2020: Emerge

Very occasionally it takes until deep into February to be able to put words to the page and write about what it is my yearly theme is going to encompass. I definitely don’t plan it this way but that’s kind of the thing… and it’s something that I’m noticing and reflecting on in particular at the moment.  When I made my own spin on this resolutions/goals/yearly focus technique (it’s definitely not mine or unique to me), I wanted it to work on my subconscious. I’m an overthinker, I’m anxious – I wanted to try and have a system that wouldn’t encourage that in an unhealthy way. I wanted it to be working whether I was actively doing things or thinking about it or not.

So what the means is, you can’t have it both ways, either you set it up to run through intuition and subconscious feeling and go with that, or you block it out, schedule it and adhere to it (or pick a new system). So, sometimes despite the fact it makes me antsy, it takes until deep into February to be able to really express my thoughts about the year ahead, my theme and the year’s enquiry. I could change this and make it more structured, but especially with where I am in my life right now, I value things that strengthen my subconscious and put things outside of the realm of my conscious control and overthinking tendencies.

So here we are, deep in to February 2020 and I let got of ‘Plateau’ quite a while ago, I felt the transition into my new enquiry – well before I had a chance to think about it much or consider what I might hope for out of this enquiry. My 2020 theme is Emerge. So last year, with Plateau what I wanted was to move forward, but not push myself outside my comfort zone and try and prioritise self-care, and rebuilding resilience and continuing to recover from burnout. And now in 2020,  I want to take that progress and continue. But I want to push a bit further, I want to edge outside my comfort zone, tackle some inner baggage and try and appreciate where I am now and what I want in the future.

Clouded leopard emerging, facial closeup, peaceful

That’s actually a critical point that I only realised this past week. The future. I’ve been so in the depths of survival, of getting by, making it through, and even acute recovery that I hadn’t thought about ‘the future’. Critically, that’s what Emerge enables me to do, which is so exciting it’s almost frightening! It has been *so long* since I could contemplate a future, that I felt I had control over and the ability to guide, or fantasise or be ambitious about.

I will also say though, that the ‘future’ is such a weird concept right now as we’re deep in the depths in Australia of political corruption and disfunction, and hopeful optimism doesn’t really make that much sense right now. Stress and anxiety I’m experiencing, like many others around me seems to be pretty rational given the context of the world and the context of our lives and society around us. Even when we speak up, it’s shouted down, we’re ignored and we’re exhausted enough that we just keep on going. Like others I will keep working to change things and I sincerely and genuinely hope for better, but it bears acknowledgement amidst any shiny discussion of the future and possible things. (We’re at a point where even ordinary ambition is tempered by the political climate and the challenges therein, how does this even make sense – it DOESN’T).

So what does Emerge mean to me right now? This is the beginning, although I’ve been reflecting for a couple of weeks already. I came across this beautiful piano sequence as I hunted for inspiration to help my words. I’ve kept playing it over and over this week while I’ve gathered my intention to properly write. I think there’s a lot in the sequence that speaks to me right now, I hope you enjoy it too.

Again, I’m not going to set specific goals, but there are some areas that I’ve noticed are important to me, and so those are the things I’ll mention right now. I think more than many themes, I need to not put boundaries around this theme and instead, let it happen and let myself stretch as I’m able to and as opportunity allows.

Midwifery

I want to continue to be the best midwife I can be. My focus here remains on being kind, being the best colleague I can be, giving the best care I can, trying to improve things overall. That hasn’t shifted, and I think I could probably own this as a lifetime goal. I want to continue to broaden my clinical experience, return to practising in birthing suite among other things. I want to pitch to the National Conference, something reflective about practising currently, maybe with a midwife friend. I will also continue to study my Master’s degree, because that will fuel all of this. And fuel my self-care that sits between doing the best I can for an individual family, and wanting to improve the system overall. I will persist.

Health

I continue to work on my health, pain management. This year it looks a little like tackling a long-standing phobia of exercise. I’m working with a really loving and kind personal trainer who is lovely. My goal is simply to ‘not hate it’ so that I can start to unravel the trauma history and gain the benefits of exercise that include not only improvements around my hypermobility and health, but also those elusive endorphins I know are in the offering – I just can’t reach them right now because of trauma. I’ll get there. So far so good, this is already in progress and I’m hopefull. Here’s to fitness professionals who really listen and engage and don’t pretend or make things up or otherwise, but instead take someone at their word and make them feel safe and supported.

Reading

Australian Women Writers Challenge badge for 2020, purple background with black silhouette of a woman in a hat in a frock with an umbrella. White text overlaying with the title of the challenge.I plan to continue as I did last year, my Goodreads goal is 75 books but I’m not-so-secretly hoping to make 100. I will also re-sign up to the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge (this here will in fact be my pledge post). I pledge at the ‘Franklin’ level to read at least 10 books and hopefully review 6 of them (likely this will be through Goodreads). Mostly I plan to let this be an area of leisure and enjoyment rather than work. That said, continuing to look for new authors and stories from diverse backgrounds remains one of my aims.

Self Care

Reading leads on to self-care. This is such a constant thought for me, it’s never far from my overthinking brain and so I’m trying to acknowledge that I already do so much, consistently for self-care – the boring not indulgent type of things like sleep hygiene, stress management, health things, as well as leisure time and down time. It’s still a work in progress, I suspect it always will be, but I will continue to focus on making time for myself and putting msyelf first in my own life. I am hoping to be better with social contact and spending time with friends and even meeting new people this year. I’m still skin-hungry and lonely in some ways, but all things in time, but I’m keeping that in mind as well. But not rushing. Mostly I want to spend meaningful time with my loves connecting with them and appreciating my connections and relationships. Anything else is a bonus.

In summary… Emerge is, gently edging out of my comfort zone, starting to push forward, starting to excercise my ambition. It’s about letting myself *feel* ambitious. It’s about cultivating my confidence and sense of power, as well as continue to centre those in my care as a  midwife in how I practice – but making sure I continue to be the best advocate I can for them. I’m not in such an acute recovery state anymore – healing is still ongoing, but I’m finding equilibrium again. I can move forward. 2020 is about progress, after everything I’ve been through, it’s the year I Emerge. I’m a little frightened, and nervous. But I’m also excited to push myself and see what is possible. I want to try as hard as I can – I don’t want to be the person who holds me back. So here I am trying to prove it. Here goes *everything*.

 

 

Leaving the Plateau

As I mentioned, this blog space has languished this year, not intentionally but it’s been a big year for me personally and inwardly. I haven’t had a lot to say externally. 2019 and my theme Plateau has been good for me, from where I started and what I put out there as my hopes and intentions for the year, to now where I have ended up. I have continued with moving forward, but at a gentle pace (mostly) that focused on recovery from burnout and heartbreak. If I am honest, I’m still in progress for these aims – there are parts of me that still feel so very broken and I struggle to put myself first in my life. And yet, it’s been a gentle kind of constant self work that I’ve persisted in and will continue into the new year.

I didn’t set specific goals, I rarely do because they can easily become a source of hypervigilance and perfectionism for me that feeds unhealthy habits that I’m working to shift into a healthier space. But there were focus areas that I listed some loose ideas of what I wanted and hoped for. I really did embrace the idea of a Plateau for rest, with some forward momentum but with less pressure and prioritising myself. Not pushing or being too far outside my comfort zone, taking time to be where I am now and shore up and improve my foundations.

A view of Ha Giang, on the border of China and Vietnam. Green mountains in the background with blue sky and clouds. IN the foreground a winding mountain pathway but right in front, a daisy in hyper focus.

Also, my process here can look distinctly like a lack of process and intentionality. However, that’s not actually true. Instead, the process is deliberately subtle and speaks to background thought processes, letting things work in the background. As someone grappling with fairly profound anxiety, overthinking, perfectionism, always-on-productivity, always putting others first, I’ve worked hard to create a way to know that I’m doing self-work and growth but not to be using it as another stick to beat myself with. For me that’s why having a theme is so useful to me, it’s a guiding central concept and then I let my brain mull over it throughout the year. The concept and related ideas ebb and flow toward the front and back of my mind. I always learn things, I always grow in unexpected ways. I always find that moving forward and putting to rest one theme in preparation for a new one, that there was a unique journey and that in all honesty the process allows me to get the best of that introspection and reflection that I do as an ordinary part of being in the world. This process also allows  me to set goals when and where I actually find them useful, whether it’s a goal for the day, or the month or just because there’s a thing I want to undertake. I’m not beholden to decisions made back in the beginning of this process… it’s a guide, and then the actuality is the always amazing vast difference and where all the learning and growing happens.

Where am I at now at the end of 2019?

Midwifery

I’m growing into my sense of self as a midwife. My theory and training are starting to merge with my practice and experience. I am recognising how I am a trained professional, I’m not pretending and I don’t feel unworthy, unqualified. I feel like I can provide an amazing connection and support to families during a momentous time in their lives. I am grateful to those midwives I look to for mentorship and as examples for how I want to grow. Their generosity and kindness is deeply appreciated. Similarly, I already notice how important it is for me to spend time with students and graduates and provide support, kindness and mentorship to them.

White banner with intersecting circles Hands, Heart and Mind and the kind of midwife you will be. Midwife is in the centre of the intersecting circles.

I started studying my Master of Primary Maternity Care this year. It’s a transformative program and designed in such a way to train graduants in skills to create change in how maternity care is delivered in Australia, improving models of care and outcomes both for those we care for, and for midwives ourselves. It’s designed not to deliver a qualification for the sake of it, but something that can be utilised to generate a more powerful midwifery force in Australia – something sorely needed. The program is rich in detail and engages deeply with current literature, and it seems to appeal to people similar to me, who are equally passionate about change, improving things, making a difference. It feeds into my desire to leave my profession better than when I came to it. It helps to keep me centred on the midwife I want to be and how I want to practice. It’s hard work, but I am loving it.

Also, it provides a measure of self-care because the state of maternity care in Australia is that fragmented and medicalised care is the standard. It leaves the families we care for often feeling worse for wear, and those of us working as midwives in this system, it can be so disheartening and anger-inducing. I’m not the kind of person to shut down and ignore and just get on with things. I want to make things better. I want women to come through their experience of maternity feeling powerful and amazing, not hollow, or worse, traumatised. I’m so glad I started Masters as it allows me to pour that desire for improvement, my anger, sense of powerlessness and helplessness into trying to develop the skills, experience and acumen that may mean I really can change things for the better.

I continued to support the Australian College of Midwives, both on a national level and as part of the Victorian committee. I value being involved and learning. I am invested in this profession and this is another avenue for supporting myself, supporting others and improving things generally.

 

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How do you know you’re at a midwifery conference? Well the giant placenta is a great hint…. So amazing and knitted! #acm2019

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I also again went to the National Conference, this year in Canberra. It was glorious. I refilled my bucket so much! I got a lot out of the program, but more importantly just getting to be in a room full of midwives who care. Who all come together and care. I’m excited to consider how the conference may grow and change into the future to be perhaps less academic in focus and more focused on ways people can improve things in practice that may be relevant to midwives working in broader settings. Starting my Masters this year was also good for going to conference, the director of my Masters made a point of finding me at several intervals and introducing me to so many other people as one of ‘hers’ (I definitely felt the love and wibbling associated with my deep desire to ‘belong’ and it’s definitely something I rarely experience so fully). I met so many people and the fact that she took the time to introduce me and put me in conversation with other leaders of our profession, other amazing midwives and women who are determined and powerful and seeking change, like me. It was humbling and inspiring.

Self Care

I’ve maintained everything I started in this area of focus. I’ve consistently sought to maintain balance, prioritise good sleep and enabling opportunities to practice having down time, doing fun things for the sake of it, genuine leisure time. I’ve seen movies, spent time with friends. I’ve said ‘no’ to so many things, and ‘yes’ to so many others. I’m still wrestling with prioritising myself and putting myself first, but I am no longer feeling anxiety when I do this at least. That’s progress. I’ve grown more accustomed to prioritising my own time for myself, which has meant not cooking when I didn’t want to, getting a car home from work when I didn’t want to wait for the next train. I’ve also determinedly worked on putting in requests for my rosters to try and have them work better for me and mess with  my timelines less.

I also had some profound experiences with connection this year, one particular encounter provided a singular and powerful opportunity for me to heal, reconnect with my intimate self and the ability to connect with others on that level. I’m not back to myself in this sphere  yet, but I have a doorway thanks to this dear friend’s time, energy and care. It’s like I met myself for the first time again, that’s how profound it was. I realised how much I’d cut myself off from physical touch, and given it’s an area that has strong importance for me, I’m still sad about how much I’d suppressed that need. The rawness of how skin hungry I am, hungry for touch intimacy comes with profound sadness, and I’m treating myself gently here. But I’m also trying to give myself  more of what I had denied myself through fear and the kind of broken coming out of my heartbreak and relationship breakdown from 2018. Twelve months is too little time to have made more progress here, but these small leaps were so hard won, they’re so important to me and I hope they make it easier to continue healing in this area.

Also, it bears mentioning that undertaking self care in a context where it literally feels like the world is burning down around you and the worst aspects of society and civilisation are running rampant is… a challenge. So I recognise that there’s only so much that self care can do in the wake of what is an entirely reasonable response from my brain to what is going on around me. It is horrifying, and that does have an impact. It sucks, but it is reality and I’m trying to do the best I can to stand for what is right and the kindness and humanity I want to see into the future. It’s hard. It’s not perfect. And to be honest a lot of my activism is in my daily job, it takes a lot out of me and there’s not a lot leftover afterwards, I have to hope it still counts. I hope I’ll grow  more energy and be able to do and fight for more.

Reading

At the time of writing, I’ve surpassed my minimum goal for reading and I’ve read some magnificent books. I set a goal of 50 books for this year, so far I’ve read 73. I also participated in the Sara Douglass Book Series Award, which was awarded in March. I love series, I love the extended storyline and the possiblities conferred by having an epic scale to play with. There were some amazing books that I read and discovered, several had been on my to-read list for ages! I discovered new authors and read books I may otherwise not have prioritised.

Australian Women Writers Challenge badge for 2019, forest green background with black silhouette of a woman in a hat in a frock with an umbrella. White text overlaying with the title of the challenge.I participated in a very low key way in some reading challenges, namely The Australian Women Writers Challenge – I’m sure I’ve completed that although I’ve not finalised anything so that’s another task for this week (maybe I’ll even post my short reviews from Goodreads here as a round up). I also participated in Beat The Backlist which was a lot of fun and a reason to focus on books published prior to 2019 and to try and reduce the to-read list a little. Not sure I succeeded much in reality if only because the list of books to read, is ever growing. It was a nice area to focus on and that’s another administration thing I need to finalise this week so everything is counted.

I had a loose intention to read more diversely and I don’t think I really had much success here. I just didn’t have enough brain left over to work harder in my reading. So I’m sure I’ve read some books that include authors and protagonists that come from a range of different areas of diversity, but I didn’t track it and I think I’d have noticed if I’d wildly succeeded at this.

Dining Out and Cooking

Letting myself enjoy going out to dinner as a hobby was a wild success. I did a lot of this and enjoyed it massively. I delight in amazing food experiences and I revelled in it this year. I plan to continue, up to and including moving house so that we can be in an area that more facilitates this. I ate at casual restaurants, takeaway, food courts, fine dining restaurants and pretty much every permeatation in between. I loved all of it. I didn’t get to a degustation event, but given I am a picky eater I am often worried I’ll arrive and not be able to eat anything so I’d still love to do this, if I can find suitably flexible ones. I did get to eat homemade tagliatelle in Heidelberg, Germany that was tossed in a wheel of parmesan with cognac and finished with truffle, it was one of the best things I ate in 2019 and the photo doesn’t do it justice:

Cooking was less successful in how much I did, but I did focus on doing it pretty much only when I wanted to. That made a huge difference and I can feel my sense of burnout in this area wearing off. I also bought a new fancy food processor that makes short work of things that used to take forever which is marvellous. I made scones start to finish in less than 15 minutes a couple of weeks ago.  Fox has done some cooking but not much, he’s just as much recovering from burnout as I am, and cooking has always been stressful for him, so we’ve taken that gently this year. He’s still managed several things and in certain areas has maintained confidence even if not advancing. It’s enough, the point is great food and enjoying things not beating ourselves up. And if we ate a lot of takeaway this year… who cares, it’s not the end of the world. When I cooked, I wanted to and I meant it. I did make at least one recipe that I’ve been wanting to make for years. 

It’s definitely a year where I started to upgrade my kitchen machinery, buying a rice and grain cooker, an air fryer along with the aforementioned food processor. Each has already earned it’s keep. The sodastream that Fox got us for Xmas has already earned it’s keep! Bench real estate is definitely at a premium, but the tech has made saying yes to cooking easier more often. So there’s been less sense of ‘have to’ and unsustainable effort involved. Honestly I think we just need to move so that I can have a kitchen that is not down the back out of the way and cut off. I want to cook and socialise, listen to media and watch media while I potter. It’s not really possible right now. Still, I made the best of it I think and I’m happy with how this ended up.

I didn’t end up participating in the Food 52 Cookbook Club, but it’s something I’d try for again – there was at least no sense of failure or stress around this. It was something I hoped to manage – and mainly as a away of hooking into ways to enjoy cooking and feel joy and delight in it. I didn’t get there and it’s fine, it’s still there for whenever I want to try again (probably next year).

Travel

Fox and I had a magnificent trip to Germany, I loved it – despite the challenge of blisters in vastly uncomfortable places and ongoing difficulty with foot pain. It was magnificent, I loved getting to spend so much quality time with my live-in partner and I’m excited to travel more. We’re tentatively planning several trips now… and I want to travel with other friends and partners too. We didn’t manage any Victorian escapes but we still love the idea and maybe I’ll have a better handle on my roster in the coming year that might make it possible.

The best thing about travelling is that I’m out of my routine, there’s a lot of disruption to my productivity cycle and anxiety cycle in this that I noticed. Also, I still really like staying in interesting hotels and I’m definitely a 4 stars and up kind of person. I think I converted Fox to that too. I learned a lot going overseas for the first time, both about myself and how I am in the world,  how Australia is in the world and it was valuable and rewarding and opened up a new experience of myself.

 

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The Alte National Gallery isn’t open today, but the building and statue in front are impressive!

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2019: Embracing the Plateau

The time has come for me to let everyone else in on my theme for 2019. I stumbled upon this one scrolling through Facebook, but it struck me like a bell. One of the people I follow in my capacity as a midwife is Dr Sara Wickham, who posted about an article ‘In Celebration of Plateaus’. I read the pull out quote and it resonated so strongly with me.


I suggest we reframe plateaus as being both physically and psychologically purposeful, rather than worrisome or in need of a remedy


Davis E (2018). Labor plateaus and our sexual natureMidwifery Today. 127: 14-16.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that 2018 was hard going and left me feeling quite wrecked and burned out. I now feel a strong pull to recover and rebuild myself into who I want to be going forward. This is not the hiding away from the world and protecting myself deep inside like my year of Chrysalis, but neither is it pushing myself forward ambitiously and putting myself out of my comfort zone as I did with Cusp.

2019 is about moving forward, but doing so in a way that is sustainable and building on the future I want for myself and who I want to be. I think that will require reflection and a lot of self awareness about what I want to keep from my yester-self and what new things I want to try on. What better way to do that than embracing the idea of a plateau. So yes, Plateau is my theme for 2019.

A view of Ha Giang, on the border of China and Vietnam. Green mountains in the background with blue sky and clouds. IN the foreground a winding mountain pathway but right in front, a daisy in hyper focus.

The idea of a plateau is often held as a negative. They are often perceived as being stagnant of growth and with a sense of holding back, or taking the easy route. However, as with all things, there are more positive ways to consider plateaus.

Plateaus are rest points, while you’re climbing, or pushing, learning, or building. There’s also often a view, even if it’s specifically of the progress you’ve already made and how far you’ve come. Plateaus give you the chance to continue to progress, slowly, and without exerting extraordinary amounts of energy. You get to maintain forward momentum, but in a way that continues to allow recovery before you start climbing again.

I want this year to be a year where I do move forward. I want to do and try new things, but I want that to be rooted in a foundation of self care and healing. I want to prioritise coming back from the burn out I began 2018 with and which was exacerbated by the trash fire that largely describes last year for me. I want the option of stretching myself and choosing ambition, but not at the expense of recovery.

So what might that look like? Here’s a list of what I’m thinking, I’m keeping it simple because I don’t want to pin myself down or feel weighed down by goals and obligations, even those I set for myself. I am going to split it up into areas just because I can visualise it as a balance better.

Midwifery

  • Be the best midwife I can be and keep growing and learning as a part of that.
  • Keep reflecting on my practice as a midwife and connect with other midwives and learn from their experience and mentorship. Be generous with my time and support to other midwives and students.
  • Start my Masters degree. I enjoy studying and I do want to do research in the area of midwifery, so this is a first step. I plan to take it slow and let myself be immersed in it. I am hoping this also fulfils part of what I mention above regarding connecting with other midwives.
  • Continue my support of and contribution to the Australian College of Midwives as my national peak body.
  • Go to the ACM National Conference, it’s as much about learning and growing as it is connecting with other midwives. It fills my bucket.

Self Care

  • Continue prioritising the things for my physical and mental health. I am lucky that I have health professionals I trust to work with on this and this is already something that’s in progress, it just deserves its own dot point in my opinion.
  • Continue to practice relaxing and letting myself have down time without worry or fear. Let myself have fun just for its own sake. This is just habit rewiring, it wasn’t really possible for a long time and so now it’s something I struggle with.
  • Play the video games I want to play, and watch the television and movies I want to watch.
  • Go to the cinema for the immersive experience that turns your brain off.
  • Maintain sleep hygiene stuff so that sleep remains a priority. Obviously as a shift worker my hygiene is mixed, but I do my best to support something of a routine way of handling the changes.

Reading

  • I want to read more books than I read last year, I didn’t set an ambitious overall reading goal though. I am aiming for 50 books and I hope I beat it hand over fist.
  • I’m also pledging to do the Australian Women Writers Challenge again in 2019. I just enjoy this challenge a whole lot. I’m going to pledge at the Franklin level, to read 10 and review 6. I hope I exceed this too.
Australian Women Writers Challenge badge for 2019, forest green background with black silhouette of a woman in a hat in a frock with an umbrella. White text overlaying with the title of the challenge.
  • I am also doing Beat the Backlist again, because my TBR list that I regularly prune is still over 600 books. So, reading the books I already want to read, that’s the plan.
  • I still want to increase the areas of diversity I’m reading in, more queer writers, more non-white writers, more writers who are disabled or neurodivergent.
Coloured books in the background with banner text white on black background 'Beat the Backlist'

Dining Out and Cooking

Dining Out is one of the hobbies that I started to develop last year but I think I want to highlight it a bit more. It’s a hobby Fox and I share, also something my girlfriend Omega and I share. Additionally, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed but it also will tie into self care and having fun for the sake of it. I want to try new restaurants and maybe even review them. Mostly I just want to explore all the amazing food that other people are making.

That’s because cooking is a hard one for me at the moment. I feel like I’m burned out on cooking as well because of how it was so critical in recent years. Meal planning and being frugal were absolutely necessary. And I got extremely good at using food creatively and cooking amazing meals that helped us to get by, not *feeling* like we were missing out while we had so little income. It worked really well, but as a result of doing it full tilt for a few years, I need a break so I’ve been doing a lot less of the style of cooking I’m most used to and comfortable with.

I still do it, this week I made an amazing carrot cake decorated like a fox face! But it’s more sporadic rather than being a cornerstone of my days and weeks.

A fluffy looking cake of a Fox face with icing ears stuck on and orange icing, black detailing and white cut outs. Background is rainbow fabric.

So any dot points for these items?

  • Try new restaurants, including fancy fine dining and casual dining.
  • Try to attend one of the one-off dining events that happen every so often.
  • Go to a degustation event.
  • Continue to cook what I want and when I want, try not to let obligation or duty dictate things too much.
  • Continue to teach Fox to cook and encourage him to build confidence here, but also mindful of his burn out too.
  • Join in some of the months of the Food 52 Cookbook Club, it was fun for the couple of times I joined in last year and I loved the focus on a single cookbook in the company of others.

Travel

  • Do some mini weekend trips with Fox to Victoria as whimsical escapes – like wineries and bed and breakfasts, trips to the south coast.
  • The big ticket item is that we’re planning on a trip to Germany in July, it will be my first overseas trip and I’m ridiculously excited. Not sure that I’ll get in any other countries this time around, but travel is a long term thing that Fox and I both want to do more of together.

So 2019 is about embracing the plateau as a useful way to move forward, while seeing where you’ve come from, and taking care of yourself while growing and changing. Here’s to the new year, a new theme, and the best hashtag about those I’ve come across: #twenty-nice-teen.

Alchemy in 2018

I feel like in some ways this post has taken forever to come together. And it’s one of those years where finding my theme took longer and while the concepts were clear to me, the overarching word to tie them together was elusive. But I made it, with some wiggling and as always with abiding love and thanks to @dilettantiquity and @ravenari for talking things through for me in useful ways to get to this point.

So for the entirety of 2017, I swear I could almost feel the precipice beneath my feet, the open space ahead of me and I was poised on that edge the entire time. I thought when I got to 2018 I’d have some kind of word like ‘flight’ or ‘leap’ or something but it’s not that simple. And I’ve found that when I realise that what I thought isn’t going to work, I just have to sit with it and let that go, and then be open to what this year is actually going to be about. And what I came to understand is that 2018 is about Alchemy.

A space scape of the heart nebula, coloured in gorgeous red hues with bright stars. The image is by Robert Franke.

Having an image that represents the theme is a new part of my process and just because none of the images I found of alchemy in the proto-science historical sence fit or worked for what it means for me, doesn’t mean I wanted to forgo a focus image. So what this heart nebula image tells me is that my capacity to love is like the universe – infinite. Also about transformation and potential. Only parts of the universe are ever visible at any one time to me. I can’t take in or do everything all at once and so this is both the potential and possibility and reality of how powerful love is as a force for me, but also to remind myself of my realities and constraints. I am not the universe, just a human being, a speck of dust in the universe really. But even a speck of dust can aspire to make themselves a work of art.

This year, I don’t think I want to talk about discrete areas of intention or goals so much. I’ve already talked about reading goals elsewhere in any case. My plan is to talk about the two main focuses that are intertwined and let this enquiry be more abstract and less specific about things I want to do or achieve. I’ve talked about before how some themes are more internal than external and I think this is one of them. The process is within me and I have to work with myself and sit with the emotions and the growth in order to get the best of it.

Alchemy is about transmutation, refinement of one thing into another purer thing. Which in this sense for me is transition from student midwife to professional in my own right, capable and confident in my basic practice. It’s about the repetition and revision and intention towards myself and being  my best midwife self. Alchemy also seems to be about dedication of self to a great work… and the idea of myself as the great work is not new to me and in some ways feels like a returning to some of my core self values.

I want to build on the momentum I’ve created as a student going into practice, take advantage of all I can, learn as much as possible, listen and grow and put myself out there. But. And it’s a big one. I’m not doing this from a perfect clean slate. I’m doing this off the back of constantly fighting off burnout for the past three-four years while I was studying and there were additional pressures and stressors. So, I can’t just fling myself off the precipice and trust myself to fly, to catch myself without pause. There’s a lot of pause. The potential for burnout as a new healthcare professional is massive, particularly coming to this space with that already having been a threat that I was managing. So I must take care that things don’t blow up in my face. I must not be my own worst enemy and slave driver. I must not seek to achieve and experience at the cost of myself and wellbeing. Self care as an active and mindful process must remain central to how I engage with the year ahead and the alchemy I seek to immerse myself into as a new midwife.

For me self care continues to look like reading for pleasure, surrounding myself with amazing people and enjoying their company, conversation and connection. With improved finances I hope that I’ll be able to do more getaway type things that take me out of my routine and allow me to prioritise stopping, not doing, and letting go. Hopefully they’ll assist me with actively being able to relax and not have it be such a conscious skill I’m building basic muscle memory for (it’s a work in progress, and the fact that it requires so much determination from me is pretty telling).

So Alchemy, intention and refinement of purpose that is passionate and enduring – midwifery. But care and mindfulness, taking the precautions and seeking not to blow up my lab (read: myself) in the process. Transformation in a really deliberate way, less like waving a magic wand and  more like turning over puzzle pieces to find how they fit – how I want them to fit.

This is the beginning, and finally I think I’m ready for it.

 

Finalising (finally) Cusp from 2017

It’s nearly the end of January and I’ve been working up to writing this post all month. Some transitions in theme happen seamlessly as one year folds into a new one, others take a little bit of extra time, others finish faster. This one was a confusing transition and even though I could metaphorically feel the cliff beneath my feet, and that I was ready to step off, to take flight to go forward, something held me at the Cusp for a little longer. But now I’m ready to move on from Cusp and all I did and learned from this exploration. To give you the background to this conversation, take a look at my initial thoughts on Cusp as a theme for 2017, and my check in post from September.

Silhouette of a cliff with a blue starscape behind it. Standing on the edge of the cliff is a female figure with scarves uplifted by a breeze.I’m emerging from the space of liminality that Cusp provided for me, that breath of almost, but not quite. Holding space for that experience for the year was both challenging and rewarding, and necessary I’m certain now, in reflection that I got everything I possibly could from Cusp. This was a theme that was with me every day last year, like breathing. It encompassed so much of what the year was about, the challenges I faced, the goals I had, how much I yearned and wanted to experience certain things and how close/how far I felt to reaching the end of a major journey.

So now it’s time to reflect, to look at the different areas of focus and bring together all my awareness of the year gone by and where I stand at the culmination of 2017 and Cusp as an enquiry.

Midwifery

And I did it! I completed my degree in the study of midwifery, I’m going to be a midwife for real! I start my graduate position in late February and this also marks the completion of my second Bachelor’s degree and the end of my undergraduate studies. All the hours of study, all the hours of prac, unpaid and doing my level best to learn as much as possible, be as competent as possible, take in every moment, every little detail. And now I have my training wheels to go into practice, transition from study to practice they call it – I’m equal parts excited and terrified. I will be able to sign my own name to things that previously were always co-signed. The responsibility for others’ experiences and wellbeing will be in my hands. I know that I’m capable of this, I know I’m equal to it. But no matter what: it is so huge in my mind. I poured myself into my studies and gave everything I had to it, especially to my clinical placements seeking to marry up all the knowledge and theory I’d accumulated into how to use this in my hands and in my speaking. I never thought I could believe in, and be so immersed in something as a job and career until I started my journey to be a midwife.

A photo of a science poster on a poster board, the background is a gradient of maroon through purple and pink. The title reads 'We can change midwifery in Australia forever: Expanding the boundaries of midwifery through collaborative autonomy'. The poster features four boxes of text outlining the intro, why it matters, the plan and conclusion. There are two images, art of a pregnant person, one with a cloud of terms with implied confusion and overwhelm. The second the pregnant person is in partnership with a midwife and together they grow a tree of the experience that supports and empowers the pregnancy and family.

From my last update, I mentioned that I’d had abstracts accepted for a talk for the Student Midwife Conference and a poster for the ACM National Conference. I applied for grants to attend these, both were held in Adelaide the student conference was the day before the national conference. Thanks to the grant and the kindness of a friend who let me stay the week with them, I was able to attend both and present my work. My talk at the student conference was well received and was part of an overall remarkable day of work by other students. Seriously the calibre of work was incredible – I was so proud to be amongst them. Also, one of the keynote speakers Nicky Leap came to speak to several us and to congratulate us on our work – including me. And then she asked if she could mention my work in her keynote speech! And she did in fact do that! Which meant a lot of people made a point of going to see my poster, and my little 2 minute presentation for it also went well. My poster was awarded the best of the conference – much to my surprise. I spent the week revelling in being surrounded by my peers – and for the first time ever, that word felt true. I had peers. I was welcomed and there were so many conversations taking place about things that were directly concerned with my own study and practice. I was able to participate and share in this. I have never felt such abiding professional identity and recognition before. It was an all around incredible experience.

I especially loved connecting with the other students there who were also intent on making a difference, throwing their hat in the ring and participating with research with the aim of improving midwifery practice and access to midwives and continuity for families across Australia.

I did indeed need to do extra shifts to complete my numbers to qualify as a midwife. But these were helpful shifts and I gave my all to my last prac and these shifts determined to come out the other side where instead of feeling like I would never be ready to practice as a midwife, to feel like I was where I needed to be, ready to take the next step. If nothing else I have determination on my side and I gave my all to immersing myself in the wholeness of learning to take on being a midwife in my own right. This was only possible with the support of my preceptors who were unfailingly kind and encouraging and also demanded my best of me. They encouraged me to take point on the care we were undertaking and by the end of it I really did have the shape of things to come set in my mind. There’s so much that comes with experience in clinical practice, but we all have to start somewhere. All I wanted was to feel ready to go to that next stage and by the end I really did.

I will always be grateful to the families that let me participate in their care and help them to welcome their babies into the world. May I always be equal to your trust and give the best care I can that supports and empowers you. 

Self-Care and Development

Focus on this area was crucial to last year and that’s also something I’m taking forward into the new year and theme. You can only give your all, and do your best if you’ve got it there to give, so refilling my well was imperative – especially as I emptied it pretty much as fast as I could fill it. I dug deeper than I ever have in order to get through last year, and so I really did crawl into December as I predicted. Let me also say, that knowing that would likely happen and then experiencing it, are two very different things. It was hard. And the attention I paid to making sure there was self-care and stress relief and extra buffering for anxiety and coping made all the difference.

Close up cover shot of Marie Brennan's 'Midnight Never Come' with a glass of white wine with an outdoor table as backgroundI put in place opportunities to spend time with friends, I joined in with online spaces that were nurturing and loving and made me feel connected and like I belonged. My friends were amazing and invited me to spend time and checked in on me and made sure I got out on occasion to do fun things. I maintained the tiny rituals for taking time for myself whenever possible, like taking baths, reading for pleasure and doing my nails. I also didn’t watch or read anything that was too taxing or demanding, I subsisted pretty much on fluff and it was an excellent decision on my part. You can see more about how my reading went in my 2017 wrap up of my reading goals. (I won’t cover reading and media separately as I think between here and my goals post, I’ve said everything I need to).

I continued to do counselling, and transitioned to a practice that is ongoing rather than the stopgap short term project I was using through the Royal Women’s. I have been trying to improve my skill in meditation and have found an app that works for me that I like using and has a bunch of meditations on a huge number of topics and ranging from a couple of minutes long to 30 minutes in length, depending on what you want and need. My meditation muscles are flabby so this has been excellent to help me to just do a little bit more often and I’ve definitely seen the benefit of it – particularly in helping me to fall asleep.

I prioritised and protected my sleep as much as possible – difficult with shift work placements, but this also made a difference. I also used a phone counselling service specific to midwifery which also helped at times. I let myself reach out for support as I needed and I didn’t sit on it or wait it out, and I think that helped. I know it will always pass, but just because I can make myself get through it, doesn’t mean I have to do it, or do so alone. That was invaluable this year.

Self-care and development has also been about trusting in the chosen family and friends around me, giving of myself and trusting that what I can give is meaningful and appreciated. It’s also been about letting myself be myself and to be less apologetic about it. It’s partly an acknowledgement of how I have dedicated a lot of time and energy into being self aware and working on my own personal growth, but it’s also putting into practice the understanding that being myself is more important than being comfortable, or being liked, and that sometimes it’s a thing that takes energy to give you energy. Coming to the end of this enquiry I feel much more grounded in who I am now, and where I am going forward – and in particular that future direction and insight there is new and shiny to me. I’ve never really had that before. Midwifery has given me so much.

Domestic Life

A super fluffy pancake on a white plate topped with blueberries and strawberries, maple syrup and creamEverything I said back in September remains true – budget was lean and I think some days the hardest bit was knowing that we are so close to it being better. It was that sense of being so close and yet, so far – you can’t enjoy your budget being better until it actually is. It was very hard to be patient, harder than other years. Meal planning was still a lifesaver, and it helped me to enjoy cooking as a hobby and not just as a chore as well. We defaulted a lot to comfort food – or things that were classed as super-easy to prepare, I regret none of this. 2017 was hard and grueling, there were not enough hours in the day and there were so many competing demands. We made it through and compromising where we could made a difference. Mental health challenges were persistent for Bat while Fox was overall better than any previous year in his mental health – mine was very shaky at times, but the other two were there for me and supported me, plus I did everything I could to improve my mental health and mitigate for the things that were demanding or damaging.

Relationships

This is largely already covered elsewhere – I am surrounded by the most amazing chosen family and friends who helped me to in turn support and maintain strength in my live-in relationships with the challenges we’ve been going through between finances and health. I am grateful for polyamory and the love I have in my life, and the possibilities. Although I didn’t get to celebrate my 20th anniversary with K in person, we both spoke more often and shared more than we have managed in previous years, I assume mainly becauth K was better at answering the phone and returning calls. Regardless of how long it’s been, he’s still a daily influence in my life, I know he loves me and has my back always – he’s shaped so much of my life, my determination, my moral compass. 2018 we will celebrate and that will be incredible.

My relationship with my girlfriend continued to be deeply rewarding and our bond is something I value incredibly – we have great dates and that feeds and delights both of us, but we also care about each other’s happiness so much and it colours so much of our interaction and care for one another. I spent more time with friends and chosen family than I had anticipated, but it was so, good, so appreciated. I am surrounded by amazing people online and off and  the time, care and affection shared with me is priceless. In particular I’m grateful to some of the closed and small online groups I’m part of – I couldn’t have gotten through last year without them.


There’s not much more to tell in some of these spaces since I checked in back in September, but I got to the end of my study gauntlet and now I’m waiting only on my registration number in anticipation of starting working. I’m also on my first real and genuine break in forever. I have no study to do, no big thing due, it’s just about me. Recovery, rejuvenation, refilling my well, rounding out all the self care, and spending time and appreciation on those who’ve supported me along the way.

Reading Goals for 2018

Once again it’s time to talk about reading goals, this time for the year ahead. Reading is such a huge part of my life that I’m glad that it get specific focus in my rituals for the new year.  I’m refining and simplifying my goals from the outlandish goals I set out last year.

2017 was a year of comfort reading – there was so much going on and fluff was all I could handle. In lots of ways that’s still true, but I am also hoping that I feel resilient enough in myself again as the year progresses to read more outside my comfort zone, and challenge myself. That said, reading is my haven and one of the things I do for self-care and to take time for myself so I am going to continue in the same trend as last year and use these goals as things to reach for, but not beat myself with.

Overall reading goal

Orange-red banner image with picture of a book in white and the text 2018 Goodreads Reading ChallengeOnce again I’m using the Goodreads Reading Challenge to track this, and this year I’m aiming higher than previous years for 101 books. It’s ambitious, but I am hopeful that having finished my degree I’ll have more time and space for reading for fun. I’m really uncertain whether I can manage this many books in a year, especially going into my Grad Year for midwifery – but nothing ventured, nothing gained! I’m excited to try!

The other thing I’d like to revisit is going back to doing my series on Retro Fiction Reviews – reviews of books focusing on books by women, people of colour, and from a queer or otherwise diverse background, and that are 10 or more years older than the current publishing year. I didn’t get very far on this way back when I started it, but I’ve got more practice reviewing now so hopefully that stands me in good stead.

Australian Women Writers Challenge

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a rose background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2018Once again I’m throwing my hat into this challenge, I really love it and that it keeps me engaged with and reading new work by Australian writers, particularly women. This year I’m choosing my own level again and I’m going with my previous challenge of read and review 15 books.

In 2018 I’d really like to make sure they include some works by Indigenous and non-white authors, and works telling stories about diverse characters too. Hopefully I’ll be more successful with this – I earmarked a bunch of books last year already, so now to actually go forth and read them. I also want to finish reading through my Twelve Planets project if possible.

Bookclubs and Discussions

I also want to continue enjoying the challenges and discussions put forward by the Goodreads Reading Challenge book club, I really enjoy them and they prompt me to think of my TBR in different ways. Or to consider books I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. The year long challenge I’ve signed up for is the Clear the Shelves 2018 Challenge – my twist on it is that I’m focusing on clearing my TBR rather than not buying/acquiring books. My plan is to essentially follow the same guideline of reading 5 books on my TBR prior to 1st January 2018 for every book added on or after that date. There’s also buddy reads and monthly and quarterly challenges I’ll be participating in.

I didn’t get to do any real participation with the Vaginal Fantasy or Sword and Laser book clubs last year, but I’m hoping this year that will be more possible. Basically if the books look interesting to me I’ll join in, but it’s all bonus and nice to enjoy, rather than a specific imperative.

Bout of Books

Bout of Books button with determined woman in yellow looking tired and surrounded by books.I’m going to participate in Bout of Books 21! I enjoyed doing it in January last year and I’m excited to join in again. I had a lot of fun doing it last year and I could use something to get my reading momentum going and to distract me. If you’re interested in a fun, but low stress readathon with lots of participation interaction, this is a great one to join in with. Feel free to sign up on the Bout of Books blog if this sounds like your jam!

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 8th and runs through Sunday, January 14th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 21 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team


Edited to add a new year long challenge!

Beat the Backlist

A pile of books with one opened and the text "Show your TBR who's boss. 2018 Reading Challenge"I only came across Beat the Backlist #beatthebacklist after I posted my reading goals for the year, but this particular challenge fall into line with another challenge I’m doing. Two methods of participation and accountability are better than one right? My pledge for clearing my TBR is 50 books in 2018 (40 ebook and 10 physical) – so I’m going to use this challenge to help me with that too. I’m also going to see how I go using my instagram @transcendancing to participate. This looks like heaps of fun! I’m not going to pledge to complete any of the other challenges, that will be a happy bonus if it happens. I’m already planning to do reviews of some kind for most of what I read anyway so these align directly with Beat the Backlist and I can piggy-back happily.

Review of 2017 reading goals

Back in January, I posted about my 2017 reading goals. Back then, 2017 was shiny and new and I was hopeful for a productive reading year and my goals reflected this. I also thought that the structure of my goals might mean I would keep a better handle on my reading in the final year of my degree. Hah! Maybe hindsight knows better, but it seems funny now in retrospect.

I should have kept my goals simpler and allowed myself more give and then anything else would have been a bonus. But, we live and learn and aiming high is never a bad thing, and I think sometimes not meeting goals is as important as meeting them – prioritisation and being able to respond to changing needs is also important.

I achieved the things that were within my general comfort reading zone but the things I’d wanted to help expand that I wasn’t so successful with. Given how much I struggled with this year, I can appreciate that expansion wasn’t on the cards this time. I’m content to acknowledge I set the goals, several didn’t happen, but I know that there’s room for improvement.

Overall reading goal and reviewing

Blue banner with text 2017 Reading Challenged with a book in white on in the centre. A red ribbon with 'completed' crosses the left hand top corner.I kept my overall reading goal at 75 books and I did meet that goal which I’m pleased about. Several were shorter reads again, but I priorised stuff I knew I’d enjoy and that really was important this year. And my comment about the goal being designed to work for me and not against me still stands – no beating myself with sticks. I met this goal and of all my reading goals it was the most important to me.

I also did continue to review books, although I’m quite behind on reviews that I want to do here on this site. But I did manage to mostly keep on top of those reviews I was happy to do on Goodreads alone which I’m happy with in this context. Especially given how busy this year was and how much it took out of me. I really did struggle to have any brain or concentration for reading at all at several points.

Australian Women Writers Challenge

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.This is one of my favourite challenges and one I’ve participated in for several years. In 2017 I pledged to read and review 15 books, and I didn’t make this goal, but I don’t think I did too badly as I read and reviewed 10 books over the year. Also several of those books were amongst my favourites that I read in 2017 which is fantastic!

I had hoped to read more books by Indigenous authors in 2017, but it didn’t happen. I had also hoped to discover additional authors who are new to me, but I think there was only one – Alis Franklin who was the author of Liesmith which was excellent. I wanted to read more queer stories and even perhaps a biography or memoir or two – specifically about midwifery in Australia, but I didn’t get to it. There’s always 2018 though!

Goodreads reading challenge book club

I really enjoy this bookclub, it’s incredibly busy and active with lots of different activities. I joined in and signed up to a bunch of the activities in the first part of the year and then it fell by the wayside toward the middle of the year. Still there was some success in this area.

I joined the Genre bingo challenge and read a bunch of books across several genres – about 12 in all, but I didn’t get any ‘bingos’. I joined the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge and was successful with this! I pledged to achieve 8 of the 12 tasks – kind of picking books according to qualities like the cover etc and I managed exactly 8.  The TBR randomiser challenge was the other main one I signed up for and I nominated for 10 books. I didn’t manage to read all 10 of them, but I did manage 2. I had wanted to join in with the buddy reads across the year, and signed up for January, but my co-reader dropped out of sight and I felt too busy to sign up afterwards.

Bout of Books, Read Diverse 2017 and other book clubs

Bout of Books button with determined woman in yellow looking tired and surrounded by books.I participated in my first ever Bout of Books and it was marvellous fun! I blogged several times throughout, but here’s my update post of my week participating – it was lots of fun and I loved all the twitter participation.

I wanted to participate in Read Diverse 2017 actively – it was one of the goals I had lots of feelings about, but the year just got out of hand and I couldn’t keep up with this and I was behind before I really even got started. I’m sad about that, but regardless of a shiny organised challenge, reading from diverse perspectives remains a key goal to expanding my reading comfort zone.

Other book clubs I’d been involved in included both Vaginal Fantasy and Sword and Laser book clubs, but I really didn’t follow anything they were reading over the year – I just didn’t have enough hours in the year or concentration available in my brain. I also wanted to follow along with the Magical Space Pussycats podcast, but they’ve also been on hiatus – I still want to continue with this if they become active again.

Finish my review challenge Journey Through the Twelve Planets

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.I just didn’t get to this because the books published in this series are wonderful, and often confronting – many of them come under the genre of horror which I really struggle with. I still want to finish my reviews of the books, but the challenge itself wasn’t taken up as actively as Steph and I had hoped and so I’m happy to just quietly finish my reviews as she has done, in my own time. They are glorious books though and they’re well worth your time if you want an understanding of women writers in Australia in the past decade.

 

AWW17: Musketeer Space and Joyeux by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Three dapper figures, two women and a man with blue military jackets and rapiers leap in friendship in heroism, behind a darker skinned female protagonist with a space gun. A tree shaped by star lights with a black background and the title plus author text

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.ARC Review & Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017: Book #6 & #7

Title: Musketeer Space and Joyeux

Authors: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Tansy Rayner Roberts, 2014 (Musketeer Space) 2017 (Joyeux)

Genre: space opera, science fiction, romance

 

Musketeer Space blurb from Goodreads:

“I haven’t got a blade. I haven’t got a ship. I washed out of the Musketeers. If this is your idea of honour, put down the swords and I’ll take you on with my bare hands.” 

Dana D’Artagnan longs for a life of adventure as a Musketeer pilot in the Royal Fleet on Paris Satellite. When her dream crashes and burns, she gains a friendship she never expected, with three of the city’s most infamous sword-fighting scoundrels: the Musketeers known as Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

Even as a mecha grunt, Dana has a knack for getting into trouble. She pushes her way into a dangerous political conspiracy involving royal scandals, disguised spaceships, a tailor who keeps getting himself kidnapped, and a seductive spy with far too many secrets.

With the Solar System on the brink of war, Dana is given a chance to prove herself once and for all. But is it worth becoming a Musketeer if she has to sacrifice her friends along the way?

MUSKETEER SPACE is a gender-swapped, thoroughly bisexual space opera retelling of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Three Musketeers, which was originally published as a weekly serial on the author’s website.

My Musketeer Space Review:

I’ve been meaning to read Musketeer Space for a long time, I am not a serial reader so I patiently waited for it to be available in ebook. And then I sat on it for a long time, because I realised I didn’t want to *finish it* and not have it to look forward to. And then I got to the last year of my midwifery degree, and it seemed like the ‘perfect’ time I’d been waiting for had arrived.  I felt haggard and overwhelmed, overwrought, and desperately needed comfort reading – and this delivered everything I needed and wanted at the time in plentitude.

I am unfamiliar with any of the original translations of The Three Musketeers, and I’ve really only seen the Disney movie version. But despite this I’m familiar with the high notes of the story and I loved the way that Tansy’s retelling used these, made them so familiar and yet, completely new. If ever there was a historical tale that was suited to being recast into space opera it’s this one – what a brilliant fit! Adventure, duelling, romance, political intrigue, war and danger at every turn, space battles! This book was glorious, I wholeheartedly loved it.

Meeting Dana was fantastic, I adored her from the outset! All ambition and shiny hope! Naivety and hunger for adventure! My heart went out to her as the reality of things crashed down around her, but also relished her learning curve and resilience, plus her determination. I also loved the friendship between the musketeers, I appreciated how well I got the sense of their longtime friendship and commitment to one another very early on. Plus, I thought the way in which they befriended Dana was very true to their personalities and made sense, I absolutely bought into it hook, line, and sinker and let myself be completely swept away in the story.

I loved the political intrigue and the way in which covert romance and politics, gendered and cultural played into the telling of the story. Tansy did a magnificent job in the complexity here, painting it into a space opera setting but retaining what elements needed to be familiar, and yet managing to create a new vision that was indulgent and entertaining for the reader. The unfolding of the plot was varied, I loved the way the pace differed depending on the tension and I loved that while it was very character driven, this was not at the expense of the plot or vice versa.

Every so often as a reader you have the rare opportunity to read a novel like Musketeer Space that truly speaks to you and moves you, a book that seems to give you every heart’s desire and fill you to the brim with emotion. Musketeer Space is a spectacular book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Joyeux blurb from Goodreads:

There’s mistletoe growing out of the walls, it’s snowing inside the space station, and a sex scandal is brewing that could bring down the monarchy. Must be Joyeux! 

Joyeux on Paris Satellite is a seven day festival of drunken bets, poor decision-making, religious contemplation and tinsel. But mostly, poor decision-making. Athos and Porthos aren’t going to sleep together. Aramis is breaking up with her girlfriend because it’s that or marry her. Athos is not ready to deal with the ghost of his ex-husband. Oh, and no one wants Prince Alek to break his marriage contract by hooking up with a sexy Ambassador… 

It’s down to the Musketeers and the Red Guard to save the space station and the solar system from disaster. So… that’s not going to end well. 

This novella is a festive prequel to Musketeer Space, a genderflipped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

My Joyeux Review:

I saved this novella to read during the holiday season specifically so I could enjoy it’s festival gaiety at the same time that I was. I loved this adventure, it was short and sweet and I loved getting a sense of how the musketeers became so close. As in, even in this prequel story it’s well established that they are close and operate closely as a unit, but it also gives depth to that closeness and further layers the intimacy between them with the unexpected sharing of secrets.

