Blog posts

Don’t touch that dial

A reminder to stay tuned to 94.9 MAINfm today to hear Elwood Writers’ Helen McDonald read from the group’s anthology, Every Second Tuesday.

Helen will be on The Quiet Carriage with Paul J Laverty from 1:00pm. You can listen on the radio, or online from anywhere in the world.

For listening info, go here.

The Quiet Carriage is MAINfm’s dedicated literature show all about books and authors, hosted by Paul J Laverty. MAINfm comes out of Castlemaine in Victoria.

Happy listening!

The Quiet Carriage | 94.9 MAINfm

Tune in to The Quiet Carriage on Castlemaine’s 94.9 MAINfm at 1:00pm tomorrow to hear Helen McDonald of Elwood Writers reading from our anthology Every Second Tuesday. Helen will be reading stories and poetry including … well, we don’t want to spoil the surprise, so you’ll have to listen in to find out.

Hear the program on the radio, or online, or wait for the podcast to appear on Spotify. We’ll share the podcast on this website as soon as it’s available.

For listening info, program details, and more about the work of MAINfm, check out the following link:
94.9 MAINfm | Castlemaine and Mount Alexander Radio | » The Quiet Carriage

The Quiet Carriage is hosted by Paul J Laverty every Friday from 1 to 2:00pm. All aboard!

Margaret Ann Spence: Joyous Lies

On the front cover of Joyous Lies by Margaret Ann Spence we are told, ‘If plants can protect their young, why can’t humans do the same?’ Then, in an extract before the prologue, Maelle remembers the time she was told of her mother’s ‘accident’, which, as she guessed, turned out to be her mother’s death: ‘Maelle saw the lie in her aunt’s eyes’. Intriguing – children can sense the truth. That kind of saccharine coating is not a protection. And so the scene is set, plunging the reader into a drama with twists and turns of family relationships that provide the essence of this beautifully written book.

The Prologue is written from Maelle’s mother’s point of view and we are with her just before the fatal ‘accident’ at night in a laboratory – questions about her motive for going there and the detail of what happened will lurk, distracting Maelle from her PhD research on plants’ communication.

Most of the book is set in a commune established by Maelle’s grandparents when Neil, her grandfather, was a Vietnam War draft resister. Maelle was about ten years’ old when her mother died. She went to live on the commune with her grandparents and the various others, mainly of their generation, who had kept it together since the 1970s. There we can smell the nourishing meals of freshly-picked vegetables, the bread from the oven, and we can feel the softness of the angora, spun and knitted by Maelle’s grandmother. But there are also knowing looks exchanged, secrets, half-truths.

Most of the story is from the point of view of Maelle as a young adult with a scientific career before her – sometimes we see through the eyes of her grandmother, Johanna, who finds her partner of fifty years, Neil, a ‘grizzled man’ who ‘kept tangling in her mind with his golden youth’. In spite of the communards’ values, much of the time Neil seems to treat Johanna with disdain.

Early in the book Maelle meets Zachary, a young psychiatrist, and there is an instant attraction. When, after a short time, Maelle takes him to the commune to meet her family, Zachary acts strangely and some extraordinary links emerge that shed new light on the mystery of Maelle’s mother’s death and further divert Maelle from her studies, threatening to undo a great deal more than her relationship with Zachary.

In tandem with the mystery prompted by Zachary’s reactions when he visits the commune is another equally compelling plot line. Neil agrees to the chic thirty-something Pamela Highbury making a documentary about the commune. This poses a huge threat to Johanna, who wrongly assumes that Pamela is having an affair with Neil. And given that Pamela claims to be interested in ‘documenting human failings’, the project threatens to unravel the essential fabric of the commune. The stiletto-heeled film-maker will disapprove of the ‘feudal power’ under which the women have been engaged in traditional roles such as pottery and dairy, and the men in more strenuous activities.

But the question underpinning Pamela’s investigation is fascinating to the reader (as well as to Pamela’s potential audience): what became of the Hippies? Feeding into this question are matters of coping in old age; working on a commune doesn’t provide retirement benefits. Johanna and Neil aren’t legally married. Does Johanna have rights as his partner? To what extent has the commune genuinely adhered to a non-capitalist way of life?

When, near the end of the book, everyone comes together to view Pamela’s documentary, I was fleetingly reminded of the end of an Agatha Christie novel, when everything comes together in resolution. To the communards’ (and the reader’s) relief, some ‘lies’ are mercifully concealed.

This book is superbly crafted: deftly paced and captivating. What is more engaging than a child wanting to find out how and why her mother died? And now that those people of 1970s ‘Flower Power’ are facing old age, it is intriguing to ask, what is life like for them now? Do they still live by those ‘hippy’ ideals? There are strong characters too – I was particularly drawn to Johanna and to Maelle as she pieces together what actually happened to her mother.

Margaret Ann Spence grew up in Melbourne, Australia, but has spent most of her life in the United States where she worked as an award-winning journalist. After some years she moved to Arizona, joined a writers’ group and decided to take up writing fiction. On her website https://www.margaretannspence.com/about.html Margaret says, ‘I write about women and their families, and the secrets that lie beneath’. Margaret’s first novel, Lipstick on the Strawberry, was published by The Wild Rose Press Inc in 2017. It won the Romantic Elements Category in the First Coast Romance Writers 2015 Beacon Contest, it was a finalist for the 2019 Eric Hoffer Book Award and in the 2019 Next Generation Indie Awards. Joyous Lies is Margaret’s second novel. Do get hold of a copy of this suspenseful book. Details of how to obtain it are below.

