stories and Piper acts as a great touchstone of white middleclass people like me.

The memoir Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman forms a very loose framework for the series.  If you are looking for what might happen after Pennsatucky and Piper fight then you won’t find it in this book(I am aware that I am behind in the series), indeed if you are looking for a broad range of women’s stories ala the TV show then you won’t find it here. 

Orange is the New Black is focussed on the real Piper Kerman, it’s her story.  In some ways the memoir is less dramatic than show, less of an entertainment piece and more of journey of self discovery and a critical look at the US correctional system, as perhaps it should be.  I’d personally be a bit wary about telling the stories of other inmates.  When a person has had their freedom removed and much control over their own life curtailed, taking their story is the last thing I’d do.

Having finished it, I am left with a nagging concern about modern correctional systems.  If the prison system operates as Kerman says it does under the US Government, I am doubly concerned about those instances where corporations run correctional facilities, like our offshore gulags for refugees.

It was an engaging read, worthwhile reading if you have a very black and white view of incarceration.

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Jul 5, 2015

Book Review – The Big Smoke by Jason Nahrung

the-big-smokeI doesn’t seem that long ago that I was reviewing Book 1 of this series, Blood and Dust but it’s been two and a half years.

Blood and Dust was initially released through Xoum digital publishing, both it and The Big Smoke have now been picked up in paperback and digital formats by genre specialist publishers, Clan Destine Press.  I read The Big Smoke in two sittings and although time has dulled the memories of how well paced Blood and Dust was, I have a feeling that Nahrung has got better (which is significant considering I already had a high opinion of his work).

All the stuff that I liked in Blood and Dust is here; a distinct Australian flavour that doesn’t strike the wrong chord and cause me to cringe(culturally), well articulated differences between city and country, there’s even state rivalry.

Relocating the story to the “Big Smoke” (slang for The City) brings with it some challenges, specifically creating a believable culture of vampires living in the capital of the Queensland.  In Blood and Dust it was just a vampire bikie gang versus corporate vampires and Kevin caught in between.  In The Big Smoke, there’s got to be more cultural complexity and those cultures have work together as well as under/ along side mundane society.

Here I think Nahrung has done exceptionally well filling out vampire culture in Brisbane and hinting at the rest of Australia.  If we don’t somehow get another book in the series, it won’t be a stake through the heart but I will be sorely miffed. 

There’s the Von Schiller organisation and a whole host of competing vassal families somewhat reminiscent of the world of the Godfather, where the Don is an ancient Teutonic vampire with access to the vampiric equivalent of elite paratroopers. 

The plot is deceptively simple.  Kevin Matheson has come to Brisbane to kill the vampire that killed his mother and consumed her memories.  As if Kevin being turned himself wasn’t enough, Mira Von Schiller had to desecrate his mother’s memory.  So, all Kevin has to do is storm the near impregnable Thorn, a latter-day fortress of concrete and glass and kill her.  Only it’s never that simple.

Not quite the road trip that Blood and Dust was, The Big Smoke still manages to feel like high octane excitement and Nahrung has been quite content to let some of his darlings die and not rise again. A classic revenge tale combined with internecine Vampire politics, a touch of hard boiled cynicism and a body count to match a Bruce Willis movie.

More of this Mr Nahrung and a movie/television miniseries starring Aaron Pederson as Taipan if you please.

This review copy was provided by Clan Destine Press.

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Jul 3, 2015

Dimension 6 Issue 5 is out now.

Dimension 6 is offered free of charge by Coeur de Lion publishing.  Free to us the public, but the writers still get paid.  Please take advantage of this wonderful service they provide and perhaps discover a new author.

This issue features -D6cover5-219x300

‘Going Home Sideways’ by SG Larner
They say you can never go home. But maybe they’re wrong…


‘Red in Tooth and Claw’ by David McDonald
Could a single human be a match for the hostile environment of the planet Hope?


‘The Pass’ by Jessica May Lin
Grandfather protected the children who lived in the strawberry fields from the monsters. But now he was growing old and weak.



Mobi/Kindle version

Epub version

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Jun 14, 2015

Book Review - How to Haiku by Bruce Ross

howtohaikuI continue to find writing Haiku endlessly fascinating. It’s a form that I can return to again and again and still find something fresh.  So I am always keen to read advice on how to write Haiku.

I don’t tend to favour an overtly spiritual approach to writing the form and so Bruce Ross’ approach, which I feel does stem somewhat from this vein was initially …well not off putting, but presented a small hurdle (this is my baggage I think). The again, perhaps I am simply focussed on improving my technique and any “fluff” so to speak, how ever eloquent, poses an annoyance ( patience Sean-san).

How to Haiku doesn’t knock of its pedestal, Jane Reichhold’s  Writing and Enjoying Haiku - A Hands on Guide, as my number one recommendation for new Haiku writers. I did find it offered additional insight though.  So I think that its worth coming to, after you have had some experience and experimented with techniques outlined in Reichhold’s work.

In general I enjoyed Ross’ inclusion of relatively contemporary American Haiku in addition to traditional Japanese examples.  I felt that this gave me a sense of where tradition has been continued ( albeit slightly altered through the change from Japanese to English) and where contemporary Haiku poets have begun to experiment or diverge.

I also enjoyed the inclusion of other forms of Japanese Poetry ie Haibun, Tanka, and Renga/Renku. 

One of the things that I struggle with in reviewing poetry is the technical language with which to talk/ discuss it.  Ross’ explanation/analysis of the poems he presents was aimed at a broad audience (leading some readers to criticise it as boring) which I think acts to both give the reader some pointers on how to talk about Haiku in addition to providing an explanation of the content and techniques.  Better to over explain I think.

Like Reichhold I do appreciate Ross’ “Guideline” approach to the writing of Haiku.  He presents the tradition, gives you examples of that tradition – contemporary and pre-modern and leaves it up to you.  I think this allows for respect of the form without slavish adherence to rules that I think will ultimately restrict it and result in stagnation.  His discussion on the difference between the qualities of Wabi and Sabi was also helpful.

In each of the other forms mentioned above I gained something from reading Ross’ work.  I have struggled for sometime to attempt Haibun and Ross provided four different approaches and highlighted traditional and contemporary examples.  His identification of the divergent traditions of Tanka were similarly illustrative.  His explanation of the linking in Renga was perhaps the best I have come across.

So, a worthwhile addition to your library?  I think so.  Not a beginning point but certainly worth it for those with some experience/exposure to the form under their belt.

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