Again, I loved that it was plotty, but still character driven – emotionally rewarding and entertaining. I loved the politics and the romance as always, and having this end just before the events of Musketeer Space felt awesome. This was a quick and joyful read, including all the best bits I enjoy about the holiday season and making fun of all the things that can be so annoying about this time of year. I adored it! You can read this as a standalone novella without having read Musketeer Space I think, but I also think that having read both that there’s definitely extra to be gained being familiar with both.

AWW17: Liesmith by Alis Franklin

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017: Book #4

Title: Liesmith (The Wyrd #1)

Authors: Alis Franklin

Publisher and Year: Hydra, 2014

Genre: urban fantasy, mythology, queer, romance

Black and white cover with dark-skinned protagonist in a hoodie with a magical looking staff in hand. Title of 'Liesmith' is in redBlurb from Goodreads:

At the intersection of the magical and the mundane, Alis Franklin’s thrilling debut novel reimagines mythology for a modern world—where gods and mortals walk side by side.
 
Working in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.
 
Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?
 
As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.

My Review:

This is one of the books I read for the January #boutofbooks, and you can see how much the year got away from me by the fact that it’s now December when I’m writing up my review. Oops.

I loved this book, I am deeply attached to urban fantasy as a genre and I think this is one of the best I’ve read in recent years. I loved Sigmund as a character, he was an ordinary guy – an ordinary geek, with a job, hobbies, friends and an unexpected talent for being able to tell when people are lying. He was such a relatable character! I enjoyed both Wayne and Em’s characters and thought they were pretty well realised in the story as well – also something that can get overlooked in urban fantasy.

I love that Sigmund dismisses Lain when he first turns up to work at the same place, because it meant that it wasn’t ‘love at first sight’. This is a trope that’s overdone and to me often seems to be lazy storytelling and writing, when it’s done well I notice but overall I prefer no instant-love. This meant that as the reader I got to enjoy Lain and Sigmund getting to know one another, enjoy Sigmund’s realisation that Lain was flirting with him and liked him! It was delightful and I became so invested in their romance as I got to watch it slowly unfold!

I loved the linking in with the Norse mythology and Loki, the villain and how the story unfolded, and the twist involving Sigmund and how he links into the mythology. I honestly can’t gush about this book enough, this was such refreshing and original urban fantasy that effectively delivered on a lot of what is my favourite parts of the genre – romance, but it’s delightfully queer – and as a queer reader it reads authentically to me, I could imagine having coffee with Sigmund and Lain as a couple.  Then there’s the mythology mixed up in the modern world – honestly I can’t get enough of it, and Franklin does an excellent job playing with both here. Basically, I adored Liesmith and I am really excited to read the second book in the series Stormbringer.

AWW17: Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.ARC Review & Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017: Book #3

Title: Girl Reporter (Cookie Cutter Superhero-verse #2)

Authors: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers, 2017

Genre: superheroes, fantasy, young adult

 

The female protagonist with a hat, purple hair and glasses poses with her phone with the shadow of her famous reporter mother in the background. Blurb from Book Smugglers:

From the award-winning author of Cookie Cutter Superhero and Kid Dark Against the Machine comes a brand new novella about girl reporters, superheroes, and interdimensional travel

In a world of superheroes, supervillains, and a machine that can create them all, millennial vlogger and girl reporter Friday Valentina has no shortage of material to cover. Every lottery cycle, a new superhero is created and quite literally steps into the shoes of the hero before them–displacing the previous hero. While Fri may not be super-powered herself, she understands the power of legacy: her mother is none other than the infamous reporter Tina Valentina, renowned worldwide for her legendary interviews with the True Blue Aussie Beaut Superheroes and her tendency to go to extraordinary lengths to get her story.

This time, Tina Valentina may have ventured too far.

Alongside Australia’s greatest superheroes–including the powerful Astra, dazzling Solar, and The Dark in his full brooding glory–Friday will go to another dimension in the hopes of finding her mother, saving the day, maybe even getting the story of a lifetime out of the adventure. (And possibly a new girlfriend, too.)

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

When I first finished reading this and I was updating Goodreads, I posted the following review, promising to do a proper one later.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! THIS WAS JUST SO FANTASTIC AND AWESOME AND WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!!! Is the unfiltered glee-whimsy-gush from my brain just now. It’s perfect.

Now I’m writing said ‘proper’ review, but I also think that my initial delighted squeefest is relevant because that’s what makes this book so special. It is an unadulterated, whimsical novella with a protagonist who I fell in love with instantly. I adored Friday so much, not just because she was quirky and easily someone I’d like to be friends with, but also because she’s fully fledged and has flaws and doubts and struggles with things. I loved getting to see further into the universe of the superheroes that Tansy created, I’m delighted that we get to spend more time with Solar (from the original story featured in Kaleidescope) too.

This is a superhero story with a little bit of everything – the potential fate of the world hangs in the balance! Only a band of plucky volunteers can save the day! They run into mishaps and need support from an unlikely source! Complex relationships from friendships, family, and new-found romance. Not to mention a nice little interplay between the merits of journalism and how that’s changed over time – the rise of the vlog and the immediacy of engagement and feedback versus print media and formal publishing – I loved this part.

I’m also really into the novella format at the moment – I’ve been overloaded this year and it’s impacted on my reading, I’ve found a lot of satisfaction this year in reading novellas because they’re a length that doesn’t demand too much from me, either in time or brain power. Unlike short stories that I struggle with because there is often a lack of depth and satisfaction with the story, novellas have that extra space and seem to use it well (or at least this one and the others I’ve been enjoying have managed this). But it also doesn’t drag on, or weighted down.

I also think it’s worth sharing that of all the authors I’ve read this year, I probably owe getting through the year to Tansy, because her books have cushioned me from the stress of everything going on in my life. Girl Reporter is an excellent example of how excellent characters, emotionally satisfying interactions and relationships, as well as a fun and interesting plot come together and transport you to another world for a while. All things can be conquered,  if not without consequences. Bad experiences and situations are faced, there is progress, even success and always growth as characters learn and change. These elements are consistent in Tansy’s writing, especially in Girl Reporter and it’s an excellent novella.

If you’ve always admired Lois Lane, if you enjoy YouTube vloggers, if you think that the mediascape is ever-changing and are delighted by the possibilities, and if you love superheroes, queer romance, and characters that you want to make friends with, this is the book for you.

AWW17: Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.ARC Review & Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017: Book #2

Title: Beauty in Thorns

Authors: Kate Forsyth

Publisher and Year: Vintage Australia, 2017

Genre: historical fiction, retellings

A white pre-raphaelite style painting of a woman's face, from the nose down with sad lips pictured with a sepia sketch imprint of historical London behind the text. Blurb from Goodreads:

A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.

The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention. 

Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum. 

William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.

Margot Burne-Jones had become her father’s muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love. 

Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.

My Review:

An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The release of Beauty in Thorns is one that I’ve been looking forward to throughout 2017 and I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to read it for review ahead of its release. This book draws again on the historical background of fairy tales, not just their origins but also how those stories were used and told and celebrated throughout history. In that sense, Beauty in Thorns is unique in its retelling of Sleeping Beauty because it situates the story in amongst people using the story and celebrating it, rather than retelling the story of its origin. Beauty in Thorns is steeped in history and offers a window into the middle class where love, families, and being an Artist clash.

I found this a really enjoyable book to read, I fell into the prose immediately and enjoyed each page I turned, it was enjoyable and relaxing to read. Different than Forsyth’s previous book The Beast’s Garden which was a magnificent and necessarily uncomfortable read, I loved the pacing and how the story with all of the characters unfolded. There’s a drama to the storytelling that brings the characters and their motivations to life, from making the ‘right’ choice, to pursuit of one’s passion, the foibles and triumphs of love, of families and children and various achievements. I especially loved Forsyth’s focus on the lives of women in and how they influence and inspire aspects of history that are often accorded achievements of men. Often this is absent of the reality of the daily life setting which I feel makes the story and those achievements and aspirations all the more compelling. I was especially drawn into the yearning expressed by Lizzie and Georgie who wanted to pursue art for themselves and found it all but impossible.

Although this book is a gentle read, it does deal with difficult topics around mental illness, disordered eating, addiction, the loss of children, and the other realities of health in that era. The book deals respectfully with these topics as well as I am able to judge but I note this for anyone who would rather avoid them. However, that Forsyth does not shy away from these topics as part of the reality behind this re-imagining is part of what gives the narrative strength and depth, the characters lived for me and I laughed, loved, and mourned as they did.

I’ve long been a fan of Forsyth’s work, but with every new book there is something new and amazing to appreciate about her writing style and its evolution. I loved reading Beauty in Thorns, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or the contemporary retelling of fairy tales, especially one not based in fantasy.

 

AWW17: Tyranny of Queens (The Manifold Worlds #2) by Foz Meadows

Silhouette of a woman with an umbrella black on a blue background with text Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017: Book #1

Title: Tyranny of Queens (The Manifold Worlds #2)

Author: Foz Meadows

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2017

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, queer fiction, portal fantasy

Two small figures in the foreground face a ruined building, with a castle in the distant background.Blurb from Goodreads:

Saffron Coulter has returned from the fantasy kingdom of Kena. Threatened with a stay in psychiatric care, Saffron has to make a choice: to forget about Kena and fit back into the life she’s outgrown, or pit herself against everything she’s ever known and everyone she loves.

Meanwhile in Kena, Gwen is increasingly troubled by the absence of Leoden, cruel ruler of the kingdom, and his plans for the captive worldwalkers, while Yena, still in Veksh, must confront the deposed Kadeja. What is their endgame? Who can they trust? And what will happen when Leoden returns?

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017. I’m also reviewing this book as part of the Read Diverse Books 2017 challenge and it qualifies as both an #ownvoices read as well as having characters who identify under the LGBTIQA+ umbrella. 

I love Saffron as a character and I really loved the way this middle book unfolded, and also rarely for a second book, the story is self contained and I was really satisfied with where it ended – no cliffhanger. You could read this, be satisfied and not *have* to read the third book if you weren’t interested. That’s really unusual for a second book in a trilogy and it’s well worth appreciating.

Also, while I found the first book An Accident of Stars slightly clunky in the writing and every so often I’d be thrown out of the story, this time, Meadows’ writing was much cleaner in style and I could just sink into the story without any struggle. Not only was I not thrown out, I found it very hard to put the book down because of things like sleep, an excellent recommendation to a book as far as I’m concerned. It’s worth noting that this is the second book in a the trilogy and I don’t think it can be read without the first one. I do think that you could read the first and second book though and be content with that as an ending and not *need* to read book 3, but if you’ve read the first two and liked them, there’s no reason not to jump in. I certainly can’t wait for the third book, it will be one of my most anticipated releases, that’s for sure.

In Tyranny of Queens I found myself more compelled by the characters and their plot, and I felt that all of the characters who featured as protagonists demonstrated growth and new awareness of themselves, their world(s), their relationships and in relation to the overall plot. I especially thought that we got to see more of a relevant and connected side to Gwen this time, we found out previously that she was in a group marriage situation with a son, but this happened mostly off screen. While we don’t meet her partners, the warm relationship she experiences with her son is one of my favourite relationships in the book.

I also loved watching how Saffron’s relationship with Yena grows – although for most of the book this happens separately and somehow I  could always feel them connected. It’s a tiny thing but I really loved it. I appreciated how Yena was responsible for being a Sister and a Daughter in both chosen and forced ways and that this was complicated by her feelings about her self, her experiences and the time she has spent away from the culture she was trying to embed herself back into. Another aspect of characterisation and plotting I appreciated was the way both Kadeja and Leodan as villains and victims were both portrayed in sympathetic ways, ultimately responsible for their actions but very human in how their actions had come about. Leodan is perhaps the more forgivable of the two having been manipulated by Kadeja, but her own pain and compulsion are engaging as well.

I love the various voices in this book, like the first book, Tyranny of Queens there’s a lot of diversity to go around, different cultures, different relationship patterns, sexualities, genders, showing engaging characters who also have mental health and disabilities to consider, older and younger characters, lots of different power dynamics.  I love all of this, and feel like the inclusion and sharing of these aspects was a lot more organic than in the first book. For those who are looking for a place where they may find their experience represented this is a good place to look, and for those who shy away from reading about their experiences centred it’s worth noting that it’s central to this entire book. It’s worth noting that in the beginning of the book it took me a little to remember who everyone was, what they were doing and what they were about but this did give way to enjoyment very quickly.

Lastly, I’m not always someone who enjoys portal fantasy but lately there’s been some excellent examples and both An Accident of Stars and Tyranny of Queens both count. The world-building is epic, the politics are intricate and layered with meaning and consequences. The relationships are complex and compelling as are many of the characters in their own right. The plot arc had me wondering how it would be solved one way or another and I’m curious to see how that plays out in the next book given how neatly this book ended. I can’t say enough good things about it, one of my favourite books of 2017.

105th Down Under Feminists Carnival

Square logo with turquoise border,, same colour text Down Under Feminist Carnival spans the top and bottom, in the centre is the symbol for 'woman' with the southern cross inside the loop.It’s the beginning of March and time for another Down Under Feminist Carnival, which I am hosting this month. Apologies for the belated arrival of things, I had most things pre-drafted and then the beginning of the month really came out of nowhere. Still, it’s International Women’s Day, so perhaps posting tonight is somewhat appropriate in any case.

Next month the Carnival will be hosted by Ana Stevenson at AnaStevenson.com, ana.stevenson [at] uqconnect [dot] edu [dot] au. 

We’re also still looking for people who’d like to host the carnival in future months, it’s super easy, there’s lots of support with people sending through links and it’s a chance to promote the voices of women talking about issues of importance to us. Here’s the DUFC contact form and here is a list of future carnivals that have already been planned (pick any month that isn’t on that list). People will send you suggestions to help you out and there’s help if you need it too. Check out the Down Under Feminists Carnival homepage for more information.


Race and Racism

Front and centre because white feminism is harmful and I’m aware that as a white feminist speaking, I should be doing less of that and more promoting of non-white feminist voices.

A listening piece, Celeste Liddle of Black Feminist Ranter writes for The Age about how we cannot ignore the radicalisation of white men. She also discusses white men and violence and the threat of radicalisation in a podcast for the ABC. This piece is 14 minutes long, but although it’s ABC there doesn’t appear to be a transcript yet.

Faye Yik-Wei Chan is a Melbourne academic writing for the Australian Women’s History Network, sharing research from her thesis on the legal status of Chinese Indonesian Women, 1930-2014. Although this piece is not situated in Australia or New Zealand it is salient to the region and focuses on intersectionality and race outside of the dominance of white people.

Amy McGuire writes for The Monthly about how the Gap is wider than ever, despite promises none of our prime ministers have lived up to commitments on Indigenous affairs.

Disability and Mental Health

@dilettantiquity of Tales from Urban Dilettantia {broken link removed} muses on her messy thoughts and issues with the way performing adulthood intersects with disability {broken link removed}.

Emily McAven writes for SBS about how what research shows is best for trans kids is not actually surprising: treating them as they wish to be treated. This quote is compelling and resonates strongly for me: “When children feel loved and accepted for who they are they thrive”.

Sports

Steph and Liz from No Award talk about why they’re going to the footy, and how much the AFWL means to them. And here’s their commentary after getting to attend the first round of games.

@dilettantiquity of Tales from Urban Dilettantia {broken link removed} also wrote about the footy and her history with it {broken link removed} and excitement over the new AFWL.

Scarlett Harris has written for Paste discussing the impact of sexism and appreciation of WWE, and while the WWE is US based Scarlett writes from an Australian perspective on trying to purchase merchandise, and also the harmful way in which segregation between women wrestlers in WWE remains harmful.

Politics, Work, and Public Spaces

I wrote about Midwifery and the Pink Collar Penalty where after my degree program for a protected position requiring maintenance of a registration, my minimum wage is still under $50k. Even though I’m supporting, educating and looking after women their babies and families during some of the most important and intimate experiences of their lives.

Scarlett Harris writes for Archer Magazine about the issues with promotion of condom use in porn when condoms work exceedingly well for the general public, but are less ideal for wearing hours on end, days on end when having sexual intercourse is your job.

Anna Temby writes for the Australian Women’s History Network, reflecting upon the gendered history of public toilets in Brisbane, Australia.

Chilla Bulbeck writes for the Australian Women’s History Network, and demonstrates in her examination of the ‘gender gap’ in voting and why feminists must continue to prioritise a gendered analyses of politics.

Blue Milk writes on her personal blog of the same name, about her experience in criticising the government and how subsequently her private information was given to a journalist and used against her publicly.

Sarah of Writehanded reminisces on starting her blog and why it remains important to counteract the negative stigma about beneficiaries that is rife in New Zealand.

Yen-Rong of the Inexorablist wrote this great piece on what she thinks white men are thinking when they stare at her, because women in public are still for the consumption of others, right? With a side order of racism.

Emily McAven writes for SBS about marching as a family and finding community at Pride.

Motherhood and Pregnancy

Sometimes parenting is being optimistic, and having that optimism dashed to pieces. Emily of Emily Writes writes about the time she attended an Arts Festival launch hoping it would all be fine (spoiler: it wasn’t).

Amanda from Spinoff Parents talks about the other end of parenthood, where your children as adults have left home and you’re coming to terms with this.

Petra writes for New Matilda on the subject of the universal basic income and its importance to motherhood. I appreciated the way Petra identifies that discussions of women and inequality are different across demographics of women who are, aren’t, or once were mothers.

Blue Milk reminisces on extended breastfeeding, linking to a bunch of other photos and posts she’s done on the subject in the past.

Radical Self-Care

Emily of Emily Writes also talks about the importance of taking time, because self-care is hard. She also talks about the fact that parenthood isn’t a binary of good vs bad, it just is and you do the best you can anxiety and all.

TigTog’s post on Hoyden About Town on discovering the Tomlin rule is timely and apt given the State of Australia, and everything else politics around the globe. I have so much time for Tomlin and her awesome quippiness in general.

Bethwyn of Butterfly Elephant also talks about her need for self-care and compassion, with some suggestions others may find useful and how important it is for her ongoing health.

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen wrote for SMH about online dating and burn out. How it had given her sexual agency, but that recently she had become burned out by the whole experience.

Food and Cookery

Alex of Acts of Kitchen talks about making a cake, a pie, and interviews Kate who talks about jams, jellies, chutneys and marmalades. This is a podcast link, but Alex does great interviews and this is a conversation between Australian women about things that are interesting to them, wholly in our wheelhouse! This piece is just under 24 minutes long, but has no transcript, I included it as something different for people who may like to listen rather than read.

Alex, from Melbourne Women’s Network talks about the douchiness of Melbourne’s speciality coffee scene, {broken link removed} talking about the trend for male baristas to cling to their coffee machines with serving customers being way beneath their esteemed coffee calling.

Books and Media

Hsu-Ming Teo is a literary novelist and cultural historian who has written for the Australian Women’s History Network about origins of the rural romance genre and the history of literary representations of romantic love on Australia’s rural frontier.

Anne Jamison writes for the Australian Women’s History Network, reflecting on the Australian Women’s Writing Symposium which was held at the State Library of New South Wales in November 2016 looking at the significance of the 19th century history of women writers, for Australian women writers of the present.

Deb Lee-Talbot’s writes for the Australian Women’s History Network, analysing a book about how the Red Cross became as a significant Australian institution.

Justine Larbalestier talks on her personal blog about the problem with ‘boy books’ which is not that there is a lack of books for boys but the assumption by adults that boys will only read books about boys.

 

Midwifery and the Pink Collar Penalty

Text graphic with a turquoise background. Black text reads "Keep Calm, Study Hard and Become a Midwife" with a small black crown at the top.I’m coming into the last year of my training before I hope to qualify and start my new professional role as a midwife. I’ve been making enquiries as to starting wages for graduates and I’m more than a little dismayed. The Nursing Award of 2010 is also the award for Midwives, Bachelor of Midwifery Graduates are treated as Registered Nurses. The basic minimum wage that I can expect comes in at just over $44k per year. Some of my graduate friends report packages as much as $46-47k per year. Although since most graduate program positions are at 0.8 full time equivalent, I wonder if that is then prorated?

This is for the protected title of midwife, which requires a recognised degree and is also qualification requiring ongoing registration to practice. The degree is a three year program and involves many hours of placement in clinical settings (nearly 1000 by the time I will qualify), as well as hours spent following through with pregnant people and their families for experience in the pregnancy continuum . All of these hours are unpaid and undertaken at your own expense.

$44k. I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s a little insulting. I’m told that starting wages for teachers is likewise paltry. I’m surprised at my own surprise for this – why am I surprised that this critical work requiring immense dedication and determination is so undervalued? And yet, I am – I had a sense that a job that necessitated a degree to undertake would have a better wage attached to it. I had thought that even as a graduate, brand new and still squeaking from exam stress that I could expect at least to earn over $50k as a starting point. At that level, my wage would at least would allow me to take over supporting our family with my income. The base wage I’ve mentioned is not to take into account the nature of midwifery as shift work, with penalties (for now) – the potential for extra money through shift work exists, but it is not a given, especially as a graduate. Especially if in a graduate program where there may be an upper limit of shifts or night shifts imposed for some semblance of work and life balance as well as occupational health and safety.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quoteThis discussion of remuneration seems cold and mercenary when referring to a profession that calls for a least a little reverence. Midwifery is the art of being with woman (person), and assisting women to bring new life into the world, equal parts ordinary and extraordinary. For me this is encapsulated by the fact that there is always a moment before baby takes their first breath, that moment always gets me and never ceases to be magical. It’s breathing – so ordinary, and yet that first breath is so important, achieves so much and is absolutely extraordinary.

And yet this is the nature of the pink collar penalty, work that is generally performed by women and has an association with being valuable, rewarding, life-changing, life-saving. In other words, you’re supposed to do the work because it is rewarding first, for the love of it. By inference, the income from undertaking this work is almost meant to be an afterthought – a ‘nice to have’, because the love of the job is its own reward. This is a problem for teachers, childcare workers, nurses, midwives and countless other professions. Dedication to and passion for something like midwifery however fulfilling, does not pay the bills or fill your fridge, or pay for retirement.

It’s the height of injustice to call for the selflessness of women performing these roles and expect them to do it for the love of it alone, and not to need to consider the monetary value behind their work. The hours of study to qualify, the hours of study to maintain our registration and provide the best evidence-based care, the hours messed up by shift-work and the toll that takes on shift-worker’s lives in general. We deserve better, for giving our all to care for people, teach people, and support people throughout their lives as they cross the paths of professionals affected by this penalty. 

I love becoming a midwife, I’m certain I’ll love being a midwife. I love the inherently feminist way I can work and live as a midwife, and that it intersects well with my previous degree in gender and cultural studies. But I have also spent 3 years already working towards this goal unpaid, desperately trying to make ends meet and thought that once I could start working all the scrimping and cutting corners would be worthwhile. I wouldn’t have to figure out how to get by on a week-to-week basis – I could perhaps after a while not live fortnight-to-fortnight, I could maybe have savings. That seems like a pretty fantasy right now if I’m honest. Especially with the recent attacks on penalty rates for workers in hospitality, it’s fairly likely that attacks on other penalty rates like for healthcare workers will come. This is not the feminist future I signed up for, but I’ll work as hard as possible to make it better for us all. After all, I’m painfully aware of the fact that I clearly have enough privilege to actually do this course of study and to have somehow made it work – that’s worthwhile acknowledging too.

105th Down Under Feminist Carnival – March!

Square logo with turquoise border,, same colour text Down Under Feminist Carnival spans the top and bottom, in the centre is the symbol for 'woman' with the southern cross inside the loop. It’s been a while, but I’m once again hosting the Down Under Feminist Carnival next month. No theme or rhyme or reason at the moment, there’s plenty to keep us going at present after all.

Please send me links for any Australian or New Zealand content that you’d like to see featured in the carnival, I’m all ears. You can comment here, or email me transcendancing [at] gmail [dot] com.

The carnival is a collaborative community project. If you’ve ever thought about being a DUFC host, now’s the time to contact Chally who coordinates the carnival. If you’re interested, here’s the DUFC contact form and here is a list of future carnivals that have already been planned (pick any month that isn’t on that list). You’ll get submissions to help you out and Chally will provide any support you might need, first time hosts and those from New Zealand would be especially welcome.

Check out the Down Under Feminists Carnival homepage for more information.

 

Review: To Catch a Stolen Soul by R.L. Naquin

Female non-white protagonist with dark hair in profile on the right side of the book, looking over her shoulder. Background is turquoise/blue and the title text is in a highlighted blue. ARC Review:

Title: To Catch a Stolen Soul (Djnn Haven #1)

Authors: R.L. Naquin

Publisher and Year:  Carina Press, 2017

Genre: urban fantasy, mystery, friendship, found family,

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Fans of the Monster Haven series by R.L. Naquin will love this beguiling spin-off, featuring a trapped djinn caught in a hot mess of lost souls, fast food and otherwordly murder.

Kam is a soul chaser for the Hidden Government, a much harder job now that the Hidden look like everyone else. Broke, out of magic and sick of playing waitress in a pirate-themed dive bar, Kam jumps at a chance for an out-of-town mission.

A reaper—and his loaded soul stone—have gone missing. The stone contains souls that might get permanently stuck if Kam doesn’t find it, like, yesterday. She tracks the reaper down to a food truck outside Kansas City, only to find a dead reaper and no soul stone in sight. Which means that someone who should be dead killed the reaper and is running around with a powerful magic item. Not good.

And apparently the killer is targeting food-ttruck owners that also happen to be Hidden. So the only thing to do is open her own truck and go undercover—goodbye Kam the Djinn, hello Mobile Food Entrepreneur—and hope that she and her new runaway friend won’t be the next targets…

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This was one of the last books I read for 2016 and I really enjoyed it. Even though urban fantasy remains one of my favourite genres, it can get same-y very easily. I am new to Naquin’s work, but I’m definitely interested to read her other books because I absolutely enjoyed To Catch a Stolen Soul. This book brought me everything I want and like about urban fantasy, likeable heroine – who wasn’t ‘kick ass’ but knows how to stand on her own two feet. I love that she’s about doing good in her own way. I love how she makes space and safety for Ash, a runaway and that friendship and care forms one of the fundamental aspects of the book overall.

I thought the mystery was enough and not too much, although it was a little simplistic at times – there was a little mismatch between the fact that others had failed to solve the mystery and Kam was able to do so for me. But this is a minor niggle and didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book.

I liked the world and the setup, I liked that there’s a bigger arc of story planned than what happened in this one book and I’m really interested to read more of Kam’s story. This was fun, amusing, fluffy urban fantasy with a mystery and if you like these kinds of books and characters, or you like books that are solid on building friendship and have a found family aspect then you’ll really enjoy this. What’s excellent about this book is that it gives you exactly what you want in a lighthearted urban fantasy, it’s not meant to be challenging and it’s quirky and with unique appeal without trying to hard to be different. It knows what you want and it gives it to you solid and you can trust it.

Reflecting on Chrysalis for 2016

As always before I do my reveal and discussion of my new year theme, I like to reflect on the year past and what I learned from my enquiry over that year. In 2016, my theme was Chrysalis, envisioned as below because I felt I needed a protective place to recover, a suit of armour to prevent further damage and needed to be inward focused in order to get through another year of study, another year where I anticipated many challenges and much stress. It was a reactive theme, but even so I still put forward aims that I hoped would be part of the enquiry and part of what helped me to heal, you can read about how I originally imagined Chrysalis back in January of 2016.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

So now, in January of 2017, where do I think my past year of enquiry has taken me? What happened, what did I learn. What will I take forward and what will I let go?

Overall

Reflecting on this theme, I think what I got from Chrysalis is exactly what I needed: comfort, peace, healing, protection, love. I spent the year reinforcing in every way I could a recovery of my energy, rebuilding of my resilience, and letting go of some of my perfectionism to make way for simply trusting that things would happen – like dinner on the table when I was in the depth of study doom. It was a year where it sounds like I was selfish and that’s true, but it’s the selfish of desperation where I had very little left I could pour out and give – I’d exhausted  myself and everything inside of me to get to the end of 2015.

Things that contributed to that state included my study, partner illness and financial stress. To share a little more, I am studying a demanding degree course in Midwifery, which I love and am passionate about – but it is one long push, there are few lulls and it is demanding intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Being realistic about that doesn’t make me love it less or less committed to being the best midwife I can be.

It’s no secret that one of my live-in partners has been in the depths of mental-health crisis for the past couple of years and this has taken its toll on him, but also on Fox and I as we do our level best to support him, protect him, and encourage anything that draws him out of the depths of it. The best outcome for 2016 was a dramatic shift in his mental health and while it’s certainly a massive relief to see, and we all hope that it will continue onward and upward it’s not a magic wand and there’s a lot of work and time before I think he can look back and say ‘This is behind me’. Right now he can say that he feels like the worst has passed – that feels true for Fox and I too.

Which brings me to that other stress point – we’re still on one income predominantly. Over the past twelve months I did some part time work which eased the pressure for most of the year. Fox has continued to be our breadwinner, he’s stoically dealt with the awfulness of his job and company that has steadily declined in all level of satisfaction. The likelihood of redundancy looms ever stronger and we’re doing our best to hold out for that as a means to give ourselves the best buffer and chance to weather a change in job and income. Fox’s dedication as a provider is incredible as is his own commitment to his mental health, which has improved slowly and steadily over the years since he first started tackling this. I’m so proud of him, so grateful to him and I can’t wait to repay his faith in me and my studies by giving him the chance to pursue his own studies.

So finances still sucked but they sucked a little less, and we  made as good a use of that as we could – we didn’t need to be so strict on meal planning (that will be a necessary change this year), we could get takeaway on occasion and did so at several points where ‘too hard’ hit. But that has been hitting less and less as Bat has recovered more mental health and capacity. There is less worry and so work happens more evenly distributed and support flows more freely in all directions. Bills were paid, we had some disposable income occasionally. I was able to invest in some training to go with my Midwifery studies that will hopefully set me up to be an attractive graduate candidate when I apply this year for a position for 2018. All the ways in which I dedicated energy to self-care, to recovery and resilience paid off, for me but also our family. We’re all in a better position personally at the end of 2016 to go into 2017.

Reading, Media and Fandom

One of my big realisations for 2015 was just how much reading for pleasure grounds me, and is a self-care mechanism and stress relief rather than simply a luxury. I’d spent most of the first two y ears of my study feeling guilty for still reading fiction and then I learned that it’s a small and regular thing I can do to look after myself and enjoy my days and weeks. So I made that a priority for last year, and letting that joy be there for myself rather than worrying that I should be studying was so helpful. I read some amazing books (my favourite books of 2016 post is still pending, but I’ll edit and link when I’ve posted it).

Blue banner image with picture of a book in white and the text Goodreads 2017 Reading ChallengeI loved reading and reviewing this year and I exceeded my reading goals in lots of ways – and there’s still room for improvement in others, as it should be. We’re never done, there’s always more room to grow and more to learn. You can read more about my reflection on last year’s reading goals if you like, or see what my goals are for 2017 in reading – I won’t rehash them here. In short: read books, review them, especially books that are diverse in important ways, and books by Australian Women Writers. Try and read 75 books in the calendar year.

I also listened to my favourite podcasts and I looked for ways that I could keep listening even when I wasn’t working. Favourites continued to be Galactic Suburbia and Fangirl Happy Hour, and I continued to really enjoy Tea & Jeopardy. New favourites include Sheep Might Fly, Magical Space Pussycats, and in non-books and fannish areas,  Acts of Kitchen and The Birth Hour. I also fell in love with the Booktube channel Books and Pieces, I highly recommend it. I managed several really great walks (and Pokemon Go was great for this as well) while listening to podcasts, which was a happy goal to achieve. Plus, I’ve also gotten to a point where some of my general online productivity like organising recipes or sorting stuff etc can be done to a podcast background so I’ve stayed mostly up to date and in love with the voices and conversations of intelligent women, who are so switched on and aware, so emotionally present and generous. This kind of listening brings such joy to me.

There were a few other media things I did to contribute to self-care and taking time out. I played games and in particular enjoyed Stardew ValleyNo Man’s Sky, Pokemon Go, and Armello this year. My favourite movies were Deadpool and the new Ghostbusters, pretty equally, although I also really loved Zootopia too.  With music, I set up a Pandora radio station for Hamilton and other Broadway musicals so that I could have background music that mostly made me feel better about the world and let me relax and think about the stories the songs were telling. Like a large percentage of the rest of the world, I unexpectedly fell in love with the Hamilton soundtrack and listened to it time and again over the months in the second half of the year. I think Lin Manuel Miranda is a gift and should be celebrated.

Midwifery

White banner with intersecting circles Hands, Heart and Mind and the kind of midwife you will be. Midwife is in the centre of the intersecting circles.In taking on Chrysalis last year, in my original post on the subject of midwifery I said:

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac.

This area is one in which I’m particularly proud of the outcomes. I excelled academically in 2016, beyond even my high expectations of  myself. I worked exceedingly hard for it too and I’m so pleased that paid off. I also went back to prac and it went well. I achieved that aim too, to regain my confidence in my practice and to do well in my clinical placement. I’ve also started asking for and collecting recommendations and I’ve been doing additional workshops, seminars, conferences and courses to supplement my study as part of my efforts toward applying for a graduate year position. They’re competitive and I’ve my sight set on one in particular (I have yet to work out my second and third preferences) so I’ve been working hard already to achieve this. I also had my halfway mark assessment, and it went well, and I’m feeling confident in my ability to prepare for my final assessment at the end of 2017.

I went into 2016 still so passionate about Midwifery but feeling shattered and uncertain. I have emerged from the year with a greater consolidation of experience and knowledge, as well as an even greater passion for midwifery. Calling. Vocation. I never though those words would be ones I could really identify with and yet, more than ever I feel this.

Self Care and Development

I did so much better with this area of focus in 2016 than in previous years and I think the shift in making it about care as much as development helped with that. I wanted to grow, but I didn’t want to push myself in to painful spaces when it was obvious to me that I needed to draw in energy and seek out joy and connection, love, and comfort. Through that focus I did grow and learn. My confidence returned and grew. I’m more sure of myself in conversations and my opinions and ability to contribute meaningfully. I worry less about perception (in some ways, in others this is still a work in progress).

A box with a book, and bath bombs in it, with a subscription to the official Book Bath Box includedI had the best birthdays this year, Bat and Fox made it perfect for me with the most thoughtful gift – a Book Bath Box subscription, and because that would arrive months away they also made up their own version to give me on the day! So sweet! They spent the day quietly hanging out with me and cooking me an incredible birthday dinner – pork belly with caramelised pears on silky potato mash and a brownie cheesecake birthday cake dessert. It was perfect! So relaxed and peaceful, I slept in, there was no stress and I felt whimsical and full of love the entire day.

I wanted a better year for my partners and I do think we all got it – although there were still so many hard things about the year, so many ways in which we just needed to dig deep and focus on the fact that we love each other and would somehow make it through as a starting point. I do recommend that as a starting point by the way because if as a fundamental assumption that has shifted, then a different conversation may be necessary. But I love my partners, I trust them and I value them. I feel loved and trusted and valued. This is especially true of my partners whom I cohabit with, where we’ve created a little family for ourselves.

But my other partners are just as important in different ways and I love and value them for what they bring to the world and my life too. I trust that I bring them good things to their lives as well. There are a number of partners and close friends, chosen family who I wished I could have seen more of throughout the year – and yet energy and time where in short supply. It was also a hard year for some of them and I know this impacted on us being able to make time and scheduling work. My platonic romantic partner and I spent quite a bit of time together, mostly in quiet conversation and having lovely cheap dinner dates in the city – spending time and keeping each other feeling sane and cared for. She had a hard year and I hope that what I could do to stand behind her helped. I did get to spend time with two of my Perth partners who came over and that was wonderful and messy and I’m so glad – even though I was in the midst of semester so it was also hard. But right now, there is no ideal time. We made it work. Overall with people and social, especially partners I did the best I could but I wish I’d have managed more somehow.

2016 marked another year where I didn’t get to see my longest term partner, K. Our 19th anniversary came and went and I missed him more than ever. We’re starting to make determined plans for our 20th anniversary together because even with crappy finances, somehow we will make this happen. K has been one of the most integral parts of my life for about a third of my life and no matter how things shift and change for us, he remains one of the most important people in my life, and someone who’s happiness means the world to me. I know that I mean similar things to him.

Collage of 4 pictures, 3 landscapes of hinterland and bay overview, one with a plaque about Apollo Bay and the Great Ocean RoadI did have a year that was more social than the previous one, and it was part of my extrovert self-care mechanisms I put in place. I attended our local science fiction convention Continuum and has the most wonderful time, it was seriously one of the best things I did this year. Followed by my trip to Apollo Bay with a friend where we cooked, and explored and lounged for a week – it was great. I organised with chosen family members to do semi-regular dinners and host them so that I could soak up the social time, but have it be easy and love filled and not a struggle at all. I did regular vid chats with @dilettantiquity which was wonderful for both of us in several ways and was one of the our mutually most successful aims for 2016. I did several more frequent chats with others who are far away and that meant a lot to me too, I want to continue that in the new year.

My health was mostly very good, pain and strain were well managed. Reflux stopped being an agonising problem and is well managed. I had some reproductive health issues but thanks to our wonderful public health system, they’re all taken care of. I judiciously applied bravery, reward and lots of care mechanisms to deal with the emotional and anxiety strain these issues posed and I came through it all really well. Pokemon Go deserves the most credit for me improving my activity levels, I enjoy wandering and will quite happily do that for several kilometres in order to catch the little monsters or hatch eggs. It’s low key, easy and satisfying and I value that ease as much as the compelling fun nature of it.

A large number of books piled onto a shelf creatively, a shelf next to that is empty.I did declutter and organise my physical things better (I need to revisit some of it as it got away from me in the last part of the year). I obtained some second hand bookshelves and unpacked my books (still a work in progress, one shelf needs stabilising). I also enjoyed more of Melbourne in tiny and cheap ways that brought me a lot of joy. I walked along Southbank several times (in part because Pokemon). I wandered through the city and admired how beautiful Melbourne is. I went to several Wheeler Centre events and marvelled at the speaking programs they have and the way I think it contributes to our city and people overall.

I blogged throughout the year – here less so than I hoped but I did manage to keep things up reasonably. I maintained my 5 things habit throughout the year, although I have decided to change it going forward. My blog is as important to me as reading and I value having spaces to chronicle, to write and share with people that are more thoughtful than the immediacy of social media.

I didn’t get to any different cities in 2016, we’ll see if that’s different in 2017 – finances say doubtful. I didn’t get my license either, this still hangs over my head. However now that I’m in a better mental space than I have been in two  years it looks like it is vastly more possible than it has  felt for ages. I’m just trying not  to use this as a stick to beat myself with. I will get there. I will. Eventually.

Cooking

A table set with many dishes of food including a quiche, ham, turkey and several sides.The framing for this was trying to maintain things that worked to take stress out of decision and uncertainty. To reduce the cost of food, but to eat well and enjoy the meals we have together. I wanted to maintain my enjoyment of cooking and not have it be something that always felt like a chore. This was successful overall. Meal planning fell largely by the wayside in any formal way, but we did try new things in that vein and they have potential. The repository of recipes is more accessible and easy to navigate by people other than me. Fox did a bunch of cooking, including for Bat’s birthday dinner and did a magnificent job all year when it was his turn. Bat is cooking more and we’re back to enjoying trading cooking between us and sharing it as the joy it has been in the past for us.

We had people around regularly and good food was always a part of that and we all enjoyed that massively. Low-key dinner parties are our favourite social events to host and sharing great food with those we care about is enjoyed by us all. Fox remains enamoured of our BBQ which continues to be adorable. We hosted Christmas with chosen family and a friend this year, it was our turn – 3 years in, it’s officially a  tradition now! We over-catered and went way over-the-top for our feast, it was glorious and a massive undertaking that paid off. The inset photo is of the feast at the time of serving before we devoured about 5% of it.

Much of our ‘make-from-scratch’ things like stock and bread fell entirely by the wayside – we ate more pre-prepared stuff in general. But I was busier, made less decisions and organised less. And we still got fed, there was still delicious food and it was good for me to let go in this way and trust the others and let them figure things out so I could concentrate on work and study priorities where they impacted on my ability to do household contributions. I was successful in abdicating adulthood at various points when it was necessary and being supported by my partners in this. It was important and necessary (and hard to do) but worth it.


Chrysalis was a year that I wanted to focus on care, recovery and resilience. It was that for me. I got all of this in so many ways – expected and unexpected. The letting go and simply trusting in my partners and the people around me was a valuable lesson, and one I want to take forward. I still think that my expectations of myself when I read over my planning from the beginning of last year was too demanding, wanting too much of my finite energy, time and skills. That too was a lesson – and I know amongst those I am close to that this I am not alone in this trait. I spent the year re-framing things so as not to beat  myself with sticks. The point is not to punish myself for failing to achieve all the myriad things I wanted, or for forgetting things or cutting corners. Actually the point was to learn that the sky doesn’t fall when you do these things and in some ways, it turns out even better emotionally and in the final results.

I am grateful to this theme, it has been a gift and an inward focus that I’ve consistently put energy into. And in all the other ways I achieved what I put in, that was true with this enquiry too. And now with this reflection, I can draw a line  underneath Chrysalis and move on from it’s protective shell. It’s time to move  properly into 2017.

AWW16: Kid Dark Against the Machine by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #11

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Kid Dark Against the Machine

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2016

Genre: fantasy, super heroes

 

 

Kid Dark Against the Machine - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

From the award-winning author of Cookie Cutter Superhero comes a brand new story about sidekicks, supervillains and saving the world

Back when he was called something else, Griff knew everything about superheroes, sidekicks and the mysterious machine responsible for creating them. Now, Griff is just an average guy, minding his own business. A volunteer handyman at the Boys Home—his former home—Griff spends his days clearing out gutters and building clubhouses for the orphans at the Home. Nothing heroic or remarkable about that, right?

But all of that changes when one of the Home kids starts having weird dreams about another Machine—an evil version that churns out supervillains. Griff remembers the call of the Machine, and reluctantly decides to help the kid on his mission.

And then they waltz back into Griff’s life. Those bloody heroes. Including him—The Dark—one of Australia’s mightiest and longest-running superheroes.

What’s a retired secret superhero sidekick to do?

 

My Review:

I’m an unashamed fan of Tansy’s writing and I absolutely could not resist a follow up story to Cookie Cutter Super Hero from Kaleidescope. I have to say that Kid Dark Against the Machine was a glorious follow up story in this universe. I loved it! Griff is a great character, he’s so likeable and relatable the moment you meet him – and you can absolutely see where he’s coming from as a child superhero trying to figure out what on earth to do with his life after.

I love the themes that this story explores, also in keeping with the original story. Superheroes and tropes used by them and in comics. While Cookie Cutter Super Hero introduced us to some of these criticisms, I really think that Kid Dark Against the Machine brought it home – I don’t think you can read this story (either of them really) and look at super heroes and comics the same way.

I loved that this story made super heroes accessible to me as a reader who is only occasionally interested in the superheroes and comics genre. I didn’t need ten years of back knowledge to understand what was going on, Tansy gave me everything I needed to appreciate every snarky moment and subversive twist in the story. I loved all the names of the heroes and the villains, I loved that the hero and villain processes for selection and being in the spotlight were so different. I loved that being a super hero wasn’t lauded, and that there was this narrative time given to the person and human left behind once the world has moved on to other super heroes.

Kid Dark Against the Machine is a fluffy story that tackles good versus evil in a whole new way – it tackles it in the cheesy fun way that comics do all the time, but it also tackles the assumptions that underpin the genre. Tansy manages this in a way that couldn’t be further from dry and boring, you get your pop culture, gender politics and child hero ethics lesson in a cute package that is over far too quickly.

I’m with all the others who are calling for a novel in this universe, it’s got so much to offer and I’d read it in a heartbeat. If you want a light read, but an intelligent one about super heroes and looking at what that might be really like underneath the surface, this story is definitely for you.

Review: He, She and It by Marge Piercy

He, She and It - coverARC Review:

Title: He, She and It

Authors: Marge Piercy

Publisher and Year:  Originally published 1991, this edition published by Ebury Digital, 2016.

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, feminist fiction,

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill…

From the critically acclaimed author of Woman on the Edge of Time, comes another stunning novel of morality and courage. A Pygmallion tale for the modern age, this classic feminist speculative novel won the Arthur C Clark Award.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

He, She and It was a revelation to me, I’m so glad I got to read this and am so glad that somehow this book came to me exactly when I needed it. There is as much about this book that is literary as science fiction, to the benefit of the book and the story it tells. It has incredible depth and is written beautifully, with poignancy that I think is rare to find.

Relationships are central to this book, relationships of family, of parent and child, of community, of spousal partnership, of professional collaboration. Although many readers may centre on the romantic relationships portrayed in the book, these make sense only in the context of all the other relationships that are part of the tapestry of this book. They do not exist in a vacuum or in isolation from the rest of the story.

We follow Shira’s point of view as the dominant protagonist, although Yod and Malkah’s point of view features as well. The worldbuilding for this story is deft. We start with a picture of an enclave, such as we might imagine in any future science fiction city, perfectly coifed and artificial, everything manufactured – the suggestion of control and surveillance is everywhere. We are then introduced to the free city Tivkah, resisting the multi-corporations and having enough skill and leverage to hold onto tenuous freedom and the city’s prized democratic community. Upon losing custody of her son, Shira flees the multicorporate enclave she is employed by and returns to Tivkah, her childhood home. She takes up a position with the scientist Avram to assist him in the socialisation of his cyborg creation Yod.

I didn’t fall in love with Shira at first, and in fact it took me a very long time to warm up to her. Instead, I was drawn to Malkah, matriarch and storyteller, scientist and programmer with a formidable intellect. I took a long time to warm up to Yod too, but I think that is by design from Piercy – as Yod’s experience with personhood grows and expands, so to does the reader’s ability to recognise and appreciate Yod’s personhood. We are invited to mirror Shira’s experience in working with Yod and his socialisation, although her qualms are always situated as her own foibles, and not so much larger moral questions for the reader to ponder. Those questions come more from Yod himself, as he reads Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The crux of the book is the creation of Yod, a cyborg. A story that parellels the creation of a golem in the 1800s. Both created to protect, but as weapons with innate violence in their nature. This is something both the golem Joseph and the cyborg Yod struggle with. My take on it is that this is profoundly to do with existing in the world, regardless of being a human person or not. You cannot erase lived experience, you cannot unlearn compassion or empathy readily – even if you did not come to then naturally and were created whole, as with golem Joseph and cyborg Yod.

I keep coming back to the richness of Tivkah as the locale surrounding the story. A community, built on socialism, collaboration, and fierce anarchic independence. Tivkah is a Jewish city, the days and rituals and experience of the inhabitants within centre the normalcy of their daily lives as Jewish people. This is given further depth by the story Malkah tells for Yod about Joseph the golem. When Nili, a cybernetically enhanced woman from once-Israel, now a dead zone joins them for a time in their city and helps them to defend it, further layers to women, surviving, climate change, resistance, feminism, family and purpose are revealed.

The resolution of this book is one I found deeply satisfying, although it wasn’t an ending as such. Instead it felt like a change, where the people whose lives I’d followed for some time were about to embark on a new era of their lives, but the chapter for this part was over and it was time to part. I valued that and it is a  significant part of the poignancy that I observed as part of the book. There is hope and optimism amidst the realism of living in a dystopia. But people live their lives, they do the best they can with what they have, they value the people and ideologies that are important to them. As do we all. Perhaps with less grace than those in the free city of Tivkah.

I had begun to think maybe I had lost the ability to appreciate deep books that you must read slowly, over a several days and sittings. This book is a compelling read, but it needs breaks – time to think between putting it down and picking it up. Life has to be lived in between reading pages, because it is a book that is about the everyday, about living life, the constraints and difficulties we all face – small and large. I learned in my reading of this book, that in depth, more demanding books are not lost to me, merely I must simply find the stories that are stories for  me – and not dwell so much on stories that other people loved and I did not.

He, She and It is profound and I firmly believe one that will yield much more upon rereading. I loved the abiding feminism in this book where there were so many female characters and relationships between women in all kinds of ways. Women performed all kinds of roles, from the familial and maternal, to great scientific works, piracy, and military defence. The breadth of capability, of choice and recognition of both was startling and wonderful to me. And this is why I don’t think that this is a book of romance, despite that it is one of the plot arcs that is used to contextualise so much of the story. It is like having a spine in the human body – our spine does not define us, but it is critical and unique. Complexities surrounding relationships between parent and child, family in general are also similarly critical to the telling of this story – they are not less important than romantic relationships.

I loved this book, I count it among those I loved best in my reading this year. Although first published in 1991, He, She and It tells as compelling and profound a story in 2016 as it did when it was first published. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who loves a really good science fiction novel. Unlike many dystopian stories, this book is not at all grim, there is no constant sense of doom. Instead, this book is about life, living and problem-solving as well as possible in a future where technology is rampant and equal parts the solution and the problem to the climate change-ravaged future portrayed.

Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Thorn - coverReview:

Title: Thorn

Authors: Intisar Khanani

Publisher and Year:  Self published, 2014

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, romance

Blurb from Goodreads:

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

 

My Review:

I fell into this book and devoured it pretty much in one sitting. I then bought all the other novels available by Intisar Khanani. This was excellent, the kind of fantasy story that is highly enjoyable, beautifully written and extremely rewarding to read. I’m not familiar with the fairytale that this retelling is based, but it definitely has a fairytale feel about the story that I appreciated.

I loved the way Alyrra navigated her circumstances and I absolutely love that there was no ‘instantaneous love connection’. Instead, Alyrra and Kestrin although they are intended to marry are divided by magic and their ability to even get to know one another is hampered. Where in other stories Alyrra’s inherent goodness might have seemed a little two dimensional, here her ability to cope with the changes in her circumstances are true to her character and growing up experiences. Although she has had an abusive upbringing, Alyrra herself is not broken, but does realistically demonstrate traits that show her mistrust and the effect her past has had on her.

Although Falada’s character is the most fanciful in the story, I love horses in fantasy stories and so I was wholeheartedly willing to go with it, and I am glad that Alyrra got to have a friend while she was finding her feet as a goose girl. I liked that Falada wasn’t omnipotent, or overpowered but merely another sentient race – magical to be sure, but bound by realities that meant Alyrra’s own future was in her hands. I loved that this was consistently reinforced to her. And more than that, I love the way that Alyrra was happy to consider giving up on being a Princess all together, and embracing her change in circumstance as a chance to start anew and have a life she though she would like better. I appreciated the emphasis of being royalty and the duty involved in that position – whether one wants it or not.