Margaret Ann Spence, Joyous Lies, The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
First Edition, 2021
Trade Paperback ISBN 978-1-5092-3472-1 Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-3473-8 Published in the United States of America. The book is now available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Joyous-Lies-Margaret-Ann-Spence/dp/1509234721 and will soon be available from Barnes & Noble and other good book stores.

New-Year Highs

While last year was taken up with the production and launch of our anthology Every Second Tuesday, each of us was also busy working on our individual projects. We all rounded off the year on personal highs.

Jennifer’s short story ‘The First Day’ was awarded a Highly Commended in the Port Stephens Literature Awards 2020.

Margaret’s story ‘Pastry Fever’ appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of Door Is A Jar literary magazine (Issue 16). Door Is A Jar is a US publication of poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, drama and artwork.

Helen was excited to have her poem ‘In deep blue’ selected for Democratic Poetic | Poetry Matters Issue 40 December 2020, a gathering of the journal’s finest poems from 2006 to 2019.

The successful launch of Barry’s first book Broken Rules and Other Stories in September was followed by the publication of Every Second Tuesday, and Barry is already planning and writing his next book.

The creative spirit surges. Watch this space throughout 2021 for more Elwood Writers news.

A ‘Live’ Concert at Last! Music, She Wrote

“The theme of this concert: ‘Music, She Wrote’ was an admirable exploration of the work of women composers of the 19th and early 20th century.” Jennifer has begun 2021 by attending a live concert, with live performers and an in-real-life audience, and no Zooming in sight. From her own website, here’s Jennifer’s review.

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The venue for this concert was a fairly new space in suburban Melbourne, The Button Factory. A pleasant place to be on a hot day with a bar at the back, plenty of indoor plants and an interesting gallery. https://thebuttonfactory.com.au/

I had heard nearly all of the performers in pre-Covid days – often in concerts associated with the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM). I had assumed that all were fully professional and was surprised to read that some of them have ‘day jobs’ such as pharmacist and physiotherapist – a sign of the hard lot of the professional musician.

The theme of this concert: ‘Music, She Wrote’ was an admirable exploration of the work of women composers of the 19th and early 20th century. The only composer I’d heard of was the most recent, Margaret Sutherland (1897 – 1984).

As I sat listening to engrossing substantial pieces…

View original post 828 more words

Art Inspires Art

Helen McDonald reflects on how art forms enhance each other:

“I’ve always been interested in the way that one creative process influences another. When I was writing my poem ‘Stark against the sky’ the third stanza wasn’t working for me – the words on the page didn’t capture what I was trying to say. I struggled, then left it alone for a while.  Sometime after I went to a musical concert and was mesmerized by a beautiful new composition by composer Alice Humphries – Salt. Her work is inspired by her personal connection to and love of the sea. And as I listened my third stanza wrote itself.

‘I want to float on waves
of roiling love and not
be pebble-sucked
and churned beneath the watery depths’

Months later I walked into an art gallery, and there, right in front of me, was the exact twisted tree I had imagined in the first stanza of ‘Stark against the sky’ – a perfect miniature lithograph by artist Robyn Leeder. I bought it on the spot and it hangs in my study above my poem – a visual impression of my written words. Music, poetry and art melded into one.

Give thanks for the artists – without them we would all be soul-starved.”

You can read Helen’s ‘Stark against the sky’ and other works by Elwood Writers in our new anthology Every Second Tuesday, available now in paperback from Readings online bookshop (in Australia), or from Book Depository (for overseas buyers). The ebook is available from all the main ebook platforms, including Kindle.

That Was the Week That Was

A quick summary of last week’s Elwood Writers events:

Wednesday saw Lee Kofman launch Every Second Tuesday. This online event was hosted by Readings, and included a Q&A where Elwood Writers talked about the group and the anthology.

On Thursday, Jennifer and Barry discussed Every Second Tuesday with David McLean on 3CR’s Published…Or Not.

Friday’s special edition of Cover to Cover on Vision Australia Radio featured readings of stories from the anthology. The program was repeated on Sunday.

For more information on how to pick up a copy of Every Second Tuesday, please click here.

Now, Voyager

It’s one week since Every Second Tuesday was launched by Lee Kofman in a wonderful online event hosted by Readings. If you booked a ticket to the launch, you will have received a link to the recording. That link is still live, but will expire shortly. But you can save the video forever by clicking on the link and choosing the download options in the viewing window. Then you can watch it this year, next year, or whenever suits.

Now the book is sailing steadily on its journey. One of the best ways to support Elwood Writers is to read our work. For book lovers in Australia, we’d encourage getting hold of the anthology from Readings. Overseas readers might want to go here.

Or if you’d like to support a favourite bookstore but they don’t have the book in stock, why not ask if they can order it in for you. The ISBN is 978-0-6450041-0-6 and the publishing imprint is Rightword Enterprises.

The e-version is available from all the usual places.

If you have any issues or questions, do get in touch in the comments and replies box below this post.

Happy reading!

Anthology stories

The podcast of last week’s Cover to Cover is available by clicking through to the Vision Australia Radio website. You can also find the podcast on Spotify.

The program features readings by Alison Davies and producer Tim McQueen of stories by Elwood Writers from our new book Every Second Tuesday, including Jennifer’s ‘Teleférico’, a selection of Helen’s haiku inspired by Japan and Australia, Margaret’s ‘The White Woman’, and Barry’s ‘Tongue’.

Happy listening!