I also liked the way Khanani explored differing power relationships and consequences of privilege between Alyrra as the goose girl and Kestrin as the prince. It’s very obvious that he comes from the mindset that he doesn’t intend harm and wants to find the truth and so he is in the right, no matter what difficulty it may cause Alyrra. I also loved the exploration of conceptions of justice in the book – the King’s justice versus the Thieves justice – similar in that they have limited reach to a specific area of the population, but different in terms of flexibility and willingness to follow through on holding people to account.

For me the ending was a little rushed and I would have liked to see that fleshed out a little more, the encounter between Alyrra and the witch, their return and the consequences of that. However, I was also immediately sad that I couldn’t read on to see what happened next – I do hope there are more books in this universe at some stage. I loved that this story was about growing up, coming into one’s self, and exploring ideas of belonging, justice, and family. It was a delight to read, I highly recommend it for reading.

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit - coverARC Review:

Title: A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2)

Authors: Becky Chambers

Publisher and Year:  Harper Voyager, 2016

Genre: space opera, science fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

A Closed and Common Orbit is an incredible follow up to the standout A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and Chambers has outdone herself in bringing to life a whole new set of characters. They’re familiar faces, but the story has shifted away from the crew of the Wayfarer and now we follow the journey of Pepper and AI Sidra – formerly known as Lovelace. One of the aspects of this novel that I appreciated most right from the beginning was the emphasis on names and their importance to an individual in how they express themselves. Names have history, they have a loadedness, they can be given, applied, attached, chosen, searched for, and I imagine they could even be grown. Here there’s no ceremony or poignancy around our AI protagonist choosing her name – it’s a necessity and aside from a comment from Pepper about names having weight and importance and that it would be nice to have more time, it’s not really possible and one must be chosen. And so we meet Sidra, almost as she starts to meet herself really.

The story of Sidra is one where an AI protagonist comes to terms with being in a body that doesn’t feel like her own, in a story and a narrative that she’s expected to build, but which she feels at odds with. And yet, despite the ways in which her inherently technological nature is reinforced, so to is her sentience. She struggles with some of the aspects of self-determination, and embraces others and I truly think that the writing of this kind of AI body is one of the best I’ve seen in that it tackles some of the ways in which plonking an AI into a humanesque body isn’t a like to like transition. Instead, overlays of memories and associations, textures, and sensations are used as associations with stimulus that Sidra comes across – particularly when eating or drinking. It’s a great touch.

I love the way that even as we explore Sidra coming-of-age we also look back into Pepper’s history, including how she met Blue. And here, once again Chambers gives us the depth of a story that is at its core optimistic, but where there is depth, and consequence – bad things happen and they must be acknowledged and dealt with in some way. Giving Sidra space and opportunity to explore her future is in some way Pepper’s way of coming to terms with her own past and it’s a lovely  narrative circle, we immediately identify with the nobility of Pepper’s aims, and our hearts weep with her in how confronted she is by this as well, searching for her own long lost AI companion.

There is so much to love about this book, and it’s similar in what was there to love in the first book. Stories of found and chosen family, of friendship and relationships that are negotiated and complex. Within the story there is queerness and differences in gender identity explored, but it’s not trite or token, but built into the story and character interactions without also ever being ‘the point’ of the character to be ‘the genderqueer one’ – it’s simply one personality trait amongst many inherent to the character, and this is true of the others as well. It’s warm and refreshing and it means I can see myself in the story – even if I’m not explicitly there, I’d fit, I’d make sense, I wouldn’t be the villain, nor outcast necessarily and that’s always a win for me. There’s spaceships and video games, virtual reality, storytelling, tech and hacking, politics and cultural differences between groups of sentients. There is so much scope in this universe that Chambers has created and I can’t imagine a book in this universe that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to read.

If you enjoy space opera, particularly with an optimistic view, you will enjoy this. If you enjoy books with heartwarming characters you can fall in love with and feel bereft without, you will enjoy this. If you want a coming-of-age story with a difference, with sentient AIs and everyday-heroes then you’ll enjoy this. The writing is delightful, I read this voraciously and loved every second. The book came to life for me and I want to reread it again already – it’s incredible and again, one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet - coverReview:

Title: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1)

Authors: Becky Chambers

Publisher and Year:  Hodder and Staughton, 2015 (Originally published through Createspace Independent in 2014)

Genre: space opera, science fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with theWayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

 

My Review:

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is without question one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I am sad that it took me so long to get to it. Optimistic space opera, space ships, friendship, found family, a wonderful array of characters I fell in love with immediately and the most interesting take on wormhole construction yet.

This book hits almost every button I think I have for stories that make me fall in love instantly. I got galactic civilisations, thoughtful interesting alien cultures which were neither tokenised nor stereotyped. Space travel and flight really involved the travelling part and that was an excellent part of the story narrative. I loved that I got a sense of what it was like to be part of a crew on a ship where there could be many weeks between docking into ports and what that looks like in terms of interpersonal skills and ship management. Oh, the emotional intelligence work involved here it was just gorgeous! I’m all a-swoon about it.

Rosemary is our main point of view character and she’s initially quite a mystery, she withholds so much of herself that you almost risk not liking her, and then it all kind of comes tumbling out and instead you want to make her a cup of tea and make friends. I loved the interactions between the other crew members and each other, especially resolving conflicts, of which there is a major one and it was particularly satisfying in how that eventuated.

I loved the way that bad things happen, there is injustice, corruption, greed, and struggling, but that this is handled deftly by the author and that there is the feelgood emotional payoff in resolution or simply in acknowledging the reality and letting it be there – without making it worse or hammering it in such a way that leaves me raw. There’s a realism in the way it’s presented that I value, but it’s not out to traumatise me, it’s not the point of the story, it’s just part of the ordinary background that makes up a world. You can tell a story and have it focus on the positive outlook, without shunning conflict, upset, or bad things happening – you go through everything with the characters, but the author brings you safely out the other side. There’s comfort and catharsis in that. It’s a big reason why I fell so hard for this book and why it’s an instant favourite.

I love the way in which this is a story of inclusiveness, but it’s never heavy handed. There are queer relationships and characters, disabilities and differing sometimes clashing cultural and racial considerations that are all noticeable, but not as tick boxes. They’re part of a three-dimensional texture about this book, they build on the story and the characters, they’re never trite.

This book is like taking a deep breath of fresh air, and being hugged by all its wonderful words. I’m so in love with this.

Review: Tremontaine (Season 1) by Ellen Kushner et al.

Tremontaine - season one - coverARC Review:

Title: Tremontaine (The Complete Season 1) (The World of Riverside #0.5)

Authors: Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant, Paul Witcover

Publisher and Year:  Serial Box, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, romance, serial fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Welcome to Tremontaine, the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside series that began with Swordspoint! A Duchess whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; her husband’s dangerous affair with a handsome scholar; a foreigner in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a mathematical genius on the brink of revolution—when long-buried lies threaten to come to light, betrayal and treachery know no bounds with stakes this high. Mind your manners and enjoy the chocolate in a dance of sparkling wit and political intrigue.

Tremontaine is an episodic serial presented by Serial Box Publishing. This collected omnibus edition gathers all 16 episodes from Season 1.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

What isn’t to love about sword wielding women, politics, hot chocolate, frocks, parties, manners and physics? The serial format of Tremontaine works very well, it’s clear that the background world and universe of Ellen Kushner’s is beloved by all the authors that are invited to play in the world for this story. I’d fallen off the appeal of epic fantasy for a while, but between this and An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows, I’m excited about this genre again!

In particular I love epic fantasy that involves complex political intrigue and lots of diplomacy, talking around things, layers, and consequences too far reaching to see clearly. I also love characters that are engaging and interesting, sometimes I love the because I identify with them, and sometimes because I’d love to fall in love with them, and other times because they seem so wonderfully wicked – there are all these kinds of characters in Tremontaine and more.

I should point out that I haven’t actually read the other novels that this one is a prequel for, but given how much I enjoyed this book I will absolutely be looking forward to Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword!  This is a short review, mainly because I loved it without reservation, the story, worldbuilding, characters, blending of authorial styles were all fantastic and delivered to me an exceptional reading experience. More fantasy like this, with diverse characters who are queer, not all white, who come from different backgrounds and storylines with ‘villains’ who are complex and interesting characters too – you can’t just think of their wickedness, instead it’s tempered with compassion for them, sympathy and understanding for how they’ve gotten into the narrative dilemma they’re in. I really can’t wait for Season 2.

AWW16: An Accident of Stars (The Manifold Worlds #1) by Foz Meadows

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #8

Title: An Accident of Stars (The Manifold Worlds #1)

Author: Foz Meadows

Publisher and Year:  Angry Robot, 2016

Genre: fantasy, epic fantasy, queer fiction

 

An Accident of Stars - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016.

An Accident of Stars is a very solid debut novel from Foz Meadows, it truly brings epic and portal fantasy to life. This book is equal parts the start of an epic story and a coming of age story. This is also a story that disabuses you of the notion that nothing *truly* bad can happen to your heroe(s) in a novel, because there are consequences experienced by protagonist Saffron, and other key characters throughout the novel.  There’s a depth and realism to the story because of this commitment in storytelling, and yet it doesn’t ever approach ‘grim dark’ to me, just solid storytelling.

One of the things I love most about this book is the sheer diversity of characters in this novel, they come from so many different backgrounds, they have different experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, skin colour, cultural backgrounds. Rather than being mashed together uncomfortably, these elements come together quite seamlessly in the central rebel compound where Saffron finds herself in the beginning of the novel. I loved that an older woman, who was far from perfect was the rebel leader. There are so many women in this book, and the male characters all came with personalities that I am interested in, with stories of theirs I wanted to explore – rarer than you  might suppose these days. This novel is a triumph to diversity – I’m sure there are improvements, nothing can be everything to everyone but I think this makes a good effort at doing so.

There is a lot going on in the story, as the readers we share in Saffron’s confusion as things unfold – twists and turns in how things affect the rebels, the potential impact on Saffron her self. There’s physical, emotional and political battles involved in this story – it’s multifaceted which gives the story depth, things happen do not happen in a vacuum or in isolation. The storytelling well thought out and executed, making this a satisfying read.

If I have one criticism it is that the book is a debut novel and the writing does reflect this, I found it clunky in places, and in others it threw me out of the reading experience. This is a minor criticism though as overall it is a well polished first novel, and everyone is allowed to grow over time. There is always a starting point – this is an excellent one. I also thought this book was nicely self-contained, you don’t *have* to read the next book if you don’t want to or don’t like series. There’s the opening and minor-cliffhanger for more story but you could absolutely ignore that without any issue. I am looking forward to the next book though because I’m interested to see where the characters go from here and how the broader story unfolds.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Justine Larbalestier

Snaphot Logo 2016

I’m glad I was reading my interview with Justine Larbalestier during the day time when the sun was out because her insight into psychopaths and in particular women who are psychopaths is truly chilling!  I interviewed Justine as part of Snapshot 2016 and the interview is reposted here from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016


Justine Larbalestier author photoJustine Larbalestier is an Australian–American author of eight novels, two anthologies and one scholarly work of non-fiction, many essays, blog posts, tweets, and a handful of short stories.

Her most recent book, My Sister Rosa, is about a seventeen-year-old Australian boy whose ten-year-old sister is a psychopath. It’s set in New York City and published by Allen and Unwin in Australia/New Zealand and will be published on 15 November 2016 by Soho Teen in North America.

My previous novel, Razorhurst, takes place on a winter’s day in 1932 when Dymphna Campbell, a gangster’s moll, and Kelpie, a street urchin who can see ghosts, meet over the dead body of Dymphna’s latest lover, Jimmy Palmer. Of her other books the most popular are the novel Liar and the Zombies Versus Unicorns anthology which she edited with Holly Black.

Justine lives in Sydney, Australia where she gardens, boxes, and watches too much cricket, and also in New York City, where her game of choice is basketball. She’s a season ticket holder for the New York Liberty.

 

You were a WisCon 2016 Guest of Honour, what was it like returning to Wiscon having previously attended as a regular con-goer in comparison to attending as a guest? Also, what was your favourite part of the experience?

It was strange. Though I was once a regular con-goer there, I hadn’t been in ten years. Last time I was there YA had almost no profile. I was asked, “What is YA?” Some folks were sneery, “Why would you write about teens? Ewww.”  Which is part of why I stopped going. But ten years later that had totally changed. I felt very welcomed and there were many other YA writers and readers there.

Aside from being a co-GoH with Nalo Hopkinson and Sofia Samatar, who are both incredible, my favourite thing was doing a panel on evil women with Mikki Kendall. She’s been doing research on female serial killers and I’ve been researching psychopathic women. She’s one of the smartest, wittiest writers around, as well as being an historian. It was the most informative fun ever. I wish all my panels were with her.

Razorhurst - coverYou’ve been working through the ideas surrounding ‘evil women’ in your recent writing. What have you most enjoyed exploring about the concept of evil so far?

I’m fascinated by the idea that women are naturally good on the one hand, yet on the other, there’s all the stuff about women being diabolical temptresses on the other. I’ve long been obsessed with Femme Fatales. I watched too many Films Noir, I guess. Razorhurst was my first book that featured one, but it won’t be my last. (To be clear, I don’t think any group is naturally good or bad. Google Australia’s Katherine Knight if you want a really gruesome example of a woman killer.)

For a long time there was a belief that there weren’t women serial killers. Or, rather, that they were rare. Possibly because women aren’t seen as capable of that level of violence? Spoiler: they are. But it’s becoming apparent that many female serial killers were simply overlooked because they mostly don’t kill in a showy way. No chopping up bodies, no taunting letters to the police. The women don’t want to be caught. They tend to work as carers and poison/suffocate their victims. Not many people realise that Arsenic and Old Lace was actually based on a real life case and that that real life case was absolutely typical of how women serially kill. Women also tend to get away with their murders more often because their kills look more like natural causes.

The same thing with female psychopaths. Experts say that for every twenty male psychopaths there is only one female one. But when I tried to find where that figure came from it, turned out it pretty much comes out of thin air. Experts don’t know how many female psychopaths there are because little research has been done on them. I suspect female psychopaths are under-diagnosed.

The evil women that are part of our mythologies tends to be evil in terms of their roles as wives/girlfriends and mothers: Medea, Jezebel, Delilah etc. Even when women are being evil to other women in those stories it’s usually because they’re in competition for men. A lot of fictional depiction of female evil assumes heterosexuality and probably wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test. The obvious exception being all those evil lesbians, but they’re seen as evil because of their rejection as men, so it’s still an evil understood in terms of mainstream understandings of sexuality. I.e. the only reason you would turn your back on men as a woman would be because you’re evil.

I’ll stop now as this is turning into a long-arse essay but, as you can tell, I have loads to say on this topic. Hence my writing yet another book about a female psychopath. This time she’s seventeen, rather than ten as in My Sister Rosa, and it’s from her point of view, not from that of her old brother.

My Sister Rosa - cover

Aside from the psychological thriller you’re currently working on, do you have anything speculative in the works?

The kind of psychological thrillers I’m writing are monster novels, which I think are definitely part of speculative fiction. Psychopaths have been figured as monsters for decades now. In fact, I’d argue that most monsters in horror, science fiction, thrillers etc. are human, and when they’re not like, for example, the Godzilla movies, it’s often the evil military trying to fight them, who are the real monsters. With good reason, we fear ourselves the most. And the psychopath, the person with no empathy and no remorse, is kind of the distillation of our fears about our fellow humans.

I do not mean that psychopaths are literally monsters. Just that they’re figured that way in the genre and, let’s be honest, in much reporting of real life cases. What interests me the most about the way we see psychopaths is that they are human. So how do we deal with that? Not very well. How do we deal with the fact that a great deal of the evil inflicted on humans is inflicted by humans who aren’t psychopaths. We don’t.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

This is so hard because I know many brilliant Australian authors but if I praise some of them I’ll be leaving others out. I also worry people will think I’m recommending them because they’re my friends, which I would never do, but it’s what some assume. Besides I recommend my friends’ books on Twitter often.

So I’ll recommend two Aussie writers I’ve never met. Check out Ambelin Kwaymullina. She has a fantastic YA trilogy, The Tribe, that’s not like anything else out there. In non-fiction I loved Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling by Larissa Behrendt, which is a witty, well-researched account of the Eliza Fraser story, but this time including Indigenous versions of what happened. It’s the best kind of history because it made me rethink what I thought I knew. A must read.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Honestly, on most long plane flights there’s already an author sitting next to me. On the other side of me I think I’d prefer to have an interesting person from a completely different field. Lately, I’ve taken to questioning folks about the most common accidents in their occupation so I can figure out “accidental” ways my psychopath could bump people off. So sitting next to an expert on accidental deaths would be the best thing ever.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Marianne de Pierres

Snaphot Logo 2016

Marianne de Pierres remains one of the most versatile authors writing in the Australian scene, she’s not afraid to tackle any kind of story that takes hold of her and she’s always up for trying something new. Plus, she’s also great fun to have around! This interview is part of Snapshot 2016 and is reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Marianne de Pierres Comic Con 2016 author photoMarianne de Pierres received the 2014 Curtin University Distinguished Australian Alumni Award for significant and valuable contributions to society. This award was granted in recognition of her feminist speculative fiction. She is the author of the award-winning Sentients of Orion and Peacemaker series. Her young adult Night Creatures trilogy was listed as a Recommended Read by both the Stella Prize and Victoria Premier’s Literary Award panels. Under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt, she has also written a series of crime novels for which she has received a Davitt Award. She is a writing educator and mentor, a proponent of Transmedia, and has been involved in several successful creative partnerships.

You’re working on feminist science fiction for your PhD project, what is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your research and reading so far?

The short answer is “everything”. It’s been a wonderful and soaring learning curve for me: from Donna Haraway’s cyber-feminsim through to the post-feminist theorists. More specifically though, my topic examines how certain female speculative fiction authors imagine future feminism in their work. The most surprising discovery is the conclusion that I’m beginning to draw from an analysis of three particular texts. I’m using vN by Madeline Ashby, God’s War by Kameron Hurley, and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes as my case studies. Though set in vastly different worlds and written in diverse styles, there are some strong commonalities in their subtexts. But you’ll have to read my exegesis to find out what those are! No spoilers yet.

Sharp Shooter - coverThe recent re-release of ‘Sharp Shooter’ internationally is so exciting and I’m so looking forward to the release of the fourth novel in the series! Can you give us a hint of what we can expect from Tara’s next adventure?

Thanks Ju! I am also really thrilled that Twelfth Planet Press have picked up the Tara Sharp series for their Deadlines imprint. The books are being re-released over the course of this year with new covers, and each one has been revised, and in some instances new material has been added. Cathy Larsen is producing some splendid new artwork. Book 4 will be out around November and is titled Sharp Edge. Things are ‘hotting up’ between Tara and Nick Tozzi and she’s not sure she can handle it, so (in usual fashion) she plunges into her latest adventure to avoid having to make decisions. This means helping her ex-fiancée, Garth, with a money laundering problem and disentangling herself from the bikie gang to whom she owes a favour. Cass and she also move out of Lilac Street. Everyone’s lives are evolving.

One of your strengths as an author has been your ability to work across genres, from YA and urban fantasy to science fiction, crime and dystopia. Do you have a favourite amongst the genres you’ve written in and are there any you’d still like to try out?

Funny you should mention that! Once my PhD novel is complete, I plan to work on a biography about a man named Colonel Herman Thorn, who lived in early 19th Century New York and Paris. I’m so obsessed with this story that for the first time in my life, I feel compelled to write non-fiction, and I refuse to be daunted by the fact that it’s a new genre for me.

In terms of my previous fictions… as long as it’s speculative, I love it! No favourites there. 🙂

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Pamela Hart’s (aka Freeman) historical novels are some of the best world building I’ve read. Pamela’s a terrific writer in all genres, but I agree with her husband (author Stephen Hart) who says she’s really found her niche here.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Octavia Butler. I’d be interested in pretty much anything she had to do or say.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Ambelin Kwaymullina

Snaphot Logo 2016

Ambelin Kwaymullina writes the kind of books you fall in love with, at least *I* did and so it was a particular privilege to interview her. This interview is part of Snapshot 2016 and has been reposted from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Ambelin Kwaymullina author photoAmbelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and law academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is the author of the dystopian series The Tribe for young adults, and has also written and illustrated a number of award-winning picture books. Find out more about Ambelin at her website: www.ambelin-kwaymullina.com.au.

In one of your interviews for #LoveOzLit, you refer to a need to trust the story and to not get in its way. I also notice that much of your work features the element of transformation and I wondered if that was deliberate or if it relates to your trusting the story you’re working on?

In my culture, everything lives, including stories. That means to tell a story is a profound responsibility, and part of that responsibility is allowing the story to honour its own truths. Stories, like all life, are capable of unexpected transformations. Another part of that responsibility is to understand that not all stories are yours to tell – we all occupy a particular position in this world and that position informs our understanding but also places limits upon it, especially when it comes to the stories of cultures and identities not our own.

Are there any speculative projects (writing, art, appearances) that you’re working on presently that you can share any details with us?

I’m working on a new novel (YA, spec fic). It’s not part of The Tribe series – but like The Tribe series, it’s a work of Indigenous Futurisms, which is a form of storytelling where Indigenous creators use the spec fic genre to challenge colonialism and imagine Indigenous futures.

The Tribe Series - covers

In recent years you’ve written for The Wheeler Centre about Indigenous storytellers, power and privilege, about Aboriginal storytelling and young people, and about the need for diverse stories in Australia. Have you noticed any changes in the number or nature of Indigenous storytellers and stories being produced and distributed to wider audiences since then?

Nope.

Indigenous publishers (like Magabala Books) continue to do amazing work, and some small presses (like Fremantle Press and University of Queensland Press) also publish a significant list of Indigenous voices. But there’s been no fundamental shift in the literary industry more generally, either in relation to Indigenous authors or other diverse voices. Here’s the thing: as I’ve said before, a lack of diversity in literature is not a ‘diversity problem’. It’s a privilege problem, in that it is being caused by structures, behaviours and attitudes that consistently privilege one set of voices over another. That means that change is required at an individual and systemic level to address privilege before diverse voices will ever have a real chance of being heard. And this change needs to encompass the entire industry, not just publishers (as recent conversations in the US over the role of reviewers reminds us).

Part of this change involves being informed. I blogged recently about some things editors should know when editing books with Indigenous content, but much of what I said applies to the literary industry more generally.

What Australian work have you loved recently?
Cleverman!

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
My friend from across the sea, fellow speculative fiction writer Zetta Elliott. We have only ever met in cyber-space and it would be so nice to connect in person.

Review: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman

Invisible Library - coverARC Review:

Title: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Publisher and Year:  ROC, 2016 (US edition)

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

The first installment of an adventure featuring stolen books, secret agents and forbidden societies – think Doctor Who with librarian spies!

Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book – it’s what you call a ‘rollicking good read’! The story and characters were just fantastic and hooked me from the beginning. I also love the idea of an inter dimensional Library with all the knowledge and spy librarians! Such an awesome concept and I’m delighted by the surge in books about libraries and librarians and how awesome they are lately!

In regard to this particular book and its story, I enjoyed the alternate London universe quite a lot, with magic being a likely threat and having to navigate unfamiliar politics – and without the resources one could usually expect. I’m very keen to see how the story continues and also whether we will get to peek into other dimensions and worlds that the Library is interested in!

My only thought is that the romance in this book was a bit clunky and I wanted to believe in it a little more from both sides. I’m hoping that element improves in subsequent books as the characters and story develops further. I think this is in part to Irene’s perceived immaturity – even though she has a quite extended lifespan, much of it has been spent in the Library confines and less being out in the world – or at least, that’s the only conclusion I can come to? I want a bit more growth from her overall. Kai plays the part of mysterious super-attractive side kick character really well – it’s not often the super-attractive character is the sidekick actually so that bit I particularly like.

I enjoyed The Invisible Library a lot and can’t wait to read more about the story and these characters! It was the right book at the right time – adventure and fantasy and just light and fluffy enough but also with enough depth to really have me enjoy the reading experience. Sometimes I think it’s as much the right book for the right mood/occasion as it is excellent writing/story/characters. The latter things are important, but if you’re not in the mood for a super crunchy thinky read then you’re not, and similarly if you want that and try to read something super fluffy, you’ll be disappointed. This book is not super crunchy, complex and deep – nor would I want it to be. It’s entertaining and full of adventure and All The Cool Things – because if you got to work for a magical library wouldn’t enjoying all the cool stuff be partly the point?

Snapshot 2016: Interview with K.A. Bedford

Snaphot Logo 2016

Another day, another awesome interview for Snapshot 2016. This time I’m interviewing the lovely K.A. Bedford whose writing is as insightful as he is. This interview is reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Adrian Bedford author photoK.A. Bedford is a sometime writer living in Ballajura, Western Australia, with his lovely and long-suffering wife Michelle, and their dog Freckle. He’s the author of several sf novels, including Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, Eclipse, and, his most recent release, Black Light (2015). Time Machines and Eclipse won Best Novel at the Aurealis Awards in their years, and Time Machines was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award in its year.

 

Your novel ‘Black Light’ has been very well received and very different from your previous novels, what inspired you towrite a historical supernatural novel this time?

Thank you! I did not set out to write a historical supernatural novel “this time”. I wrote the original draft of a book that featured the original version of the Ruth Black character, the brainy but wronged wife of a mysteriously disappeared “diplomat”, in the late 80s. Then I had another go with the character, still trying to get a clear fix on her, in a book in 1996 (it was one of the two books I originally sent to the publisher in Canada (the other being my space opera/detective novel Orbital Burn; and they rejected Mrs Black but quite liked the story about the sad talking beagle)).

But in 2001, after my third book, Hydrogen Steel, was written, I found myself coming back to Mrs Black, this time with a much sharper idea of who she was and what she was about. She was a writer of science fiction novels, her husband was killed in a great war, she was independently wealthy, and burning with the suspicion that something about her late husband’s death was not as she had been informed. I wrote a complete draft, but I knew it had problems — problems I didn’t, at the time, know how to fix, so I put it aside on a floppy disk–which was then lost.

A few years ago, at a time when I was thinking about giving up on writing, I came across this ancient, dusty stack of floppies, and was going to toss them. But I wanted to just see what was on them first. I bought a USB floppy drive (my current PC doesn’t read them), and started going through them–and discovered the original Black Light draft, complete. I read it, and it was quite okay. The problems were fixable, so I fixed them. I changed the setting to Western Australia, a slightly alternate version where magic of a sort can coexist with science. Where elves who’ve found themselves here because of all the British and Irish immigrants brought them here with their cultural baggage and mythology, struggle in the savage heat and with the wrong sorts of trees, and become monstrous and angry.

Then a weird thing happened. I thought I had a decent book on my hands, but wasn’t sure. I asked very nicely if my friend Georgia Richter at Fremantle Press would mind just having a read, to see if it read okay. I knew Georgia from when Fremantle produced their edition of Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait. She said yes, and I sent it, grateful for her help.

Next thing she rings me one morning to tell me she wants to buy the book, she loves the book, and when can I come down to Fremantle to talk to them about it?

So you could say it’s been in the works a long, long, looooong time!

Black Light - cover (courtesy of Fremantle Press)

If you were to go to another country on an expenses paid trip to research a novel, where would you most like to go and why?

Antarctica. I’ve always wanted to go. It would most likely be very bad for emotionally, with the light and the isolation, but the place itself, the extremity of it, fascinates me the way Mars fascinates me, as if it were another planet helpfully stuck on the bottom of our own. I’ve been fascinated about Antarctica my whole life, and it is number one on my list of places to visit. I know it’s possible to do artist-in-residency gigs down there, but I have no idea what I’d actually write about. I loved Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica novel (though a bit didactic in the end), and other books about Antarctic explorers, notably Sir Ernest Shackleton’s South.

I’ve been following your candid discussion on dealing with health and mental health issues recently, your honesty has allowed insight into something not discussed so openly often. What prompted you to share your experiences so openly and have you found it to be beneficial?

Beneficial, yes, absolutely, because in writing about it, even on Facebook in front of friends, is like journalling, it allows me to think my way through what’s happening (and not happening), and how it feels. It’s a window into a situation many people would never previously have seen or experienced. It helps me process stuff.

Why do it, though, in the first place? Because it’s something happening to me. It’s my life. There’s no reason to keep it secret. In 2012 I shattered my left elbow when I fell on a concrete floor. I reported on the entire experience from the first day all the way through to the end of rehab, when I finally got full movement in my arm back. There was no shame in having a broken arm that needed fixing, and I strongly believe there is none in what’s happening to me now, as I make my way through depression and mental illness in a psychiatric hospital. It’s no different. I’m working on regaining full function in my mind, and my life. I’ve been plagued with depression all my life, since I was a kid. For most of that time I was acutely aware of the notorious stigma that surrounds mental illness. My reporting of my struggles now is my way of striking back against that stigma. No matter how personal, how private, how intense, it gets. Because there’s nothing shameful about it.

There is one weird and disturbing thing about my current situation: my mental health has been declining since late last year, culminating in what is now my second hospital stay this year. But I’ve barely written a word, and worse, have had no desire to write a word, for some time now. The writing part of my mind has, apparently, gone. As if removed. As if writing is a thing I used to do. There’s just a silence where previously there was always “radio chatter” from that part of my mind, with characters and stories and plans and ideas. Now there’s nothing. My doctors have an idea it might all be due to very low testosterone. We’ll find out.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Lee Battersby’s Magrit novel for younger readers was wonderful. I loved it very much for its mysterious sadness, for its plucky protagonist, its bony antagonist, and for the way, on every page, you could feel the author’s deep love for his own children.

Which author (living or dead) would you mostlike to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Gosh, I really wouldn’t. I’d be worried about too many things, about disturbing them, or bothering them, interrupting their concentration if they were trying to work, or sleep if they were trying to rest. I wouldn’t want anybody bothering me in the reverse situation, so I wouldn’t do the same to anyone else.

 

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Stephanie Lai

Snaphot Logo 2016

My interview with Stephanie Lai, and as you can see I get to interview some of the most awesome Stephanie types in Australia! I conducted this interview as part of Snapshot 2016, reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Stephanie Lai author photoStephanie Lai is a Chinese-Australian writer and occasional translator. She has published long meandering thinkpieces in Peril Magazine, the Toast, the Lifted Brow and Overland. Recently, her short fiction has appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction, Cranky Ladies of History, and In Your Face. Despite loathing time travel, her defence of Perpugilliam Brown can be found in Companion Piece (2015). She is an amateur infrastructure nerd and has a professional interest in climate change adaptation and sustainability. You can find her on twitter @yiduiqie, at stephanielai.net, or talking about pop culture and drop bears at no-award.net

Congratulations on your Artist Residency in Singapore! What excites you most about getting to spend three months concentrating on your creative work?

Thank you! Only EVERYTHING. I’ve never had the chance to really sit and just focus on my practice before, undistracted by calling my mum or cleaning up after the cat or visiting my friends who coincidentally have days off work. So the idea that I’ll be able to just sit and work is intimidating but so exciting, too. I’m also very excited about exploring something that is so personally important to me (the impact of traditional culture and cultural identity on how people interact with climate change information/instructions, particularly in Asian communities), and that has an impact on both my professional day job and my writing. Although I’m going to be working on community research for a research memoir, I expect the understandings and learnings and all the fun stuff will have an impact on my science fiction, too – so it’ll just mean even more climate change fiction about Chinese-Australian ladies. 😀

The residency is facilitated by Asialink Arts and located at Grey Projects in Singapore, and my grant is through the Malcolm Robertson Foundation.

Cranky Ladies of History - coverYour story about lady pirate extraordinaire Cheng Shih in Cranky Ladies of History was fantastic, and barely scraped the surface of how awesome she was historically. Is there a chance that you would consider writing more of her story in future?

Yes. I desperately want to look at how Cheng Shih’s domain and reign would have changed in a silkpunk world; or a world where she truly was the (Water) Dragon of the South Seas.  My piece in Cranky Ladies was very much set in our world as we understand it, and I’d like to explore that in a science fiction or fantasy setting.

If you had the opportunity to edit an anthology of your choice what kind of project would you want to put out into the world?

South East Asian climate change SFF written by South East Asians. Our islands will be impacted, and in many ways are already being impacted (our first climate change refugees are coming from the Pacific, from Tuvulu and Kiribati), and I’m interested in how people envision that. And in creating more spaces for South East Asian SFF.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Since last year’s Snapshot I’ve really loved Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure) and The Family Law by Ben Law, which wasn’t published recently but was a delight. I’ve also appreciated, rather than loved, a book by my housemate’s dad (Putting Stories to Work, Shawn Callahan, self-pub), which is about great using stories in business and not-profit contexts to change hearts and minds, and has really helped my professional storytelling practice (Storytelling is such an important part of climate change communication, and one which is often overlooked).

I am really looking forward to reading The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle, which just came out last week through The Lifted Brow.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I don’t talk to strangers on long flights! But I guess in the spirit of this question, my answer is either Pu Songling, Ted Chiang, or Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Snapshot 2016: Interview with Stephanie Gunn

Snaphot Logo 2016

My interview with Stephanie Gunn is the second of the interviews I conducted for Snapshot 2016, reposted from the original over at the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016.


Stephanie Gunn author photoStephanie Gunn is a speculative fiction writer and reviewer. Once upon a time she was a scientist, but life had other ideas, and now she spends her days surrounded in words in one way or another. She has had work nominated for the Aurealis, Ditmar and Tin Duck Awards, and is currently at work on several contemporary fantasy novels. She lives in Perth with her husband and son, and requisite cat, who cares not for books except as surfaces to sit on. You can find her online at stephaniegunn.com.

 

How would you describe your Defying Doomsday story ‘To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath’ for people who may not know what to expect from an anthology about a dystopian future featuring disabled and chronically ill protagonists?

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath is a story about sisters who survive a devastating flu pandemic. The sisters consist of a set of twins, both of whom have cystic fibrosis—one of whom has had a lung transplant—and their older sister. The three of them initially survived the pandemic by going into isolation on a remote farm with their uncle and mother; both adults died after the pandemic, leaving the sisters to survive alone.Defying Doomsday - cover

The idea for the story came from a long fascination with pandemics (I blame early reading of Stephen King’s The Stand, but I also have a background in microbiology and genetics, and had thought of going into epidemiology) and the idea of who would be likely to survive in a global pandemic. The idea is that the strong survive, of course, and those who happen to be immune, but what if that strength and/or immunity came with a chronic illness? And for that chronic illness to be something like cystic fibrosis, which requires an enormous amount of medical support, was an idea I couldn’t shake.

People with chronic illnesses and disabilities are taught to be survivors in this world, usually by necessity, and not always given the support and respect due to them. I wanted very much to show these sisters supporting each other, and in the end, to give them hope. To let them defy everything.

We’re about half way through our reading/blogging project ‘Journey Through the Twelve Planets’, what have you discovered about the Twelve Planets collection that you didn’t know when we started?

The main thing I’ve discovered is the sheer quality of the collections in the Twelve Planets. I read most of the first half of the Planets when they were released, and I knew that they were all good, but reading them back to back has really shown just how impressive they all are. We’re seven books in now, and there hasn’t been a single story or novella that’s been sub-par. It’s really put into perspective how damn good the female writers showcased are, and given me a whole new level of respect for Twelfth Planet Press and Alisa Krasnostein (and frankly, I already had an enormous amount of respect for both).

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.

In your 2015 wrap up blog post you talk about writing goals and achievements in 2015, how is 2016 shaping up in relation to the goals and plans still on your list?

This has been a bit of a frustrating year for me. I’ve been focusing a lot on developing my skill as a novel writer, and learning as much as I can about story structure and outlining. I’ve always been a hardcore pantser, and I’ve wanted very much to streamline my methodology to—in theory—make novel writing a faster process for me. I’ve definitely moved very much to being an outliner now, but novel writing is still frustratingly slow. It takes me a fair amount of time to craft a short story as well, and for both I need many, many drafts, so I’m at the point where I probably just need to accept that mine is a slow process.

I had a lot of plans coming into this year. I wanted to outline and finish a first draft of a new novel, which has been extremely slow in coming. I do have about two thirds of a draft by now, but it’s been extremely frustrating, especially since I wanted to have this done in the first half of the year so I can redraft another novel, which is edging close to being submittable.

I’ve also had one short story published so far (To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath, in Defying Doomsday), which I am incredibly proud of (and still, quite frankly, somewhat stunned to be published in that anthology!), and I have another novella forthcoming in Aurum from Ticonderoga Press. So it’s not a total loss, even though I feel like I’ve only accomplished a tiny fraction of what I wanted to.

 What Australian work have you loved recently?

All of the Twelve Planets collections read to date have been amazing, and I encourage anyone who hasn’t read them to pick up copies of them all. I was also floored by how amazing Lisa L. Hannett’s debut novel Lament for the Afterlife, as well as Louise Katz’s The Orchid Nursery. I’m biased, since I have a story in it, but Defying Doomsday, edited by Holly Kench and Tsana Dolichva, was amazing, and I want to make particular note of “Tea Party” by Lauren E. Mitchell. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, was also incredible, and I’m looking forward to the sequel later this year.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

This is a tough one, mostly because I’m a massive introvert who would most likely be sitting with headphones in for the whole time! If I have to pick someone, it would probably be Kameron Hurley, just because of her sheer talent, grit honesty about the writing life. I think that would be a very worthwhile trip.

Global Re-Release of Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt

Sharp Shooter - coverI reviewed Marianne Delacourt’s Sharp Shooter last year and fell in love with the Tara Sharp series. In honour of the series being re-released through the Deadlines imprint by Twelfth Planet Press, here’s my original review for Sharp Shooter, complete with a shiny new cover!

This re-release means Tara Sharp is global for the first time ever. It also goes without saying that I can’t wait to get my hands on the brand new book four that’s due out later this year!

WINNER of the Davitt Award 2010 Best Crime Novel and nominated for Ned Kelly Award 2010 Best First Crime Novel

Book 2 – SHARP TURN, coming 2016!
Book 3 – TOO SHARP, coming 2016!
Book 4 – SHARP EDGE, coming late 2016!

Blurb from Goodreads:

When she tries to turn her inconvenient secret into a paying gig, her first job lands her in the middle of a tug of war between the biggest, baddest crime lord in town and the hottest business man Tara has ever met.

With only a narcoleptic ex-roadie, her pet galah and a vanilla slice for back up, Tara is ready to take on trouble with a capital ‘T’.

Sharp Shooter is a hilarious, action-packed novel and Tara Sharp is Triple F: Funny. Fast. Feisty.

 

My Review:

It took me way too long to get to this book, because I’m not a crime reader. But, what I mean is that I’m not a *serious* crime reader, I don’t want the heavy stuff (without the magic), but light and fluffy? I’m all over that. I loved how recognisable Perth was in this book to me, and the characters with their friendship were delightful. I loved the way Tara’s story starts out and she’s kind of fumbling her way through things but managing to make them work in the end. I devoured this and immediately went to the next book.

 

Review: The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death #0.1) by Nnedi Okorafor

Book of Phoenix - coverReview:

Title: The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death #0.1)

Author: Nnedi Okorafor 

Publisher and Year: Daw, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, fantasy, magical realism, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….

The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.

 

My Review:

Sometimes you get to read a book like The Book of Phoenix and simply go: Wow. What an incredible story. I couldn’t put this down once I started, it was such a compelling read. I loved Phoenix’s character and her self discovery as the story unfolds.  I love the way that this is a story of a dystopia, and yet is not without hope – it’s not so grim that I can’t bear to read. I wish more authors remembered the importance of emotional pay off with something like dystopias – you have to want something out of it, and for me that’s always some kind of emotional salve for the pain and awfulness experienced. The Book of Phoenix is a book about humanity and heroes, of saving and destroying the world

Another aspect of this book that I loved was its anger. There is such a profound rage that is a fundamental and crucial part of this story and its telling. This anger was part of what made the book so compelling but it wasn’t rage without focus, instead it was rage that both confronts and invites you to also be angry. And I was, and I revelled in it – not something I usually say about the experience of anger. The way anger works in The Book of Phoenix is masterful.

I also loved the other romantic threads that weave through the story. I loved Phoenix’s connection with Saeed and their romance together, it felt very real to me even though they are engineered beyond ordinary human constraints. I also loved that even after Phoenix though Saeed lost to her, she did not give up on love, but instead found it unexpectedly in a new place, in a new life she had created… even if that was a short lived joy it was also one that felt very real. That Saeed is returned to her is at no point twee, it makes sense and is believable – all of their interactions and conversations together are. I felt for them and breathed with them. Lastly, I loved the romance with the narrator in the beginning of the story with his wife as nomads and how his going off to wander was a part of how their love for one another endured. There was such a rich tapestry that explored love in this book – friendship, mother love, Earth love, and more.

I cannot say enough good things about this story, it’s one of the best things I’ve read this year, I highly recommend this – and I look forward to the other stories in this universe.

 

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky - coverSword and Laser Bookclub: March

Title: All the Birds in the Sky

Author: Charlie Jane Anders

Publisher: Tor Books, 2016

Genre: Young adult, dystopia, urban fantasy, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

 

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book, I enjoyed the easy-reading start that matched up with the age and experience of the children involved and how gradually as they became older and more complex, so did the writing and the story. I’m also a fan of near future stuff that is hopeful as well as cautionary and I thought Anders balanced this well. Plus, it was great to read a story that looked at the intersection of magic and science as necessary for fixing global catastrophe and also at the ideas of balance, giving too much, taking too much, and giving up too soon.

I felt like all the key elements of the story were also reflected in the relationship between Patricia and Laurence, up to and including their imperfect friendship, and that imperfection and their ability to fail one another made them seem particularly real as protagonists to me. Also, I really appreciated the resolution of the book where AI Peregrine (one of my favourite parts of the book) was joined with the tree – how two all encompassing entities were still after connection in the end. I love that kind of message.

I adored the quirky descriptions of San Francisco, I was reminded why it’s a place I’d love to visit someday! Plus, across the book there were so many characters and it was nice to just enjoy that not all of them were white, or middle class, and straight. It was pretty subtle, as it should be – especially where queerness or poverty or whiteness aren’t critical to the story. Most reviews for this book struggle to put it into words, and I have to agree with that – it’s enjoyable and whimsical, playful and serious with genuine depth. But there were still some loose story ends that I wasn’t really satisfied with, plus there seemed to be too little information about Patricia and Laurances respective specialised schooling once they parted ways – given the way the story went I’d have thought there would be some time spent on that. Overall, this was a satisfying stand alone read, it’s wonderfully speculative without being overladen or heavy handed and would suit those who enjoy stand alone novels, modern fantasy with no medieval anything in sight, and those who aren’t necessarily particular fans of speculative fiction.

Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway - coverARC Review:

Title: Every Heart a Doorway

Author: Seanan McGuire

Publisher and Year: Tor, 2016

Genre: fantasy, young adult, new adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

 

My Review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How have I not read any of Seanan McGure’s work before?! Especially given my love of urban fantasy?! In any case, this was my first foray into McGuire’s work and I could not put the book down. Every Heart a Doorway is simply magnificent and is an instant favourite for 2016, without question.

Every Heart a Doorway has one of the most interesting fantasy premises I’ve come across in a long time and it’s beautifully executed. The world building for the story is sublime and I want to read so many more stories set in this universe! Not only were the setting and world building engaging, the characters leapt off the page and brought the story to life for me. I could imagine their voices, the way they looked, everything so clearly.

My heart went out to Nancy and I was particularly taken by her experience having tumbled into a world that wasn’t sunshine and rainbows, as some of the worlds in the books were described, but one that is more silent, deeper and a bit darker. I am absolutely a fan of sunshine, unicorns and rainbows without question, but my experience of that is enhanced when there is shadow and darkness to the lightheartedness. I also love how well McGuire demonstrates that sunshine and rainbows do not inherently equal benevolence or fairness, and that the darker or creepier worlds are not necessarily malevolent or evil.

What especially struck me about this novella, and I think it’s an aspect that makes this particularly good reading for young/new adults is the way in which Nancy experiences isolation and difficulty with her family after she returns from her world. Nancy’s experience parallels the experience of many who are struggling personally with something that their families don’t or can’t understand. Across the experiences of other characters in the novel like Kade, Jack, Jill and Sumi, the concept of family and the relationship with family as being complex, fraught and difficult on several levels is explored including having family, not having family, being loved and wanted, or unwanted and misunderstood by family.

Additionally, the novella includes a spectrum of characters with different experiences, not all of them are white, one is asexual and another is transgender, and this too mirrors the experience of people reading who want to see themselves in fiction, and see how other characters think about their lives, feelings and experiences and process them. I sincerely wish I had a book like this for when I was growing up, I needed this book growing up and I needed it now to look back on my past and growing up and the impact of being misunderstood and out of place on me. That profound sense of not belonging so much that you lose yourself in fantasy trying to cope – for the characters in the story that’s more literal than metaphorical but it really hit home for me. Wanting to belong and trying to find that place, finding it and losing it, trying to find a new sense of home and belonging afterwards. This story is profound on several levels.

I also love the overt feminism of the story in considering why there are so many more girls than boys who go through secret doors into hidden worlds. The idea of boys being too loud to be easily missed, and the expectations and assumptions about how boys play and what will happen to them versus the way in which we seek to protect girls, but also how we impose upon them a silence and stillness that means that it is easier for them to be misplaced, should they find a door and go wandering. This is a pointed commentary and it draws on the generalisations bound up in traditional gender roles reflecting not only a bitter truth contained within, but also the constraint that is imposed upon people to be, to not be, to conform a certain way.

I have no criticisms to level at this novella, as one reviewer put it: it’s damn near perfect. It packs an emotional punch, it’s beautifully written, the length is accessible – it’s neither too long nor too short and it leaves you wanting more. I am my own doorway, I am the only one who gets to choose my story and I make the decisions that govern my narrative. Every Heart a Doorway will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

 

International Women’s Day 2016

How does one write about women and equal rights in 2016? It’s traditional to start these posts off with a celebratory phrase, but also a cautionary one.

It feels like we’re still saying the same things over time and again. How do you stand up again on March 8 and say “Happy International Women’s Day, we have so much to celebrate, and so much work yet to be done”, again?

My eternal optimism at least, grows tired. Rallying cries and motivational statements abound but at least for me this year, they’re equal parts inspiring and heartening as they are tired, and somewhat depressing. What do I even mean by this?

Well, I’m never going to fail to be astounded and inspired by the boundless enthusiasm of those who bring new energy to this fight, to this journey for equality. I’m also never going to lose my abiding respect and admiration for those who keep speaking out, speaking up about equality for years – seemingly tireless.

But. And it’s a big one. It’s still the same stuff and it seems like overall so little has shifted. The conversation about women, about equality is still one where many of us are jumping up and down to emphasise the importance of intersectionality. We’re adamant about the importance of less white women speaking for a supposedly global homogenous population of women – we’re not homogenous, and equality looks like many different things across global groups. But how are we making it possible for women from across different cultural groups and ethnicities to speak and be heard? Also, what about making the voices of women who have disabilities – visible and invisible, heard? Or simply, what about making it possible, without a huge cost of energy, for those people with disabilities to attend events without going three rounds with organisers about the realities of accessibility?

Globally we’re still divided on the importance of trans* and non-gender-binary people’s experience of oppression – and I’m not the only one who is just so tired of explaining why this is relevant to women, to equality and yes, to International Women’s Day. For all the visibility of something like IWD, there remains so much invisibility for various women, and people whose experiences are reflective or related to the kind of equality sought by, represented by International Women’s Day.

The theme for IWD 2016 is ‘Pledge for Parity’. It’s a worthy theme, more nuanced than some I’ve seen. And it encompasses so much – parity in terms of equal pay, equal representation in leadership, business, politics, policy, health, technology, and science. Also, parity in the experience of safety in homes and society at large, equality in recognition for talent and achievement, in publishing and critique, in creation of art, music and performance. Parity also relates to choice, and ditching the trap of ‘having it all’ instead for the idea that you can choose for yourself, and what you choose should be respected. Parity means being able to choose the work you do, the contributions you make to society, your choice to parent, your choice of partnership and around family experiences, around community and culture. And recognising also… choice does not occur in a vacuum. Until we address the surrounding culture – at every level, globally – choices will continue to be informed by the same limitations to equality we currently experience.

My underlying point to these statements is of course that, women no matter their background or ability, trans* and non-gender-binary people, do actually have a right to expect their societies to reflect their lives and also to be liveable for them. This is fundamentally about changing societies, not accommodations reluctantly made by existing monolithic societies. And therein lies my fatigue around the conversation about feminism, intersectionality and equality; because this is the conversation we’re not really having. Right now we can only point directly to where minority groups lack equality, preferably in hard statistics because who can trust personal stories and experiences – who can trust one hundred (thousand) of them?

Even then, caveats are necessary to recognise that of course not everything is bad, not everyone from various groups is contributing to the harm (and isn’t that statement the crux of missing the whole point?). The moment we point to an aspect of society that needs to shift and change, the need for others to comment and derail the conversation to become about everything the conversation was not about occurs every time. I’m not the only one fatigued by that first or second comment to any discussion I initiate or participate in that requires the acknowledgement that often really does boil down to ‘#notallmen’.

Going back to the idea various individuals have that they’re not personally contributing to the harm, the most frustrating thing about this is simply that: they are. We all are in our way – that’s what it means to live in an unequal society. I am frustrated because I can never get past the defensiveness and the need for ego stroking here. It often seems impossible to get to the next point which is: we all contribute to the harm an unequal society imposes on others, but we also all have the ability to become aware of this and to contribute to changes that will result in a society that becomes more equal. And no, there is no immediate ‘do it once and you’re done’ fix. It’s incremental, it’s ongoing and glacial. It’s what we mean when we say that feminism and the fight for equality is like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

The challenge remains that: we’re still trying to work out how to do this. It’s like trying to ‘see air’ without changing the context under which you’re ‘seeing’ it. That’s the conversation that it seems like we’re still not *quite* having. Although my optimism is leaking through here when I say that, a conversation of that kind on a global level seems closer than ever before. But not close enough.

So here’s my toast to *all* women, all trans*, all non-gender-binary people, all those with disabilities visible and invisible, for their hard work, dedication, belief in the seemingly impossible, their trust in me and in others, their hope, their hard and thankless work to create change. Here’s my toast to the discoverers, the ground-breakers, the thinkers, creatives, performers, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, surveyors, engineers, astronomers, dreamers, artists, health professionals, carers, cleaners, parents, lovers, writers, politicians, cooks, the daring, the innocent, the cynical, the brave, the injured, the fearful, those who are struggling. Here’s to immigrants and refugees, asylum seekers and those who grab with both hands any chance for survival, to create a safer life for themselves and their families. Although we are still so far from equality, your bravery, compassion, and optimism humbles me and together I assert that a future of equality is possible, because we cannot be dissuaded and our number swells day by day.

AWW16: Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelve Planets #2)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #4

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Love and Romanpunk (Twelve Planets #2)

Author: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: fantasy, alternate history, historical fiction, urban fantasy,

 

Love and Romanpunk - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

Thousands of years ago, Julia Agrippina wrote the true history of her family, the Caesars. The document was lost, or destroyed, almost immediately.
(It included more monsters than you might think.)

Hundreds of years ago, Fanny and Mary ran away from London with a debauched poet and his sister.
(If it was the poet you are thinking of, the story would have ended far more happily, and with fewer people having their throats bitten out.)

Sometime in the near future, a community will live in a replica Roman city built in the Australian bush. It’s a sight to behold.
(Shame about the manticores.)

Further in the future, the last man who guards the secret history of the world will discover that the past has a way of coming around to bite you.
(He didn’t even know she had a thing for pointy teeth.)

The world is in greater danger than you ever suspected. Women named Julia are stronger than they appear. Don’t let your little brother make out with silver-eyed blondes. Immortal heroes really don’t fancy teenage girls. When love dies, there’s still opera. Family is everything. Monsters are everywhere. Yes, you do have to wear the damned toga.

History is not what you think it is.

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


I like to think that I’m someone who appreciates history. I like to think I have an interest. If I’m honest, it’s an interest where I’m easily distracted and I’ve rarely taken the time or opportunity to dig deep into the history of something and really become immersed. So reading this collection by Tansy I see what comes out of the possibility of such immersion – where you come out the other side of what can be factually established, what is theorised, what evidence tells us (what little there is for women’s history at least), and into the realm of pure speculation. The result is glorious.

I’ve seen several comments about how this collection is what decided people on becoming a Tansy fangirl – and I can really see why! I am a fangirl already (the Creature Court series really hooked me). These stories, although set in the same overarching universe are distinct from each other and self contained. However they also create an overall narrative that is a joy in the unfolding as you the reader discover.

Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary

At first I was a little bit lost when I started this story, but I soon found my feet. I’ve got no familiarity with Roman history – beyond that Julius Caesar existed. Getting to read something of the family history of Caesar – heavily fictionalised or not was really interesting. I also love the way in which adding the supernatural and mythological elements to this family history also speculates about the nature of the history and the events surrounding the family. This was thoroughly charming as a story and I fell in love with the idea that being a ‘Julia’ was something special. How neatly is the context of women in Roman society explained here? We have the ordinary and the extraordinary contextualised alongside one another so beautifully, this particular thing I admire a whole lot.

Lamia Victoriana

Once again my lack of familiarity with the history where the story is set meant I was scrambling for a little while – I’ve no doubt if you’re familiar with the Wollstonecraft family history that there are additional layers of joyful discovery contained within this piece. It doesn’t disappoint if like me, you don’t have that background. Fanny and Mary are interesting, and I love this tiny look into their lives and of happiness in amidst the supernatural glimpsed. I’m a little enamoured of a vampire story from the point of view of being the food, the prey, the needed one. When this story ended I wondered how or if it would fit into the bigger context of the narrative begun in the previous story and though it’s subtle, looking back after finishing all the stories I can see and appreciate the links a whole lot.  I love the queerness in this story, the lush connection between Fanny and the Poet’s sister was so sweetly erotic, unapologetic and without guilt. And yet, also so very subtle – I loved it.

The Patrician 

Here I hit my stride because we leave the past behind and instead we’re in a present day alternate Australia where a replica Roman City has been built and is staffed by residents for tourists who play the part of Romans. Here we meet Clea Majora, my favourite character in the book (though Julia Agrippina comes a very close second). I love the strange relationship that evolves between Clea and Julius, friendship, curiosity and discovery in between bouts of fighting monsters. I love the sense that the real world is never quite enough for Clea, and yet she’s not so restless that she needs to leave her daily life behind completely.

I love the idea that for once a woman at age fifty and above is still considered young, and that someone thousands of years old as Julius is presented to us, only starts to think of her as a romantic companion at that point – that she’s too young before. This trope is one that is abused most often and is often well and truly into creepy territory in modern urban fantasy. It’s not that it’s impossible, just that it is so often badly done, explained flippantly or explanations make it *more* creepy and not less. The evolution of Clea and Julius’ connection is my favourite part of this story. More urban fantasy romances spanning the ages like this please!

Last of the Romanpunks

And here we have both a conclusion and a beginning. On the one hand, I feel like Clea should probably have known better than to leave artefacts of supernatural Roman history lying around easily picked up. On the other hand, it was all supposedly dealt with, so I don’t blame her too much. It was such a difference to see through Sebastian’s eyes the unfolding of this story, but also his memories of his grandmother Clea’s adventures and stories. I love that he’s resourceful and recognises an awesome Julia when he finds her. Not only does he find a Julia to help him to save the day from a Romanpunk themed airship filled with lamia descend upon the cities below to wreak havoc, but the original Julia Agrippina joins in through Sebastian in order to continue trying to set right the wrongs of her family and their history. This story brings together all the elements of the previous stories, winds them down and then leaves us with the kind of conclusion which is really just another beginning. That’s rather delightful actually as I could read Tansy’s portrayal of Julia Agrippina any day!


In conclusion, this collection was beautifully put together. It delivers a wonderful experience for the reader comprised of separate, bite-sized chunks of story while also creating a deeper narrative that threads throughout all of the stories. I learned something and I got to immerse myself in a world and characters that I loved fleetingly but deeply. This book is the second of the twelve books in this collection and like Nightsiders which I previously reviewed, it’s an exceptional addition to the project and is also a book that I’m calling one of my best reads of 2016. Yes, in February. I loved this book so very much – it reminds me that even though I’m a terrible student of history I love to appreciate others’ expertise in the field, especially when they create such fictional delights such as this.

AWW16: Nightsiders by Sue Isle (Twelve Planets #1)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #3

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 BadgeTitle: Nightsiders (Twelve Planets #1)

Author: Sue Isle

Publisher and Year: Twelfth Planet Press, 2011

Genre: science fiction, dystopia, young adult

 

Nightsiders - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

In a future world of extreme climate change, Perth, Western Australia’s capital city, has been abandoned. Most people were evacuated to the East by the late ’30s and organised infrastructure and services have gone.

A few thousand obstinate and independent souls cling to the city and to the southern towns. Living mostly by night to endure the fierce temperatures, they are creating a new culture in defiance of official expectations. A teenage girl stolen from her family as a child; a troupe of street actors who affect their new culture with memories of the old; a boy born into the wrong body; and a teacher who is pushed into the role of guide tell the story of The Nightside.

 

My review:

This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, and as part of the Journey Through the Twelve Planets Reading Challenge


 

This book is the first of the Twelve Planets, single author collections produced by Twelfth Planet Press and is a strong start to such a unique project. This collection by Sue Isle features four interwoven stories, each complete in its own way and each contributing to a larger sense of a dystopian future Australia. This world is painted so vividly and I join the chorus of others who hope that the author may venture back into this universe with a novel at some stage.

The Painted Girl

What I most appreciated about this story is that we’re introduced to the world of Nightside through the eyes of Kyra who is both young and confused. In some ways her understanding of the world around her is solid and broad, but in other ways there are many unknowns and her naivety shows. I appreciated that Kyra’s understanding of things centred around rules – but that where you were and who you were engaging with meant the rules may be different. I also liked that it is kindness, that Kyra reached out to Alicia that motivated the girl from the Drainers to help her in turn when Nerina turned against her.

This story is a subtle introduction to post apocalyptic Perth, called the Nightside because only the Drainers walk the day time any longer. The story that Isle has written presents both harsh realities of a broken-down society post apocalypse but also connection and hope, how people come together and work together too. Of particular note is the idea of choice, for Kyra, who has had so little choice in her life. The notion of choice is what lingers after this story has finished. The Painted Girl is a fantastic introduction to this world and its stories.

Nation of the Night

This was one of my favourite stories of the collection. Ash is such an interesting character and following his journey to pursue self-hood was powerful. In the present day, pursuit of identity presentation and representation, aspects of gender and the sexed body are fraught and difficult to achieve. In this story Isle explores what it may look like for a transgendered person in a post-apocalyptic society, where medical care is much more scarce and choices seem both more and less limited.

What really stayed with me was the difference between the present I am reading from, and the present in which Ash finds himself. Although many of the difficulties that exist outside the book in the present day, still exist in some form for Ash, the simple acceptance of him by Prof. Daniel, the doctor and those he meets in Melbourne. The question is only around his capacity to make adult decisions about himself, his body and his life – not interrogating the truth of his experience of self and gender. Such a sharp commentary on the state of things here in my present as a reader.

My only criticism with this story was that although the journey to Melbourne and home again was described as difficult that didn’t really seem to be the case. Instead, it was that Ash was an outsider in Melbourne, even as a temporary visitor that seemed more difficult to navigate – the lack of accommodation, lack of familiarity with the city and it’s particular rules. Additionally, even the constraints on the doctor in doing the favour for Ash in performing the surgery, what was possible and what his recovery would look like.

I appreciated the New Zealand family and their point of view that Ash met. Their experience and point of view provided more context as to the Eastern States and how the evacuation from the West had affected them. How, the city was trying to keep people out because of overcrowding and limited resources, how some people were lesser than others as immigrants and what the effect of this was. How, Nightside might seem like a better life to some if you found you couldn’t keep things together in Melbourne. That juxtaposition of difficulty and nod to the idea of the grass being greener on the other side was well done I thought. I found myself wanting to know what happened to the family as Ash headed home back to Perth, ending the story.

Paper Dragons

One of the themes that I thought this story highlighted, was the nature of interdependency, connection and reliance on others for shared wellbeing. The Elders rely on others to help support them, and they in turn provide support, care and knowledge. I am curious as to how Tom’s play troupe came together and why it holds such importance in their small community – there seems like there’s a story there. Not that I dispute the importance of story and community in a society like Nightside, just it seems interesting that it is prominent and held with such respect alongside survival activities – as though it is of equal importance. The why of that is interesting to me and I wish that had been explored more.

Although it’s suggested that the pages that Shani finds of a screenplay could stir up more trouble than they are worth (is the title a reflection of this I wonder?), the trouble itself doesn’t really manifest. Although the Elders do leave their houses and come to see the play – but I’m never sure what actually makes this play different from the rest put on by Tom’s troupe – why is it that the youngsters putting on the play is what shifts the balance and awakens the Elders somewhat?

I feel like this is a story of questions, that this is a story that provokes but doesn’t satisfy and that is perhaps one of the points. So much is unknown, by the youngsters, so much is forgotten or painful to the Elders, what they create together is the in-between. This is an intriguing story and I loved that we got to see Ash again, back from Melbourne and happier in himself and also accepted by the others.

 The Schoolteacher’s Tale

My other stand out favourite from the collection. I loved the way that we started the book with a confused young girl, who introduced the reader to Nightside, and that the collection ends with the story of Miss Wakeling an old woman adapting for a the future and being confronted with the need for change. I love that Shani and Itch are getting married, and have sought out the Aboriginal Elders out on the fringe of the Nightside, specifically because they see the importance of change and growing together, sharing knowledge and moving forward. There was so much hope in this story, and so much suggestion of coming together in a way that hadn’t happened before. I also love that the notion of knowledge and school and what education is useful in a dystopian future? This was such a great ending to the collection and also seemed like a beginning. I would love a novel from Miss Wakeling’s point of view about her journey out to the sea.

Overall 

There was so much to enjoy about these stories, diverse characters and situations, points of view, parallels to the present day that were nicely pointed. I loved that both Melbourne and Perth were so recognisable to me! I love that the apocalypse has already prompted adaptive changes from the inhabitants of Nightside – the children see better in the dark for example. There are so many women here and they are simply capable and interesting in their own way – even Nerina who is cast as perhaps the only unlikable character in the book. I almost didn’t notice this because it just seemed so normal and comfortable to read – and then I remembered how rare that is. Also, I love that this is not a gritty story of horror-survival but one of massive change, but still with community at its heart. I just want to reiterate how  much I’d love a novel from this world, it’s so interesting and I want to spend more time here.

Recent Podcast Link Salad

Ever since I started my part time job I’ve been powering through podcasts like there’s no tomorrow, it’s been grand actually. I also have a plan for when I’m working less (and stop entirely) that involves long walks and podcasts; that too will be grand. I talked a while back about podcasts I’d fallen in love with – but that was all the way back in October. Time for an update!

Galactic Suburbia IconGalactic Suburbia

There’s a strange, wonderful thing that happens when you start listening to the back catalogue of a podcast that has been running as long as Galactic Suburbia has been. I started out listening to all of 2015, then I finished that and went back to 2014 and then just yesterday finished 2013. I love all the episodes and look forward to them every fortnight, but recently I particularly enjoyed episode #135, the Star Wars VII Spoilerific – it was glorious. What I noticed was the progression of conversation, the way certain topics resurface – but in a new light, for new reasons, and how conversations that were more recent draw on conversations from past episodes. The whole effect is like getting to appreciate the many layers of something and see them individually and as a whole. It’s been rather marvellous I have to say.

I’ve never really been focused on reading from the same year of publication or for awards (my own experience of awards related organisation broke me for quite a long time, much longer than I’d have thought, I’m hoping that’s mostly done with). Until last year that is where I started to get the idea of what that excitement of reading in the year of publication was. Very possibly I’ll read more books published in 2016 in 2016 than I’ve achieved in any other year! I’ve also managed to go back and fill gaps on previous award shortlists and winners that I’m interested in – taking advantage of the time passed, recommendations given and reviews posted. I’m reaping the rewards from this massively.

Outer Alliance IconThe Outer Alliance

I’ve been exploring Tor.com lately and this is one of the things I discovered, my plan is  mainly to listen to the episodes with guests who sound interesting, or who I admire or who are on my reading list. I’m not certain if this podcast has ended or is on hiatus (or something else), entirely. However, so far I’ve listened to episode #50 talking about Glittership with Keffy Kehrli and that’s another on my list of things to look up and try. I also listened to episode #47, an interview with Susan Jane Bigelow – who is on my to-read list thanks to Fangirl Happy Hour. Those were minutes of listening well spent, I loved friendly style of Julia’s interviewing and am especially supportive of her idea that there should be more space cats. I definitely added more to my reading list, such as (Angel in the Attic by Rebecca Tregaron) from this podcast and look forward to listening to more past episodes in the catalogue.

Midnight in Karachi BannerMidnight in Karachi

Also from Tor.com and on my ‘try this’ list for quite a while. Another one where to start off with, I’ll look particularly to listen to authors I admire or those who are on my to-read list. I listened to Midnight in Karachi and fell in love with Mahvesh Murad’s interviewing style and the intelligence and eloquence that are hallmarks of this podcast. So far, I’ve listened to episode #11 her interview with Genevieve Valentine (and added The Girls of the Kingfisher Club to my reading list), episode #13 and her interview with Nnedi Okorafor, episode #15 with Frances Hardinge, episode 17 with Naomi Novik, and episode 19 with Daniel José Older. Such awesome guests and interviews so far!

Tea & Jeopardy IconTea & Jeopardy

I also listened to a bunch of the back catalogue of Tea & Jeopardy because it’s short, sweet, thoroughly entertaining and light hearted. Also I was in the mood for a bit of a story which comes with this podcast. I listened to episode #3 with writer Paul Cornell, episode #4 with literary agent Jennifer Udden, and episode #5 with SFX editor Dave Bradley. I’m so charmed by this show.

Sheep Might Fly IconSheep Might Fly

A new podcast! And a new favourite! First episode with Tansy Rayner Roberts reading her fiction starting with part 1 of Fake Geek Girl from Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 14, Issue 4. I am hooked!

Fangirl Happy Hour IconFangirl Happy Hour

This was my best podcast discovery of 2015 and I just keep wanting to hug it. Recent episodes I’ve listened to include episode #31 – High Five Awards 2015, episode #32 – No Fucks Given 2016 and the 2016 Hugo Season Quick Shot. I was getting all excited about participating in the Hugo Awards this year, but the exchange rate is so terrible that I can’t afford the supporting membership to enable that. Maybe next year instead. I’ve held off on episodes 33 and 34 because I have homework first. Namely, watching Jessica Jones and reading Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Also have to decide how much I care about Agent Carter season 2 spoilers.


 

So that’s what I’ve been listening to! This isn’t all the podcasts I’m following, but it’s the ones I’ve listened to in the past week or so.  If you have any recommendations based on these that you think I’d particularly enjoy, let know in the comments 🙂

Chrysalis for 2016

It’s finally time to talk about what my enquiry for 2016  will be.

If you’re new to my blog and have no idea what I mean by theme, it refers to my personal practice of engaging in a gentle year long enquiry that is more subconscious and occurs in the background rather than involving overt and specific actions over the course of the year. It’s about a guiding idea of focus and thoughtfulness – I wrote about this in more detail if you are interested.

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith - 2014

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis by Kim C Smith – 2014

My theme is Chrysalis, like what butterfly pupae go through as part of their metamorphosis. Unusually, I’ve had this word since late December last year, after a conversation with one of my best friends – she mentioned it idly but that tiny little inner bell I associate with intuition, pinged and I took note. Interestingly, at the time I didn’t realise that I’d spoken about butterflies and transformation when I wrote about Becoming in February last year. Chrysalis seems fitting and feels right because it’s not a dramatic change from Becoming, it’s more of a transition to a different enquiry, a shifting of focus ever so slightly. I’m still in the process of, I’m not done yet, transformation is incomplete and I’m not ready to emerge.

On @Dilettantiquity’s advice when we had our annual theme conversation (and this year we’ve pledged to vidchat much more frequently), I looked up Chrysalis on wikipdedia and youtube. What I learned reinforced how well this theme fits for the year ahead. This is not a theme I’m excited about per se, it’s a theme that feels like a warm blanket, it feels like a nest, and like self-protection and self-care. Given how grinding last year was, this makes sense to me. Given the likelihood that this year will be similar in several respects, this also makes sense to me. I’m especially enchanted by the association of the cast off skin hardening, something like armour and becoming somewhat metallic in appearance.

If last year was a much more inward year than I expected, then this one is presenting itself as more inward focusing still. I’m okay with that, up to a point and I’ve put in place gentle steps to avoid feeling lonely and cut off socially when things are hard later on. I expect I’ll remain very low in social energy throughout the year, but that easy social activity with people I’m close to in low-stress settings will be a world of good. And so I’ve asked people to gently check in with me and make socialising easy if they can. I feel like I’ve already given my future self a huge gift by having this conversation with some of my closest friends in Melbourne, because right now I have the forethought and the energy to put it in place, and later I expect I’ll value this previous effort and hopefully I and my beloved friendships will reap those rewards. It is pretty clear to me that I am a person in ebb at the moment, rather than flow or abundance. This is all good and well, part of balance.

Even in an inwardly focused year, there are aspects of my life that I’d like to put some energy into, that I hope I’ll learn something about through my enquiry. Chrysalis will be interesting – I have no idea what to expect from it, and just because my associations with it suggest self-protection and self-care and so on, the actuality may look vastly different. There’s always something amazing and unexpected that occurs as a result of letting the enquiry just be there in the background working away at your subconscious. Still, here are some things that are important to me that I’m putting energy towards this year.

Reading, Media and Fandom

Although I was so very exhausted at the end of last year, I also found a lot of joy and solace in reading, in media – especially podcasts and feeling more connected to fandom in general than I have for several years. I’m really hoping to continue to nurture this! I wrote about reading goals I have, they’re very similar to those I had last year where I’m seeking to improve on some aspects but not using these as a stick to beat myself with. I’m focusing not just on number goals but on participation, community and sharing. Yay bookclubs!

I want to continue to listen to and revel in the podcasts I’ve fallen in love with – they helped me through last year so much! Also, they’re the perfect motivation to go for a good long walk which I need help with, so yay! I also want to enjoy the reading and blogging projects I’ve instigated, because the projects themselves are super awesome, and I adore the people I’ll be doing them with. I enjoyed reviewing books I was reading massively last year. It was so much fun and I felt much more connected to what I was reading!  I want to continue with a similar level of reviewing here, but I’m also giving myself permission to review directly on Goodreads for some books too if that’s what I want.

I use reading for stress relief, for pleasure and leisure and as part of my bedtime routine – those things mean that I do read fiction throughout the year, not just study books and it’s been one of my best mechanisms for self-care for several years although its importance to me is something I’ve sometimes taken for granted.

Midwifery - art, science, care - quoteMidwifery

I just want to do well. I want to do well, I want to learn. I want to be the best midwife I can be. I want to regain my confidence on prac. I want to explore how to rework an essay from last year into a piece I can submit somewhere as a formal publication piece. How do people actually learn to do this? I’m halfway through my second undergraduate and I have no idea. I want to pass all my units with good marks. And along with regaining confidence, I want to impress the hospitals I’ll be doing pracs at while I’m there – and I must remember to ask for recommendations ahead of third year and interview preparation stuff. Also I’ll have my halfway degree review this semester and I must  somehow get past being petrified about it. I’m so passionate about midwifery and feminism, their importance to healthcare, to women, and to families. I want this so much it *hurts*. Although this is second on my list behind reading, it’s one of my key priorities for the year and everything else needs to work around it.

Self Care and Development

A slight change in focus for this topic this year. I want to focus on self-care and resources to shore up my own resilience to stress and difficulty. I’m looking less at things that are about pushing my boundaries and painful growth – they may happen anyway, but I’m not going searching for it, it’s not an overt priority. So, gentleness, small things, joyful things, connection, health.

I want to maintain connection and the chance to be social with loved ones this year, I expect this will be hard with scheduling between classes, prac, assessment, exams and energy levels. But I’m doing what I can to promote the success of this by asking for help from those I’m close to in Melbourne so that catching up is as easy as possible. I also want to go to Continuum, I’ve got my supporting membership – just need to make it full and I’m good to go! Bonus if I can stay in the hotel for at least a couple of nights, but that’s wishful and a bonus. Going to the convention last year was one of the best things about the year and I hope this year yields similar joy.

I want my partners to have a better year in all the same ways I want to have a better year – less stress that is hard to manage, less mental health concern and more coping. Less energy needed for coping. I want to smile seeing them enjoying things more and I want to do everything I can to contribute to their joy. I love our household and I want it to continue to be the haven and sanctuary that we rely on and trust each other with. I want to do fun house things and enjoy family rituals around events/times of the year that add to whimsical joy. I want there to be more photos of me, more photos of us together – there are no recent photos of us together and since it makes me feel sad, I’d like to remedy this.

I want to do some de-cluttering and organising of my stuff that’s still packed (mainly because I don’t have bookshelves, but not entirely). I might ask for help from someone to come and keep me company while I do it (I don’t mind doing it and I don’t think it will be emotionally hard, just company during would be a great impetus to get it done. I would like to come across bookshelves that I like and work for the small amount of space I have in my room for them – I want to unpack some of my books so I can read them. This is about my bedroom as an optimal nest, for relaxing and quiet time, but also study, depending on what’s needed.

I want to try and get to some Wheeler Centre events and other easily accessible and cheap/free things throughout the year in Melbourne. I enjoyed this when I was able to manage it last year and it made me feel more connected to my beloved city and less like I had to miss out on everything because of budget. I’ve already booked in for some things in February and March that I’m looking forward to as well, so this is on track already. Melbourne-ness, I want to enjoy it, because I am so in love with this city.

Health stuff, I just want to do the best I can and gently followthrough on things as needed. I’m dealing with some reflux stuff that’s unpleasant, but my doctor is awesome so I’m in great hands. The rheumatologist at the Royal Melbourne has been great and is happy to provide specialist support even though I don’t need much to help manage and improve what is possible with my hypermobility – I don’t have anything that would qualify as a chronic health issue with any degree of seriousness – the steps I’m taking is to keep it that way. My pain is very manageable and fatigue is rare.

I want to increase my activity levels, not just for the physical benefits, but also to find ways of prompting the emotional benefits. I enjoy walking and would like to see how I go with swimming – I find exertion triggering/distressing and I’m aiming to avoid dealing with that bucket of stuff at present. My plan is to use podcasts to help with motivation for walks – I am really enjoying listening to them and short of an actual person to talk to, they’re excellent company for walking. Also, there is a huge and beautiful park local to me that I can also take better advantage of. Plus, zoo visits – I have a membership and enjoy casual visits to see what’s happening and changing with the zoo. Plus, walking distance from my house so actually pleasurable excercise!

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.I want to continue to keep up my blogging efforts, both here and my ‘5 things a day’ effort on my Dreamwidth journal. I’m looking forward to the blogging review projects that I’m involved in like the Journey Through the Twelve Planets, I’ve wanted to do something like these for ages so they’re definitely a priority in this area. I also want to review books and write about fannish things if the mood strikes. I want to talk about movies and television, about podcasts and new-to-me stuff! I want to try and host the DUFC once, I want to write about feminism pretty much at all, and same about midwifery if possible. I want to blog about cooking and family thoughts – poly stuff and budget stuff. I have a bunch of ideas noted down – hopefully I’ll find some time to write about them. And if not, that’s okay too.

I would like to make it back to Perth this year, to see partners, chosen family and friends – and I’d like it to be any other time than Summer. I am hoping to have Kaneda over here for our 19th anniversary – I didn’t get to see him at all in 2015. I’d also like to make a to visit other friends who live elsewhere – Adelaide, Sydney or Brisbane maybe? This is a wishful thing as it’s not likely possible with budget constraints, but I’m making space for it. I want to spend a few days with Mum – I didn’t manage that at all last year mainly because of study things and related stress, plus work. I’d also love to do a few days away in regional Victoria by myself on the cheap as part of my plan for self care – I’ve figured out that in a bunch of ways I need to be away from home for it to be a holiday, preferably where I don’t have to make my own food.

Also, I still want to get my license. I want to get past this. I want it because it will make prac and followthrough things easier, it will give me the chance to apply to do the continuity of care program prac next year for my course. It will give me a sense of achievement to have *finally* done it. I still want to take a mini-road trip by myself to celebrate. I think the way to get through this is to do a couple of lessons about passing the test. In the meantime, I need to encourage Ral and Fox to take me out driving so I can get comfortable with my own sense of competency again. This is one of the harder goals I have for this year, but I really want to get it done this time.

Cooking

This focus is as  much on framing as anything. My major household contribution is around management of meal planning and food decisions, and a hefty chunk of the cooking. Mostly I enjoy this! Some days it’s a bit harder. There’s a lot I enjoy about cooking and I’ve discovered I really like trying new recipes. I also like revisiting familiar ones and just *knowing* what they’ll give me. Sometimes I’m creatively minded to make up something to cook, but it’s not how I operate generally at present. So I’d like to continue to have meal planning work for us, to minimise groceries needed and food wasted. I’d like to continue to have lunches for uni/work easily organised. I’m encouraging Fox to cook more often this year and I’m aiming to get him confident with stir fries, soups and basic stews/casseroles. I would like to keep trying new recipes, but also spread out the rotation of familiar recipes that we liked and that worked well for us in the past couple of years.

I’d like to have people over for dinner as part of my easy socialising desires – especially if on those nights I can encourage Ral and Fox to cook sometimes. Maybe I’m also interested in a monthly dinner that is a general social invite alla the Friday Night Meatballs concept, although I can’t imagine preparing the same dish every single Friday, and maybe Sunday night would work better schedule wise given it would be almost Fox’s weekend and a chance for something easy/low key to be really lovely. The key is ease and connection. I want to increase the amount of meals we eat that are vegetarian and vegan, but again, I don’t want this to be a stick to beat myself with. I want to continue making our own stock – it’s such a time-saver and makes the dishes we cook taste better – the bone broths especially, but there’s no reason not to have veggie stock given it’s largely made out of scraps, so less waste. I also want to see if I can manage one preserving effort of some description this year, although honestly this is a bonus goal.


So that’s my current thinking with Chrysalis – it’s very me focused, and very much looking at ways to promote my sense of wellbeing while managing my obligations and commitments. This focus feels right to me, as at present I still feel too close to burnout for comfort, I’m still exhausted, still feeling acute stress and not ready for everything to start again. But, I will do the best I can – I am surrounded by the most amazing partners, chosen family and friends. Plus, I’m not afraid of asking for help or seeking support where it’s available. I want to get through this year whole, I want to avoid feeling burned out and damaged if that’s at all possible given how intense second semester will be. I want to appreciate the many small moments of joy and use them to help me through the harder bits.

A final note, a huge thank you to Kim C. Smith over at Nature is my Therapy for letting me use her gorgeous photo of the monarch butterfly chrysalis as part of my post. She has some incredible nature photography that’s well worth a look.

 

2016 Reading Goals

This year, I’m calling my reading commitments what they are: goals. This approach worked really well for me last year and I’m already so excited about the reading I’m going to be doing this year! My goals have evolved rather than changed dramatically, some things look the same and other things are different,  but all draw on the same themes. Namely, I don’t tend to go for exclusive reading challenges, or incredibly time pressured ones.

I like challenges that encourage me to read more, to enjoy reading, and to try things I might otherwise have missed. I have also long admired the friends of mine who’ve done re-reads and reviewing challenges around those so I’m going to take on my own this year! I am not including any study related reading goals this year. It was heavy going last year and I barely had time to think let alone do much beyond shoving things in my bibliography for assessment pieces, and that’s not the kind of sharing I’m interested in.

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2016Overall Reading Goal:

Once again I’ve input my overall reading goal for 2016 into Goodreads as 75. I managed this last year, but it was a bit of a push at the end. This year might look similar by then – we’ll see. It seems to be enough of a stretch without making me feel bad about not reading enough.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016:Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badge

I signed up again! I love this challenge! Last year I read and reviewed 17 books. This year building on that, (and because of related goals), I’m aiming to read and review 15 books (at least). I love that this challenge is so flexible, it invites you to read more Australian women and does so at very small commitments – 4, 6, or 10 books as suggestions. It invites you to review the books you read because reviews of women’s work is drastically under represented and reviews help authors (and publishers) do well. This challenge seeks to correct a bias in the best possible way, by creating something fun and inviting people to form a community and participate. The challenge has been running for several years and every time the number of people participating grows, the number of books read and reviewed grows, the number of Australian women authors discovered, rediscovered and recommended grows. I highly recommend it as a nice reading challenge starting off point, also because Australian women produce books of exceptional quality.

Read with Diversity in Mind

I want to continue to improve reading diversely, Australian Indigenous writers, writers from non-white backgrounds and ethnicities, writers with disabilities – and a broader spectrum of writers within this umbrella too, writers who are not cisgendered and writers who are not straight but identify as some flavour of queer. I usually manage a smattering of these and I want that to continue and to continue that in a more conscious way even if I don’t manage to improve my numbers of diverse authors read this year. This also relates to reading stories with diverse voices, not just reading authors with these traits. Although, I will always focus on stories that aren’t appropriative as part of this.

Participate in Bookclubs

This is a new thing, but I’ve been dabbling and I’m really enjoying it! So, I’m going to include it as part of my goals this year, basically just to participate. I like these as a chance to read books that are likely already on my ever expanding ‘to-read’ list, or to add them if they should be there. Plus, the chance to see what other people thought about books and think about my own reading critically, but in community.

Escape YA Bookclub

This is the YA bookclub run by Marianne de Pierres. I really enjoyed participating last year, although I only got to a couple of the books (and still plan to read some). It was also enjoyable to read more YA fiction which I haven’t read much of in recent years, but actually really enjoy.

Vaginal Fantasy Bookclub

This is Felicia Day’s bookclub and it’s been running for a while and is hugely popular. The books read for the club are romance novels, though often with a speculative bent and those are the ones I’m aiming to participate with. There’s a monthly vid hangout stream to join in with too which I’m looking forward to having read this month’s book Radiance by Grace Draven.

Our Shared Shelf Bookclub

This is the new bookclub run by Emma Watson. This bookclub is about feminism. It’s just beginning and I’ll be interested to see what books are read – I have high hopes for it being a thoughtful and intersectional selection. The enthusiasm for the club is enjoyable too.

Sword and Laser Bookclub

This one I found through VF and I’m pretty excited to join in – it looks like a great opportunity to find out about books I might have missed, and a prompt to read ones I’ve got sitting on my ‘to-read’ list already. Currently, 693 – how am I ever going to get this number to go down (so I can add to it with wild abandon again of course!)?

Image of a series of vertical book spines showing the twelve planet books in various colours. Header text white on transparent black overlies the image with the title 'A Journey Through the Twelve Planets'.Undertake and Manage the Journey Through Twelve Planets Reading Challenge

Steph and I realised via Twitter that we both planned to read the Twelve Planets short story collections by Australian women authors produced by Twelfth Planet Press this year. So, we decided to do it together and review them! Then we decided to make it a challenge so others could join in if they liked! We’ve just created a separate blog space to collate all the reviews, plus do interviews and giveaways and the like. If you’re interested, you can join in for the whole twelve books (one a month), or just join in with the books you’re most interested in. Also if you previously reviewed any of the books, we’ll happily include your reviews when we’re rounding them up!

Undertake another Secret Unannouced Reading Project (SURP)

I won’t say much about this right now as it’s a group project and we’re still working out how this is going to look. This is a project that will likely extend into next year as well though, that’s worth mentioning now. It’s a rereading group project and I’m ridiculously excited about it. I can’t wait to say more!

Unpack and Read Some of My Physical Books

This is recycled from last year, I still want to do it. In order to do this, I need bookshelves but I haven’t found any that are what I want  and/or affordable (a mixture of a dilemma). I have very little space for a bookshelf in any case, so it would be a selective unpacking, or a rotating one. Or something. Suggestions that are good for narrow spaces, in dark wood and cheap available in Melbourne very much appreciated (No wider than your standard Billy bookscase, and bonus if it’s skinnier and taller (I have a step ladder!)

Moving on from Becoming and 2015

It’s taken longer than I wanted to get to this point where writing was possible. But that happens sometimes and I just needed to go with it. Last week I had my annual conversation with @dilettantiquity about our theme stuff. We have a unique insight and understanding of each other in part because we are so very very different, but there are strong similarities too. I love our relationship and even if this is the only conversation we manage in a year (and recently this has been the case), it is one of the best conversations I’ll have all year. Guaranteed.

Often when we talk, it’s to sort out what maybe the year ahead will bring – a theme for the new year can sometimes be elusive. This time for us, we needed much of the time to talk through the year we’d just been through and what our 2015 enquiry had looked like at the end of things. For me, at the start of the conversation, I didn’t know at all. And then we talked it through, and it all became clearer and now, I can write about it.

First of all, I have such an appreciation for me of January 2015 writing about Becoming for the first time, being so optimistic, hopeful and determined. I love that person, she’s ace! The year I hoped for was so far from what actually happened, so many things about the aims I put forth to focus on yielded unexpected results – some involved no results at all, some were merely different, and others changed me.

Mostly what I can describe 2015 as is, a continuous grind that never, ever let up. When I wrote up my end of year meme post for my Dreamwidth journal, I was struck that there were few really big good things. There was my first baby catch back in January, and Continuum in June, getting a part time job that is actually pretty great in September so more money for the last part of the year in our budget, and Christmas with chosen family in December. They’re moderately big, big compared to everything else, but not that big.

The continual good things were my partners, especially Ral and Fox and our determination to have a good life together as a family and household. That was easier only on some days and mostly just hard because of circumstances. We worked hard at managing on one income between three of us, and that income is not an easy one because Fox is pretty much at the end of his tether with this job, but we need it and so he perseveres. Med school for Ral seems to be an unusual method of torture that tries to talk you out of something you’re passionate about, good at, really worked hard to do, and yet get there and it’s like walking on broken glass the whole time. He perseveres too amidst several difficulties, and despite being awful this year was less awful for him than last which is a win. I’m so very proud of them and I love my Bat and Fox so very much. 

Baturday Fox cub close up

We balanced focusing on making sure all the essentials were paid for first, with then afterwards trying to say yes to each other for little things and treats – a game, a cheap dinner out, a new piece of clothing/shoes/my favourite moisturiser. We also focused a lot on kindness with each other, on making home safe and a haven for each other, on being there for each other and sharing the load – being flexible with that because coping varied considerably. We did the best we could and mostly it worked, most of the time – I think that sounds like faint praise when really given everything that we dealt with, it was pretty wondrous.

So Becoming as an enquiry was less about my journey around midwifery and taking on the qualities and actions of a new qualification and career, less around personal self expression and surety. Instead, it was more about Becoming a household that is even more tightly knit, and one that makes do and works hard at that. It was about Becoming more familiar (and less) with dealing with the effects of mental illness and what that looks like as something ongoing without resorting to blame or resentment. Becoming was about making space – in that way of pouring energy into spacemaking to facilitate home, safety and care. And it was also about my Becoming a midwife and being rattled around in that journey throughout the year – it was gruelling and my confidence remains quite shaken.

Essentially this was a much more inward facing year than I’d originally anticipated – I thought it would be more outward projecting. Inwardly there was lots of digging deep for more energy, for coping, for life administration, for health matters, for mental health (mine and partners), for emotional labour, domestic management, for balancing it all. That’s mostly what I remember, constantly steeling myself and seeking to dig deeper. But I managed. We managed. We all came through it, more or less in one piece. We know that eventually it won’t be this hard and that things will be better. In the meantime, we keep digging in and doing the best we can.

Looking more specifically at aims I had or goals I wanted to achieve:

Reading, Media and Fandom

My biggest area of success last year – by far! And an expansion in scope! I already wrote my wrap up post about my reading commitments from the beginning of last year. They went really well overall. I met my overall reading goal of 75 books (although some of them were shorter). There was more diversity although not as much as I’d have liked. I joined a site as a reviewer and have been enjoying the process of reviewing ARCs – it’s a little different than simply reading for pleasure, but I enjoyed it massively and reviewed much more often than I have any other year.

From Ashes Into Light cover Beast's Garden cover Hexomancy cover

I did more tracking of my non-fiction reading for uni – in short it was a lot. I posted some of it, but unless I have the energy to comment on the things it’s just a bibliography, and while pretty, isn’t that interesting. I absolutely wowed myself with reading and reviewing 17 books for the Australian Women Writers Challenge too! I also had a huge number of books on my ‘favourites’ for the year which was awesome and I also got to write an end of year wrap up for those.

A Trifle Dead - cover The Dreamer's Pool - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverVision in Silver - cover Ancillary Sword - cover

Mythmaker coverMy favourite movies of the year included Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, both movies that just… elated me on a feminist and fan level in so many ways! Is this what it looks like when you get to be the target audience?

There was also some great television that I watched, new to me but mostly not new in 2015. My favourite was Steven Universe, just everything about it in every way. Followed by Librarians and Elementary both wonderful, as was Rizzoli and Isles, Major Crimes and Castle. I’ve also finally started on Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones and am also really enjoying Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary.

This was also the year that I got back into podcasts in a huge way! I’ve long meant to get back to listening to Galactic Suburbia regularly and they introduced me to Fangirl Happy Hour which I am so delighted with I can’t even describe. I just want to be friends with both of the hosts and talk about All The Things! Fangirl led me to Tea & Jeopardy and Rocket Talk both of which I am also enjoying immensely. Thanks to all of these I experienced the great book recommendation deluge of 2015, my current ‘to-read’ list stands at 687 at the time of writing and I think it actually doubled this year.


Shifting Shadows - cover
Cranky Ladies of History - coverPrudence - coverThe Price You Pay is Red - coverThe Long and Silent Ever After - cover The Bloody Little Slipper - cover

 

 

 

 

Midwifery

I worked so hard last year on this degree, on this new career I am pursuing. I am so passionate about it and determined. I want to be the best midwife I can be. It was a hard year, but I got really good marks overall. However, my end of semester prac didn’t work out and I have to repeat that which added a year to the degree. This meant a lighter second semester – although honestly it didn’t feel like it. The experience of needing to repeat a unit, especially given the reasons was hard to deal with and has left me really raw. The gravity of what I’m taking on continues to gr

ow inside my head and heart but I also still have the sense that I can really do this, that this is possible. I’m still really enjoying the anatomy and science aspect of things, working hard and doing well. I’m excelling in the cultural studies/sociology side of things though several of the topics were gruelling.

We dealt with hard topics termination, abortion, pregnancy loss – all of these early and late and the contextual reasoning, the medical side, the legal side, the emotional side – as carers and looking at women’s perspectives. We looked at medicines and their impact, their benefits and always the weighing of benefits against side effects. I also learned fascinating things, like the formation of an embryo and its layers, what happens in the first 2 weeks, 8 weeks of life, when congenital abnormalities are most likely to surface, why and the effects depending on what happens. We spent a lot of time on breastfeeding, but equally, as much time on choice and supporting women who don’t breastfeed. Much of the time was spent looking at all the ways in which the whole idea of how infant feeding happens in modern society is a no-win game no matter what. And my heart goes out to all women feeding their babies, however they do so because there seems no way in which it is not a loaded choice – pretty much every day. I hope I am equal to supporting and encouraging women given all of the context. We looked more deeply into pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, blood disorders other disorders and issues related to pregnancy including vaccinations, preventable diseases and their effect on pregnancy/infants and sexual health impacts.

I’m impressed with my cohort – we all work so very hard. Their dedication is as obvious as my own and I think any one of them will be amazing midwives. I do wish I wasn’t the only outward/overt feminist. It was a huge year – so much to learn, question, agree and disagree with – this is really barely skimming the surface.

Cooking

Another area of overt success – for the most part. I did a lot of cooking and mostly it was focused specifically on family meals and everyday eating. This included more concentrated effort on taking lunches to uni/work – which was mostly successful too. Having said that we did have some amazing feasts with friends over. I got to try a bunch of new recipes, added new favourites to my rotation and encouraged Fox to continue learning to cook. He had quite a stressful year so this was a very small target between us, but I think he did really well – he cooked pretty regularly and became more confident in the dishes he was able to produce. Making our own stock continued to be one of the best things for making easy food – I can only imagine how many litres of it we went through – maybe 50L ish each for chicken, beef and vegetable?

I did use more of the cookbooks I have – I cooked a little from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, but not nearly as much as I want to. We spent a concentrated month doing a bunch of dishes from Land of Plenty by Fuscia Dunlop and that was absolutely outstanding. I’m so in love with Sichuan food! I cooked a bit from Jamie Oliver’s older books but sometimes he and I disagree on what is ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ (I’m sure I’m not alone in this). The downside of using the physical books is that it’s not as easy to put into my meal plan (a google to-do list of no frills and all awesomeness). I mean, I put the name, the title and the page in there – but it’s not as easy to click through and see if we need any last minute shopping items.

Meal planning was the big success this year, it’s one of the ways in which we got through the leanest fortnights budget wise, and still managed to eat good and interesting food. Previously Ral and Fox struggled to plan ahead food and didn’t much see the point, but seeing the difference it made to our grocery spending, and the reduction in stress because most of the decisions were already made, most of the shopping already done was pretty convincing. We fell away from it in the last couple of months of the year – but given exams, assessments and illness it’s not surprising. Also I think it’s a little different in Summer and we haven’t quite gotten the knack of it – it’s improving in the most recent iteration.

I was delighted to discover the awesomeness of Instagram (you can find me as the usual username there) and regularly photographed the meals I made. It was a delight and I’ve got such a great visual record of how much effort I put into cooking, and the joy that yielded as far as delicious eating is concerned. I spent a little of the year doing more bread-making as well as making my own creme-fraiche. I also made a batch of preserved lemons. Tiny forays into preserving, but ones I’m pleased with, and I hope to continue improving this.

Homemade Pizza with Slow Cooked Broccoli and Buffalo Mozzarella - Oct 2015 https://transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Petits Pois à la Française Redux Quinoa, Broccolini, Snowpea and Cashew Salad - Nov 2015 https://transcendancing.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sichuan-Feast-Gung-Pow-Chicken-and-Sichuanese-Green-Beans-Nov-2015.jpg Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015Fish and Chips in Summer - Dec 2015

Blogging

I blogged awesomely last year! I maintained my streak of ‘5 Things About Today’ posts on my Dreamwidth journal – I’m well into the 400s now! I also posted more regularly here, mostly book reviews, but I posted an update on my theme and also on meal planning/budget stuff. Plus I hosted the Down Under Feminists Carnival. I’d have liked more energy to write about feminism stuff, media stuff, and feel like I could write more about midwifery but those things needed too much energy that I just didn’t have. And there will be time again for them later. I’m proud of my efforts – I sincerely met this goal even if there were topical aspects I wanted to cover more.

Self Development

Oh this topic. This largely is what gave in the year just gone. I just didn’t have energy leftover for a bunch of this. I didn’t get my license – I was just too stressed to get over the humps. I need to get comfortable with being familiar with driving again – I’m not driving often enough at present for that. I also think I need to do a driving lesson or two on passing the test. I know I’m a competent driver, but actually doing the test is just a stress barrier I’ve noped out of several times. I still want all the things I wanted at the beginning of last year regarding having my license, but it just didn’t happen.

Unexpectedly, I ended up with a job in September! I’m doing similar stuff to what I’ve done before – content management for websites. The organisation is as far from government and public service as is possible and I’m loving it because of that. I like the perks of this style of organisation – an ad agency. They’re actively seeking to retain people so we have free drinks and snacks, a coffee cart on the floor with super cheap and amazing coffee. Plus everyone is enthusiastic and works hard – it’s actually really nice to be around. I get to feel competent and valued, plus earn money to contribute to the household! I’ve been doing that mostly part time but with chunks of full time and it may continue ad hoc throughout the year until I hit the point of study where I just don’t have a day free to do that any more – we’ll see. I’d like to keep doing it as long as possible as the extra money makes a huge difference right now. Working has meant I could replace clothes and shoes that badly needed replacing, I got a portable air-conditioner for my room – the heat sink of the house which has meant dealing with the heat this Summer just that much easier. Mostly it’s gone on groceries of the non-meal-planning kind, because that fell away when I had less time, and that too is worthwhile and a luxury.

SeClouded Leopard Close Uplf-expression and letting myself be myself. I think this took a hit this year, but there were things. I got my hair cut short and am enjoying it immensely. I replaced clothes and while my style is still a little bit all over the place, I like the clothes I have and have acquired – especially my dresses with POCKETS! I bought more things with cats on them to wear! If I was a cat, I’d be this cat.

I didn’t do dancing, yoga or Pilates, but I did do a reasonable amount of walking – not as much as I’d liked. I visited the zoo quite a lot. Sexuality largely wasn’t a priority – mostly I expect because of stress. But I love my partners and feel loved by them in return. Actually, we all had a hard year last year which seems uncanny given the number of us.

Socialising

I did manage social stuff this year, I made a concerted effort and it paid off. I felt like I still missed opportunities to enjoy time with friends and loved ones, but I also know how limited my energy was. I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I have the best friends both here in Melbourne and elsewhere, I treasure you all so very much.

Community stuff, it really didn’t happen – something had to give and I just noped out of this in the end. There is only so  much time and energy – I am not doing so well in having enough energy for myself and those immediate in my life, so it isn’t realistic to think I can volunteer extra time and energy. Actually, I expect this will just have to wait until I’m no longer studying.


How to conclude after all of that? An epic post if ever there was one, but I feel like in writing this I’m properly putting 2015 to rest. And that’s necessary because it’s time to embark on my theme for 2016, which is less of a clear beginning and more of a transition. But for a genuine transition to take place, there has to be reflection, evaluation, an accounting to oneself, an awareness of how far you’ve come, who you are at the end of all this and how to face forward for the future. If you’ve gotten all the way to the end of this thank you, it means a lot. Next will be the reveal of my 2016 theme, but that post is still percolating. Finally, if you’ve done any kind of new year theme, focus, word, resolution write up, please let me know – I’d love to read it. Also, if you want to do something but are not sure how, feel free to comment and ask me, I’m happy to talk about it and share thoughts.

AWW16: Who’s Afraid? by Maria Lewis

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016: Book #1

TAustralian Women Writers Challenge 2016 Badgeitle: Who’s Afraid?

Author: Maria Lewis

Publisher and Year: Hachette Australia , 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, paranormal romance

 

 

 

 Who's Afraid - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

This is the story of Tommi, a young Scottish woman living an ordinary life, who stumbles violently into her birthright as the world’s most powerful werewolf. The sudden appearance of a dark, mysterious (and very attractive) guardian further confuses her as her powers begin to develop and she begins to understand that her life can never be the same again. The reader will be swept up in Tommi’s journey as she’s thrown into the middle of a centuries-old battle and a world peopled with expert warriors and vicious enemies – this is the start of a series – and a world – you will fall in love with.

 

 

My review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

New urban fantasy from an Australian author? Count me in! If this is the beginning of a new urban fantasy trend in Australia then I’m all for it. First of all, I have to mention the excellent cover! Features the protagonist! Looks like the character described in the book! Not in an impossible and ridiculous Sexy Pose ™! Fantastic! Also love the title which is a nice play on words about wolves which amused me given the context of the story featuring werewolves.

I enjoyed a lot about this book, I really liked Tommi as a protagonist. I appreciated her strengths and flaws, I appreciated her sense of self within her family. I absolutely loved her friendships and friendship group. I thought the way Tommi’s casual relationship with Poc was portrayed was thoughtful and insightful – not all relationships have to be the forever romance kind. Overall I appreciated most of the relationships in the book. I thought the potential relationship between Tommi and Lorcan was well written and came together in a way that worked for the actual story – it wasn’t an instalove thing, and the story didn’t bend reality around their falling in love. Right now we have lust and complicated feelings of companionship; it makes sense and it’s realistic. This approach by Lewis shows Tommi’s relative emotional maturity as well which also goes a long way to offsetting the age difference between her and Lorcan. If I have any disappointment in character development it’s probably with Lorcan, he remains a bit too much of a fantasy and not really part of the reality of the story for meat this point.

This might be a weird thing to comment on, but I enjoyed reading about Tommi’s  job – not that it was an integral part of the story exactly, but it was interesting and unique to read about and definitely added to my sense of getting to know Tommi as a person. I loved that she’d been training in martial arts for a long time – that it was something she’d used to deal with her anger/temper for a long time. The background of this went a long way to balancing out her proficiency in her training with Lorcan – she already had a solid background so being good at parts of it made sense. I thought that her reactions to things that happened to her were also really well written, realistically portrayed. Everyone *wants* to think that they’ll react just as they want to when the bad thing happens – and you just can’t know that it’s true, and more often than not, it doesn’t happen the way you imagine it.

What I disliked quite a lot about the book was the portrayal of Tommi’s Maori relatives. One villain from an unknown past I can understand, even if from an Indigenous racial minority. However, there was a broad strokes portrayal of the entire family group as ‘the bad guys’ which is frankly a racist trope and leaves me feeling distinctly uncomfortable. This could have been offset if Tommi had interacted with other Maori groups shapeshifters or not, but she doesn’t and so we’re left with Maori’s as villains which I’m not okay with. I’m particularly disappointed with this aspect because one of the reasons I was looking forward to reading the book is because it featured an Indigenous People and my initial impression was that they were part of the story but not necessarily the villains. Also, if they’re such a large family clan of shapeshifters – they can’t all be villains, that makes no sense. Maybe some of this will be address in following books in the series, I’m hopeful of this and definitely want to continue reading. However, I can’t not comment on my disappointment with how the Maori characters were treated as villainous tropes.

2015 Reading Goals Wrap Up

So little time! So much reflection to do on the year past, and also casting on, so to speak, for the year ahead. In the beginning of 2015 I wrote about reading goals I had for the year, and since it was quite a detailed list I wanted to see where I ended up with all of it.

Overall I think I pitched my goals well, I met my overall reading goal, I did make improvements to my diverse author reading but there’s still room for a lot of improvement there. I read more short fiction this year than ever before and enjoyed it, so even though that wasn’t on my list of goals, it’s worth a mention. I reviewed so much more this year than ever before and I really enjoyed it – I’m already looking forward to my reviewing in 2016! Also, expect a post on my 2016 reading goals.

I’m loving reading everyone’s end of year reading and media round up lists, loving reading about people’s reading goals for this year and people are so excited about stuff – it’s so awesome!

Specific goals I outlined:

Completed! I managed to just barely exceed it – but this may be because some books were smaller than others. Anyway, I’m really pleased I managed it!

I well and truly exceeded this! I read AND reviewed a whopping 17 books! Here’s my wrap up post if you missed it.

  • Increase the number of books by Indigenous Australian authors that I read, and review these books.

I did indeed increase the number of books I read by Indigenous authors, and I reviewed all of them. I read 3 books by Indigenous authors, not as much as I could have hoped but I’ve still got things on my ‘to-read’ list and I’ll continue to try and improve on this.

Books by Indigenous authors I reviewed include: 

Skin Painting - cover The Disappearance of Ember Crow - cover The Foretelling of Georgie Spider - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Read at least 10 books by authors from other various non-white backgrounds and ethnicities and review at least 5 of those.

I don’t know how I did on this in terms of numbers, I can definitely say I increased the number of books I read by non-white authors, but not whether it was 10. I did review many more books than I have in past years, including a couple that were by non-white authors but I think this will continue to be an area I need to improve upon – I have added many books to my ‘to-read’ list to help this. Also worth noting that I only read ~75 books in 2015, and most of that was comfort reading while studying – mostly paranormal romance.

Books I reviewed by non-white authors include: 

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverGrace of Kings - cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Participate in the Escape Club YA Bookclub on Goodreads by reading the books I’m interested in and participating in the discussion.

I didn’t manage to read as many of the books as I’d hoped, but I did read some of them and participate. I did read at least one book I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up, which was the nicest thing to come out of it (and there are probably still some others on my ‘to-read’ list. I really enjoyed the experience and look forward to a new year of reading in the group.

  • Track the reading I do for my academic studies in Midwifery both books and articles. Also, try and write at least 3 blog posts per semester about my studies and the readings.
  • Publish a list of all the academic articles I read for my study in 2015.

I did track the reading I did and I did bucket loads of reading for essay research. I feel like I almost drowned in the reading I did. I still have fairly vivid recall on a bunch of the stuff I read for my end of year essays. I didn’t write about stuff as I’d originally intended because of an experience I had mid year with being open about what I was learning and so on. The result was to just not discuss it and that’s still where I’m at.

  • Unpack my books and read at least 5 of the books I inherited from my best friend and haven’t picked up to read yet.

I did not do this, I reaaaaaalllly need bookshelves to do this. Hopefully a 2016 thing!

 

AWW15: Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

Skin Painting - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #12

Title: Skin Painting

Author: Elizabeth Hodgson

Publisher and Year: University of Queensland Press, 2009

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Brave, haunting, and evocative, this powerful volume presents its poetry in the form of a memoir. From the poet’s early experiences in an institution and the effect of this on her family to the illustration of her strength and independence as an adult, this biographical collection helps make the Aboriginal experience accessible and resonant. Exploring themes of art, identity, sexuality, and loneliness, this compendium is both universal and intimate.

 

My review:

This book is a verse memoir, and is well outside my usual reading fare which is firmly speculative in nature. And I loved this book, I’ve never read poetry before that could and was meant to be read by turning each page like a story. Hodgson writes beautifully, her poetry is evocative, reflective, vulnerable and unapologetic. I can’t pick out any particular favourite piece, just that as a whole reading experience it was meaningful and intimate… a glimpse into a life and lives whose voices have been silenced for so long.

I’m so glad I read this book, it’s left me thinking and with lots of Feelings about how we as the dominant population treat Indigenous Australian peoples. Although this is a picture somewhat in the past… I know that it is reflective also of present truths and experiences. We’re perpetuating the same painful oppression over again, it’s painfully obvious to me as I turn the pages. I don’t even know how we do better, tiny small steps from  my own individual space seem so futile and meaningless, but I have to hope they contribute to something bigger, like a dripping tap. The affirmative, assertive, statement driven final poem brings this book to a triumphant close that looks to a future where equality and respect are possible – the possibility is demanded and that too is fitting.

 

AWW15: The Foretelling of Georgie Spider by Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Foretelling of Georgie Spider - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #10

Title: The Foretelling of Georgie Spider (The Tribe #3)

Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, mythology, science fiction, dystopia, eco-dystopia, post-apocolyptic, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A storm was stretching out across futures to swallow everything in nothing, and it was growing larger, which meant it was getting nearer… Georgie Spider has foretold the end of the world, and the only one who can stop it is Ashala Wolf. But Georgie has also foreseen Ashala’s death. As the world shifts around the Tribe, Ashala fights to protect those she loves from old enemies and new threats. And Georgie fights to save Ashala. Georgie Spider can see the future. But can she change it?

 

My review:

I went straight onto the third book from reading the second and I’m so glad I was able to do this because I don’t know how I’d have waited  for the stunning conclusion to this series! Wow. I loved this book, I loved this series, I hope that it is being read and loved by so many people across Australia and the world because it’s well deserved. I have fallen in love with Ambelin Kwaymullina’s writing style – I don’t think I’ve had a writer crush develop this quickly since I came late to Juliet Marillier’s work! And that’s a reasonable comparison to make in terms of the quality of writing, how beautiful the prose is and how much it draws you deeply into the story, allows you to feel like you really know the characters, almost like you’re in the story yourself. The worldbuilding in this series is also astounding, I can picture this post-apocalyptic world, the cities and the society and the Firstwood, and the way this comes to life in my imagination is absolutely a testament to Kwaymullina’s skill.

And the story! Oh the story! I loved Georgie in the first book, and I’m so glad she’s got her own book and she gets to be a hero in her own way! I love the way this story was put together, both happening in the present, and happening in the past – this really emphasises Georgie’s connection to her ability and how time is a bit fuzzy for her. I love the way that she focuses on what she considers important, but also discovers more about herself. I loved getting to know Georgie, and through her, also Daniel. This book is not as simple as the premise simply to save Ashala  Wolf, it’s about an idea, about change, about the future and about making a difference. Everything comes together in such an interesting way, it’s less twisty than book 2, but the story has you absolutely in its grasp from the first page and you just have to see how it all comes together, how the story concludes.

Stories of The Tribe talk of a post apocalyptic world in flux, a world where although society has embraced many positive changes there still remains inequality, greed, power mongering and malice. What an interesting way Kwaymullina has explored the potential growths and changes in our society in this fictional nearish future book. This book and this series will keep me thinking and questioning for a long time to come. It’s deep and it digs in, the book and this series have something important to say for all who read and I hope they’re left thinking, questioning, looking deeper as I have been.

I hope there are many more awesome books from Ambelin Kwaymullina, I want to read them all, a hundred times over. I’ll be revisiting this series for sure, and I’m absolutely certain I’ll see and learn new things with a second and any subsequent readings.

 

AWW15: The Disappearance of Ember Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Disappearance of Ember Crow - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #9

Title: The Disappearance of Ember Crow (The Tribe #2)

Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2013

Genre: urban fantasy, mythology, science fiction, dystopia, eco-dystopia, post-apocolyptic, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

“However this ends, you’re probably going to find out some things about me, and they’re not nice things. But, Ash, even after you know, do you think you could remember the good? And whatever you end up discovering – try to think of me kindly. If you can.”

Ember Crow is missing. To find her friend, Ashala Wolf must control her increasingly erratic and dangerous Sleepwalking ability and leave the Firstwood. But Ashala doesn’t realise that Ember is harbouring terrible secrets and is trying to shield the Tribe and all Illegals from a devastating new threat – her own past.

 

My review:

Given how much I loved the first book in this series The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, it’s ridiculous how long it took me to get my hands on the next books in the series! And I’m so very glad I did – this is a brilliant follow up to the first book, I am so in love with this series, with this world, with Kwaymullina’s writing. Wow. Australian speculative fiction doesn’t get much better than this honestly. And I say speculative fiction because this series crosses genres, it’s a bit of several things – enough a little of several things to lay some claim to them, it does so beautifully.

This book picks up not long after the events in the first book, Ashala is still trying to come to terms with things, especially that her Sleepwalking ability isn’t exactly working right. However, with Ember missing needs must and she returns to her sense of self and goes looking. I can’t say much about this book and the story without spoiling things, only that this book takes the story in an unexpected direction, delightfully twisty and I didn’t see any of it coming! We do get more of a glimpse of how the present world of the books came to be, the philosophy and the idea of the Balance as universal governing principle.  I loved that we got to learn more about who Ember is as a person and understand her connection to the Tribe, to the world at large and just how much a role her story plays in the overarching story across the books.

I love that this book is also a story about the struggle for political change, the struggle to make things better, the struggle for equality that parallels so many conversations we’re having now in our real day-to-day lives. Kwaymullina highlights astutely and with insight the conversation about Othering and society, what it means, what happens and suggests that everyone is part of the Balance – abilities or not, but also, this mirrors the idea that either we all have human rights, or we don’t… there’s no actual in-between that makes any sense.

 

Review: From Ashes Into Light by Gudrun Mouw

From Ashes Into Light coverTitle: From Ashes Into Light

Author: Gudrun Mouw

Publisher and Year: Raincloud Press, 2016

Genre: speculative fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

From Ashes into Light is a transpersonal tale of epic tragedy, spirituality, family, and personal redemption. It is told through three distinct voices: the hauntingly tragic story of Ruth, a Jewish adolescent during Kristallnacht in Austria, Saqapaya, a stalwart Native American from coastal California during the time of the Spanish conquest, and Friede Mai.

Friede is born during World War II to a Bavarian soldier and a East-Prussian mother. As those around her struggle with the inevitable chaos and paradox of war, Friede opens her heart to gruesome enemies, at times saving herself and family members from atrocities.

With war behind them, the Mai family immigrates to the US, where Friede, her veteran father and ex-refugee mother, struggle with the reverberations of trauma. Friede is unable to find inner freedom until she meets her spiritual guide, a Rabbi, who helps her see that the voices from the past are teachers and the horrors of history are also beacons of light.

The three electric characters weave a narrative of raw consciousness, a moving example of transforming the ripple of suffering through the incredible strength of vulnerability.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Some books are such a privilege to read, they are deep and transcendent, they move you on a deep and personal level. From Ashes Into Light is one such book, it is truly exquisite.

The writing in this book is poetic, it’s  lyrical and it seems to flow as you breathe in and out, one breath to the next. At first I was almost confused by the three different story lines, but they weave together beautifully through the eyes of the phoenix and each story becomes part of a bigger subtle narrative. What I took from this story is that we are all connected, past and present as humanity. We all experience the world in our own way, we all strive to overcome, to learn, to grow, to redeem, to survive. This three-way point of view tale gives such a deep, yet subtle insight into this and I am sure that many others will each take something unique from their reading of the story, it’s that kind of book.

Reading this was transcendent, whatever that elusive quality of books they call ‘literary’ is, this book has it  to spare, it is such a satisfying, confronting, compelling book to read. I don’t think it is possible to be a white person from a colonial background to read this book and not be uncomfortable, as it is written from a very different cultural context, from within persecution, from within discrimination, from oppression, from betrayal and more. The harm visited upon people from war, from the holocaust, from colonisation is very clear in this book and I valued the opportunity to read from these points of view, to hear these voices and simply to listen, to learn a different context from the one history is so fond of telling me.

Sometimes the reading of a book changes you, sometimes you can identify that change, and sometimes you can’t and the experience of reading the book stays with you. This book, with it’s interwoven story through the eyes of the phoenix will stay with me for a long time to come and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Review: Last of the Firedrakes by Farah Oomerbhoy

Last of the Firedrakes coverTitle: Last of the Firedrakes (Avalonia Chronicles #1)

Author: Farah Oomerbhoy

Publisher and Year: Wise Ink Creative Publishing, 2015

Genre: fantasy, young adult

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

16-year-old Aurora Darlington is an orphan. Mistreated by her adopted family and bullied at school, she dreams of running away and being free. But when she is kidnapped and dragged through a portal into a magical world, suddenly her old life doesn’t seem so bad.

Avalonia is a dangerous land ruled by powerful mages and a cruel, selfish queen who will do anything to control all seven kingdoms—including killing anyone who stands in her way. Thrust headlong into this new, magical world, Aurora’s arrival sets plans in motion that threaten to destroy all she holds dear.

With the help of a young fae, a magical pegasus, and a handsome mage, Aurora journeys across Avalonia to learn the truth about her past and unleash the power within herself. Kingdoms collide as a complicated web of political intrigue and ancient magic lead Aurora to unravel a shocking secret that will change her life forever.

 

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book, it’s a great debut novel from Oomerbhoy and I look forward to the release of the rest of the series. The Last of the Firedrakes is a magical coming of age story, it’s filled with adventure and fairytale majesty complete with a pegasus. This book reminded me a lot of the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce – the same kind of over the top magical elements, but done just right so I don’t mind that the protagonist is super powerful, pretty and endowed with all kinds of special-ness. Aurora’s story is interesting right from the beginning, and although she’s thrust into a world she had no idea existed, she starts to learn the ropes pretty  quickly.  Things come together for her, sure, but she navigates conflicts and adverse events herself and in her own way – I really like that. I loved that she made mistakes and learned from it, I love that she grew as a person and went from scared and freaked out to being able to contemplate her role in Avolonia.

I also quite enjoyed the teenage romance feel of things, it didn’t quite come across as ‘instalove’ the way it can often do in young adult books, particularly YA fantasy, instead it was like a teenage crush that hit, and then unfolded bit by bit, complete with finding out that the other person does indeed ‘like’ you that way too. It was cute. I was pleased at Aurora’s emotional maturity as the story progressed and her feelings for Rafe grew. In finding out that a genuine relationship in the open was impossible she sticks to her principles and boundaries – more books should do this. While I don’t think this romantic plot is finished by any means, I hope they don’t end up together, I hope that this is one of those times where choosing the right thing is hard, doesn’t really feel great and you wonder. I wish more YA books explored complicated ways in which romance  and relationships happen – this is a good start and I hope it continues that way.

I read this book as I finished studying for and sitting my end of semester exam and it was a welcome joy to read, lighthearted and uplifting, optimistic and very much forces of good seeking to triumph for the good of all, with their help, over forces of evil which seek domination. This book is the perfect description of a sometimes food – a reward, sweet, satisfying and beautiful – but not something you’d subsist on. I find it a little harder to get into epic/high fantasy style books these days – in theory I love them, but they’ve disappointed me so often in the past. This book definitely doesn’t disappoint and it gets me excited about fantasy, magic, dragons and castles again which is a lovely feeling.

I also love the way that, even though Aurora is a long lost princess, has super-powerful magic, and is striking if not beautiful, she has flaws, there are consequences for her mistakes, the bounty she discovers in herself doesn’t magically ‘fix’ everything and sometimes causes more issues and it seems to highlight that message that the grass is not always greener, and that beauty and power are not the be-all and end-all. At least, that was one of the things I took away from the book, because Aurora is also always trying to be a better person, she tries to give people the benefit of the doubt even when they’re unkind, she treats people around her well regardless of their status/position – not perfectly, but she’s still a teenager and still figuring things out – that shows and the whole package is awesome.

This is not a book of twists or surprises, you get exactly what you expect from this fantasy story about a girl who finds out she’s a long lost princess. This isn’t a bad thing, this is one of the strengths of the book – you can just enjoy it and trust that it’s going to deliver this experience, perhaps even exceed your expectations. Where it could perhaps do better is that all the characters present as able-bodied, neurotypical, and straight. The implications of racial elements are hinted at with discussion of how the fae are treated, but it’s not looked at in any real depth, although there is potential for this. This book with this kind of fantasy plot is not a surprise or a revelation, but it takes what you expect from this story form and delivers it with an awesome teenage protagonist that you enjoy cheering for.

Last of the Firedrakes was such a joy to read.

Review: Ree Reyes Series by Michael R. Underwood

Geekomancy coverTitle: Geekomancy (Ree Reyes #1)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2012

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire the Slayer in this original urban fantasy eBook about Geekomancers—humans that derive supernatural powers from pop culture.

Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop slave to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.

When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic BOOM echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.

Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?

My review: 

There’s a lot to appreciate about this book, it revels in geekery in a way I can completely get behind. However, it is definitely a debut novel and suffers from some of the clunky-ness that I’ve associated with those at times. I liked this book, enjoyed reading it, but didn’t love it. I grabbed it from Google Books because I was invited to review the third book and wanted to read the others beforehand. It was definitely worth reading! And I definitely enjoyed it enough to keep reading the series.

I love Ree as a character, she came across really realistically to me. City mid-twenties woman, working, trying to become a screen writer, huge geek, dealing with the aftermath of a breakup. I loved the way she interacted with her friends over this – the way her friendships came across was one of my favourite parts of this novel! I loved the Rhyming Ladies and really enjoyed their supporting roles in the story. I also loved Ree’s Dad and I adore how supportive he is, takes the supernatural in his stride and supports his daughter. Ree is entirely the reason I kept reading, even though the initial writing was quite clunky and explained more than showed me and let me immerse myself in the story – that did improve. Ree is absolutely the kind of urban fantasy heroine that I can really get behind, she’s unique and interesting, her own person and not a cut out of anything – but I love that she recognises all the tropes and pop cultural references, it’s a bit tongue in cheek and I was quite amused by it.

I hated Eastwood’s character, if he’d been the protagonist or if Ree had liked him more I’d have been put off the series entirely. However, I adored Drake! He’s interesting, unique and I love the way he comes to this x-mancy world with his own brand of steampunk and science from a kind of Victorian era. Drake rocks. Drake is everything I ever want in a support character, and he’s not the burly hyper-masculine type of character either, he’s a much more interesting, unique male character that doesn’t rely on tropes of masculinity – it’s not his strength that matches up well with Ree, but his willingness to work with her, listen and be an awesome team capitalising on their mutual strengths. This was my other favourite aspect of this book (and series).

I really enjoyed this, it was so much fun and even though I didn’t get half the references, I appreciated the book being utterly full of them and I revelled in Ree’s enjoyment of pop culture. My geek is different to her geek but it definitely left me feeling somewhat validated in my own experience of geekery.

 

Celebromancy coverTitle: Celebromancy (Ree Reyes #2)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Fame has a magic all its own in the no-gossip-barred follow-up to Geekomancy. Ree Reyes gets her big screenwriting break, only to discover just how broken Hollywood actually is.

Things are looking up for urban fantasista Ree Reyes. She’s using her love of pop culture to fight monsters and protect her hometown as a Geekomancer, and now a real-live production company is shooting her television pilot script.

But nothing is easy in show business. When an invisible figure attacks the leading lady of the show, former-child star-turned-current-hot-mess Jane Konrad, Ree begins a school-of-hard-knocks education in the power of Celebromancy.

Attempting to help Jane Geekomancy-style with Jedi mind tricks and X-Men infiltration techniques, Ree learns more about movie magic than she ever intended. She also learns that real life has the craziest plots: not only must she lift a Hollywood-strength curse, but she needs to save her pilot, negotiate a bizarre love rhombus, and fight monsters straight out of the silver screen. All this without anyone getting killed or, worse, banished to the D-List.

My review: 

This book picks up soon after events in Geekomancy finish. One of Ree’s major dreams looks like it’s about to become true with a screenplay of hers having been picked up to shoot a pilot for pitching. I love that the show itself is not as much the focus and instead the business of getting it made is. I love Jane as a character and I found the magic division of celebromancy really interesting – and seems way too close to the truth of the cult of celebrity we see in play via  the media. Well played Underwood!

Ree and Drake continue to be one of my favourite hero pairings, they work so well together. I found the romantic tension believable and I loved the way Ree made a point of dealing with her issues herself and not making them someone else’s problem. I also really loved the romantic fling she ends up in with Jane – I loved the spontaneity of how it happened, I could really picture them together as the story unfolded. In this story Ree is mostly the hero of the story messing with her tv show and big deal, she does call Drake in to help, and others but it’s mostly about Ree saving the day and actually, I really fucking love that. I love Ree.

I continue to love the geekery – I love the way it’s pointed out that different people with different focuses to their x-mancy have a different set of specialised knowledge. That little moment was one of my favourite things. I also think that Underwood hits a better writing stride here, it’s far less clunky and explainy, things just happen and you’re taken up for the ride.  The queerness included in the book is delightful, it’s underplayed where necessary which comes across very genuine and natural, but it’s also a key part of what drives Ree’s motivation for the plot and saving Jane – I think it just works without being heavy handed.

Another great thing was a distinct minimising of Eastwood. I just dislike his character so much – I think that we’re actually supposed to do that, but it doesn’t really make for fun reading. On the other hand, I really liked Grognard and the tavern and that Ree gets to have another job that’s not with Eastwood. I’d absolutely frequent a tavern like this (not that I’d drink beer… but the cider sounds nice).

 

Attack the Geek coverTitle: Attack the Geek (Ree Reyes #2.5)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

A side quest novella in the bestselling Geekomancy urban fantasy series—when D&D style adventures go from the tabletop to real life, look out!

Ree Reyes, urban fantasy heroine of Geekomancy, is working her regular barista/drink-slinger shift at Grognard’s when it all goes wrong. Everything.

As with Geekomancy (pop culture magic!) and its sequel Celebromancy (celebrity magic!), Attack of the Geek is perfect for anyone who wants to visit a world “where all the books and shows and movies and games [that you] love are a source of power, not only in psychological terms, but in practical, villain-pounding ones” (Marie Brennan, award-winning author of the Onyx Court Series).

My review: 

I really enjoyed this side quest, I especially liked the epic wave battling with all the other characters helping out. I adored getting to know Grognard better too! This was an out and out hero battle story and these are not usually to my taste, but I really enjoyed this. Ree continues to be an awesome protagonist and I adore her massively! I still hate Eastwood.

I was surprised when Lucretia turned out to be the villain, but not surprised that she used someone else to give up the rest of the crew – I was surprised that she involved so many that weren’t directly related to her grievances – it kind of goes against the way the community manages itself. However, I did like how people reacted and banded together.

This isn’t a big plotty novel, that’s not it’s point, it’s a fun little tangent that does further the overall story, but without taking itself too seriously. It’s a chance to see Ree demonstrate her awesomeness (and the others too).

 

Hexomancy coverTitle: Hexomancy (Ree Reyes #3)

Author: Michael R. Underwood

Publisher and Year: Pocket Star, 2013

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

When Ree’s long time nemesis Lucretia is finally brought to trial and found guilty for the deadly attack on Grognard’s, the Geekomancer community breathes a collective sigh of relief. But Ree and her crew soon discover that Lucretia has three very angry, very dangerous sisters who won’t rest until Eastwood—a fellow Geekomancer—is killed.

What follows is an adventure packed with epic battles, a bit of romance, and enough geeky W00t moments to fill your monthly quota of adventure and fun.

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Finally I reached the book that I set out to review in the first place! I’m not sorry though because I enjoyed the ride so very much. While the first book in this series was quite clunky, as the series and the writer developed it improved greatly – as is often the case. I’m almost always willing to forgive first-book-clunk, if the story or characters are worth it. Ree is definitely one of those characters, she’s become a favourite for me and I love reading about her adventures!

Hexomancy picks up not long after the battle at Grognard’s in Attack the Geek. While Lucretia is held accountable for her actions (via a rather epic duel fought by Ree), trouble soon escalates as Lucretia has sisters who keep coming to finish off Eastwood. Now, personally, I don’t mind this – because I still really dislike his character. Part of how much I like Ree is that she also doesn’t like him much and trusts him even less. The plot of this book is as epic as the one in Celebromancy, and that really works for the kind of magic we’re talking about here – no half measures. I loved the differences in attack style between the different sisters and once again it was great to see Ree and Drake teamed together.

I’m also delighted that the romantic tension was address more directly in this book, I’m impressed at the way the breakup was handled and how Ree comes clean about her new secret life with her friends. I like their reactions too – it really came across to me as believable. Love, connection, and expectation of honesty and respect – and making amends, showing forgiveness when people mess up, recognising that inevitably, they do. It was great. Loved Drake’s realisations and love the way there’s still such a culture clash between Drake and Ree. This book spans much more time than the previous ones – months, almost a year as opposed to a few days or weeks and so it was nice to see the way Ree and Drake’s relationship developed over this time as well as how they were working to beat the sisters.

I appreciated the way the end game became cyber, from Eastwood’s old life. I am also pretty impressed with how one of the long story threads was incorporated into the is book arc and was resolved. The demon was back and was defeated, but not without a price – but it’s also one that makes sense and is one I like given the rest of what has come before in the story. Eastwood redeems himself here (but I still don’t like him).

Ree grows as a character, so does Drake. Grognard opens up more and the whole universe just becomes so much more like an old friend. This is not a standalone book, it benefits from being read as a series and I’m glad I decided to grab the books via Google Books to read them before reviewing book 3. The writing and voice in this book is much more confident, much smoother. I still really enjoy all the pop culture references – and I really like that Ree is developing her style of geekomancy with the media and power ups that she finds most useful – and I love that they’re the in between ones for maximal effect and not about showing off for the sake of it.

This is a great urban fantasy series, especially if you enjoy geek humour – I would suggest that you don’t have to get all the in-jokes or references to appreciate it, but that might be just me. If that kind of thing does bother you, this might not be for you. This book, this series was epic, awesome, fluffy, entertaining and satisfying on both story and character levels. I also really liked the covers, they look like how I’d imagine Ree to look and she’s not dressed or posed in ways that make me angry – she looks like a hero, my kind of hero.

Review: Kricket Series by Amy A. Bartol, books 1-3

NetGalley Review

An eARC of these books was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I do have to note outright that I do not recommend these books, they are problematic in ways that are never resolved. It’s not romance, it’s rape culture with badly drawn tropes. These are directed toward a YA market, and given my issues with the story and characters, find this quite disturbing. 

Under Different Stars coverTitle: Under Different Stars (Kricket #1)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2013

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kricket Hollowell is normally not one to wish upon stars; she believes they’re rarely in her favor. Well versed at dodging caseworkers from Chicago’s foster care system, the past few years on her own have made Kricket an expert at the art of survival and blending in. With her 18th birthday fast approaching, she dreams of the day when she can stop running and find what her heart needs most: a home.

Trey Allairis hates Earth and doubts that anyone from his world can thrive here. What he’s learning of Kricket and her existence away from her true home only confirms his theory. But, when he and Kricket lie together under the stars of Ethar, counting them all may be easier than letting her go.

Kyon Ensin’s secrets number the stars; he knows more about Kricket’s gifts than anyone and plans to possess her because of them. He also knows she’s more valuable than any fire in the night sky. He’ll move the heavens and align them all in order to make her his own.

When everything in their world can be broken, will Kricket rely upon love to save her under different stars?

My review: 

Kricket is an interesting heroine, although seems to hit all the tropes for both looks and intelligence, plus a hard-luck past. Still, I like the way she engages, like the way the story begins. The writing tends toward info dumping, and it’s a bit slow in places, filled with tropes but not well done. I love tropes done well, but a lot of these made me cringe. Overall I quite liked the alternate universe in which Kricket finds herself. I read this because I was invested in her struggles (despite the make up of her character – although that was tempered somewhat by the fact that apparently that’s run of the mill in this alternate universe. Yes, I’m applying ‘handwavium’* with abandon here).

I kept reading this book (and the subsequent ones) because of some of the more disturbing plot elements and relationship dynamics that I hoped would be addressed. Relevant to my review for this book is the way that Kricket doesn’t seem to be able to make choices for herself and she ends up in various situations that aren’t great because of others’ who make decisions on her behalf. It’s very overtly gender essentialist although Kricket says all the right things about demanding independence – practically all the characters she meets who are male fall over themselves to be with her or have sex with her, and few end up having any genuine respect for her. Add that to the overdone over-protective streak of some of the characters once they decide she’s not the enemy and that they actually like/love her and want to look out for her, it doesn’t sit well. Kricket may not be a damsel in distress, but the other characters in the story try very hard to put her in that box.

And although in her own voice she rails against this – it’s frustrating to read. It’s also not an example I’d like to pass onto young people about how to navigate that kind of thing. Secondly, the development of the romance between Kricket and Trey is frankly unbelievable, I didn’t get the connection between them much at all – healthy respect and even friendship the way the other soldiers treated her, sure. But not romance. And on that note, while I’m good at handwaving and I’ve definitely done so for relationships I found problematic in other books, this romance didn’t sit right with me because of the differences in power dynamics as well as age and experience. Age and experience I can overlook in various contexts if it’s handled well, but I don’t think it was here and as such it came across as creepy – if less creepy than Kyon’s obsession with Kricket.

Overall I kept reading because I desperately wanted to read how things were addressed, dealt with, acknowledged, how Kricket empowered herself and what she did to get there. I could absolutely have gotten behind that. But… that’s not what happened in the first book. So I went onto the second, hoping that it was a bigger story building into something I could enjoy more and appreciate better.

 


Sea of Stars coverTitle: 
Sea of Stars (Kricket #2)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Kricket Hollowell was looking for her place in the world when she discovered that the universe was bigger—and more dangerous—than she had ever dreamed. Now, whisked across space to the planet Ethar, Kricket learns that her genetic ability to see the future makes her a sought-after commodity…and the catalyst for war between her star-crossed parents’ clans. According to Alameedan prophecy, one house will rise to power and the other will be completely wiped out, and Kricket’s precognition is believed to be the weapon that will tip the scales.

A target of both the Rafe and the Alameeda houses, Kricket finds protection—and a home—in the arms of Trey, her Etharian bodyguard-turned-boyfriend. But her visions of what’s to come disturb her deeply, especially since she must discover whether the gift of foresight will allow her to rewrite the future, or if her fate is as immovable as the stars.

My review: 

Book 2 of this series starts off looking up, but I felt like by the end it doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some nice character interaction moments, and I liked that Kricket got to save everyone once. I enjoyed that Kricket’s meeting with Charisma – Trey’s ex partner – was positive, although it did come across as a little saccharine. Also what the actual fuck is with the patriarchal nature of this worldset? It’s not actually worse than Earth on Ethar, but some of the overt views are really crap and again… it’s not something I’d want to give to other young adults as an example of dealing with this kind of stuff.

Aside from the few moments early on where Kricket gets to save herself and the others, she remains very much a commodity and I feel like this fact is reinforced well and truly above and beyond what is necessary. I don’t feel like her companions were effective in objecting to her status as someone seen as a commodity by others in their world. Also, in the end she ends up in the hands of the violent sociopath Kyon anyway. And is coerced into being a reluctant informant. I read speculative fiction because there’s enough of the real world to deal with on a daily basis, but this is straight out of something in my news feed. It’s nasty and insidious and is presented as though Kricket is a heroine for dealing with things, Kyon is presented as being insane but also as something of an antihero to sympathise with, Giffen is out to use her straight up – but at least he’s honest about it. Kricket’s so-called father is essentially meaningless in the story and the writing failed to give me any investment in the war at large overall – it was too impersonal and Kricket’s experiences were largely too removed from the war happening for it to be meaningful.

Again in reading this book I was left with a desperate sense of wanting it to be part of a larger story where Kricket gets to triumph for herself and the nasty, insidious, rape culture aspects of the story would be owned and dealt with in some way I could stomach. It didn’t happen, but I proceeded to the third book hoping, because it does read as though there’s a build up to some momentous event.

 

Darken the Stars coverTitle: Darken the Stars (Kricket #3)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kyon Ensin finally has what he’s always wanted: possession of Kricket Hollowell, the priestess who foresees the future. Together, their combined power will be unrivaled. Kricket, however, doesn’t crave the crown of Ethar—she has an unbreakable desire to live life on her own terms, a life that she desperately wants to share with her love, Trey Allairis.

As conspiracies rage in the war for Ethar, Kricket’s so-called allies want to use her as a spy. Even those held closest cannot be trusted—including Astrid, her sister, and Giffen, a member of a mysterious order with a hidden agenda. But Kricket’s resolve will not allow her to be used as anyone’s pawn, even as the Brotherhood sharpens its plans to cut out her heart.

As the destiny prophesied by her mother approaches, Kricket will backtrack through her fiery future to reshape it. For she knows one thing above all else: the only person she can truly count on is herself.

My review: 

I very nearly did not finish this book because the rape culture and romanticising of domestic/intimate partner violence was a significant part of the story throughout most of the book. It sat really uncomfortably with me. At this point having invested two previous books, I was quite invested in Kricket as a character (having long handwaved the badly drawn tropes of her character make up), but it was just grim to read – and not in a good way. It’s like watching some of the worst elements of society unfold before you, but painted in pretty colours as though it will hide the ugliness. Plenty of people think these books are the best ever, that they’re super romantic and so on so clearly that’s worked but I’m reading this with constant discomfort.

I liked that Kricket managed to escape with another of the priestesses back to Earth. The ending is both satisfying and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth – it’s not the empowerment I’d wanted for Kricket, but it is freedom and one she’s chosen. At no point do any of the relationships that Kricket is invested in really come through for her, not her sister, not her father, not Trey or the soldiers, certainly not Kyon. It’s just her surrounded by a whole lot of betrayal and sacrificial expectations. I feel like Kricket both simultaneously rejected and embraced the martyrdom of the story outcome, it’s part of the bad taste I think.

I doubt this is the end of the series, but I doubt I can be convinced to read any others. I can deal with this ending and write this whole experience of this series off as a bad idea, and evidence that just because you can read a book, and just because you hope that it will all come out in the wash, doesn’t mean you should read it, doesn’t mean the crap will be addressed. I should know that already, but apparently it’s one of those lessons you need to learn more than once.

I do not recommend these books at all. They do not take you to a good place, they do not leave you in a good place. They are not good examples of pretty much anything for young adult readers. The tropes are badly drawn and anything interesting is overwhelmed by the creepy rape culture factor. I’ve gone to the trouble to share my reviews and write up this post because I think it is incredibly important to challenge problematic things and to say what’s not okay about them.

 

*Handwavium refers to my ability and perceived need to handwave elements of something that I either find unbelievable, out of place, badly used tropes, or sometimes even offensive. (If I stopped watching and reading anything that was problematic well, I would read and watch very little, and that’s not how I roll, considered criticism and engagement for the win.)

AWW15: Mythmaker by Marianne de Pierres

Mythmaker coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #6

Title: Mythmaker (Peacemaker 2)

Author: Marianne de Pierres

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot, 2015

Genre: urban fantasy, environmental fiction, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Virgin’s in a tight spot. A murder rap hangs over her head and isn’t likely to go away unless she agrees to work for an organisation called GJIC with Nate Sixkiller as her immediate boss. Being blackmailed is one thing, discovering that her mother is both alive and the President of GJIC is quite another. Then there’s the escalation of Mythos sightings, and the bounty on her head. Oddly, the strange and dangerous Hamish Burns is the only one she can rely on. Virgin’s life gets… untidy.

My review:

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What a great continuation from PeacemakerMythmaker is the new book in this series and it picks up where the last book left off with Birrimun Park still under threat by Mythos, a largely unknown enemy. This book, this series has such grand style about it! Fantastic characters that live up to their outlandish names, government conspiracy, political intrigue, environmental dystopia, the unknown alien enemy, tiny hints of romance – but nothing trite or easy. This book reminds me of Lois McMaster Bujold in the way it blends different sub-genres to get the best telling of a story, and I devoured every word and was left desperately wishing for more! Book two of a series, Mythmaker benefits greatly from reading Peacemaker first, as it builds on the story begun in book one and is clearly working towards a grand conclusion. Having read much of de Pierres’ work, it will be well worth the wait! I reviewed Peacemaker  not long ago if the sound of this series interests you.

This book evokes a believable imagining of a near-future Australian not-quite dystopia. The supercity setting with overpopulation and one remaining nature reserve in Birrimun Park seems real enough to send chills down your spine. One of the elements I particularly liked about Mythmaker was how technology was both an ally and an enemy. Issues with lack of citizen privacy exist, there’s a sense of constant surveillance or close to it, but it also seems to be something that can be manoeuvred around. And similarly, there are limits to the information that can be easily obtained by the agency Virgin is working for with Nate Sixkiller. In this book, technology is used as tool and not as a crutch for the story, something that isn’t always done well but here it’s quite apparent. It’s also clear that the government agency that Virgin is forced to join forces with isn’t telling her everything, but she has great friends and the odd unlikely ally or two that help her get to the bottom of things. This too is what is satisfying, a cast of characters and not one lone hero with the weight of the world on their shoulders – there are always other people involved.

I love the way Virgin isn’t satisfied with being put in a place and told to do a certain thing. She takes the role she’s been given and the constraints and uses them to do things her own way. Also, I really love the way Caro’s role in the story and as Virgin’s friend is continued and expanded as it feels very real to me. This is something that I’ve noticed particularly with de Pierres’ writing is that she writes friendship beautifully, it’s deeply satisfying. If you’re someone who reads for great friendship, then you can’t go past the friendships and character dynamics created in this book, and others by the author (I’d particularly recommend the Tara Sharp books for friendship dynamics, and the Sentients of Orion series for intricate, complex and compelling character dynamics).  All of the characters and not just the protagonists in this series are colourful and so deftly written I can almost picture them as I read, almost hear their voices when they speak – like Papa Brise, Chef Dab, Caro and Greta. I love this and it’s often what has me fall in love with a book or series.

More and more this style of urban fantasy is what I’m drawn to. Stories of a city, stories of a place, but not an old-world foreign, medieval style place. I love the weave of fantasy with modernity! And I love the way that books like this can project into the future the concerns of the present, the consequences of our lack of environmental foresight, the threat of corporate and government oversight and what that change in the context of citizenship and freedom may look like. I love the Australia that is at the heart of this book, it’s a layered mythology that is anything but stereotypical. Instead, it comes across as familiar to those of us who live here, and I think creates an inside view and sense of knowing for readers from beyond Australia’s shores; not in a way that evokes typical imagery or landmarks, it’s deeper and more subtle than that.

If you are looking for unique, beautifully written urban fantasy. This series is for you, Peacemaker and Mythmaker are visionary and deeply satisfying books to read. Mythmaker continues what Peacemaker started ramping up the action, with even higher stakes, doesn’t let up and definitely doesn’t disappoint.

 

Recent Listening

I work in an agency doing content things, it’s a dynamic place to work and is busy and quite open – very collaborative and has lots of informal space usage encouraged. I *love* this about it. I also love that most of us use headphones for when we want to get stuck into something and not engage outwardly (also useful for when the music playing is not to your taste).  That means that aside from my Pandora stations, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. I’ve been loving this so much! So I thought I’d share what I’d happened upon recently. Feel free to tell me if you find something new you love, or if you already love these things squee with me about how amazing and wonderful they are!

The Wheeler Centre Podcasts

Walking the Walk: Next Steps Against Family Violence: Such amazing women speakers, speaking candidly and critically,  in detail about family violence and how it is so very gendered.  There was also a great question at the end about family violence that happens in non hetero- or gender- normative situations and that was well asked, and well acknowledged by the speakers I thought. The whole issue is layered and complex, it’s not as simple as any of the slogans would have us believe. At the root of it is entitlement, and that invariably almost always leads back to sociocultural norms that are taught, learned and reinforced at every turn.

The F Word: Aboriginality: I loved this podcast, it was so interesting to listen to the speakers and it is glad to see Aboriginal speakers prioritised here and having the chance to speak from their experiences about what is important to them. It’s hard to describe how this was different from what is generally a very white feminism in Australia, I don’t quite have the words, but it was there and it was awesome – more feminism like this. More everything that includes and celebrates Indigenous Australian perspectives and expertise.

Galactic Suburbia

I love this podcast and it’s the first one I ever fell in love with. I devoured three episodes recently, not quite in order as I’m saving the Tiptree Spoilerifics for when I’ve read the books (I know it’s not necessary, but it’s helpful incentive to read the books and I want to do it this way). Speculative fiction and feminism, discussed by three brilliant, articulate women. So fucking awesome. Galactic Suburbia has a Patreon campaign, maybe you’d be interested in supporting it?

126: Hugos!: All the Hugos Ceremony aftermath! I watched the twitterstream live, but not the actual livestream (I am edging my way back into awards gently). It was awesome to be on twitter and experiencing all the interaction and brilliant commentary by so many people! I loved that part of it. Also, I am really pleased about the results, and it’s gone a reasonably long way to restoring my faith in fandom for awards, which has been (a lot) lacking for a few years.

128: 2 September 2015: Interesting data thanks to work by Nicola Griffiths crunching numbers relating to awards shortlists and winners, discussions about diversity panels and how after a certain point they’re not the conversation you need to be having and putting those ‘diverse’ labelled people on – they’re the people you should be including on all the OTHER discussions, because actually, that’s what diversity genuinely looks like. Lots of smart discussion, as usual. I love it.

129: 16 September 2015: Discussion of Australian politics and the recent Spill which has given us Malcolm Turnbull as our new Prime Minister. It’s a great discussion of our political system at present and how, it’s a bit of a joke. I’m sure there was some great commentary about the ability to win elections is not an indication of competency to govern – but I’m seeing a bunch of similar commentary around in relation to our government at present so it’s all a bit blurred together. In particular listening to the politics discussion, I love that sense of knowing that I was far from alone being glued to the coverage that night. Also acknowledgement of that thing where, nothing has really changed with the change of who’s in the top job – but so many of us have *hated* Abbott for so long and so much, that seeing him gone couldn’t be anything other than a pleasant relief. Even if you wake up to something of an ongoing hangover the next day.

Fangirl Happy Hour

It’s all thanks to Galactic Suburbia that I came across Fangirl Happy Hour, but I’m so glad I did! I love Ana and Renay! They’re so great to listen to! I love their enthusiasm! I love that they have such different and similar tastes and that they support this for each other so delightfully! It’s so charming! Speculative fiction in all it’s genre awesomeness from a perspective that brings things to my attention that I am actually interested in, with recommendations that I can trust in whether I’ll like something or not. I just can’t get enough, I inhaled four episodes:

14: ALL the Recommendations: Wow! So many recommendations! It is still one of the things on my to-do list to go through the show notes and add a bunch of the things to my reading/watching list! Not the least of which is their list of 81 cool podcasts… apparently I’ve plunged deeply back into podcast listening without even trying!

15: Three Out of Five Space Bees: This was a great episode, I almost wanted to read the ‘Hawkeye’ comic (I am not a comics person at this point in time). I really enjoyed the discussion of ‘Uprooted’ which is Naomi Novik’s new book and sounds fantastic.

16: Kate Elliott: Panel Rebel: This was such a fun podcast to listen to! Kate Elliott was a marvellous guest and I am now wondering how I never read any of her stuff before – she writes right within the genre spaces that I love. So, pretty much all her books are on my to-read list now.

17: Sigourney Weavering: I felt so much for Ana in this episode – I would have been equally upset by the treatment by the staffer at the con when she was trying to find out about the photo shoot stuff. How fucking rude. I really loved the discussion in this episode about the weight of history in the fandom/umbrella genre – and how sometimes it can be nice to try and read that, but it should never be imperative. Also, sometimes you have to make your own historical touchstones, and share them – hopefully others will also appreciate them, but saying something IS like this and that X book IS quintessential and you’re not a ‘real’ fan without it, is crap. I’m not buying. I’ve still never read Asimov or Heinlein, or Clark, or a bunch of others and honestly… I probably won’t. It’s not relevant history for me – it doesn’t enhance my experience of reading in this fandom/genre umbrella.

Feminist Frequency

Today I got around to listening to the latest in Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency series about Tropes in Video Games. The most recent topic of discussion is women as reward, how that works and what it looks like, what it means in the context of gaming, designer/developer respect for women, and perpetuating and reinforcing through creating incentives out of women as objects/rewards, the sense of male entitlement that is prevalent in our patriarchal society. It’s a brilliant critique, I really loved the way she ties it all into that entitlement and how it differs in effect in gaming rather than movies, television, books or comics – the nature is the challenge, achievement and reward – interactivity and making women rewards. Not people. Rewards. Which is to say, the games make a massive assumption that gamers are pretty much cis, male, straight, and not for example women, or non-binary gendered, or queer. Anita says it much better than I do, go watch her awesome videos:

 

The Misandry Hour:

First episode just dropped of Clementine Ford’s new project and IT’S AWESOME. It’s so awesome. In case you weren’t sure, the title is a tongue in cheek poke at the whole idea and myth surrounding misandry. There is a reasonable portion of the episode devoted to addressing this idea of misandry and what it comes down to is that any cultural level hatred that any group of women could level against men, cannot bring to bear the same influence, power and social inequality experienced by women. It’s not the same playing field, and to suggest that it is, frankly is part of the problem. The guests that Clementine invites along this episode are awesome, they’re interesting to listen to and the whole conversation is in depth crunchy feminism – it’s confronting and uncomfortable in places about our individual thinking processes, our own conditioning and how we engage and why. I didn’t know that I was desperate for this until I listened to it, but wow, it was so very much what I needed. This podcast is the product of a Patreon campaign for the express purpose of valuing women’s work and time, so maybe consider supporting it if you’d like?

Presenting the 88th Down Under Feminists Carnival

DUFC LogoGreetings all! I have sumptuous carnival for you to feast upon this month! You may remember that I said this month I was running with a theme where I wanted to do a retrospective of past DUFC posts, and posts from previous months and years that might have been missed. People have been so generous in their submissions to me both for this current month and the retrospective and I’m humbled and delighted. And now, onto the feast!

 

DUFC Retrospective

Chally of Zero at the Bone {archived} wrote in 2012 about working towards the positive {broken link removed} and how feminism shaped her view to think of people individually and to try and avoid assumptions as well as being more conscious of people’s boundaries.

Shae of Free Range in Suburbia blogged in 2014 this great post titled Live Louder where she talks about the trolls that try to bring her down and that she’s actually enjoying being a happy person, raising her kids and being herself fully. Love it!

In 2011 Bluebec wrote about Islamaphobia, prejudice, and discrimination faced by Muslim people in the US at the time, it seems rather timely to share her post How to radicalise your population now.

From Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town in 2007, Parenting While Female: “It’s not about you”, on breastfeeding in public and the default male gaze.

Earlier this year, Stephanie of No Award wrote about China through the looking glass about the way Western approval for fashion, design and success is apparently necessary. This post is also about how Western interpretations of certain Chinese fashion particularly period pieces can be appropriative and offensive. The best bit: Stephanie highlights the work of some Chinese designers and wow, their designs are gorgeous!

From Bluemilk in 2010, a post looking at rape and responsibility: ‘But why shouldn’t she take some responsibility too for the rape?’ This post is powerful, it’s written to be confrontational, to paint a crude comparison that absolutely covers all the standard arguments for why women should take *more* responsibility, only when you change that context only slightly and place a man in that same similar kind of situation, it no longer makes sense that he too is to blame. Moral of the story: women need to take *less* responsibility, not more.

Deborah from A Bee of a Certain Age wrote in 2013 some pointed remarks about research and the pregnancy police and our tendency to infantalise pregnant women.

In February, Emily of Mama Said wrote about this idea that as a parent you’re supposed to be grateful *all the time* when sometimes it’s actually perfectly reasonable to want your own bed to yourself. Especially if that’s not likely to happen.

Earlier this year Liz from No Award wrote about Melbourne and Chinese Pirates courtesy of The Argus, once Melbourne’s premier newspaper which has apparently since been digitised for all of you whom are interested in history.

Also 2011 by Bluebec is this post Dan Savage is still biphobic {broken link removed}- I’m sure he means well but given the authority with which he speaks after all this time, it’s not really good enough by a long shot.

An extended transcript of Scarlett Harris’ interview with The Sex Myth author Rachel Hills,  originally featured in last month’s carnival {broken link removed} (all very good links if you missed it).

Chally at Zero at the Bone in 2012 wrote about Nourishment {broken link removed} and how food can bring us joy and connection, it’s not about being a good person or about denying and punishing yourself.

I love this semi-satirical post from Emily at Mama Said from July this year about how getting your baby to sleep. It’s all the things that you’re told from experts, and from every other parent and a few other things besides, it’s a spectacular rant, enjoy it and feel vindicated as needed.

No Award’s Stephanie on her own site back in 2014 about Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: Feminist Ghosts and Monstrous Women of Asia, in Stephanie’s own words: “8000 words on the monstrous women of Asia, feminism, and colonialism”.

This 2014 repost from Bluemilk, her Meanjin piece,  is a beautiful reflective piece on reading and re-reading, on consideration of the self in situations and moving forward.

In 2013, Stephanie from No Award wrote about solidarity for white women and the (white) face of aUStralian feminism regarding interracial narratives and Australia. This is particularly in relation to Australian consumption of US media amongst other things. There’s no perfect way to be across everything, but as always it’s important for us to examine what we’re consuming and why. There are some great links in this post.

And finally, one last piece from Bluebec, The legacy we leave, on sheltering our children from the hatefulness in the world – not from all knowledge of, but the hatefulness itself in the hope that we do not pass this along to them, that they may be better than us.

In May this year, Kate Iselin wrote for Kill Your Darlings about that catch all phrase ‘women’s interests’ which signals to us as always that men’s interests are the public interest and that anyone else remains ‘other’.

Back in 2011 Chally of Zero at the Bone wrote about when resistance looks like capitulation, {broken link removed} talking about this idea of the feminine and not refusing it altogether, but making it optional, being able to play with it. Honestly I’m a fan of any post that quotes Luce Irigaray…

Also from Liz of No Award and earlier this year, was this excellent post about attending the #loveOzYA event as someone passionately invested in Australian YA books.

In 2012, Blue Milk wrote a piece on 10 rules for women blogging about their relationship woes. It’s a little bit depressing how relevant these ‘rules’ remain today.

A momentary break if you will, for my favourite cute kitten picture:

Fluffiest grey kitten, cleaning his paws. Text: 'Here we see a tiny wigglefloof cleaning his tiny squishbeans'

 

 

 

And now a varied selection of headings under which the rest of our carnival resides.

 

 

Connection and Community

Brocklesnitch writes about how sharing of news when someone has died has changed, how you can seem to map the spread of the news through people’s reactions across different modes of social media, {broken link removed} and how it’s unique and important and helps in its own way.

Deirdre Fidge writes for ABC’s The Drum about introversion and stereotypes, how it doesn’t always look like cats, naps and social stress.

Anna writes on Hoyden About Town calling for a brainstorming session on organising a festival to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, apparently the 300th anniversary coincided with the first ANZAC celebration but so far nothing is planned for this centenary.

 

Race and Racism

TigTog from Hoyden About Town posted a media circus about the use of Vegemite for brewing alcohol, pointing out that at best it’s incorrect and misguided and worst, is old fashioned racism. No points for guessing which localities would be affected by a ‘crackdown’ on shelves of Vegemite.

Writing in Water is a New Zealander living in the United States and writes about what New Zealand can learn from the United States about confronting racism. {broken link removed} Writing in Water is a new voice to the carnival and very welcome.

Stephanie of No Award writes about fantasy worlds and real world commentary and how while she’d love to see less white-centric landscapes used in fantasy, she also doesn’t want to see non-white landscapes reduced to stereotypes or used to judge from an outside perspective.

A guest post from Daniel Jack on Celeste Liddle’s blog Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist talks about Adam Goodes and the racism that shows its ugly face when he dared to show his pride in his Aboriginal heritage, while also drawing attention to issues faced by Aboriginal people in Australia.

 

Marriage Equality

In Daily Life, Ali Benton looks at the personal cost to her family with the delay on marriage equality and the way in which Australian politics has generally handled the issue in recent years.

No Place For Sheep writes about the hypocrisy of Abbott saying that the same-sex marriage debate is a deeply personal issue, but then declined to allow Coalition MPs the opportunity for a conscience vote.

Rebecca Shaw writes for Crikey about how the blocking of marriage equality is frustrating, hurtful, incredibly exhausting and deeply personal.

Cristy Clark writes about the spurious arguments against marriage equality including our old favourite ‘won’t somebody think of the children?!’

Celeste Liddle of Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist writes about the Uluru Bark Petition how incensed she was that a small group of Aboriginal people who do not support marriage equality, claim to speak for all Arrernte people in this matter and how they do not speak for her.  (This post is equal parts about marriage equality and racism but since the racism is reflected in response to marriage equality, I’ve placed it here in the carnival.)

Bluebec wrote about marriage equality in Australia and in particular about the five hour meeting held by The Liberal Party on whether to allow a Party conscience vote. It took five hours to decide to maintain the same position (a decision that surprised exactly no one).

Sarah Johnson writes for The Conversation about how a constitutional referendum is a ‘Hail Mary’ for those opposed to same-sex marriage.

Luddite Journo writes for The Hand Mirror about biphobia and Radio New Zealand on the subject of marriage equality. Bi-erasure continues to be a thing all over the place I’ve noticed, it gets so tiresome.

 

Gaby Baby Outcry

Maeve Marsden writes for Daily Life about being a ‘gaby baby’ and how her family is normal in response to the homophobic backlash against the Gaby Baby film which portrays same-sex families and is being screened across Australia as part of Wear it Purple Day.

Rebecca Shaw writes for The Age about how following the homophobic reaction to ‘Gaby Baby’ in NSW that tolerance is no longer the benchmark, and instead the LGBTIQA now requires acceptance. The time has past where society simply must ‘put up with’ queer people, they (we) are fully fledged members of society and should be included and treated as such.

 

Motherhood, Maternity and Childcare

Emily of Mama Said writes about how she’s saying no to experts because while it may be that as a parent she wants to do everything possible to do the best for her kids, no one knows them like she does and she doesn’t need a $150 consultation about how to love them and raise them better, she’s already doing an amazing job.

@datakid23 and @solovii wrote for Open Knowledge Foundation about childcare at Govhack and how it got done.  So awesome!

Andie Fox (of Blue Milk) writes for Essential Baby trying to answer a range of common questions about extended breastfeeding. The post is personal, candid, honest and insightful about the topic.

Emily of Mama Said wrote this beautiful and insightful post about dealing with prenatal depression, there’s a content note for this as it’s dealing with anxiety and depression which may be triggering for some.

This anonymous guest post on Mama Said is sharp and to the point about being a lesbian parent and all the awful ways in which people assume they have the right to ask questions including and perhaps especially, offensive ones.

Blue Milk writes about conversations with children, different snippets and moments that are so lovely when shared. I love posts like these, they always make me smile.

Also about conversations with children, Emily of Mama Said writes about her two year old and the dreaded why stage – this too is lovely to read.

 

Media Reflections

Jo from A Life Unexamined talks about her love for Legend of Korra and how glad she is that the way the show created the relationship between Korra and Asami left things open to interpretation and specifically didn’t push things in an obvious romantic direction.

Alayna Cole writes for Marianne de Pierres blog (there are many worthy reviews of all kinds of stuff here) reviewing Far from the Madding Crowd. Although the movie promises feminist themes, it instead overtly signals independence and empowerment without ever actually exploring or delivering on these elements. This review is insightful and highlights a common issue that happens when popular media tries to assert itself as feminist or diverse but doesn’t really deliver and seems surprised when people react as such.

Stephanie of No Award writes about The Prison Island of Sodor and how Thomas the Tank Engine is not nearly as innocent as we might have supposed. This is a brilliant post exposing the creepiness of a children’s television show with a dystopian flair.

Anwen Crawford writes in Kill Your Darlings about how the experience of watching television  has changed dramatically for many of us – once a central and often social activity, it can now also be a private personal experience streaming directly to our laptops. She talks about how sometimes by screen light you can feel less alone.

Liz writes about No Award watching Glitch, which is apparently not bad, and even quite good in parts and involves dead people, a love triangle, the good of the people, a gothic Australian small town setting and all of the eye rolling that is Australia being afraid of media and the supernatural.

 

Women, Feminism and Meta

This post on comfortable misogyny by Kari Sperring is a special inclusion. This post is not a post from an Australian or New Zealand blogger, or from someone living elsewhere and is originally from around here. However, it is a post that speaks to an experience that is familiar to me, and familiar to many of the women around me in Science Fiction and Fantasy/Speculative Fiction circles. It’s about the insidious aspect of misogyny and the fatigue that goes along with trying to fight against it year after year.

Jemma from stuff.co.nz writes about the importance of normalising swearing for women as it is wrongly seen as the purview of men and that being a woman, credible, delightful and other things as well as swearing isn’t possible. I’m with Jemma because quite frankly, fuck that. (Fuck remains one of my favourite words to say).

Deborah from A Bee of a Certain Age spoke to Radio NZ’s The Panel talking about how what really matters is what a woman looks like.  Jacinda Ardern, a highly regarded New Zealand MP was described as a “pretty little thing” on national TV.

Brocklesnitch writes this awesome succinct post about don’ts and do’s {broken link removed} – the list of things we’re not supposed to do grows ever longer and an awesome response to that.

Also from Deborah of A Bee of a Certain Age is this discussion of diversity in prime time and how representation on prime time television and radio is very white, very male, and very middle class.

Stephanie of No Award writes about the role models of No Award, this is a little bit irreverent but there are some marvellous examples here to appreciate.

Kasey Edwards writes for Daily Life talking to a Melbourne based beauty therapist and the most sexist requests for beauty treatments, and how those often come from male partners and are accompanied by a distinct lack of respect, sense of entitlement with the desire to control women’s behaviour.

Scarlett Harris wrote In Defence of Cosmopolitan in the wake of the magazine being put behind blinders in some U.S. drug and department stores.

Georgina Dent writes for Women’s Agenda about Mark Latham’s resignation from the Australian Financial Review amid ‘controversy’ and how this victory is hollow.

Bluebec writes about mortality, not dying but also being aware of not being afraid of dying.

Fat Heffalump writes about how there are always experts, experts everywhere and they all have an opinion on others’ health.

 

Disability

Sonia writes for the ABC on Open Drum talking about career in transit and the difficulty in commuting and with transport generally if you have a disability and getting to work. This is an insightful piece and it highlights something often overlooked: the energy cost of travel that may be what makes employment difficult or impossible for some people, but that assistance and support for those who need it is limited.

Also on accessibility to transportation is this article from The Standard by Rachel Houlihan about how disability advocate Jax Jacki Brown was left hanging by V-Line after planning ahead for accessible train travel to Warnambool failed to eventuate and ended in an offer of a taxi. This was not the solution it pretended to be.

 

Politics

Over at The Hand Mirror, Julie is starting a series of posts encouraging women to run for local government in 2016 in New Zealand. The point is not only getting involved in your community, but working to make a difference and increasing diverse representation in local government.

No Place For Sheep writes about the bias and ethics  scandal surrounding Dyson Heydon as head of the Royal Commission investigating trade unions and with them the Labor Party. Impartiality and ethical integrity appear to be concepts unfamiliar to Hedon or his supporters which include Abbott, Pyne and Brandis.

Also from No Place For Sheep is a great piece on government by distraction, The post criticises the failed Operation Fortitude where it was proposed that the Australian Border Force would saturate Melbourne CBD asking people ‘randomly’ for their identification paperwork seeking to specifically catch out visa offenders.

 

Violence Against Women

Please note that there is a content warning with this topic as it may be triggering for some people.

This month I wrote about domestic violence after my student midwife lectures on the subject stirred up a bunch of memories and feelings. Domestic violence is such a huge issue in our current society – for everyone and I don’t understand why we’re doing so little do change that.

No Place For Sheep wrote about domestic violence and the bourgeoisie, criticising commentary on the issue by Martin McKenzie-Murray and Mark Latham where they deny that domestic violence is an issue that affects women across all backgrounds, race, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on.

Rosie Batty writes from her blog at Never Alone about attending the Royal Commission on Family Violence in Victoria recently and how cultural change around this issue is imperative.

 

Books, Reading, Writing, and Reviews

On the 24th of October in Canberra, Marianne de Pierres is running a Writing Masterclass, it’s a paid event with concession prices available and bookings are necessary. The class will include how to address some of the key issues in writing speculative fiction, including how to build convincing worlds, maintain narrative drive, and effectively blend sub-genres. Perhaps seems like an advert, but part of feminism is maintaining that women should be paid for their work and their expertise and in the spirit of that understanding, sharing this opportunity to work with such an experienced author seems relevant.

Alex of Randomly Yours, reviews Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway describing a story of those who’ve come back from fairyland and wish they hadn’t. This story features a boarding school, a murder, explorations of trust and insecurity and characters who are not all heteronormative. Hopefully this review makes you want to read this novella too – I’m certainly hooked!

Another book review by Alex that I thought might be of interest is a review of Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. This book is of an entire planet as a university with a story about a character whose parents don’t want her to go and study there. I’m really intrigued by Alex’s description of the world and it’s depth, not to mention this author has been on my to-read list for a long time.

I wrote two book reviews  this month for books that I highly recommend. Firstly I reviewed Nalo Hopkinson’s ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ which was such a pleasure to read. It’s my first time reading Hopkinson and I can’t wait to read more! Secondly, I reviewed ‘Cranky Ladies of History’ edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts, which I am also proud to have helped crowdfund. It’s a gorgeous collection of stories about women worth remembering and appreciating, women who’ve been hard done by historical record keeping.

Stephanie of No Award wrote up a great post reviewing a bunch of anthologies including Phantazein by small press Fablecroft and Eat the Sky Drink the Ocean by Allen and Unwin, and Dead Sea Fruit a collection by Kaaron Warren that is great food for thought.

Bluebec wrote up two reviews which are of interest, the first a post-apocalyptic review of Coda by Emma Trevayne and another post-apocalyptic review, this time of Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley.

 

James Tiptree Jr.

There were a couple of posts about Alice Sheldon’s 100th birthday this month which coincided with a small press release honouring her alter ego James Tiptree Jr, so I’ve put these posts together in their own category.

Firstly Laurdehel from Hoyden About Town talks about her delight about the release of ‘Letters to Tiptree’, it’s a great overview of the book.

Secondly, Alex of Randomly Yours, Alex, one of the editors for the book has also blogged about the book and has shared several other links that may be of interest, including a selection of the letters published in the book that are freely available as a taste test.

And finally, Tansy of tansyrr.com shares her appreciation for Alice Sheldon’s other alter ego Raccoona Sheldon as part of her ‘Women of the 20th Century’ series.

Many thanks go to Chally of Zero at the Bone for her ongoing coordination of the Down Under Feminist Carnival. Maybe you’d be interested in hosting a carnival? It’s easy and people send you lots of links, plus new voices bring other new voices to the conversation which is always awesome. If you’re interested, you can contact Chally via the Down Under Feminist Carnival site. The Eighty-Ninth Edition is planned for 5 October, 2015 hosted by Rebecca at at Opinions @ bluebec.com. Submissions to rebecca [dot] dominguez [at] gmail [dot] com.

Thoughts on domestic violence

Content warning: discussion of domestic violence, memories and experiences of violence.

 

 

The title for this post was a little tricky because this is not just one term, there are several and they’re all relevant. However, the domestic element of the violence is one of the things that has stayed with me this week and it’s one of the reasons I’m writing so I’m going to use domestic violence as short hand for all these terms: intimate partner violence, family violence, men’s violence towards women and children, violence towards women and children.

I’m writing about this topic now not because I am new to it, but because of some of my classes this week. As a student  midwife, my training involves learning about how to support women who have experienced, or are experiencing domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. There is an intimacy about midwifery that makes this topic of how to care critical for us. Long after the lectures have finished, tutorial discussions had, thoughts continue to simmer in my mind.

There is at present a national conversation taking place about domestic violence. In large part this is thanks to Rosie Batty, whose personal bravery and commitment to changing the status quo on this issue is well known. Destroy the Joint (Facebook link) is also working to bring awareness to this issue, by counting dead women. Their approach isn’t perfect: they count all women killed through violence, but there have been exceptions to this. So violence in general, not just domestic violence – although unsurprisingly it features as one of the main contributors to the deaths of 59 Australian women so far this year (also a Facebook link).

This post isn’t so much about facts and statistics, but my experience of those both this week and across my life. I think that it’s important to contextualise statistics – they’re not just numbers, they have real people, real lives and stories behind them. Sometimes that gets forgotten. I am someone who as a child witnessed domestic violence by my father towards my mother. This has had a lingering effect on me, for a start I remember very little of my childhood as my childhood self just blocked the memories and dissociated. As a teenager, my mother answered my questions about that time in her life honestly. She shared with me the copies of hospital reports she had kept that had said that she feared for her life. She told me that in the end she left not for herself, but for my brother and I. At the time she followed a Catholic faith and was told by her priest that she had made her bed and must lie in it.

I keep thinking about my mother in her early 20s dealing with this horror. I am almost in my mid-30s and can’t imagine dealing with it! She had (we have) a very supportive extended family who supported her but up until she left my father had isolated her significantly. It was hard to get out. She has occasionally  mentioned that she needed to steal money from him when he was drunk to buy necessities – like medicine for us children. I remember that all the blinds were always down in the house – there was no sunlight that ever came in. This was true even after she left and I remember my father constantly talking about people who were nosey and who interfered. He was referring to people who helped my mother get away.

These are some of the snippets that circled my mind all day following our lectures/discussions in class. I was thinking and wondering how it was possible that in 2015, some 20-30 years after this had happened to my mother, we were still looking at prevalence statistics that were the same. That 1 in 3 women had experienced physical violence, 1 in 5 had experienced sexual violence and that this was most likely at the hands of a current or former partner. Most of the perpetrators of violence toward women are male¹.

It’s also generally held that these numbers are conservative, that they represent only what has been reported and that there are many and varied reasons why violence of this kind is not reported. Or witnessed. And so never comes to light. In decades the conversation has barely shifted. The only positive thing to say is that the conversation is being had more out loud and more forcefully than before. In Victoria, there is a Royal Commission into Family Violence currently taking place. It should be a national project, I’m angry that it isn’t. We are failing so many people with this – not just the women being hurt and killed, or children traumatised, but the toxic masculinity that fuels male violence in our society.

And then my mind wandered further. Because discussion of emotional abuse occurred and this too has been recognised as a form of domestic violence. And although I’ve never lived in a partnered situation where I experienced domestic violence directed to myself by a current or former partner, I have had a partner, who I didn’t live with, who did emotionally abuse me for some two years of our four year relationship. And coming to terms with that being the reality really only happened this week – although the experience happened some years ago now. It was only when the fact of it was staring me in the face that I truly realised that’s what had taken place. I always dismissed it because nothing so terrible ever really came of it – as though the emotional anguish wasn’t harm in and of itself. Remembering, I cringed inwardly and felt all of the shame from back then all over again – and I remember feeling so ashamed that I’d gotten hurt. I felt like I should have known better. I should have done more. That’s crap of course, this person shouldn’t have been abusive. End of story. Even now I feel anger and fear towards them. They are still connected to one of my social communities and every so often I see them socially. I hate it and battle the fear and anger every single time.

From the lecture one of the things that had been discussed was the fact that leaving a violent relationship was one of the escalating factors that can lead to life-threatening situations, or even death. Domestic violence is reported as one of the leading causes of death and disability for women in Australia. It’s chilling to think that the biggest threat to my life is from someone I love or once loved as a partner. This realisation stays with me and still haunts me. And I still fear it even though I’ve never lived with anyone who was domestically violent toward me, none of my partners have ever been abusive toward me with that one exception above. The difference there is that I never lived with this person, and that was never part of the plan, so I was never isolated and cut off and never at risk of greater harm than what my emotional self suffered. And yet, my heart still caught in my throat when I wondered how many other women had thought similar things.

So this is just me, and just my experiences. And as I was immersed in all these complicated feelings new and old, another truth occurred to me. I remembered sitting in my lecture theatre and in my tutorial classroom, surrounded by at least 20 – 30 other women. And I was reminded of the prevalence statistics all over again and was horrified to consider that in the room, other than myself, other classmates are likely to have experienced or were perhaps experiencing domestic violence. And I wouldn’t know.

So it wasn’t just about the hypothetical women I’d be caring about in my professional capacity as a midwife, but a really strong reminder that at any time when I’m out in the world, this is surrounding me. This is happening and it’s largely invisible. And, as a society, Australia remains resigned to it. There seems to be so little action on a national level seeking to change the culture that allows domestic violence to thrive and visit such horror upon so many people.

One final acknowledgement. I’m speaking from my own experience here, and while I generally identify as a genderqueer person, there was something about this week and these experiences that really resonated with me in a way where I felt distinctly female. A woman. A genderqueer woman, but still a woman. And this blog post and things I’ve linked to are very cisgendered in their approach. I know that violence towards transgendered and genderqueer people is also a huge issue – and one that doesn’t have great statistics or funded research organisations looking into it at all. There should be these things happening, and the experiences of non-gender-binary people should be included in discussions about this issue and in strategies to address it.

Also, As an Anglo-white person, this is also a very white-centric view, where the rates of domestic violence experienced by Australian Indigenous women, for example have a much higher prevalence and are linked to effects of colonisation and intergenerational oppression. In short, racism compounds the effect exponentially. And this is just one consideration, women from a Cultural and Linguistically Diverse background who are immigrants or refugee women (link no longer available so removed) also have different rates and experiences with domestic violence (and other violence particularly in the context of refugees), and similarly we don’t really prioritise that, especially not in culturally safe ways.

My point is, this post has it’s focus and it’s limited. There are also other really important aspects of this issue that need more attention and need to be discussed and it’s imperative that we seek to address all aspects of domestic violence, not just the cisgendered white face of it. There’s no one strategy that will encompass everything and everyone. Responses must be tailored, must be respectful, and must be culturally safe in order to be effective and make a sustainable difference.

When I qualify as a midwife, I will do my best to make a difference in this area. I’m not sure how that will work, or what will be involved but I can promise to do my best. I can be informed, I can be respectful, I can be kind and I can care about this issue and the effects it has on women, children, men and society at large.

  1. These statistics come from resources published by the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).

Review: Cranky Ladies of History, anthology edited by Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Cranky Ladies of History - coverReview for Reviews Sake

Title: Cranky Ladies of History

Editors: Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner-Roberts

Publisher and Year: Fablecroft Publishing, 2015

Genre: Historical fiction, speculative fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

My review:

I love living in the future! To have the privilege of participating in the funding of a book to really get behind books I want to see in print, to demonstrate with my frugal spending what I really want to read. I am proudly one of those who backed the Pozible campaign that was responsible for funding this book. What an extraordinary time in publishing, to be a reader and hooked into communities and networks!  I funded at the level where I received a gorgeous hardcover book, and I have to compliment Kathleen Jennings on her gorgeous cover and internal illustrations. From first glance at the cover you can see what this book is about, what kind of stories about ladies it tells, and it whets your appetite marvellously.

Historical fiction is one of those things I dabble in, historical non-fiction I just haven’t done remotely enough reading of. But there was no way I could resist an anthology like this that highlights the interesting lives of historical women, imagining how they lived, what they thought and looking at the impact they made – not always for the greater good. And that too is a strength of this anthology, it features all kinds of cranky ladies, from those who seek to improve the moral good, to those who are remembered with horror and fear, daring women, wronged women, women I’ve heard of and those who are brand new to me. This book is both a pleasure to read, and gives you some small insight into the historical significance of several women, mostly those who are forgotten by modern history. It’s not that the book is educational exactly, but it does make you want to learn more, to study these women and their lives.

Stories that particularly resonated with me, and it was hard to pick just a few I promise:

Bright Moon by Foz Meadows:

A woman who is determined not to submit to any man unless he can best her in wrestling, and because she is so fierce and talented, she wins thousands of horses from them as they fail to beat her. I love Khutulun’s fierce spirit and that she is herself and doesn’t have to hide from her father, that he supports her even if he is surprised by her declarations and strength of character. It’s these two things, her strength and his love that really resonated for me in this story.

Due Care and Attention by Sylvia Kelso:

I love the writing tone of this story, it plays in my mind almost as though I’m watching an episode of period drama like ‘Call the Midwife’ or ‘Downton Abbey’ or similar. I love Lilian’s dedication to medicine and care, and reading about the early use of cars in Brisbane was really interesting – particularly including the Royal Automobile Club. I loved in particular her discovery about the water treatment for burns. The whole story was just gorgeous, I’d read a whole novel about Lilian, absolutely.

Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier:

What a gorgeous story of piety, commitment and activism. Sister Hildegard has such quiet strength and Marillier’s writing truly brings her to life. I love the quiet opposition, the use of letters and negotiation with logic that Sister Hildegard uses. I love that although she has visions that the story isn’t really centred around them but about her own perseverance in developing her virtues. Trying to better oneself, trying to better the world around you. Such a beautiful story.

The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai:

The storytelling voice in this story is unique, it’s different and I found that unlike most of the other stories which I read in a single sitting, this one I savoured over several sittings because each word and sentence seemed to be so layered. I loved the character of the Dragon, that she was so ruthless and yet operated within her own rules. I love that she had family, children and that this clearly didn’t stop her being both terrifying and powerful. This was one of the stand out stories in the anthology for me.

The Company of Women by Garth Nix:

Another favourite from the anthology, Nix’s story captivated me. I love the mythology behind this story and that Lady Godiva was a saviour in partnership with the bees. I loved the way the story was centred around women’s business in tending the bees, that became the saving of everyone else. This was a perfect short story for me – completely self contained, gave me every satisfaction and left me content.

Charmed Life by Joyce Ching

Queerness and silk discovery, choosing love over a certain kind of elevation into prosperity/wealth/power. This story was sweetness, it was delightful, and I loved that Leizu got to be with her lady love and that nothing tragic happened. Maybe it was different in history, but I’m in love with this story where the story ends on such a perfect note.

The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat

Strength and determination, proving one self to be just as good as the men who never had to question why they didn’t get to be the best and brightest. Earning the approval of one’s father. Trying to hold out against invasion, this story has everything – as I read the words, it seemed like an action movie was playing in my head! Nora reminds me of every young heroine I’ve read and loved, through this story and seeing her grow into a powerful young woman who seeks to prove herself and be recognised for her strength is so satisfying. I love that she’s hungry for battle, a little bloodthirsty and is full of valour and courage.

Mary, Mary by Kirsten McDermott 

The way this story begins with death, with familiarity and the Grey Lady is so intriguing! I’m not very familiar with the story of both of the Marys, both Shelley and Wollstonecraft but I loved reading about them both through Wollstonecraft’s eyes. I’ve always enjoyed stories that explore companionship of a supernatural kind that is not really of the ‘real’ world, the Grey Lady is a mysterious but compelling such companion and I loved the unfolding of her relationship with Mary. So much to love about this story!

Look How Cold My Hands Are by Deborah Biancotti

I’m not a horror reader, it’s fair to say that I go out of my way to avoid it. So I can’t say that I liked or loved this story, but it did resonate with me strongly. And I think it was so important to include this story in amongst the others in the book, stories of cranky ladies where their motives aren’t pure, they aren’t good people, because these women too are part of history, have been forgotten and their impacts largely unwritten and untold. A story of Countess Bathory, one of the most notorious serial killers in history, and especially as a female  serial killer is a good example of this. Other than the fact that she murdered countless other women, what do we know of her life, her reasons, what really happened? Not much. Needless to say this story left me chilled and I needed a unicorn chaser (or three) after it.

All in all, this anthology is *glorious*!

 

AWWC15: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #5

Title: Peacemaker (Peacemaker 1)

Author: Marianne de Pierres

Publisher and Year: Angry Robot, 2014

Genre: urban fantasy, environmental fiction, dystopia

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger in Birrimun Park – the world’s last natural landscape, overshadowed though it is by a sprawling coastal megacity. She maintains public safety and order in the park, but her bosses have brought out a hotshot cowboy to help her catch some drug runners who are affecting tourism. She senses the company is holding something back from her, and she’s not keen on working with an outsider like Nate Sixkiller.

When an imaginary animal from her troubled teenage years reappears, Virgin takes it to mean one of two things: a breakdown (hers!) or a warning. Dead bodies start piling up around her, so she decides on the latter. Something terrible is about to happen in the park and Virgin and her new partner, U.S. Marshall Nate Sixkiller, are standing in its path…

My review: 

Marrianne de Pierres takes  urban fantasy and societal downfall in a unique and intriguing direction. I’m such a huge fan of this author and both her versatility and intricacy in storytelling. ‘Peacemaker’ is visionary, it’s so different and marries elements that remind me of space opera, with urban fantasy unlike anything we’ve seen before, intermingled with elements of the old Western pulp stories with stunning results.

One of the interesting things about this universe is that it’s all believable. It absolutely makes sense that in the future setting of this book, there is just a supercity and one lone Outback reserve. The rest of the details on what remains of Australia and indeed the rest of the world is a little sketchy, there’s hints about it but there’s no global picture offered. The mythologies intermingled in this novel are engaging, and very little is let slip by the author – this is a taste test where we discover the existence of these unknowns from another reality, what is fact and truth remains blurry.

Virgin Jackson is a brilliant heroine, she’s both fallible but has strength of character that draws you in. I found Nate to be equal parts mysterious and coy and I really want to know more. Caro’s friendship with Virgin makes her real, brings that three dimensional experience to the characters and the events of the book that really bring them to life – that’s the role of a good secondary character and Caro is masterfully written. All the peripheral characters leave an impact and this is unusual, more often they’re forgettable. In ‘Peacemaker’ I can still hear Papa Bise’s voice in my head and I can picture Kadee Matari in my mind like a photograph, even Virgin’s boss Bull Hunt leaves a lingering impression. These are the kind of characters that I am invested in and would read about over and over again.

I love that the futuristic landscape is recognisably Australia, and yet also seems to be so very alien as well. So close and yet so far is the only way I can describe it; everything is just within the boundaries of recognisable so it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be that far away – but the societal and environmental consequences create a cognitive dissonance because such vast changes don’t seem possible in any kind of short time frame. The effect discomforts the reader even as it draws them deeper into the intricate storyline.

The plot for ‘Peacemaker’ is beautifully layered and it unfolds carefully, not giving too much away. Always the events and experiences of the characters draw you in a little deeper you wonder what happens next. Even if you can guess the succession of events, the motivations and reasoning behind them remains obfuscated.

I devoured this book in one sitting, I couldn’t put it down and I’m already eagerly counting down to book two. If you like urban fantasy, unique heroines and intricate plots I highly recommend this book for you.

Review: Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Falling in Love with Hominids - coverNetGalley Review 

Title: Falling in Love with Hominids

Author: Nalo Hopkinson

Publisher and Year: Tachyon Publications, 2015

Genre: Short fiction, single author collection, speculative fiction, literary fiction

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

My review: 

An eARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was saying on Twitter as I finished this that some books are devoured in a single sitting, because you cannot bear to put them down. Some are savoured slowly because you never want it to end, you eke out every moment, every word. This sentiment is wholeheartedly true for ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ as I wanted to savour every single moment and take in as much of each story as possible.

Nalo Hopkinson has been on my list of authors that I’ve been dying to read for quite a long time now, and her collection ‘Falling in Love with Hominids’ is a fantastic introduction to her work. This is an outstanding collection that really gives insight into her storytelling, her talent, the breadth and insight with which she rights. I loved the little snippets of commentary from Hopkinson at the beginning of each story, I always think these kind of tidbits add exponentially to the reading experience – particularly for short fiction. One of the features that is used throughout the collection and in some ways ties all the different stories together is the way that stories, mythology and memories, personal history are woven through the inspiration behind the story, or within the story itself. I love the use of the lyrics and poetry – rather than being disjointed and throwing me out of the story as such elements can often do, the way Hopkinson uses this technique is expert and draws you deeper, has you feeling the rhythm of the story in your blood as you read.

I highly recommend this anthology, reading this book was a pleasure and a privilege.

This is yet another anthology that convinces me that back when I thought I didn’t like short fiction all that much, actually I just wasn’t reading stuff that really called to me, thrilled me, drew me in and made me fall in love. Also, getting to read this is part of my fulfilling a desire to read more diverse fiction from non-white authors, particularly non-white women authors. If this is something that you’re doing or thinking of doing, this anthology is a great place to start.

I won’t review every story, we’d be here all day. However, I will highlight several I particularly enjoyed:

The Easthound: this story was creepy, suggestively prophetic about the kind of dystopian future we might be facing, I really liked the way the kids fear growing up, that growing up means becoming the monsters they fear and hide from.

Message in a Bottle: Oh this story! This was a gorgeous story – that horror of being trapped with an adult mind in the body of a child in order to achieve a future mission, coming back from the future. The character of Kamla really stayed with me well after I finished reading this story.

Left Foot, Right: This story haunted me – I had to keep reading and find a unicorn chaser after reading it as it just wouldn’t let me go! Tragedy, grief and recovery, the unreal and putting to right wrongs, this story is short, sharp and very poignant.

Emily Breakfast: I think this was one of my favourite stories from the anthology! I love that there was a chicken named Emily Breakfast and that the entire story revolves around a home, and a couple and their care for their chickens. I love the casual references to queerness and kink, without those ever being the point of the story. I also love that it’s quite obvious that the animals in this story are not quite as we might experience them in the real day-to-day world. I want a kitty with wings. *is emphatic*.

A Young Candy Daughter: There are always new ways to spin a story about Christmas, giving, having enough and of balance. This is I think one of my favourites of these kind of stories – and I have an abiding fondness for them. A small child, a little bit of magic, and Santas with vessels that begin to overflow for those who need them. Such a charming story.

Ours is the Prettiest: This was my other stand out favourite story in the anthology. I loved the characters wholeheartedly in this guise, with Hopkinson’s voice though I understand that the nature of the story is that there are a number of authors who’ve dabbled in Bordertown with its characters. I could have continued to read on and on about their lives and adventures, I was so compelled. The story was a delight and I felt it ended way too soon before I was fully sated.

 

DUFC Retrospective – Call for submissions for the 88th Down Under Feminists Carnival

DUFC LogoI’m proud to be hosting the 88th Down Under Feminist Carnival, to be posted in the early days of September 2015. I wasn’t planning on a theme this time, and then one jumped up and bit me!

It occurs to me that it might be a good time to take a look at some past DUFC posts, or things that were previously missed. A retrospective, or redux if you will. I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who have favourite posts from some time back, now would be a great time to remind people about them. Send me past favourites or things you remember fondly, things that are still applicable now from when they were written.   (This theme idea brought to you by my cleaning up my Pinboard tags…)

So here’s my call for submissions. Send me awesome Australian and New Zealand feminist blogger content written any time in August or a retrospective post! You can send me something someone else has written, but please also consider writing something and sending it to me – I really want to read it! You can leave a comment here with a link and some details or email me transcendancing [at] gmail [dot] com.

I enjoy hosting the carnival a whole lot, it’s really rewarding. There is a need for some additional people to host the carnival from October onwards – if you’re interested, leave a comment here or you can email the coordinator Chally directly: chally.zeroatthebone [at] gmail [dot] com. Hosting is not difficult, you get to read some awesome stuff and there’s lots of support.

Any questions? Leave a comment or email me – happy August blogging!

Update on Becoming

Back in February I revealed that my theme for 2015 was Becoming. It was a thoughtful post – one I spent a week or two thinking on before writing because it was all about being in-between, in the middle, in process, a work in progress… how do you look at that? How do you embrace that? What does it look like if you’re setting up a year long enquiry on that?.

Reflecting on where I am at  half way through the year (just over), things are pretty well aligned with the goals I set out as part of my original post on Becoming. However, the year has been anything but smooth sailing – it’s been more like climbing a cliff with my bare hands, without a safety net. The year has been raw and intense, brutal in places. It’s also been wonderful in places too… but I’ve had to deliberately focus on that at times because it’s seemed a bit sparse.

So where am I at with my list?

Reading

Currently I’m at 29/75 books for my Goodreads Reading Challenge, 11 books behind schedule. I anticipate being able to catch up given that next semester’s schedule is much lighter given that I’m going to a half study load. Looking at the books I’ve read so far, nothing meets my goals for reading more diversely yet, so I need to make a plan around that because it’s an important part of my reading goals for this year. I’ve posted twice with regard to my academic reading, one on administration of blood products and one for assignment reading. So far I’ve done very little that’s been over and above what’s required by my units, but wow has it been an intense semester so I’m okay with this. I’ve read and reviewed one book for the Escape Club YA Bookclub, ‘Pawn’ by Aimee Carter.  I’ve also read 3/6 books I plan to for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and I’ve written up reviews for all of them: Tara Sharp Series by Marianne Delacourt.

So far, so good as far as reading goes. Still a ways to go, particularly for some of the more important intentional goals.

 

Midwifery

I had a setback in that I wasn’t able to pass my prac this semester – which means I have to redo it next year, and that will extend my studies by a year. That’s the downside (and all the mess surrounding it). The upside is, a less intense schedule, the ability to study half time and concentrate on those units I am doing, which might also afford me the opportunity to actually do some paid work, which would make a huge difference to our tiny budget. I can say that I have done my very best at every moment. I’ve dedicated myself to connection, to woman-centred care and evaluating the evidence for practice, and I feel like even in just six months, I’ve come a long way. We’ve started looking at more complex pregnancy and birth, at ethical practice and what’s involved in that, there’s a lot to consider here. I’m still enjoying learning so much about the anatomy and physiology of humans, particularly around pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period. There’s so many interesting changes that go on! I am still dedicated to doing this job I’m training for, I want to be the best midwife I can be.

 

Cooking

Well! Cooking has continued and I’m still enjoying it a lot. Some days I will admit it’s a little like a chore and I struggle a bit more – but I’ve also tried to put in place things that combat that and make it easier. I’m still doing lots of easy weeknight type meals, this year has been so full on that I haven’t had much energy for more in depth special occasion cooking. Also, that tends to be beyond the budget more often than not. I still want to go through some of my cookbooks and do some concentrated cooking from them, but I’ve not really managed that yet.

One of my big wins has been doing more meal planning for a fortnight at a time – it’s been fun to plan out what I’d like to cook and some of the best results are in the savings on groceries which is fantastic! Also, it’s nice knowing I’ve already done a lot of the deciding and I just have to pick something from the list based on the stuff we have in the fridge/cupboard. I’ve blogged about the two proper meal plans I’ve done so far if you’re interested, one for a fortnight in May, one for this fortnight in July.

However, as far as achievements go, I have managed to get into the habit of regularly photographing my food I’ve cooked! My friend Pia is responsible for this as she sold me on Instagram (same username as usual) which I’d been avoiding. I love it! It’s so easy and I am loving it as a low key, low effort/engagement social network. Also it connects to all the other things and I love the easy sharing options.

I’m still making my own stock, due to make a batch of both chicken and beef stock – but the last time I made it was in January some time I think? Maybe December… So it’s lasted wonderfully! I’ve recently visited my friend Skud and been inspired by her home cooking and preserving endeavours, so I am hoping to try and gradually increase the amount of stuff I do in that area mindfully. Even if I only add one preserving effort this year, I’ll be happy – hopefully preserved lemons as they seem easy to do. As we speak I’m working on fermenting my own starter, and today I made bread again for the first time this year – a yeast bread because of the lack of sourdough starter, but it worked beautifully.

Some pictures of recent food I’ve cooked:

Alice Medrich's Best Cocoa Brownies

Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies

Curried Satay Chicken with Noodle Medley

Curried Satay Chicken with Noodle Medley

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani

Kasundi and Coriander Egg Scramble

Kasundi and Coriander Egg Scramble

Balsamic Glazed Lamb Shanks with Julia Childs' Garlic Mash

Balsamic Glazed Lamb Shanks with Julia Childs’ Garlic Mash

Quick Yeast Bread

Quick Yeast Bread

Shakshuka on CousCous

Shakshuka on CousCous

Blogging

I’m still doing my ‘5 things about today’ posts, nearly 300! So close to doing a whole year of posts! I’ve managed to post a bit more regularly here, but not as much as I would have liked, I’d still like to do that more, but I’m not sure what that looks like. Work in progress and I’m happy with it.

The only thing that’s a bit up in the air is blogging about midwifery stuff, it’s been impressed upon us that we shouldn’t be talking about stuff generally speaking – the thought is that it’s too easy to say too much somehow. The problem is that… I don’t think secrecy about our profession does any good as far as community level health promotion goes and advocating for better practices and systems of support and care for people. How does that happen if no one knows what’s really going on, what’s there to be discussed, agreed and disagreed with? In any case, I’m feeling a bit concerned about discussing stuff critically so I’m not likely to do it for the moment.

 

Self Development

License… it’s still something I have to do. The year has been so intense, there’s been so much that has happened and it’s been one thing after another. I will get this done. Urgh.

Job stuff is looking more positive though, especially given I’ll be studying half time from now on. I interviewed for a potential job a couple of weeks and I should hear soon if there’s work for me – I liked the organisation and it’s in the line of work I used to do so there’s potential for a decent income even at part time hours. Plus, getting to feel useful and like I’m contributing financially – a win for mental health and for our budget.

As far as being ‘me’ goes, I feel like this year hasn’t left me much room to do much more than… react I guess. I’ve been myself but it’s been a me largely under stress, or recovering or staving off crisis. Honestly it’s sucked even if I’ve managed to come through it intact so far.

I will say that one of the best things this year about being myself and getting to really feel at home in that was getting to go to Continuum 11. That was possible because of a dear friend of mine and words fail to express my gratitude. I got to see so many people I’ve missed so much! Spending time and soaking up amazing women being awesome at their stuff. Listening to them speak and admiring them, it was awesome. I played games, had conversations, got hugs, shared time and felt at home. For the first time I felt like Continuum was *my* convention – that’s been Swancon for so long and I’ve missed it so much. It’s welcome to me that the convention in my state now feels like ‘home’ to me.

 

Socialising

I’ve been better at this so far this year. Even with things being kind of hard and stressful fairly constantly I’ve managed to be more social. I’ve hosted people for dinner and I’ve been better at making time to visit people I went to a party, and I spent a few days away with another friend who lives out of Melbourne. So it’s improving… well, sparingly. But I have worked at it, and I expect it will be a bit easier this coming semester, again because of studying half time. I’m hopeful.

Community stuff is still something I’d like to be better with but I’m still unsure how it will come about. I have made it to a couple of Poly Vic things and I will continue trying to do that. I am unsure about volunteering for this Continuum committee as I only know one person on there. but maybe that’s a reason to do so as well…  Greens stuff and CWA stuff is still attractive but might take more energy than I have to give at present so it’s a bit up in the air. Sometimes I wish I was a bit more like the people I admire who seem to have energy for All The Things. I do the best I can.

 

All in all, it’s been a hard year so far, one that’s been trying and has tested what little resilience I’ve had. I’m grateful for the people around me, for my partners, my friends, chosen family. I couldn’t get through all this without you and your time, care and quiet support means the world to me. I’ll get through this and I’ll get on top of things – you’ll see. I’m determined! In the meantime, not only will I continue to work hard on my study, but I will also concentrate on taking the best care of myself that I can, and building on things that add to the quality of my life – who I am and what I’m doing in the world.

I had thought that this year was about ‘becoming’ in the sense of becoming a midwife – but I actually think it’s more than that. I think that it’s ‘becoming’ also in the sense of who I am as a person and who I am growing into. That’s a both terrifying and exciting really but… I have faith in myself, fundamentally so I’m just going to see where this enquiry leads. Here’s to the rest of the year ahead, may it be gentler but remain a learning experience that is fulfilling, generous in all that lifts me up and sparing in further harsh lessons.

AWWC15: Tara Sharp series by Marianne Delacourt

I thought as these were all from the same series and I read them back to back that I’d put them all in the same review post 🙂

Sharp Shooter - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #1

Title: Sharp Shooter (Tara Sharp #1)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2009

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp should be just another unemployable, twenty-something, ex-private schoolgirl . . . but she has the gift – or curse as she sees it – of reading people’s auras. The trouble is, auras sometimes tell you things about people they don’t want you to know.

When a family friend recommends Mr Hara’s Paralanguage School, Tara decides to give it a whirl – and graduates with flying colours. So when Mr Hara picks up passes on a job for a hot-shot lawyer she jumps at the chance despite some of his less-than-salubrious clients.

Tara should know better than to get involved when she learns the job involves mob boss Johnny Vogue. But she’s broke and the magic words ‘retainer’ and ‘bonus’ have been mentioned. Soon Tara finds herself sucked into an underworld ‘situation’ that has her running for her life.

My Review:

It took me way too long to get to this book, because I’m not a crime reader. But, what I mean is that I’m not a *serious* crime reader, I don’t want the heavy stuff (without the magic), but light and fluffy? I’m all over that. I loved how recognisable Perth was in this book to me, and the characters with their friendship were delightful. I loved the way Tara’s story starts out and she’s kind of fumbling her way through things but managing to make them work in the end. I devoured this and immediately went to the next book.

Sharp Turn - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #2

Title: Sharp Turn (Tara Sharp #2)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2010

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp’s unorthodox PI business is starting to attract customers – though not necessarily of the kind she envisaged… Working at Madame Vine’s luxurious brothel teaching the ‘girls’ to ‘read’ their clients better isn’t exactly what she had in mind when she started out…

So it’s a relief when the man of Tara’s dreams, Nick Tozzi, lines her up with a lucrative job. Something is rotten in the local motor racing industry and an associate of Nick’s wants Tara to sniff out the bad egg…

It’s not long before Tara finds herself in all kinds of danger, with a murder at Madam Vine’s followed by the discovery of a bloated corpse in the Swan River.

My Review: 

What a great continuation from Tara’s first adventure! Tara has more of an idea what she’s doing with her business and how, plus there’s Cass. I love that Tara can’t help but take in strays and help them – she’s not so different from her Aunt Liz whatever she might say. I loved the mysteries being unravelled, spicy enough but not heavy enough to impact on the overall light tone of the book that aims to entertain rather than frighten. I love that about these books and I keep falling in love with the characters even more, especially Smitty.

Stage Fright - coverAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #3

Title: Stage Fright (Tara Sharp #3)

Author: Marianne Delacourt

Publisher and Year: Allen & Unwin, 2012

Genre: Crime

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Tara Sharp is back in this frightening foray into the music industry.
Things are a bit hot for Tara Sharp in her home town of Perth, so she jumps at the chance to leave town when a music promoter offers her a gig looking after a difficult musician who’s touring Brisbane.

Though minding musicians isn’t Tara’s usual line of work, the money is good and she’s a sucker for a backstage pass. Respite from her mother – with her not-so-subtle hints about ‘eligible young men’ and ‘suitable jobs’ – is also a plus, as is the time and distance to try to resolve her mixed up romantic life.

Arriving in ‘BrisVegas’, Tara finds her hands full dealing with the bizarre habits of the ‘artist’, not to mention his crazy fans. And it’s not long before she discovers that the music industry can be more cut-throat than she imagined and it can be very dangerous messing with the big boys…

My Review:

Tara Sharp is at it again, and I loved it. This time in Brisbane and a mystery surrounding concert promotion. I love that the mystery is once again coming from all angles and it’s unclear until the last moment where the strife is really coming from. Bon Ames is an interesting character but Wal still tops him for me. I love the way Ed is just nonplussed despite all the drama that Tara stirs up. This is a delightful series, just the kind I like to read most.

Academic reading for semester 1

This is the summation of the academic reading I’ve done for semester 1 this year, mostly for assignments. I’ve had three written assignments to produce, one on woman-centred care in relation to obesity and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (terrible essay question, way too complicated and too much to cover for 1500 words). I had one assignment on provision of woman-centred care in a contemporary maternity care setting (1500 words), and the third one was on what a midwife can do when confronted (their word not mine) with a woman who does not consent to a midwifery procedure (1000 words). This last one was equal parts about legal obligations as well as provision of woman-centred care (always a central theme).

I’ve been thinking about whether to provide any commentary on any of these but there’s an awful lot of articles so actually I think I will just post the list and respond to any specific queries about articles. I may yet do a blog post summarising overall what I learned and took on from the research I’ve conducted, we’ll see. This is the reference list so the articles I *used*, I did read a few others that I didn’t use but this is already a comprehensive list so I’m not going to worry about including them at this point.

It’s also worth nothing that you’ll need library access of some sort to access these, I’m not aware that any of them are open access.

Assignment 1: woman-centred care in relation to obesity and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. 

Biro, M., Cant, R., Hall, H., Bailey, C., East, C., & Sinni, S. (2013). How effectively do midwives manage the care of obese pregnant women? A cross-sectional survey of Australian midwives. Women and Birth, 26(2), 119-124. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2013.01.00.

Callaway, L. K., O’Callaghan, M., & David McIntyre, H. (2009). Obesity and the Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy. Hypertension in Pregnancy, 28(4), 473-493. doi:10.3109/10641950802629626.

Daemers, D., Wijnen, H., Limbeek, E., Budé, L., Nieuwenhuijze, M., Spaanderman, M., & Vries, R. (2014). The impact of obesity on outcomes of midwife-led pregnancy and childbirth in a primary care population: a prospective cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 121(11), 1403-1414. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12684.

Dahlen, H. (2010). Undone by fear? Deluded by trust? Midwifery, 26(2), 156-162. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2009.11.008.

Davis, D., Raymond, J., Clements, V., Teate, A., Adams, C., Mollart, L., & Foureur, M. (2012). Addressing obesity in pregnancy: The design and feasibility of an innovative intervention in NSW, Australia. Women and Birth, 25(4), 174-180. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2011.08.008.

Ghulmiyyah, L., & Sibai, B. (2012). ‘Maternal mortality from preeclampsia/eclampsia’. Seminars in Perinatology, 36(1), 56-59. doi: doi:10.1053/j.semperi.2011.09.011.

Heslehurst, N., Moore, H., Rankin, J., Ells, L., Wilkinson, J., & Summberbell, C. (2011). How can maternity services be developed to effectively address maternal obesity? A qualitative study. Midwifery, 27(5), e170-e177. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.01.007.

Hutcheon, J., Lisonkova, S., & Joseph, K.S. (2011). Epidemiology of pre-eclampsia and the other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy, 25(4), 391-403. doi: 10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2011.01.006.

Jomeen, J. (2012). The paradox of choice in maternity care. Journal of Neonatal Nursing, 18(2), 60–62. doi:10.1016/j.jnn.2012.01.010b.

Keely, A., Gunning, M., & Denison, F. (2011). Maternal obesity in pregnancy: Women’s understanding of risks. British Journal of Midwifery, 19(6), 364-369. Retrieved from http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/19/6.

Madan, J., Chen, M., Goodman, E., Davis, J., Allan, W., & Dammann, O. (2010). Maternal obesity, gestational hypertension, and preterm delivery. Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 23(1), 82-88. doi:10.3109/14767050903258738.

MacKenzie Bryers, H., & van Teijlingen, E. (2010). Risk, theory, social and medical models: A critical analysis of the concept of risk in maternity care. Midwifery, 26(5), 488-496. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.07.003.

McGlone, A., & Davies, S. (2012). Perspectives on risk and obesity: Towards a ‘tolerable risk’ approach? British Journal of Midwifery, 20(1), 13-17. Retrieved from http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/20/1.

Mills, A., Schmied, V. A., & Dahlen, H. G. (2013). ‘Get alongside us’, women’s experiences of being overweight and pregnant in Sydney, Australia. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 9(3), 309-321. doi:10.1111/j.1740-8709.2011.00386.x.

Nyman, V. M. K., Prebensen, Å. K., & Flensner, G. E. M. (2010). Obese women’s experiences of encounters with midwives and physicians during pregnancy and childbirth. Midwifery, 26(4), 424–429. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2008.10.008.

Schmied, V. A., Duff, M., Dahlen, H. G., Mills, A. E., & Kolt, G. S. (2011). ‘Not waving but drowning’: a study of the experiences and concerns of midwives and other health professionals caring for obese childbearing women. Midwifery, 27(4), 424-430. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.02.010.

Seibold, C., Licqurish, S., Rolls, C., & Hopkins, F. (2010). “Lending the space”: midwives’ perceptions of birth space and clinical risk management. Midwifery, 26(5), 526–31. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.06.011

Singleton, G., & Furber, C. (2014). The experiences of midwives when caring for obese women in labour, a qualitative study. Midwifery, 30(1), 103-111. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2013.02.008

Swank, M. L., Caughey, A. B., Farinelli, C. K., Main, E. K., Melsop, K. A., Gilbert, W. M., & Chung, J. H. (2014). The impact of change in pregnancy body mass index on the development of gestational hypertensive disorders. Journal of Perinatology, 34(3), 181-185. doi:10.1038/jp.2013.168

World Health Organisation. (2015). Overweight and obesity. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/.

 

Assignment 2: woman-centred care in a contemporary maternity care setting.

Ängeby, K., Wilde-Larsson, B., Hildingsson, I., & Sandin-Bojö, A. (2015). Primiparous women’s preferences for care during a prolonged latent phase of labour. Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare. doi:10.1016/j.srhc.2015.02.003.

Australian College of Midwives. (2011). ACM philosophy for midwifery. Retrieved from https://www.midwives.org.au/midwifery-philosophy.

Berg, M., Lundgren, I., & Ólafsdóttir, O. (2012). A midwifery model of woman-centred childbirth care – In Swedish and Icelandic settings. Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare, 3(2), 79-87. doi:10.1016/j.srhc.2012.03.001.

Borelli, E. S. (2014). What is a good midwife? Insights from the literature. Midwifery, 30(1), 3-10. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2013.06.019.

Daemers, D., Wijnen, H., Limbeek, E., Budé, L., Nieuwenhuijze, M., Spaanderman, M., & Vries, R. (2014). The impact of obesity on outcomes of midwife-led pregnancy and childbirth in a primary care population: a prospective cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 121(11), 1403-1414. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12684.

Davis, D., & Walker, K. (2011). Case-loading midwifery in New Zealand: bridging the normal/abnormal divide ‘with woman’. Midwifery, 27(1), 46-52. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2009.09.007.

Easthope, S. (2010). Keeping Birth Woman-Centred. Midwifery Matters, (125), 17. Retrieved from: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/51433357/keeping-birth-woman-centred.

Homer, C. S. E., Passant, L., Brodie, P. M., Kildea, S., Leap, N., Pincombe, J., & Thorogood, C. (2009). The role of the midwife in Australia: views of women and midwives. Midwifery, 25(6), 673–81. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2007.11.003.

Hunter, B., Berg, M., Lundgren, I., Ólafsdóttir, O., & Kirkham, M. (2008). Relationships: The hidden threads in the tapestry of maternity care. Midwifery, 24(2), 132-137. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2008.02.003.

International Confederation of Midwives. (2011). ICM international definition of the midwife. Retrieved from https://www.internationalmidwives.org/our-work/policy-and-practice/icm-definitions.html.

Jordan, K., Fenwick, J., Slavin, V., Sidebotham, M., & Gamble, J. (2013). Level of burnout in a small population of Australian midwives. Women and Birth, 26(2), 125-132. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2013.01.002.

Leap, N. (2009). Woman-centred or women-centred care: does it matter? British Journal of Midwifery, 17(1), 12-16. Retrieved from http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/17/1.

Leinweber, J., & Rowe, H. J. (2010). The costs of ‘being with the woman’: secondary traumatic stress in midwifery. Midwifery, 26(1), 76-87. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2008.04.003.

MacKenzie Bryers, H., & van Teijlingen, E. (2010). Risk, theory, social and medical models: A critical analysis of the concept of risk in maternity care. Midwifery, 26(5), 488-496. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.07.003.

Murphy, P. A., & King, T. L. (2013). Effective communication is essential to being with woman: midwifery strategies to strengthen health education and promotion. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 58(3), 247-248. doi:10.1111/jmwh.12080.

Nilsson, C., Lundgren, I., Smith, V., Vehvilainen-Julkunen, K., Nicoletti, J., Devane, D., & … Begley, C. (2015). Women-centred interventions to increase vaginal birth after caesarean section (VBAC): A systematic review. Midwifery. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2015.04.003.

Seibold, C., Licqurish, S., Rolls, C., & Hopkins, F. (2010). “Lending the space”: midwives’ perceptions of birth space and clinical risk management. Midwifery, 26(5), 526–31. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2010.06.011.

Sidebotham, M., Fenwick, J., Rath, S., & Gamble, J. (2015). Midwives’ perceptions of their role within the context of maternity service reform: An Appreciative Inquiry. Women and Birth. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2014.12.006.

Taylor, M. (2014). Caring for a woman with autism in early labour. British Journal of Midwifery, 22(7), 514-518. Retrieved from: http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/22/7.

Walker, S., & Sabrosa, R. (2014). Assessment of fetal presentation: Exploring a woman-centred approach. British Journal of Midwifery, 22(4), 240-244. Retrieved from: http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/22/4.

 

Assignment 3: the legal based one. 

Australian College of Midwives. (2011). ACM Philosophy for midwifery. Retrieved from https://www.midwives.org.au/midwifery-philosophy.

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQH). (2008). ACSQHC: Australian charter of healthcare rights. Retrieved from: http://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/national-priorities/charter-of-healthcare-rights/.

Borelli, E. S. (2014). What is a good midwife? Insights from the literature. Midwifery 30(1), 3-10. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2013.06.019.

Brass, R. (2012). Caring for the woman who goes against conventional medical advice. British Journal of Midwifery, 20(12), 898-901. Retrieved from http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/20/12.

Carr, N. (2008). Midwifery supervision and home birth against conventional advice. British Journal of Midwifery, 16(11), 743-745. Retrieved from: http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/toc/bjom/16/11.

Dexter, S. C., Windsor, S., & Watkinson, S. J. (2014). Meeting the challenge of maternal choice in mode of delivery with vaginal birth after caesarean section: a medical, legal and ethical commentary. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 121(2), 133-139. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12409.

Homer, C. S. E., Passant, L., Brodie, P. M., Kildea, S., Leap, N., Pincombe, J., & Thorogood, C. (2009). The role of the midwife in Australia: views of women and midwives. Midwifery, 25(6), 673–81. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2007.11.003.

Hunter, B., Berg, M., Lundgren, I., Olafsdottir, O., & Kirkham, M. (2008). Relationships: The hidden threads in the tapestry of maternity care. Midwifery, 24(2), 132-137. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2008.02.003.

Kruske, S., Young, K., Jenkinson, B., & Catchlove, A. (2013). Maternity care providers’ perceptions of women’s autonomy and the law. BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, 13(1), 1-6. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-84.

Medical Treatment Act 1988 (Vic) preamble (Austl.). Retrieved from: http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/.

Medical Treatment Act 1988 (Vic) section 5.1 (Austl.). Retrieved from: http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/.

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. (2008a). Code of professional conduct for midwives in Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/Codes-Guidelines.aspx.

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. (2008b). Code of ethics for midwives in Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Statements/Codes-Guidelines.aspx.

Link Salad: Oh humanity…

I’m not sure how to characterise these links, maybe I just need to put them out there together and let them speak for themselves…

Centrelink (one of my least favourite organisations) is coming under scrutiny for poor response times and leaving calls unanswered. I think the criticism is actually a little unfair though because they like any other public service department has to operate within budget and the public service in the past several years has been very poorly funded. People are already working beyond their means in an effort to meet demands – just because you ‘restructure’ and justify cutting jobs, doesn’t mean the amount of work actually reduces – it’s all still there and those trying to do it struggle.

What’s also interesting is their response to the criticism, pulling people off all other tasks to answer calls and reduce waiting times, as though this will in any way address the underlying problems – all the non-phonecall work still needs to be done, and probably also suffers from delays. Answering calls will absolutely increase the amount of that non-phone work that needs to be done. Once you get to a certain point in the process/acceptance of your claim it is easier to deal with the online process and that becomes possible – but only after a certain point, before that it’s just painful and frustrating. Painful and frustrating describes the general experience of Centrelink overall.

More on politics in Australia, this article from The Australian (note, some readers may find this is behind a pay wall, sorry about that) talks  about how the ALP may be forced to recognise that Australia is now a three party political system (let’s assume the Liberal National Party are still firmly in denial about this).  It’s nice that the ALP strategists are finally joining the rest of us in the present, because I feel this has been true for a while – certainly the way in which the Greens have been a more effective Opposition, they’re saying things that the ALP won’t say and refusing to support things that the ALP should refuse to support (data retention, whistle blower laws anyone)? Anyway, the language of this article is appalling ‘serious threat’ – please! A friend commented that ‘viable alternative’ and ‘effective choice’ were better ways of describing it. I’d also like to point out, that holy fuck the language in this article! “planning a campaign directed at conservative voters in Liberal territory who had strayed” as though the voters are naughty children or something. I can’t even!!!

One of the bigger news stories going on in the past week has been the boat full of Rohingya refugees that have been turned back by multiple countries, and basically are being left to die in the middle of the ocean. The callous response to these people in need has horrified me so much that I’ve barely been able to stomach the headlines. These are some of the most oppressed people in the world, and I don’t understand how we can stand by and let this happen. Gambia puts us all to shame by making room for these people and offering to resettle them despite the poverty of the country. The bureaucratic way in which there’s the ‘multi-country effort’ double speak trying to make it seem as though Gambia hasn’t shown up the rest of the world makes me ill. I wish these people peace, and recovery and a place to call home without fear.

And now a small breather, something more positive to uplift for at least a few moments and break the horror and sadness. There’s an Australian bat rescue hospital. They look after and rehabilitate bats! And the little bats all wrapped up that way is seriously one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen! How cute is this?!

Two orphan baby bats, wrapped up in coloured blankets, one bat hugs the other and one is dozing with a teat in its mouth.

Back to reality… Maggie Gyllenhaal has been notified by Hollywood that she’s ‘too old’ at 37 to play the lead against a 55 year-old male co-star. What the actual fuck?! Maggie Gyllenhaal is a brilliant actress – people should be clamouring to have at her after her performance in ‘The Honourable Woman‘. Also since when is 37 ‘too old’ – that’s not even in the same decade as the male lead! I know it’s part of the existing culture of Hollywood, but I’m so glad when any of the esteemed actresses speak out about it honestly and candidly because it’s the kind of thing that needs to change. I live in hope.

And here we have an article that looks into the statistics and reports from the NSW Coroner’s Court in relation to domestic violence. The findings are not at all surprising, they remain sobering. The fact that as a nation we’re not coordinating a national response addressing the existing horror, need for change, rehabilitation, healing and also on prevention and changing things for the future is despicable. It remains obvious to me that the lives of women don’t matter. We have a deep societal problem with family violence, but we just don’t seem to care – or we think it’s someone else’s problem. Whatever it is, the real threat of terrorism in Australia is domestic violence.

Another positive moment, and I feel like they’re necessary given all the awfulness! I realise that it’s a bit in the realm of clickbait, but the story itself is actually adorable. I love the way this little girl describes seeing her little brother being born. Just gorgeous!

We’re not so different: vulnerability and #gamergate

What is it about vulnerability that is so frightening to our society, that we fear the sharing of, the revelation of our vulnerability? What is it that has our hearing, our speaking, our listening slide over vulnerability as though some social faux pas has been committed? What is it about vulnerability that renders it invisible except in some circumstances where sharing and expressing vulnerability is signalled as okay?

To give examples, Robin William’s suicide is an excellent example of socially sanctioned visibility of vulnerability.  The outpouring of grief around William’s death was massive, worldwide people expressing their shock and anguish at his loss. The collective shared outpouring in news and across social media is partly how this expression of vulnerability is approved. However, there are other situations where expressing vulnerability is definitely not socially sanctioned. The expression of vulnerability around the experiences of women online in relation abuse and harassment is considered to be complaining or ‘playing the gender card’. For example, the entire #gamergate fiasco continues to operate as an online cesspool of harassment and abuse toward women in gaming, whether they are gamers, developers, journalists, or critics. The reaction of women who have experienced this abuse, particularly if they express their fear and distress at the threats they’ve received has been very clearly signalled as not okay.

The difference between socially sanctioned and condemned vulnerability is obvious. Women who in any way spoke out about, commented on, questioned or condemned #gamergate received massive and severe backlash – there were death and rape threats, personal data was revealed in conjunction with threats. This is dramatically different to the way in which people responded to Robin Williams, where they talked about mental illness, about the blackness and despair of chronic depression, of hiding it and about the struggle to ask for help, to find help that was useful or rebuild lives after tragedy. It was all very moving and for several days, even a couple of weeks, there was an outpouring of sensitivity and awareness on issues related to William’s death usually reserved for specific awareness days.

It occurred to me that there was something worth writing about when I was engaging in some discussion on Facebook about feminism and about #gamergate in particular. I would comment on a post – or I would post on my timeline and there’d be discussion. Each time I remember that feeling where I hit ‘submit’ and the pit of my stomach would just drop and I’d experience a sharp spike of pure fear. And then I posted about it – about having the fear and knowing that it would probably be fine, but being afraid anyway. I talked about being afraid even though the discussions were happening largely in spaces where I can reasonably expect people to treat me well.

And an interesting thing happened in response to my emotive posts, my expressing the vulnerability around engaging in feminist discussion – particularly around #gamergate and in light of everything that had happened with it. The people around me, particularly those who are also outspoken feminists understood what I posted and responded with empathy and care. Some commenters provided advice on how I should handle things or not take things personally and I made a point to explain what I was doing and why. Some people suggested I shouldn’t really engage in the conversations if they were upsetting.

Meanwhile in the discussions I was having, things were progressing well (for me, I remember a friend was simultaneously having the worst of experiences of this kind) and there was minimal condescension or over-explaining. There was a lot of misunderstanding about the subject and how it relates to all of us who are invested in this discussion about #gamergate, feminism and women in these arenas.  The common ones you may already be familiar with – that it really is or could be about ethics in journalism, or, that it’s just a small group of people making a bad name for everyone else and it’s not that big a problem, and my favourite, that it’s political and groups, websites, events etc need to stay out of political debate. Mostly the non-feminist gamers on my friends list didn’t really consider #gamergate to be a problem, it wasn’t personal to them and they didn’t see how it could be personal for anyone else around them. And they didn’t think it was a problem for people like Brianna Wu, Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, because they’re ‘famous’ and that kind of just goes with the territory, right? I disagree – I don’t think we’re all that far apart, regardless of their notoriety and my lack thereof. There isn’t a single woman I know personally, with varying degrees of notoriety online and off that has spoken out about this issue and not been afraid of the repercussions of doing so. It is a problem, and I will keep identifying it as such and trying to make it visible.

Which in the end, is the point of my making those posts sharing the fear I experienced at engaging in public feminist conversation, even talking about this stuff in a relatively closed space as my Facebook page/friends list was to make the vulnerability visible and also the reaction to it. One of the points I wanted to make to those around me was the fact that there is no great distance between myself, the other outspoken non-cis male feminists and the likes of Brianna, Anita and Zoe. Their fears are more realised and they’ve been in significant personal danger as a result of speaking out against harassment and misogyny toward women in gaming. There are plenty more examples where notable feminists on the internet have been threatened, harassed and stalked as a result of daring to speak up and call upon society to change, for the status quo to shift, for equality to be actively worked toward.

I’m not actually notable, but I still have a similar fear because I know all it takes is for one blog post to hit reddit and go viral in some way and then I too could join the ranks of the threatened. I know I’m not the only one amongst my feminist friends, particularly those of us who are women or not cis-male, who has this fear and thinks twice about speaking out publicly. At the moment it seems that speaking out goes against one’s better judgement for safety – and yet how can things change with silence?

So here I am, sharing my vulnerability. It may not be socially sanctioned – and I’m aware of that based on how many people missed the point of me sharing my fear at posting about #gamergate and the misogyny directed toward women in gaming, even once I explained it. I have to hope that by talking highlighting vulnerability in relation to the issues specifically, I am making a difference and contributing to change. I am hoping that by being very clear that every time I speak up about feminism or any kind of inequality, I am afraid of the potential negative consequences that people realise that this isn’t ‘just an internet drama’, it’s real and personal.

It is worth noting that this is a conversation that is happening in public, at all and that is both awesome and necessary. The exposure of the depth of harassment and abuse experienced by women in gaming in relation to #gamergate is truly distressing, because there is so much of it and it is unrelentingly physically and sexually violent. Distressing or not, the exposure has merit, because eventually it has to reach a point where it is more unacceptable for this behaviour to continue, more unacceptable to sanction it, than it is to vilify women for daring to express their vulnerability and speak out against the abuse.

If I’m lucky, I’ll stay un-notable, I’ll continue to fly under the radar and fail to say something truly outstanding that would see my words go viral. If I’m unlucky then the things I’m afraid of could come to pass. I have to wonder how much it would actually take to stop me speaking.

Recent Movies Overview

In an effort to shut up and write about stuff rather than wait for it to be ‘worth talking about’, I thought I’d do some posts about movies, ones I’ve seen and want to see. The list of movies I still want to see is quite long, but I have made a start on it recently and so I thought I’d review those movies I have actually watched, it’s a mix of movies that I saw at the cinema and movies I watched at home.

If you want an overview of a bunch of excellent films that were first released in Australia in 2014, I can highly recommend Grant Watson’s review at The Angriest. You may also appreciate his beautifully detailed film review and criticism over at Fiction Machine. My list, is just a bunch of films that I watched in recent months (and mostly enjoyed).

My reviews are compiled in no particular order, chronological, quality or otherwise. It’s also a rather epic post, so here’s a table of contents for you:

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (1954)

First and foremost what you need to know about this movie is that it’s a musical featuring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen, who are all marvellously talented. I watched this on Christmas Day night, really late after watching Die Hard. I wanted to watch something delightful and lovely and all about the fluffiness that comes with Christmas. This is definitely that movie! One review I read of it described it as ‘pornographically sappy’ which I think is fairly apt – but never in a way that is less than fully satisfying.

I loved this film from start to finish, loved all the songs – loved especially Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s characters dressing up as Rosemary and Vera’s characters and sing ‘Sisters’ in order to help them manage a deft escape. While the film is all about the emotional reward and it’s set at Christmas time – the timing is incidental, it’s not a movie about Christmas, which I think adds to the film and its storyline. One of my favourite things about the movie is that one of the main plot arcs is about the two men doing the right thing by their former sergeant. Men and emotional engagement and Doing The Right Thing especially Just Because gets me every time. Also, several female characters including two who are also main protagonists, with motivations and backgrounds  and everything. In hopes of encouraging you to rent this charming movie, take a look at the trailer:

Pride (2014)

I just recently saw this at my local independent cinema and it easily became my favourite film of 2014. This film tells the story of real life events that happened in the United Kingdom during the 80s when the Miner’s Strike was a bitterly fought issue and a bunch of queer activists decided to try and help them by raising money. The connection between the activists and the village they work to help unfolds beautifully, it’s not an easy friendship to grow but things get managed, people come together and connect, they are grateful and they are inspired.

I was utterly caught up in the telling of this story by what is possible when that right combination of people happens, goodwill, determination and that sense of doing the right thing, again Just Because. I’m never going to get tired seeing people stirred by doing something greater than themselves, greater than their own community, and learning and succeeding, struggling and even at times failing. For the first time I actually understood the Union Movement in watching this film.

Pride is beautifully written and acted – it features Bill Nighy as the big name actor and he’s brilliant, but he’s not alone amongst a cast of brilliance. The movie is also laugh out loud funny – I’m not a person who laughs easily from movies but I laughed all the way through this. The movie is as poignant as it is funny, there’s a wonderful balance between these two elements and neither ever overshadows the other. Honestly, I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

Die Hard (1988)

How did I get to the age of 34 and not have seen this movie? I haven’t the faintest – it makes no sense to me given my love of 80s action movies. However, after we feasted on Christmas Day those of us gathered around the flat screen to watch Die Hard, and thus this gap in my movie watching history has been rectified. And I agree with the rest of my friends it would seem, that Die Hard makes a great Christmas movie (the opposite of White Christmas really).

What an action movie – when I think about present day action films I just feel like they don’t even try any more. It’s like there’s an assumption that more explosions and effects means a better movie – but without something of a plot and some great actors to make it (seem) plausible, effects and explosions fall flat in my opinion. I think Willis, Veljohnson and Rickman really make the film – it’s not a plausible story but because of their calibre of acting, you’re completely happy to just go with it. I will admit though, a purely financial motive obscured by seeming radical political affiliations seems remarkably believable all in all. So does the ruthlessness.

I love that although a very minor character in the entire movie charade, Bedella’s character Holly does get to be seen, she has clear motivations and background, ambitions – the works. She’s written and acted in a way that reflects her strength and her competence is reinforced every step of the way – with the unfortunate exception when at the very end when she becomes your classic damsel in distress. Despite that disappointment, the rest is still true and I noticed it several times during the movie.

One of my favourite moments in the film is when the villain goes after McClane and pretends to be a hostage who escaped. I love their exchange with each other and the way Gruber later uses our hero’s bare feet against him. It’s a tiny detail but it’s one that worked really well for me. Another favourite part of the movie is the way in which a relationship between McClane and Powell develops over the radio, they build such a regard for one another despite having never laid eyes on each other and the whole way through the movie, it feels real. These moments and several others really come together with the effects and ridiculous plot to provide solid and lasting entertainment that holds up to many re-watches. And now I can’t wait to see Die Hard 2 (I think I also have not seen this before, I am certain only that I’ve seen the 4th one).

No Country For Old Men

I think my conclusion after watching this movie is that Coen Brothers films are just not for me, I am the antithesis of their audience. I recognise that it’s a movie that is brilliantly written, directed and acted. However, the characters are utterly unlikeable, unsympathetic, irredeemable and I got nothing out of the resolution of the story. Things happened but none of the consequences made sense to me, none of the outcomes were really satisfying. I just hated watching it. I don’t quite want the hours of my life back – I’m glad I watched it. I’m glad because I can clearly recognise its brilliance while also being very clear that I hated it, because of what I look for in movies.

You’d like this if you like Coen Brothers films in general (Burn After Reading, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, The Big Lebowski). I may still give those latter two a chance, I’ve heard they’re amazing films (hopefully with characters I don’t hate utterly). I did enjoy The Hudsucker Proxy,  but it’s a notable exception because the central characters are actually likeable and sympathetic. This is the one film I watched this year that I really didn’t enjoy but I’ve included it because of the complexities of not liking a film that is clearly so well made and acted.

Frozen

I finally got to watch this after I finished exams, it was one of those movies that my partners weren’t interested in watching so it languished on my ‘to watch list’ for ages. I am not certain it lived up to the hype for me, but there were a bunch of things as a feminist cultural theorist that I appreciated. I appreciated that the prince wasn’t the hero. I loved that it was about sisters overcoming adversity together. I love that there was an actual consent exchange for a kiss. I wasn’t a fan of the repression of self storyline reinforced by the well meaning parents. I wasn’t a fan of the classist way Anna is portrayed as being lonely and isolated in the castle but doesn’t seem to interact or make friends with any of the people working there.

I also still mourn that the movie wasn’t made true to The Snow Queen fairytale, which was about a girl who goes off to save her brother  Kai from an evil queen. I still feel that the reason they changed it was because Disney doesn’t feel a girl can go and save a boy as the main plot line (this is a gut feeling and not something I’ve researched  specifically, I’m fairly certain I could come up with some pretty compelling evidence to support my theory if necessary though). The music was lovely as were the songs – but they didn’t really win me over the way other songs in other Disney musicals have done previously. Overall this was satisfying, warm, and fluffy in the way I love my musicals, but I’m not sure whether it makes my list of ‘happy making, feel better, world as a better place’ movie list (I need a better name for it).

Maleficent

I loved this movie, I’m a long time fan of Angelina Jolie, and I also love that we got a film about a Disney villain – one of the most iconic villains at that – from *her* point of view. That said, I think that it was a movie with a lot of potential that never became fully realised. Kind of so close and yet so far in the end. I find myself in agreement with the critic consensus on Rotten Tomatoes about the film; Jolie does a lot with very little, and the film is very pretty, but it’s not enough.

The writing and depth of the storytelling by the film is lacking, the plot never really comes together for me, and yet I want it to so very badly when I watch it. However, if we dig deeper, the movie manages to make some great (and probably accidental) political commentary on the level of class where the human world is rife with injustice and inequality and the realm of The Moors portrays its citizens with equal say and standing. I liked best the way Maleficent spends time with Aurora as her own person, and not simply assuming she is an enemy. The connectedness Maleficent displays with Aurora and the completely ineffective fairies was really unexpected for me in the movie and I appreciated Maleficent’s connectedness and was saddened by how much the fairies were reduced to caricatures. I think this story arc had incredible potential and could have been utilised more thoroughly for an overall better movie (especially if the fairies had been fully realised as they were in the Disney movie).

I will draw your attention to this brilliant essay on Maleficent as an anarchist feminist fairytale by my friend Sky Croeser because through her analysis I appreciated the film much more. I couldn’t by myself put my finger on exactly why I loved the movie and yet was dissatisfied with it, but this analysis helped me to further contextualise what I wanted out of the movie and where it could be found. Hollywood may not have intended such, but it’s there anyway. Hopefully the essay also brings you greater enjoyment of a film that overall falls short, and yet is still special. In this present day, it’s something to have a movie with a named female  protagonist, an iconic villain – even if it’s not all we hoped such a movie would be.

Lucy

This film… I am not quite sure where to start. I wanted to like it much more than I did, I was very dissatisfied with it. Here we have a sci-fi action movie with a titular female protagonist, Lucy. And yet despite these elements which should produce a movie I’m head-over-heels for, the portrayal of Lucy’s character is lacking and I never really feel like she gets to be awesome in her own right – there’s a massive ‘but’ attached to the awesome. I’m thinking in terms of Joanna Russ here, ‘She was awesome, but it wasn’t her, it was the drugs inside her’, ‘She was awesome, but look what she did with it’ and so on.

Russ - How to Suppress Women graphic

I’m not a audience member who requires realistic science in my sci-fi – it’s nice but I’ve got a well developed suspension of disbelief. However I think Lucy goes well beyond any kind of line for believability which I think lets the film down significantly. While Scarlett Johansson is fantastic as Lucy and elevates the movie overall, it’s still frustrating to see the hints of what could have been an exceptional movie never realised. I will spend a moment to say that Morgan Freeman is wasted in this film, seemingly ‘The Intelligent Guy’ in an overall unintelligent movie, but also it’s clear he’s phoning it in. The story is way too ridiculous and the central character’s agency is entirely gutted. The action is fantastic, and so is Johansson, but otherwise this just fell flat for me.

Jabbed

There’s no IMDB listing for this documentary, but if you scroll down on this link you’ll see the synopsis and list of awards – they’re impressive.

This documentary comes from Sonya Pemberton, an Emmy award-winning Australian documentary filmmaker and looks at the fears surrounding vaccination, the reality of risks (though rare) as a result of vaccination, and the consequences on an individual and public health population basis for not vaccinating. What I loved about this documentary is that it works hard to convey the fears parents have over vaccination without demonising them. The focus is on understanding, and providing solid science behind vaccination, including instances where a serious reaction to vaccination has been recorded.

The film sees the fact that parents are afraid, and want to do the best for their child(ren) as being the start of a conversation rather than the end of it. I think that it’s brilliantly put together, and the information is well presented without ever being condescending. Take a look at the trailer and I think you’ll be impressed at the way this documentary is presented – it was a very interesting film to watch and one that’s useful for me to have seen as a midwife-in-training.

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Another documentary, this is very different from Jabbed in that there’s no public health message, instead it’s insight into a hidden world, and a hidden, though iconic man. The buying of my own clothing is such a far removed experience from the realm of fashion designers such as Valentino so it really was interesting to get a glimpse into that world and what it involves, and what it means to the creators. I feel like the audience did get a unique view behind the scenes of seemingly glamourous fashion design world, and into Valentino himself. And yet, it’s also clear that he’s still a very private man and that much remains hidden.

I think my favourite part was watching the friendship between Valentino and his long time business partner and friend Giancarlo Giametti, it’s clear they have such a depth to their relationship and it’s incredibly meaningful, and Giancarlo is much more open about that than Valentino is. I really enjoyed seeing this element being one given importance in the documentary – it’s not just about the dresses.  I enjoyed this film when I wanted something easy watching that I didn’t have to work at, without heavy content and it was perfectly suited to that. I will say that, although interesting, it paled compared to my experience seeing the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition in Melbourne recently. The exhibition was truly beyond anything I could have expected and utterly mindblowing, while Valentino in comparison, was merely enjoyable and satisfying.

The Emperor’s New Groove

This movie is one I keep coming back to, it’s a favourite of mine to rewatch when I need something fluffy, entertaining and funny to watch. I love the humour, I love the happy ending, I love the absurdity. I also tend to really enjoy films where one character learns about the meaning of friendship, and this definitely qualifies. I adore Izma as the villain and Kronk as her unlikely side kick who’s really not evil at all. The movie is simply a fun romp about two unlikely people becoming friends – one’s the selfish, vain and arrogant emperor, the other the head of a small village, humble and kind. I like that Kuzco isn’t set up to be evil – just misguided and subsequently redeemable. I love the way that unfolds between Kuzco and Pacha. This movie is especially precious to me as I often find comedy a difficult thing to appreciate, and this film never fails to make me laugh.

Coffee and Cigarettes

I just don’t know what to make of this film. I love the way it’s a series of small vignettes, but I also know it’s meant to be a comedy and I just don’t find it funny. I did like and enjoy the film despite not finding it funny, although at some points the cringe of awkwardness was intense! Actually I think that’s a useful way of summarising this movie as a whole, an exploration of awkwardness between the audience and the characters,  and the characters with each other. It’s a little unrelenting, but as an exploration it’s pretty thorough in covering all the ways awkwardness could possibly surface using these scenarios involving coffee and cigarettes.

My personal favourite segment is Cousins featuring Cate Blanchett – I think this exchange of awkwardness is the most realistic to me, and I love the way Blanchett plays both roles to perfection. There are a number of other famous faces who contribute to this film including Bill Murray, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop amongst others – all of whom contribute something unique and special to the film. This is not a film that will ever go down in my favourites list, but I am glad I saw it.

Cinderella (1997)

I watched this film upon recommendation of a friend that it was charming and satisfying particularly on the level of being a musical and satisfyingly non-white. She was right – it was a gorgeous movie, charming and sweet, with costumes and sets that were utterly gorgeous! While the cast is broadly non-white, race itself has no emphasis  and I think this stands the movie in good stead. It doesn’t make race invisible – it just makes the expression of less overtly white casting unexceptional – as it should be. Performances from the likes of Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Brandy Norwood were a delight to watch, and sincere without simply replicating the original 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

That it is a remake of the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella alone makes it particularly satisfying to see so much diversity. And really, I expect it’s a 50/50 mix of people who are white and non-white. That’s not really diversity, it’s a depiction of real life in a much more realistic fashion instead of 2-3 white people for every person of colour. For anyone who’s ever watched and enjoyed Ever After, this movie is equally lovely, fluffy and satisfying as a Cinderella story and I recommend watching it at any point you need a unicorn chaser.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Wrap Up Post

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeOnce again this challenge was a great motivator to both read and some diversity in the authors I read. I’m studying at present and so I default to a lot of fluffy reading, but it is nice to spend some time delving into  deeper books, beautiful stories and amazing characters who inspire me. I really love the Australian Women Writers Challenge and highly recommend it to anyone as a community with lots of reading suggestions and encouragement. Looking forward to 2015 already!

I didn’t read as many books as I did  last year when I powered through most of Juliet Marillier’s back catalogue. And her work featured strongly in this year’s reading as well. I set myself the Miles challenge to read at least six books and review at least four. In the end I read nine and reviewed five, which I’m pretty happy with all in all. This year as part of the challenge I read one Indigenous Australian author. Next year I’d like to continue reading from different and diverse cultural backgrounds. I did read more books by authors who aren’t white, but I didn’t do any particular challenge or formal reviews. Maybe as part of what I do next year I’ll try and do that more  formally so as to make a round up and recommendations easier to find and use.

I did plan to do more in depth reviews, but I found that I just didn’t have a lot of in depth commentary to make – I still primarily read for pleasure and not for analysis. What I’m taking from this is that I enjoy reviewing and should concentrate on simply reviewing in any form the books I read, on Goodreads if not a formal review here on my blog. I did do that quite successfully this year – though less consistently in the second half. I did mostly review things closer to the time in which I read them, but I could improve further on this.   Below I’ve provided a round up of my reviews this year as well as the full list of reading I completed.

Hindsight - coverHindsight by A.A. Bell (Mira Chambers #2)

Excerpt of my review:

I spent most of the year reading this book; not because it wasn’t brilliant, but because it was. I wanted to savour it, wanted to take my time with it. I also found that it was heavy going if I was neck deep in study and anatomy, it’s not a light kind of read and I found it difficult to put down and pick up. The story is incredibly intricate, and it goes in some really unexpected directions.

 

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf - coverThe Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Amebelin Kwaymullina (The Tribe #1)

Excerpt of my review:

2014 has brought several outstanding books to my attention – my ‘best of’ list that I’ve read this year is quite long in fact. I think that my favourite however, is ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’.  I adored the story building in this, so many layers, puzzles and I was delighted at every stage of the reveal. People talk about this not being fantasy and I see what they mean about labelling it Dystopian Sci-Fi, but for me it seems to be Urban Fantasy, one with a distinctly ecological bent that I found very satisfying.

 

Guardian - coverGuardian by Jo Anderton (Veiled Worlds #3)

Excerpt of my review:

I didn’t enjoy the second book ‘Suited’ nearly as much as I enjoyed the first book ‘Debris’ but this third book ‘Guardian’ was excellent and for me, really brought the series to a satisfying close. More than that, it further contextualised and in some way added  meaning to the events of book two, that I hadn’t gotten from that book itself. I loved the worlds crossing, loved the character interaction and connection – even across worlds.

 

Wolfskin - coverWolfskin by Juliet Marillier (The Light Isles #1)

Excerpt of my review:

I found this book a little harder to get into at first from other books that I’ve loved from the same author. But, it really did take hold of me and I enjoyed the book thoroughly. I never quite understood Someled and his motivations or actions, or Eyvind’s blind trust in him. Eyvind as a Wolfskin and the band of warriors in general were very believable and I loved their story. I loved Nessa’s story and her wisdom, her background her care and focus in her wise woman’s responsibility.

 

Ravenflight - coverRaven Flight by Juliet Marillier (Shadowfell #2)

Excerpt of my review:

This book was much more to my reading taste from Marillier. I love Neryn as a character and I’m deeply invested in her story. I loved the continuation of this story, I love the interaction between Neryn and Tali, it’s everything I often get from male warrior companionship and so rarely get to enjoy in relation to female characters. Neryn isn’t a warrior but she and Tali are joined in their determination to win freedom for her country. Their friendship starts with such awkwardness and the growth is gradual and sincere, there’s nothing contrived between these characters, you as the reader are simply invited in to witness the unfolding of the story, including of the friendship shared between these two characters.  I also really love Neryn’s romance with Flint in this book, it’s ephemeral and unrealised – it’s a romance of the heart and mind, it’s a promise that is yet unfulfilled and yet deeply hoped for. I love this expression of romance as being something that drives both characters to succeed, but also the way it reveals a weakness that can be used to exploit them.

Other books from 2014:

That’s 2014’s challenge all wrapped up. I read some amazing books this year, here’s hoping 2015 continues the trend. I am thinking of adding an extra challenge – I’m reading a lot of books for my midwifery study and am thinking that maybe I should track some of them and review them. This is on top of trying to track more specifically the diversity that I’m reading (and trying to expand actively).

AWWC14: Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier (Book 2 in the Shadowfell series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #5

Title: Raven Flight (Shadowfell #2)

Author: Juliet Marillier

Publisher and Year: Knopf Books for  Young Readers, 2013

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy

 

 

 

Ravenflight - coverBlurb from Goodreads: 

Neryn has finally found the rebel group at Shadowfell, and now her task is to seek out the elusive Guardians, vital to her training as a Caller. These four powerful beings have been increasingly at odds with human kind, and Neryn must prove her worth to them. She desperately needs their help to use her gift without compromising herself or the cause of overthrowing the evil King Keldec.

Neryn must journey with the tough and steadfast Tali, who looks on Neryn’s love for the double agent Flint as a needless vulnerability. And perhaps it is. What Flint learns from the king will change the battlefield entirely—but in whose favor, no one knows.

 

My Review: 

This book was much more to my reading taste from Marillier. I love Neryn as a character and I’m deeply invested in her story. I loved the continuation of this story, I love the interaction between Neryn and Tali, it’s everything I often get from male warrior companionship and so rarely get to enjoy in relation to female characters. Neryn isn’t a warrior but she and Tali are joined in their determination to win freedom for her country. Their friendship starts with such awkwardness and the growth is gradual and sincere.

There’s nothing contrived between these characters, you as the reader are simply invited in to witness the unfolding of the story, including of the friendship shared between these two characters.  I also really love Neryn’s romance with Flint in this book, it’s ephemeral and unrealised – it’s a romance of the heart and mind, it’s a promise that is yet unfulfilled and yet deeply hoped for. I love this expression of romance as being something that drives both characters to succeed, but also the way it reveals a weakness that can be used to exploit them.

Neryn is the kind of hero that I love best, she’s unassuming but not without pride in her ability and determination to do the best she can to play her role. I love the way she listens, the way she seeks to learn about her gift and how to use it with wisdom and restraint – the unfolding lessons from the Guardians show much promise in her character growth and she is compelling.

The end of this book was a big surprise – so sudden and tragic. Such a brave narrative choice and I think it will ultimately pay off – I know that I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book to find out what happens. Ravenflight is rich and deep with both character and story, the fantasy draws me in and I imagine the world in which the story unfolds vividly. This book was a wonderful note on which to end my Australian Women Writers Challenge reading for 2014.

AWWC14: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Book 1 in The Tribe series)

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 badgeAustralian Women Writers Challenge: Book #2

Title: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Publisher and Year: Walker Books, 2012

Genre: Urban Fantasy / Dystopian Sci-Fi

 

 

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf - coverBlurb from Goodreads:

“There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centers. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below. . . . And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.”

Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose, a man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe — the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured, vulnerable, with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind. And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

My Review:

2014 has brought several outstanding books to my attention – my ‘best of’ list that I’ve read this year is quite long in fact. I think that my favourite however, is ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’.  I adored the story building in this, so many layers, puzzles and I was delighted at every stage of the reveal. People talk about this not being fantasy and I see what they mean about labelling it Dystopian Sci-Fi, but for me it seems to be Urban Fantasy, one with a distinctly ecological bent that I found very satisfying.

I loved the characters and their relationships, their interconnections and the way that the flashbacks were key to how the story unfolded. I loved the talents that the other characters possessed and how they created their own safe space in the world, and how they thrived. I love how they conquer the adversity and threat around them. This story was so utterly satisfying, on a plot level, a character level and crafting level.

Media to soothe and uplift

I have a list in my to-do list keeper that is my ‘Women Are Awesome and People Can Make A Difference’ movie list. I thought rather than it languishing in a place only I can see and appreciate it, that maybe I’d share it here. Also, you might have other suggestions that I could add to the list.

Obviously, these things are subjective and what I’ve got on my list may not work for you at all, which is completely fine. I’m interested in your thoughts, and your suggestions. I would like to expand my comfort watching list, I think it could be a lot more diverse but given this is a comfort watching list, I am not sure where to start (I’m doing very little non-comfort-watching of anything at present).

With no further delay, the list:

  • Princess Diaries I and II
  • Legally Blonde I and II
  • Hairspray
  • Mamma Mia
  • Steel Magnolias
  • Rent
  • Clueless
  • A Destiny of Her Own
  • GI Jane
  • Spy Kids 1 – 4

I realise that I’ve just given you the list without any critical explanation as to why it’s there, but I’m not up to writing that right now, though maybe I would be interested in revisiting that later – right now I am more interested in what you think of the list and what other movies you’d suggest.

I think it likely that I could add ‘The Sapphires’ and ‘But I’m a Cheerleader’ to the list – but I haven’t re-watched them in so long that I don’t know right now, it will have to wait until I can deal with watching things that might not be comforting.

This is just the movie list, I have a whole separate watching pattern for television that maybe I’ll also post about.

 

73rd Down Under Feminist Carnival!

Wow! How is it June already?! There is quite an incredible array of interesting links for your appreciation this month. Many thanks to all of you who submitted! Many hands make light work and I am grateful for the support.  I have tried to include some interesting projects and small positive things in amongst what is overall a very heavy reading carnival. I wanted to try and balance the sombre with a little hope and some attempts to actually make the world a better place around us in tiny, ever so important ways.

To begin this carnival, we pay tribute to the late Maya Angelou, a great lady who made the world a better place, and certainly made me want to work harder at doing so myself.  Orlando writes beautifully at Hoyden About Town celebrating Maya Angelou as a Friday Hoyden.

Media, Texts and Arts

Scarlett Harris brings us an insightful review of “The To Do List” over at Bitch Flicks as a film aiming toward sex-positivity but with mixed results in Enjoyment isn’t an item on “The To Do List”.

Stephanie Convery discusses Helen Razer’s latest contribution to feminist debate in her Overland article Talkin loud but sayin nothin. This is not a simple case of ‘if you can’t say something nice…’. Razer is by this point well known for tearing into ‘armchair feminism’ as though contemporary feminism is too busy shouting about things to do anything about them, and also as though she herself isn’t doing precisely that. Lastly, as though the reactions and responses aren’t also just as valid, even if there is also reason to be critical.

In the article Oh, what can we do with The Taming of the Shrew, I can give no better introduction than Flaming Moth’s own. “The Problem: why do we still like it, and can we, in all good conscience, allow ourselves to continue to do so?”

Clementine of Feminist Killjoy To The Stars shares Some thoughts on students, protests, Q and A and the moral indignation of a lazy public, namely that the role of protesting is to draw attention and that doing so isn’t necessarily a failure to go about change in a more ‘appropriate’ way.

Over on the blog for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, Alisa of Twelfth Planet Press writes If you’re not part of the solution… She discusses the impact of the challenge on people reading Australian female authors and the way it is still all too easy for women writers to become invisible in the current climate.

Tansy Rayner-Roberts is celebrating her birthday blog-style by undertaking a gender-swapped Musketeer project in  her post A birthday Musketeer Space web serial introduction. Over the next eighteen months she aims to post weekly chapters of a space opera retelling of “The Three Musketeers”.

Bethwyn of Butterfly Elephant shares her book reviews books about Zita the Spacegirl finding many positive things to say about the series. If you want some comfort reading, or need some new children’s story books, you may like to take a look.

Liz of No Award writes about the iconography of the Virgin of Guadalupe printed on fabric in her post Your Fabric is Problematic.

Poetry from Erin of Erinaree, On the Side of Angels [broken link removed]. Reflection on feminism, misogyny, fear, and not wishing these for men.

Violence and Rape Culture

Trigger warning: content in this category may be difficult reading.

Scarlett of The Scarlet Woman talks about Walking While Female criticising the surge in comments about women walking on their own at night, which is a little too close to blaming the victim for my taste. People have a right to walk the streets in safety without being interfered with by others.

Sarah at Radically Visible on why misogyny kills, in Sexism, Entitlement and Santa Barbara writes that discussing the Santa Barbara killings and dismissing them as the act of a ‘madman’ with no consideration of the inherent misogyny or rape culture behind the act reinforces the same social structures that make it possible for such tragic events to happen.

Jo of A Life Unexamined writes about Rape in the News: better, but not there yet where she finds that the fact that the perpetrator is the main focus of the news story to be well worth noticing, rather than the usual focus on the victim(s), often blaming.

Steph from the National Union of Student’s Women’s Department writes Some thoughts about the UCSB shooting, and how the background to gun violence is often one of rape culture and that we ignore this at our peril.

TigTog posts at Hoyden About Town a Nugget of awesome: Sex and love aren’t earned focusing on the creepy idea that if you’re a ‘nice’ guy you somehow ‘earn’ sex and love that is unsurprisingly a pertinent topic of discussion following the Santa Barbara shooting.

Clementine of Feminist Killjoy to the Stars rants about #Notallmen and how just for a moment if people wanting to say that, stopped for just a moment and instead actually listened to what those around them are saying, actually considered what it’s like from the opposite perspective.

Race and Racism

Kathleen Joy of so much joy it hurts, writes about Australian ignorance of Indigenous cultures and our disrespect to Indigenous cultures and way of life and why Chris Lilley in brownface as “Jonah from Tonga” is disrespectful.

Siv of OnDusk uses Star Wars as a metaphor for the importance of Twitter as a way for black people to speak, to be heard and to know when people – on three continents no less – say horrible offensive things and try to pretend that this is actually okay.

Celeste writes about the appalling state of racism and Indigenous rights in her post Thoughts for Sorry Day over at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist. The post is short, stark and honest about the real impact of the present day institutionalised racism in Australia and that we have much to be sorry for.

Deborah at A Bee of a Certain Age talks about making space for people with different cultural needs around a proposal to have a few hours set aside as Women only swimming hours at a local swim centre. There is intolerance in the idea that people should just change and act like ‘the rest of us’ and just swim with everyone else. It’s an intolerance that doesn’t respect cultural differences and does exclude women from public spaces and certain activities.

Celeste of Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist writes Aloha from Oahu sharing about her excitement at attending the World Indigenous Peoples Conference and the difference this event has made for her in the past.

Work, Value and Unemployment

Snoringcat writes Today, I am Angry, her rant is heartfelt and hits very close to home from my experiences last year. Job hunting is soul-crushing, exhausting and the impact and cost of long-term unemployment and job-hunting is woefully misunderstood.

Politics

At Global Comment, Chally writes Eurovision: A Referendum on Putin’s Russia providing insight into the politics of the Eurovision Song Contest, neatly capturing a summation of responses to the 2014 winner, but also to the extent of European political commentary on Russia.

Deborah writes in The New Zealand Herald We all deserve a fair go, [broken link removed] talking about the importance of fairness and how this is a nuanced idea, that numerous approaches to something could be described as fair in their way, but it depends on the aim of being fair overall.

In Quiet, the men are talking about misogyny Liza of Fix It, Dear Henry talks about the difference between men and women’s reactions to the Santa Barbara shootings in that, largely women already understand why it happened – it’s something we live with. While men are experiencing something of a revelation around misogyny right there in front of them, and while a lot of the discussion is good to see, some change to go with it would be great.

Liz at No Award talks about the politics in her escapism in relation to Mass Effect 3 and Australian border protection policy, saying that the similarities between the two is strong enough to be disquieting.

At The Filing Cabinet, in her article Megan asks Are the abortion wars about to begin? She talks about the political shots fired across several states over abortion rights and considers the overall threat to Australian women’s reproductive rights.

Shakira and Helen at The New Matilda discuss the offensive double standard around freedom of speech in their article The powerful already have free speech.

The Budget

Stevie of Stevie Writes [broken link removed] shares her views about how the budget will affect working class families, talking about how I’m glad my mother isn’t alive to see the Budget 2014, [broken link removed] based on her mother’s sense of deep betrayal as a working class person having thought that working hard meant being taken care of later in life. Like Stevie, I hope this sparks change, but in the mean time the future looks bleak for all but the elite few.

Sandra from The $120 Food Challenge [broken link removed] calls the 2014 budget All Sticks, No Carrots [broken link removed]. The reality of the budget’s impact on jobseekers, young people, and even their parents is bitter. On the backs of the vulnerable and disadvantaged does Australia build it’s economic ‘future’.

In Disability in Budget 2014, El Gibbs provides further insight into the 2014 Budget impact on people with disabilities. While the funding for the NDIS remains unchanged, other surrounding changes will have a massive impact on the services and care available to people with disabilities, their families and carers.

Kaye originally posted her open letter to Mr Hockey [broken link removed] on Facebook, but her words about what $7 really means resonated with many people. That dilemma of unexpected single-parenthood and whether to spend your last $7 on food, petrol, or nappies.

At Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear, Chrys talks about the budget apportioning $245 million to further fund and expand the School Chaplains program in her post School chaplains – making disciples. There are real concerns that while Chaplains may mean well, they are not trained professionals in social work, psychology or counselling, they come from a religious background that may not be appropriate for a large number of school students. Criticism of the program has been seen in the High Court, but Chrys emphasises the need for the debate to occur in the public sphere over the appropriate use of public funds to best support students.

Over at Global Comment, Chally writes about Australia’s budget attack on its poor, young and vulnerable. She highlights the disproportionate difference between the effects on wealthier Australian citizens in comparison to pretty much everyone else.

Jennifer at No Place For Sheep looks at Joe Hockey’s response to his budget in her post I’m Joe Hockey. You’re not. Hockey’s comments clearly position the poor as immoral and undeserving of pleasure and being wholly responsible for their situation, while he himself enjoys a cigar and a glass of Grange.

Fat Activism

As a fat woman, Fat Heffalump talks honestly about why It sucks to be a fat woman. She talks about the pressure to be positive all the time and that this can silence people around the difficulties and horribleness that being fat and a woman in Western society involves.

Health

Avril writes When you discover you are at the mercy of your hormones {broken link removed} and talks about going through peri-menopause and how it has really taken her by surprise and taken over how she goes about life right now.

Queerness

No one is exempt from instances of poor behaviour, but in saying that there are definitely behaviours that speak ill of us and the messages we wish to put forth. In The King’s Tribune {broken link removed}, Brocklesnitch speaks In painful defence of Pyne [broken link removed] against her wishes, but does so eloquently in relation to gay ‘joke’ slurs being used.

In her article I am woman hear me The Roar, Brocklesnitch {broken link removed} also discusses language of discrimination in relation to a sporting incident pointing out that when slurs are used, whether they’re true or untrue doesn’t change the pejorative nature of the slur. If an insulted sports person isn’t actually gay, using a language slur doesn’t just suddenly become bad language, because that’s not the way that language and discrimination work.

Beauty Culture

In Daily Life, Michelle shares her experiences of being a single female who is also bald and trying to date. Her article, How dating works when you’re a bald woman, draws attention to the insidious negativity that beauty culture builds around women’s experience of themselves, their physical presentation and the reactions of others to that presentation.

Fat Heffalump talks about her realisation about her personal experience in discovering she didn’t feel the need to be beautiful, being Unapologetically ugly. This is a thoughtful piece that considers beauty culture from a different angle – one that doesn’t redefine or recontextualise beauty itself, although it emphasises the subjectivity of beauty. Instead, the focus is not needing to be considered beautiful and it is a refreshing read.

Motherhood, Parenting and Children

Orlando posts at Hoyden About Town that Lego is refusing to get the message, sharing a recent catalogue depicting which Lego is for boys and which for girls, with colour being the least of the differences.

Andie of Blue Milk writes for Daily Life responding to the question of Can you protect your children from living your mistakes? Andie’s take is that we’re none of us separate from our upbringing, from our environment and histories, that parenting is often in response to how you remember your own childhood. The piece is insightful and unsurprisingly doesn’t provide an easy answer, but does invite self reflection and some gentle self-acceptance.

At Pesky Feminist, [broken link removed] Amy talks about On Mother’s Day [broken link removed] and the depth of feeling that this day of recognition often fails to encompass. She talks about her bravery and the importance of the woman as well as the mother, it’s a poignant piece and well worth reading.

Making the World a Better Place

Bec of of Opinions @ Bluebec writes about The legacy we leave in that it is important that we strive to not pass on the racism, sexism, homophobia and other nastiness to our children, even as we teach them about these things to enable them to deal with them when they (inevitably it seems) happen.

The End!

That’s it for this month, hopefully there was some new and interesting reading to you all and that all the bleak commentary doesn’t get you down too much. Many thanks again to everyone who sent in links and suggestions, it’s greatly appreciated.

Also, I’d love to encourage you to take on hosting the carnival for a month – it’s generally pretty simple, and there’s support if you need it. Talk to Chally about it, she has all the information. If you’d like to host a Carnival, email  her at chally [dot] zeroatthebone [at] gmail [dot] com or head over to the DUFC page to find out more about how it all works.

The next Down Under Feminist Carnival, the Seventy-Fourth Edition planned for 5 July, will be hosted by Pen at Pondering Postfeminism. Submissions to drpen [dot] robinson [at] gmail [dot] com.

Submit now for the 73rd Down Under Feminist Carnival!

DUFC LogoTo celebrate my university holidays from midwifery, I’m hosting the June Down Under Feminist Carnival at The Conversationalist! No theme this time around, just send me all your interesting blog reads for the month and I’ll collate them at the end of the month.

Send your submissions for this month to transcendancing [at] gmail [dot] com or via Blogcarnival {link broken, so removed}.

If you want some inspiration, take a look at last month’s carnival by El Gibbs over at bluntshovels.

Also, I’d love to encourage you to take on hosting the carnival for a month – it’s generally pretty simple, and there’s support if you need it. Talk to Chally about it, she has all the information. If you’d like to host a Carnival, email  her at chally [dot] zeroatthebone [at] gmail [dot] com or head over to the DUFC page to find out more about how it all works.

Link Salad: Post Spill Edition

Head shot of Julia Gilllard giving a speech with the Australian flag in the background.

Julia Gillard addressing the nation with her resignation speech. (Image from Guardian UK)

The Labor leadership spill last week leaves me with a deep feeling of sadness, and quite a lot of anger. It’s not even that I particularly liked or advocated for Gillard’s policies – actually I disagreed vehemently with a bunch of her decisions and actions. While they may also be the actions of the party, they made her ultimately responsible for them. However, I cannot view the way she was treated politically and by the media as anything other than horrendous – and very tellingly evidence as to the massive problem with gender inequality in the country. (This is not to downplay the other massive issues of inequality, just that I’m focusing on gender stuff in this post).

This is my current round up (it may get updated) of links to articles and blog posts about Gillard and the spill, because something like this needs to be acknowledged and talked about. I want to read analysis and I want to commiserate and I want to speculate. I want people with whom I can share my anger and my sadness, my disgust over all that happened. If you want me to add any links to this, leave me a comment.

It’s also worth noting that I haven’t vetted the comments on any of these – I don’t tend to read comments if I can avoid it as a rule, so proceed with care if need be.

I think that the Guardian piece ‘Julia Gillard: where did it all go wrong?‘ by Katherine Murphy gives the best overview I’ve seen politically as a post fact analysis of Gillard politically and with consideration given to the gender issues. I also think it’s one of the most balanced views I’ve seen.

Another article looking at the value placed in neutrality and respect surprisingly comes from the Herald Sun (?!) where Wendy Tuohy discusses the reaction to Gillard’s knitting photo and the coverage of that by the Australian Women’s Weekly. I’ve seen people angry about the photo because somehow there’s this idea that knitting isn’t feminist (it absolutely can be), that the photo was staged and therefore a ‘cheap ploy’ and also plenty of outrage that Gillard was attacked for her knitting when it is a very popular craft.

Delahunty’s opinion piece ‘Is Australia serious about women in power?‘ {broken link removed} (Answer: no) is less about the value of neutrality and balance and instead gives voice to the anger and disappointment around Australian politics right now, especially the overall misogynistic treatment by politicians and the media of our first female prime minister.  I kind of wish I could just quote almost every other paragraph from this piece, it’s both candid, astute and empathic.

Secombe is satisfyingly snarky in his article ‘Abbott vs Rudd: The choice Australia deserves?’ [link no longer available] discussing the leadership spill, the overwhelming disrespect to both Gillard as the PM and the office itself, and the Labor infighting. He calls it plainly and his contempt for the state of politics is obvious. Not exactly a positive article, but it is a satisfying read.

Monica Attard reports on Gillard, her prime ministership and the leadership change from a foreign perspective. The overall sense of the article is summed up in the title  ‘Julia Gillard: admired abroad, vilified at home.‘ The outside perspective on Australian voters and politicians is quite interesting.  

Last but not least, Gillard’s resignation speech. Classy and forthright.

Karen Pickering on the secret feminism of the CWA

I had the chance to attend a free talk given by Karen Pickering the other day on the CWA (Country Women’s Association) and its secret feminism. Below is the blurb for the event, and I think it provides a very good overview for what the talk was as well.

The Country Women’s Association is not often thought of as a feminist organisation … if at all. But with the current interest in women’s rights and spaces, it’s arguably a ready-made grassroots network for women to connect with one another. And with baking, sewing, and general craftiness also enjoying a revival of sorts, seeing a huge resurgence in popularity and deemed legitimacy, why is the Country Women’s Association, keeper of such knowledge, struggling to attract new members?

Karen Pickering discusses the cultural importance and history of the CWA, Australia’s largest women’s organisation, which strives to improve the conditions of women and children around Australia. She wonders how we can arrest the decline in membership, instead of standing by as the CWA literally dies out.

I think what struck me most about the talk is the fact that several friends and I have talked over the past several years about wanting to create a network to do the kind of work that the CWA does – community service, political advocacy, practical service in making a difference for women, children, families and community. We talked about creating a network, without realising that one already existed doing just that kind of work, and making that kind of difference, one that is even represented at a national level on some key organisational boards, one that has in the past been able to wield considerable political influence.

Once I’m settled into a place to live, I will seriously consider joining a branch of the CWA – they made it very clear that it was for all women, and not just for country women, and that while the organisation had a vibrant and strong tradition, that it is also prepared to evolve with the changing membership.

I also appreciated that in Pickering’s recounting of the historical highlights of the organisation, that she didn’t shy away from the fact that it’s largely a white, middleclass membership. That there are parts of the organisational history that are perhaps less shiny. Pickering mentioned that although there was lobbying somewhere around the 1960s for Aboriginal women to be included as members, that there was also some concern raised that it was more about assimilation than inclusion – and indeed I imagine both things could have been or perhaps were true. In any case, it’s *still* largely a white/middleclass organisation, but from Pickering’s comments at least, it seems that there is room for and invitation for that to change.

I’m not a crafting person, but I do love cooking, and I love that the CWA represents a very visible way of valuing the domestic work that women are often responsible for. However much we would also like to be valued for other work, for other contributions we make to society, being valued for the quality of domestic work – and what that looks like, is actually pretty awesome. Preserves! Quilting (not me, but others!) Cakes! Slices! All kinds of other things -and the opportunity connect with, to learn from, to share with, to teach, with other women. Also the opportunity to make a real and practical difference to people, to communities and especially to women and children.

Apparently there’s a new ‘Brunsberg’ branch of the CWA that spans as you might have guessed, Brunswick and Coburg in Melbourne. I am therefore hopeful for a Fitzwood or Collingroy branch when I manage to settle in somewhere near there!

At the height of membership (so far), the CWA had over 120 000 members! Now, it still boasts over 20 000 members. That’s an amazing network of very dedicated women, with some incredible skills and the desire to share them. Personally, I’m all for it, and maybe you might be interested too?

CWA Cookbook - Classics cover image

CWA Cookbook – Classics

Hold Tight Your Grand Narrative

The idea of the personal narrative is one that has surfaced several times over the past year, from a few different thoughtful people in conversations I’ve gotten to share with them. In particular, the idea of a grand style personal narrative.

This is probably a good point to go into the definition space. What on earth am I talking about, personal narratives – grand ones at that? I’m referring to the fact that we all have a personal narrative about our life, about how we share our lives with others like family, friends, or even community. It is our internal telling of our story, past, present and also our future. A personal narrative is about your life, so it will reflect your individual way of moving through the world. That individuality also means that your personal narrative can be about *anything* in your life, career, personal wish lists or bucket lists, family, education, any other kind of goal or significant (to you) milestone. This is just a name I’m giving to something that we’re fairly aware of existing generally speaking. The ‘grand’ aspect comes into it in the way that, the narrative that someone has for their life has some kind of perceived grandiose intention, perhaps it is changing the world, somehow.

Many of the people I know have a grand personal narrative – and largely that is focused on making a difference either in the spheres of personal influence, or in bigger spaces like local community, people in our state or national locale or bigger still… all people in a group, or simply all people, everywhere. Often this grand  narrative has a certain kind of gradation to it, the action may be in a direct sphere of influence, but the intentionality may be rooted in a much bigger space for change or cultural shift such as for a marginalised group or society at large. I am reassured by the fact that the people surrounding me all have some kind of bigger vision about them, some kind of thing they’re working towards, committed too, striving for. I want always to be surrounded by people who are thinking big and where we are challenging each other to think even bigger.

I want to tell you that I’ve been having conversations with people who are intensely engaged in the positive, the overt ways in which they are running with and living their narratives, grand and otherwise. Unfortunately, mostly these conversations have been around people coming to terms with this idea of a grand personal narrative and the judgement from others surrounding this. I feel that the judgement comes from the space where others give voice to their personal cynicism and wish to visit upon the other person and their narrative. It is a little like censure in the sense of ‘how dare they think that they can really pull that off/make a difference?’ For the most part I don’t believe that this imposed cynical judgement intentional, often it’s meant to protect from disappointment, from giving too much, from perceived negative outcomes, and other similar fears.

It isn’t even as though these fears are groundless, often they do have a base for concern. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a reason not to follow through. This idea of a grand personal narrative is a big one, it requires a deep personal commitment and it demands self knowledge and often personal sacrifice. These are the spaces of questioning the commitments we have, the things we believe in and believe we are committed to. Operating outside of ourselves and our individual concerns requires bigger thinking, more consideration, more compassion and more intentionality. If housing the homeless, feeding the starving, creating space for other marginalised groups was so easy, we’d have done it by now. And these are just examples, they’re not indicative of the only spaces a grand narrative can occupy. But the point to take here is that, our commitment to our narrative(s) is tested, time and again – in part it is about our stamina, but also our willingness to evolve our view and actions in relation to our narrative. It involves being willing to go back to that question of what does doing this thing really mean to me, why do I care so much? If it didn’t matter to us, we wouldn’t make it through the hard parts, the testing parts, we wouldn’t question ourselves and our course(s) of action.

The negative judgement around grand narratives and the effect they have on the lives of those undertaking the narrative, or those surrounding them seems to be concentrated in one of a few ways. Such narratives are perceived to be of detrimental effect on the person doing the action, there is the perception that the narrative or its purpose is of questionable value, or the perception that whatever your commitment is, it’s ‘someone else’s job’. There’s also that strong pull toward being part of the group and the status quo preservation – and that’s the antithesis of undertaking any kind of grand narrative. It’s that desire for everyone to achieve to about the same levels as each other, avoid standing out too much, don’t be a ‘tall poppy’. There are always people who truly excel are rare and celebrated but always in spaces where ‘heroes’ are recognised – in Australia that’s the sporting arena. It’s generally seen as not okay to want to be your own kind of ‘hero’, making a difference, especially if you’re open about it.

Well… I am out to be a hero. I am out to make a difference. I am out to shift culture and have there be more space for everyone to exist in their own way, where we don’t diminish others, where equality is not just available but is present in useful and flexible forms. I have a grand narrative, it’s about the importance of love and seeking to ‘unfuck’ the conversations we have about it. My narrative is about the importance of kindness and that all of us are human, moving through the world trying to do the best we can.

Why is this important to me? Why do I want to be immersed in spaces where people have varied flavours of personal narratives? This is our life… this is my life. I want to give everything I can, I don’t want to waste a moment or wonder if there was something else that I let slip by. What on earth is the point of not having something that you’re working for, fighting for, seeking to grow or change? No matter how small or big you think it is… having *something* I think is incredibly important and how we mark participation in society, being part of it – recognising our own ability and responsibility to contribute and influence things.

This is the world I have to live in, and it is often an unkind world, there is a sense of ‘not enough’ and ‘too much’ and vast differences and inequalities between these spaces and those who occupy them. I’m not a huge fan of the status quo, I appreciate the need to plateau and stabilise things but I never want to be standing completely still. I want to appreciate where I’m at, where I’ve come from… but I always want to be moving forward being my best self and making a difference for the world in my own unique way. Oh yes, my grand personal narrative? Well I’m certain that there is more than one going on. And I am definitely on the level of global humanity, with various subsets, depending on the individual narrative.

Don’t be sad about or seek to come to terms with having a grand narrative… take it and run with it, both hands and trust yourself and that you have the right to give back and contribute, to make a difference on a small or large or massive scale. You have every right to your commitment to whatever it is that drives you, compels you, keeps you up at nights and thinking or dreaming about a different or modified future. You get to do this regardless of how others value your commitment, you are the person you have to live with inside your head for the rest of your life. Trust those inside questions that make you squirm, like how much does your belief in something *really* mean to you… does it mean enough to you to give up something, or take on something, be brave somehow, learn something, teach something, listen or speak to something. Only you can answer that and no one else gets to make that decision for you. Or how you go about things. Or what success looks like.

 

This post is dedicated to all of you with whom I’ve shared this conversation, your personal grand narrative is your amazing theme song and I want to see you live it with all the commitment, flair, personal compassion and integrity that I know you have. And all the other quirky and uniquely you aspects too. I want to, and look forward to, marvelling at your awesome and I wish to do this many times over.

Being Someone Who Cares, Seeking Care

Caring is one of those fraught topics. I find that it is in many ways an invisible thing and to draw attention to it is to sound ungrateful for the care you receive, or like you begrudge the care you give. Or, perhaps simply worrying that you might sound like a petulant child complaining that ‘It’s not fair!’

Then there are the different ways in which caring happen and the way that it seems like, some forms of care seem to have more legitimate cause to draw attention to the invisible work load; such as caring as a mother or primary care-giver, caring for an elder person or providing care to someone who is disabled. These areas are so important to focus on and I appreciate the need to continually reinforce the nature of this unpaid care work that happens.

However, care work also happens in less obvious places and these can also be difficult to navigate in terms of receiving care, recognition or balance. There is the general expectation of caring because you’re female (and are therefore good at it). This gets more focus in the other specific areas I mention above by their nature as being spaces where women caring is prevalent. But, I think that while these specific spaces draw attention to the idea of women as caregivers, it is also important to discuss it as an overall issue.

Another space where unpaid/under recognised care work can be overlooked is being in the position where you are good at caring. I find as someone who has a talent and desire for caring that being recognised as being good at caring kind of becomes the basis for what is ‘ordinary’ in how people engage with you and the expectations they have. At this point it is harder to be the person in need of care, as though being good at it means that you have things so marvellously together that you are less in need of the kind of care you give.

All of these spaces, those in focus and those more invisible show that there is a dangerous gap in how caring happens where in large part, the people doing the caring are less able to access it effectively (or at all). Or, even if they can access care themselves there is pressure for them to need it less because performing the work of care is perceived as being its own reward or caring in nature. Another aspect I’ve noticed is that in seeking care, those who offer it are more likely to be in need of it themselves, intensifying that need. Certainly this is personally true for me. 

The importance of care work continues to be one of the massive standing ‘elephants in the room’. The doing of caring work is so conditioned, the assumption that care work will happen is so ingrained, and the social constructions around the value of care work, are such that the entirety becomes completely invisible.

With the invisibility of care and its value, comes the difficulty in accessing care as a person who does the work of caring. It’s a fallacy that doing care or being good at caring negates our need to receive it. Here it’s probably useful to mention the usefulness and importance of self care, and yet being able to do this for yourself does not negate the need to experience care from others.

And yet, my awareness of this does not address the difficulty with which I may access care, or feel entitled to care. My conversations with myself in this area involve rationalisation and justification about the work I do to take care of myself, to balance the energy I spend on care giving and even that I simply must be better at asking for and articulating what I need. These are invariably, not useful conversations because they are all about creating conditions under which I am or am not worthy of care.

Simply put, being valued by the people in my life means I am worthy of care (it means I’ve designated these people being worthy of care in return also). That’s a very practical and immediately relevant way of articulating care worthiness, and it’s not the only way or even the kindest or most compassionate way of articulating care worthiness. However, talking about the people who need care because they do the work of care, makes it a more relevant distinction than simply drawing a blanket around the idea that we all deserve care (I believe we do).

How then to receive caring when it is needed? How to ask for it, how to articulate what is desired for care… Who is available to provide care – are they someone who is also over-allocated for care work and in need of care themselves? Is it about valuing care more – or more financially? Is it about getting more people to consciously act in the role of caring?

There are no easy answers to these (and related) questions. In asking or writing this I am still experiencing the desire for care and the awareness that care is not readily available to me in a desired form. Plus, allowing someone to care for me without guilt feeling like I should be caring is also a factor. Mainly in writing this I wanted to draw attention to those of us who wouldn’t be immediately recognised as someone over-allocated in providing care work. I’m good at it, I value it, I enjoy caring… and yet… I am also wishful feeling burned out and emotionally fragile, wanting someone else to perform care for me. Wishing I could relax enough to let them.

 

Presenting the 51st Down Under Feminists’ Carnival

Welcome everyone to the 51st Down Under Feminists’ Carnival for the month of August. This month I undertook to highlight the theme ‘Personal Positives‘. I wanted to provide an array of posts that provide insight into our personal lives and stories as women.

To everyone who wrote for me for the theme, to everyone who wanted to or thought about it, thank you. Your stories and the difference you make is vital and important and this carnival is for all of you, and all of us. Because, we do make a difference just by being in the world doing our thing, the tiny ways we seek to make a difference… it all counts in critical and defining ways. Together, we wield our teaspoons, emptying our ocean of the ick and the muck. This month, I’m returning spoonfuls of positivity, visibility and perspective.

I’ve also collected with your assistance links on a range of other topics from various bloggers and I hope you’ll find something interesting, something thought provoking and something that moves you. Thank you to everyone who submitted, your investment in the carnival is what makes it thrive. I hope you enjoy this month’s carnival. 

First up, the collection of posts from bloggers who have all written about their Personal Positives, how they seek to make a difference in moving through their everyday lives. This is some personal and powerful writing and I hope it inspires you as it did me.

Chally from Zero at the Bone {archived} writes about Working Toward the Positive through support of bodily autonomy and boundaries. In Prime Number Modern Mama talks about being a parent, a wage-earner, and choices around maternity leave and bedtime rituals. Callistra discusses the evolution of self and choosing growth in her post Phoenix Arising: My Process of De-construction and Re-construction. Sky shares with us all the tiny ways she chooses her activism based on pragmatism and pleasure in her post My Trusty Teaspoon. Stephanie Gunn shares her experiences with depression and negativity and how she seeks to raise her son with a positive outlook in The Light in the Darkness is Always There: Personal Positives.

Flyingblogspot writes Swinging on the Spiral {broken link removed} and talks about her relationship with curiosity as her way of making a difference in the world. And related, my own offering, Personal Positives: Love as Activism, where I share how love is for me, the way in which I try to give back to the world. Sunili gives us The Vagina Manifesto: #cunts {link broken so removed} and discusses reclaiming of the word as a key to the shift in her understanding and appreciation of women and ladybits. In Personal Positives: Experiencing My Mistakes, Steph talks about her time away from Melbourne in Beijing and how it has taught her so much about the making of mistakes and the good that comes from those experiences. Guest posting here at  The Conversationalist, Marianne de Pierres talks about wrestling her demons in Personal Positives: Marianne de Pierres on Defeating the Ego and the Importance of Mentoring. Also guest posting here is Maia, in her post Personal Positives: @agrrud on Day One she shares the changes in her life, her experiences of community, learning and being grateful

Thank you again to all who wrote or considered writing on this topic for me, I think that it is vitally important that we keep telling our stories, and keep putting good stuff back into the ocean as we clean out the muck.

On to the rest of the carnival!

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Race and Racism

My Scarlett Heartt {link broken so removed} shares her thoughts on the judgement of being black ‘enough’, particularly considering the experiences of her daughter in her post Am I Black Enough For You? {link broken so removed}

In her post In Defence of Radicals, Utopiana of Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist shares her thoughts on radical feminism and its relationship to Indigenous politics stating the radicals want to change stuff on a big scale. They believe that society, that structures, that laws etc have been built by those who have the power, to reinforce that power, and these need to be challenged and restructured.”  

Sarah at Brown to the Bone {link broken so removed} discusses that programs like Abstudy are not about creating further divisiveness in Australian society but instead providing opportunities to address inequality where it is vitally needed in her post Positive Discrimination Not Reverse Racisms Mmmkay. {link broken so removed}

 

Family and Women’s Work

Made In Melbourne of Maintaining the Rage Makes Me Tired talks about being a lactavist and breastfeeding and about seeking to affirm women’s choices for how they feed their children. In her post I’m Normal, she states that “There is no breast vs. bottle debate. There is just the fact that we need to feed our children. And that we do it as best as we can.”

Tamara guest posts at The Thesis Whisperer on The Foibles of Flexibility discussing the downsides of pursuing her PhD while being a parent to two small children

Jo at A Life Unexamined in her post Mothers and Whores: Women in Ancient Rome gives us rare insight into women from ancient Rome, “They are spoken for, but never speak; represented, but rarely for themselves.”

Deborah at A Bee of a Certain Age points out how citing childcare and family responsibilities as the reason women don’t advance in the police force necessarily draws attention to the fact that the same isn’t a problem for male officers. Her post Why Women Don’t Make it to the Top in the Police Force rightly asserts that “A woman shouldn’t have to be a superwoman to succeed” 

 

 

Life

Karen Healey makes a splash when she calls for the women around her to talk about why they’re awesome in her post I Mean You. This post is filled with brilliant and heartening comments from all kinds of women and it is well worth the read. Why are you awesome? Really… in a non self-deprecating way… go and share on Karen’s post

Bethwyn at Butterfly Elephant talks about Learning to Step Into Your Own Power in relation to dealing with chronic illness, needing to rest and wrestling with external demands and misunderstanding. 

Alisa of Champagne and Socks talks about learning to see the glass half full in her post The Halfway Mark is Still a Milestone. She shares about the goals she’s undertaken and the progress she’s made becomes clearer to her as she examines her thinking around success. (Note: discussion of weightloss.)

 

Social Justice

TigTog at Hoyden about Town makes an excellent point in her post Deleting Blog Comments: Exercise of Property Rights vs Free Speech. In reference to that tired defence against comment moderation, that “‘Free Speech’ does not oblige somebody who owns a press to give anybody else access to it. Just like one cannot force the owner of a house to let one come inside, one cannot force the owner of a press to publish one’s words”

Grans Lock On comes to us from Helen at Blogger On A Cast Iron Balcony sharing with us the activism by a group of grandmothers in Toolangi (Mt St Leonard) trying to prevent the logging of the rain forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria

In her post Trigger Warning: Trigger WarningsLudditeJourno of The Hand Mirror talks about the cultural reasoning behind using trigger warnings in the feminist blogoshere. She states, “for me, oppression is trauma in millions of micro experiences, all the time.  Trigger warnings help me monitor on what level I’ll allow myself to be exposed to oppression today” (Note: Trigger warning for discussion of trigger warnings, racism, oppression and rape culture.)

Sarah at Brown to the Bone  {link broken so removed} blogs about Legitimating Oppression {link broken so removed}, how laws that allow police greater powers disproportionally affect marginalised groups, how crises like the GFC that affect groups of people are used to justify further marginalisation against certain groups of people.

 

LGBTQIAU

The idea that by not being out about your queerness is deceptive comes under scrutiny by Chally of Zero at the Bone{archived} in her post Queerness and Deception. Partly what she highlights is that focus in this way hides the underlying fallacy that being heterosexual is ‘normal’ (and thus everything else ‘abnormal’). 

From Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist, in her post Why I Support Marriage Equality, But Not Marriage, Utopiana advocates for equal access for all to marriage. However, she also examines the institution of marriage and discusses her concerns with marriage in a contemporary setting with all of the historical and traditional baggage

LudditeJourno of The Hand Mirror posted Marrying for Social Change, talking about why the debate for marriage equality is still dangerous and painful for people affected by it and that there is still work to be done. 

 

Feminism

Ideologically Impure critiques the National Council of Women in New Zealand’s campaign about why feminism is necessary in her post, National Council of Women Acknowledges its Need for Feminism

The News With Nipples discusses the policing of women’s behaviour in her post The Mirabella Story is About How We Expect Women to Act. She states, if you think this isn’t about policing women’s behaviour, when’s the last time a male politician was criticised for not being warm or caring?”

Zoya at Lip Magazine writes about this bizarre notion that in identifying as feminist that we can in random acts or statements become ‘unfeminist’ in her article The Feminist Relationship. It is as though there is some sort of feminist police out to make sure we’re all following ‘the rules’. Missing one’s partner is as feminist as any other choices we may make about how to enact our desire for equality and to end oppression.

Nicole at Wom*news writes how The Second Wave Started in Brisbane, with Merle Thornton and Ro Bognor chained themselves to the bar in protest of women’s exclusion from public places in 1965. She talks about the impact of Thornton’s feminism on her life and about sharing a drink with her in the ‘Thornton Room’ at the Regatta Hotel

Tallulah Spankhead of The Lady Garden {link broken so removed} invited a guest poster to share about her experiences of domestic violence in a post bringing Women’s Refuge Week to our attention. In Guest Post: Women’s Refuge Week, {link broken so removed} the poster is candid and honest, her story is hard hitting. (Trigger Warning: discussion of domestic abuse and violence.)

 

Sex and Relationships

I continue my foray into blogging about relationships in my post Redefining Success and Failure in Relationships here at The Conversationalist.

Blue Milk posts about Altitude Sickness as a Metaphor for Relationships, talking about how having small children often necessitates closing parts of yourselves as parents down. She talks about how often the parts that get shut down are the parts that as partners fell in love with and that it is something of an endurance race to live on thin air

Ideologically Impure also critiques of John McCracken’s fear-mongering about the dangers posed by sex workers, in The Magical Sex Industry of South Auckland, with Your Host John McCracken

 

The Body 

Mindy at  Hoyden about Town draws our attention to the media sensationalism around the ‘obesity crisis’ that just won’t quit in her post OMG Zombesity Crisis, Again.

Chally of Zero at the Bone {archived} talks about the way in which privilege can be discerned through entitlement to touch and whose boundaries are respected in her post Which Kinds of Bodies Are Respected?

 

Media

Helen at Blogger On A Cast Iron Balcony critiques the mainstream media idea that blogs are all written by people writing trivial things about their lives and their opinions on the world in her post I Don’t Know Much About Blogs But I Know What I Like. It couldn’t possibly be the case that the stories people share and the things we learn from one another through blogs are valuable and different from what is served up by the media, could it?

Orlando at  Hoyden about Town  talks in Why I Would Rather Let My Son Watch X-Men than Bob the Builder about the importance of female character representation and that it was more important to be showing media that involved multiple women being involved, doing things in the story than to avoid media portraying violence and good vs evil. 

Blue Milk asks Are Princesses Bad For Girls? linking to an interview with Brenda Chapman as one of the main writers of the film ‘Brave’ after her daughter went to see the movie with her dad. With the overwhelming amount of princess influence out there, Brenda talks about wanting “to break the stereotype of the princess, as well as the princess plot.” (Brenda is quoted in Blue Milk’s post.)

 

Geekery and Creativity

Tara at Settle Petal {link broken so removed} talks with great excitement about the CERN discovery that could potentially be the Higgs bosun particle. Her post Particle This! The Discovery of the Higgs Bosun and Women In Science {link broken so removed} and particularly that Ms Fabiola Gianotti as lead physicist on the ATLAS project addressing the press conference and being recognised for her contribution to the discovery. 

 

Language and Literature

Charlotte of Wom*news writes about patriarchal language systems embedded in culture in Herstory in Language. She articulates how partriarchy in language becomes invisible in the “way that terms such as ‘chairman/policeman’ are the default while ‘female judge/ female engineer’ appear as necessary ‘extra’ distinctions could be examples of the way in which language transmits the endorsement of this system”

 

Where the Wonder Women Are

Finally, last but not least, a selection from Tansy Rayner Roberts, she’s been writing a blog series called ‘Where The Wonder Women Are’ about the female characters in comics. I’ve linked you to all her July posts, but she’s definitely still writing and the posts are definitely worth a look, even if you’ve only a passing familiarity with comics. 

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That’s it from me for the August Down Under Feminists’ Carnival here at The Conversationalist, I hope you’ve enjoyed the carnival and in particular the intimate and generous posts considering my theme Personal Positives.

The Fifty-Second Edition of the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival is planned for 5 September, 2012 and will be hosted by the fabulous  Lip Magazine. Submissions for the carnival can be emailed to Dunja via dunja [at] lipmag [dot] com for those who can’t access blogcarnival. {link broken so removed}

 

Personal Positives: @agrrud on Day One

I’d like to welcome Maia as a guest poster to The Conversationalist sharing her thoughts on this month’s Down Under Feminists’ Carnival theme, “Personal Positives‘. Maia is dear to me and it is truly a pleasure to host her candid and introspective post here as part of the carnival. 

Today was the first… 

Today is a lot of firsts. 

I left a relationship a couple of months ago, the weekend before I started my new job. Today my new job took me to another town. I have a serviced apartment in the city, an allowance, a flight home each weekend.  Inside my backpack – the largest I could sneak on the plane – lay a coiled string of fairy lights: a home making device. 

The company I work for prides itself on its culture. I chose it for that. When I came out of my my post-PhD stupor and actually paid some mind to my life again, I wanted three things in equal measures: highly technical work; among diverse, open-minded, fascinating, socially capable people; at an 0rganisation whose values I love and respect. 

I wanted to be part of a community. 

I am an engineer. A scientist. No, an engineer. All of the above. These are some of the things I am, certainly. Now I work in software. They’ve employed me, this organisation full of wonder and generosity, to break things. They trusted my sense in the world, though my software ability is rudimentary and out of date. 

Back home, where I’ll be spending weekends, I have a life so full I can barely devote the requisite 40 hours a week to work. Where did it go, the time? Me of the past slogged eighty-, hundred-hour weeks at a thesis. Past me drove into town at 10pm on Saturdays, struggling through post-football traffic, to run long, boring, finicky experiments, week after week. I still work that hard, but when the work itself dried up, I shoved things into its absence. Friends, lovers, committees, science talks, acrobalance classes. Being in this new place will be good; I want to devote more time to learning how to give in this field.

A car arrived at my door this morning, at an hour so early I can only assume it’s imaginary. I was driven to the office when I landed. Meetings. Coffee. Whiteboards. Access card forms. Do we know who the knowledge experts on this project are right now? How about the success criteria? Maybe tomorrow, when the vital person is back, we can run through a few scenarios.
We are consultants, here to test their systems. I am learning how the labyrinthine tools work, much less the client’s infrastructure. I have a mentor. I’ll figure it out. I’m smart and capable.
We traverse this world, my heartache and I, and learn. No day is a standalone. Day One is one of a continuum – a community of days, if you will.

My mentor and I will be working closely. We discussed our communication styles today, our strengths and weaknesses. We gave each other permission to be pulled up when we stray from the path of usefulness.

My life is…amazing. The opportunities I have are tremendous. I live in a bubble. My friends, my lovers, now my colleagues – all think big. All have at least some awareness of their own bigotry, and work to correct it. My life contains kindness, intelligence, challenge, generosity. I encourage it wherever I can. I have money and time and love and friends and things and access. I am spoilt.

I remind myself, and the world around me, that this is luxury.

Personal Positives: Marianne de Pierres on Defeating Ego and the Importance of Mentoring

I’d like to welcome Marianne de Pierres as a guest poster to The Conversationalist with her thoughts on ‘Personal Positives’ as the theme for this month’s Down Under Feminist CarnivalMarianne is a dear friend and I am thrilled to host her thoughtful post here as part of the carnival and also as my first ever guest!  

I’m often plagued be a sense of hopelessness. I’m not sure if that is something I learned, or it’s driven by my own biochemistry. Suffice to say that when I was old enough to realise that I had developed such a negative pattern of thinking, I set about changing it. To this day it’s a struggle, but I I’ve chipped away enough to see where I’ve been.

It’s my hope that by continuing to fight against it, I become a better person; one who makes the people around me happier, more secure, more empowered. A personal mission if you like, or perhaps, a crusade – to engender the warmth and comfort and confidence that proximity to another human can give, when the energies are right. Sounds kind of simple and silly really, but I find it profound.

And it’s not to say that I don’t still lose battles. Ego is a great saboteur, usually lurking about in the guise of envy or righteousness. But I stand up to it by finding the pleasure and reward in mentoring. Mentoring is concept so overused and totally undervalued. It could be the single most important concept/deed that adds value to human existence. I treasure it and I’d be interested to know if anyone agrees with me.

Marianne x

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Marianne de Pierres is the author of the acclaimed Parrish Plessis and award-winning Sentients of Orion science fiction series. The Parrish Plessis series has been translated into eight languages and adapted into a roleplaying game. She’s also the author of a teen dark fantasy series and has published a highly regarded short collection, Glitter Rose through Indie publishing house Twelfth Planet Press.

Marianne is an active supporter of genre fiction and has mentored many writers. She  She lives in Brisbane, Austrlaia, with her husband, three sons and three galahs. Marianne writes award winning crime under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt. Visit her websites at www.mariannedepierres.com and http://www.tarasharp.com.au and www.burnbright.com.au.  

Personal Positives: Love as Activism

I’ve been asking people around me to write about personal positives in their life, the way they make a difference in their own way, as part of their daily experience of living in the world. Now it is my turn to share with you about my life and how I try to make a difference. Where I spend the most time, energy and effort in making a difference entirely revolves around love.

Image Copyright and Credit: IC1805 - The Heart Nebula Daniel Marqardt

Image Copyright and Credit: IC1805 – The Heart Nebula Daniel Marqardt

Love as an idea and as a practise is where I concentrate on growing, understanding, sharing, and practising amongst the people in my life and communities on a daily basis. Love is what I seek to put back into the ocean, as I’m emptying the ick and muck with my teaspoon. Not only do I seek to put love into the world myself, but I seek to inspire and empower others to do the same. I seek to invest them with the kind of understanding that has them understand and value love in ways that can be overlooked and misunderstood based on how we are conditioned to think about love by media and modern society.

I use conversation as my primary and most powerful mechanism for cutting through the cynicism and neatly boxed definitions of love projected from media and social structures. I tell the stories of myself and my life, I tell the stories of how love exists for me, how it works for me. I also listen to people tell their stories about their lives and how they conceive love. Most often my conversations on love revolve around creating more space, opening up little boxes that we’ve taken on that tell us love is a certain shape, means a certain thing, involves certain attributes over others, without much flexibility. I find that people already know the things that we talk about, but for several moments we’re discussing invisible elephants, until suddenly the elephants all appear. Immediately the tiny boxed definitions become inadequate, a guide if anything for what people can now see around them in their life and the ways love is present in unexpected ways.

There is a rightness in the telling and sharing of personal stories, doing so confirms our own existence but also allows others to connect. The sharing of experiences, challenges, and triumphs draws us together and creates solidarity. On the internet it can be difficult to create that sense of being ‘all in together’ and ‘for one another’. But it isn’t impossible, and I believe it to be a worthwhile practice. A practice based on love, where we seek that which connects us as individuals without erasure of our precious autonomy and individuality. I’m reminded of a Martin Luther King quote that I came across in another blog post in the past month, and I think it apt for describing how I think love can provide the ability for us to transcend our differences, without diminishing each other and instead allow us to be greater together.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.” – Martin Luther King

Our personal stories are where we draw our collective power, our companionship, our solidarity and support for one another. This is not to suggest that we all agree or never clash in ideologies or practises… but underneath those things we are people, together trying to make a difference. Our collective identity is most powerful when we come from a foundation of love. In this way, love becomes a powerful activism and it is not the activism of one space of oppression, but all spaces of oppression. Through love, we all are people, living in the world, seeking to get through the day, to live our lives, to make a difference, to survive. We are richer for all of our experiences, from all places of marginalisation, and all places of privilege.

Standing for love in modern society sometimes feels futile, there is so much cynicism. Messages of love sound trite and we can so easily dismiss the idea as being too simple, without engaging or appreciating that love is one of many tools. Love is a meta tool that makes the other actions we take more effective by drawing us together and having us work for one another and not against each other. Love then, becomes activism.

Love as activism for me on an everyday level involves spacemaking for the people around me that they have what they need, and involves listening actively and avoiding judgement or advice giving in favour of support and encouragement. Love as activism involves a passionate commitment to self love and fulfilment of responsibilities toward oneself as the foundation for reaching out to others. Using love for activism for me is all of the tiny ways I constantly try and let the people in my life know how much they mean to me. It is the way I nurture the opportunities to spend time, to connect and be present and marvelling at the person or people in my life. Love for me involves constant amazement, abiding thankfulness and allowing myself to see each person as wondrous in themselves. Love as activism is allowing myself to love as completely, variously and fully as I am able.

My activism is about my commitment to greater learning and deeper insight into love and how it is thought about, used, referenced, defined, promoted, and idealised. My activism means that I am standing for love, it means that I am willing to have conversations to ground those things in a daily reality, for myself and as needed for others.  Love itself does not conquer all, but it is a powerful tool that allows us to build a movement for change, allows us to shift the status quo, and allows us to create space for each other without diminishing anyone. Love makes a difference to how we get to be in the world, ourselves and the people around us through our experience of them.

Personal Positives – Call for Submissions to the 51st Down Under Feminist Carnival

In about two weeks I’ll be posting the August Down Under Feminists Carnival. In my original announce post, I talked in depth about the theme I wanted to focus on, ‘Personal Positives’. I’ve received some thought provoking entries on this topic and I’m hoping for a few more. In my real and online life I am surrounded by some amazing women and we all exist in the world, we breathe and move through our daily lives with all the joys and trials that involves.

 

These stories of our lives are important. Actually, I think they are critical because too often we wonder what we contribute, or wonder if we’ve made a difference. We wonder how other people live and go about their lives. And we do make a difference, we have stood upon this earth and breathed, thought, played, struggled, laughed, cried, reasoned and worked. I feel like we often have a false impression that our concerns and lives are too mundane to be ‘stories’ to be interesting, to inspire, to provoke thought, to offer insight. I seek to break that association, and l see the extraordinary in daily life all around me in all of you in my life. Who you are, how you live, and how you make a difference is of vital importance in the world.

 

Please consider sharing your story. Share your story either on your own blog, or make a guest post here on mine if you’d prefer.

 

We get endless repetition from media and society about how we supposedly ‘should’ live. We watch and read the complex stories about great and ordinary men’s lives through television, movies, books and other mediums. Using this carnival as one of many platforms and projects, we can shift this so that there is also a third option; how we actually live and move through the world as women.

  

By focusing on personal positives and the stories of our daily lives we emphasise our existence and the many ways we live. We also put something positive back into the ocean where we spend so much time addressing the ick and the muck of oppression. Removing the ick and the muck cannot make a lasting difference without something positive to replace it – and we get to choose that, we get to influence that and breathe life into it.

 

Aside from focusing on the theme for this coming month, I’m also interested in you sending me interesting blog posts you’ve come across in your travels across the internet. Anything by an Australian or New Zealand blogger on a topic relevant to feminism (and I tend to take a broad view of feminist relevance to be clear) is welcome. I’m particularly interested in featuring bloggers that don’t get featured often and from a range of intersectional viewpoints. If you’re unsure that something is relevant, send me an email – I’m always happy to discuss!

 

Submissions for the carnival should be submitted to me by the end of July. You can submit through the blogcarnival form, {link broken so removed} or email me through transcendancing at gmail dot com.

 

If you want to post on the theme and are struggling with it or wondering if your idea will work, I’m available to talk about it. Additionally, if you are worried about making the deadline, send me an email – there’s some room for flexibility, particularly around themed posts as I’m aiming for a strong showing on the theme for this carnival.

51st Down Under Feminists Carnival – Personal Positives

DUFC Logo

Greetings all, I’m Ju Transcendancing and will be hosting the upcoming Down Under Feminists Carnival – the fifty first! How did we manage so many?! If you’re interested in revisiting some of the marvellous carnivals that people have put together in past months, there is a conveniently compiled list. The upcoming 51st Down Under Feminists Carnival will focus on Personal Positives. That is, how we go about our daily lives and the little things we do to make a difference.

I’ve been thinking my theme for this carnival, because I really like themes as an opportunity to draw attention to specific areas of thinking around equality, feminism and intersectionality. I notice that for myself, what I write about is my life, myself in the world and negotiating that as best I can, getting tripped up and stumbling clumsy through situations, sometimes getting it right, more often learning more about how there’s always more growing and more thoughtfulness to apply. I try and write things that are about putting goodness and more of what I want to see in the world, out there for others. I appreciate the amazing work that people do in applying a critical lens to society and the way that it is constructed and reinforced in ways that both help and harm us individually and collectively. I’m a cultural theorists amongst other things and that kind of space is always interesting.

However, when I think of the metaphor used for performing the work of engendering equality in the world that is ‘emptying the ocean with a teaspoon’ I think it is worthwhile to consider some additional aspects to the metaphor. It can be disheartening, the ocean is awfully big, and a teaspoon is a tiny thing. It can be uplifting: there are many, many teaspoons doing the work of emptying. In focusing on the emptying, I think it is easy to neglect the fact that for all the ick and muck that we empty out, we’re still left only with the status quo unless we consciously add the positives we want to see more of in the world.

I realise that this is a very subjective experience, what is positive through my eyes is not necessarily positive in another’s experience. But I do believe in the value of doing the best we can at any given point. And, I recognise that what constitutes ‘best’ is a flexible changing thing depending on the surrounds. Intentionality is sometimes considered the largest of ways in which we cause inadvertent harm, and yet it is also powerful in it’s collective form where the intention to give back, to put goodness in the world can be shared and what difference it makes can be appreciated – even if there are aspects that we find difficult or problematic on an individual level. Therein is the space for healthy critique and debate and for growing as individuals in our own thinking and feeling spaces.

Feminist and equality based blogging can often seem to be simply an issues based space, where the individual paths we all walk are obscured by our focus on these issues. If we are all doing the best we can at any given point toward equality and recognition for each other as human beings, there are stories to be told there. Individual moments captured from everyday lives, going about the ordinary and how our intentions for making a difference are enacted in the tiny ways we go about our lives.

So the theme that I’d like to put forward for this upcoming carnival is simply: Personal Positives.

Share with me the moments of your lives and the way in which you put goodness, positivity, back into the world, even as you use your trusty teaspoon in the ocean of ick and muck. How do you move through the world? What are you most confronted by in your experience of the everyday – where do you find that you compromise and when are you or aren’t you comfortable with that? Is there a practice or something else you’ve enacted that is entirely for the benefit of contribution to the world becoming a (very gradually) better place for everyone?

My intention is to draw attention to daily living, to daily intentionality toward making a difference, and to make visible the invisible daily lives of Australian and New Zealand women and feminist bloggers. We often remark that the everyday from history is filled with the experiences, fears and concerns of men – as is not unexpected in a heavily patriarchal society. My intention is to contribute to shifting that visibility to make the experiences and concerns of women inside their everyday lives in a contemporary 2012 visible and valuable.

Feel free to comment and begin the discussion on the everyday and feminism, what the idea of personal positives can mean and the value of visibility. This theme is simple in its heart but the surrounding context is multi-layered and spending some time looking into those layers would be most welcome, and perhaps beneficial to people considering contributing to the carnival.

Please consider contributing, especially if you haven’t before. If you’re unsure about your contribution for whatever reason, please feel free to contact me – I’m a conversationalist at heart and I will welcome the contact.  Submissions can be made via blogcarnival {link broken so removed} or by emailing me: transcendancing at gmail dot com and should be in before the end of July. If you’re having issues with the deadline, contact me and I’ll see what I can do.

Authenticity: Letting the world make its mark on you…

This post is for Azhure. 

Some people talk about their desire to make a mark on the world, to leave something behind that tells the story that you existed, and made a difference. I’m no different, that idea holds a weight in my heart that keeps me honest with myself. 

However, I also believe that it is even more important, to let the world make it’s mark upon you. We live in this world, in our bodies, with all the trappings of society, culture and so much more. We also get caught up in the idea that somehow, we are to retain an associated perfect burst of youth, of poise, of smoothness and a life unblemished. This is reflected in how we treat our bodies and the expectations around that, it’s reflected in how we remember things and also in the actions we take and how we relate to others. This idea that we can move through the world, negotiate the many ways in which our lives journey, without that ever being visible seems, not only illusory, but disingenuous. 

I say this because, the way the world marks us shows us that we are here, that we live and that this is our life to lead. The scars upon my body, the shape I have, the lines and stretchmarks, tell the story of my life. So do the marks upon my soul, my emotional journeys and the many things I’ve struggled with, failed at, been confronted by, the way I’ve loved. All the moments of my life, are the ways in which I have marked the world – there are changes to reflect my passing, be it only my shadow upon the ground. They are also the ways in which the world has marked me, like ink on the pages of my own story. 

This idea that we can remain unmarked, unmoved seems to imply a desire for some kind of perfection. My view is that, there is no perfection – it is just a word and a concept, an aspiration that is unattainable, but which we recognise by the degrees of closeness to it, where we sometimes find ourselves. Often in the tiniest of moments. I’m a huge fan of moments. The most powerful lessons I’ve learned in my life, are the lessons from tiny moments. 

To be unmarked by the world is to in some critical way, deny your existance – your right to take up space. To understand, to accept, and even to embrace the way in which the world has marked you is a kindness to yourself. It is an act of self love, every time you do it. I find that there is a groundedness, when I take in the myriad ways in which I have been marked – sometimes the marks are temporary like a cut or a scrape, or even an emotional hurt. Sometimes they’re more permanent, scars. Regardless, they tell my story, remind me of my story and they situate me in my body, in the here and now. 

To be marked is not always kind, nor fair – there are no contracts in the universe for this. Our experiences good and bad mark us, the people in our lives, mark us, our choices and decisions, those consequences also mark us. Each step is a mark in both directions. 

If I seek to leave my mark up on the world, then I seek also to be marked as well. I seek the marking of all the joy and sadness, pain and pleasure that is and might be, or will be mine. Being marked also reminds me that I do make my own mark, that I cannot help but make some kind of impression on the world and it also inspires me to be conscious about what I want that mark to say, how I want that to reflect and what I wish othes to take in or imagine having come across my marks. 

 

On my struggle with thinking about my marriage, my wedding…

This isn’t a post about marriage or weddings in general, though it’s drawn from that space. This post is specifically the result of the fact a dear friend was talking about planning her wedding and how the desire and the fantasy and the reality and ethics and values are all mixed up and intermingled. I was making a comment and it seemed better to post it here because it was about me and my confusion and angst, and not about her experiences and planning.  

So. I just don’t know how to come to terms with wanting a marriage and also wanting a wedding (of some kind) but where I’m deeply conflicted about both of those things. 

I’m thinking that maybe what I want is a ceremony and not a legal marriage – because it better reflects my belief that marriage has less place as a legal distinction and that there could be more attention paid to the way in which people consciously choose the contracts they go into (like for property, or decision making in the event of for different things). 

That’s a bit melancholy or overly practical for my usual romantic ideals. And oh, I have romantic ideals… but they don’t seem to fit wedding related expressions and I really struggle with that and feel… out of place thinking wedding stuff. Perhaps it’s just further ways in which I don’t see my life and desires and hopes and dreams reflected around me with positivity and options and acceptance… (like television and media and magazines and books and movies etc…). 

And I *love* K, like I love *breathing* and *laughing*

He’s absolutely the person I want to marry – but I feel like my reasons aren’t good enough or are suspect because of my other relationships and beliefs. 

And there is child-me who also fantasised about the day and the dress and how it was – but not the person I’d marry, just me, and all that ritual and prettyness without substance. And now… at 31 I want substance. And I struggle also as a feminist with all the symbols and ritual associated.

And I’m no closer to figuring it out.  Which is just one reason I’m still engaged and not married, with another significant reason that I just can’t bear to until marriage equality happens here in Australia.

But I still want an aspect or several aspects of both a marriage and a wedding… but I just don’t know how to do this and feel like it’s *me* and *K*, what we both believe and want and what we’re both creating for our lives. 

(And what about cohabiting, and what about other significant relationships that may grow and what if x, y, z… I lack useful context for how to frame and process and think through this as a queer and poly person who never plans to be monogamous, never plans to necessarily cohabit with one, any or all partners consistently.

And…  you see how I might be a bit angsty and tied up in knots about it. I suspect I could logic it all out, but my heart and feelings are not in that place yet. So I shall continue musing and inwardly flailing and talking with K about it so that we do what works for us… and only when and how it works for us. 

On Valentines Day

I have some thoughts and I might be a little ranty. Just so you know. 

So, Valentines Day. Present incarnation. I know that there’s history there, but it’s specifically not relevant to my point here. What I want to talk about is that as with any public holiday or celebration, it’s not *all* consumerism and commercialisation. 

Does Valentines Day in the present day involve a great deal of societal manipulation, gross over commercialisation and encouragement toward consumerism? Absolutely. So do most public events/holidays/celebrations. We seem to be able to navigate those just fine in a ‘live and let live’ manner. 

I want to mention a few reasons why I think that celebrating (in your own way) Valentines Day can be genuine, rather than simply shallow and unworthwhile. 

I tend to think, that in society, we don’t teach people how to have relationships and nor do we  teach people to communicate. However, we have high expectations of people for both these things, and I think that any instance where it has been signaled to demonstrate care, love, affection and commitment is on that basis, actually rather important. 

It doesn’t for a second suggest that it’s the only time love and affection can be (or should be) demonstrated to one’s partner(s) or other loved ones. It is an opportunity to make a specific point of it. 

I’m an extremely loving person. I spend a very significant portion of my time demonstrating my love for the people in my life. So in another approach to a genuine celebration of something like Valentines Day, I asked myself a simple question: 

Would I take any opportunity to show love/care/affection/value/commitment to those I care about?

The answer for me is (and will be unsuprising for those whom know me): Am I breathing? Well… yes. 

So, are all celebrations done with such thoughtfulness and intent? Of course not, but deliberate or not, people are being thoughtful toward their significant other(s). Either way: there is more opportunity for love. 

I don’t think that this is a bad thing. I can certainly ignore the commercial aspects just fine and I’ve confidence that for those whom such things are important, that they could work around the consumerist drive as well. 

I actually wonder how much of the objection comes down to the fact that it isn’t ‘cool’ to show love  or some such? How much of it is our expectation that emotions are allowed only in narrow bands of exp