Overland is fundamentally committed to emerging writers. This edition features the winning entries from the Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize, the richest and most prestigious competition of its kind in Australia. They are introduced by Jennifer Mills, Overland’s incoming fiction editor, in a judge’s report offering a snapshot of the huge quantity of writing that was assessed.
I often find it mildly hilarious when I read articles that talk of writing creatively as a ‘career’. This is purely personal: after three decades of making a precarious living through various kinds of writing, it’s impossible for me to look back over my own ‘career’ with anything but rueful amusement. But exhortations for the ‘author’ to become a ‘brand’ don’t make me laugh. They fill me with revulsion.
Imagine. You are young and have not yet forgotten that anything is possible. There is something bigger to believe in than your career prospects and your résumé, your future super dividends (as if you have any), your individual rung on the clichéd and fundamentally absurd ladder of fame and fortune.
It’s about the romance, partly. What could be more romantic than the sight of three women – mothers of small children – on trial in a small glass box, flanked by police officers and a massive dog, surrounded by the state apparatus of Russia, with the remnants of the Iron Curtain knitting together to prove just as impenetrable as before?
Where are we, today? On the one hand: austerity measures, the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash and the attempt to dismantle whatever residual features of the welfare state remain. On the other: mass resistance in the form of occupations, strikes, riots, protests, a revival of interest in Marx, feminism, anti-racist and anti-fascist ideas and actions, and widespread cynicism about electoral politics.
I come to dread the phone calls. But, even when I am not there to take them, the messages haunt me. An ominous flashing light on my phone, a few buttons pressed; her ghostly voice, barely audible, in my ear.
‘Elizabeth Lawyer, this is R. Please be calling me.’
Six months after the death of JD Salinger in 2010, the toilet from his former home in Cornish, New Hampshire, went up for sale on eBay for one million American dollars. The advertisement claimed that the toilet was ‘uncleaned and in its original condition’. It also speculated that Salinger might have dreamed up and even written some of his unpublished work while sitting on this ‘throne’.
There is a photo taken at the end of 1974 of a man sitting outside the remains of his shop on the Stuart Highway, Darwin, holding a shotgun to keep thieves away. It was a few days after Cyclone Tracy had wiped out close to 90 per cent of the town in what remains Australia’s greatest urban catastrophe.
The notion is, of course, a product of modernity. As Terry Eagleton outlines in The Function of Criticism, the idea of the public sphere was forged in the struggle against the absolutist state. Salons, clubs and coffee houses, broadsheets, pamphlets, the novel itself – all of these were born as the middle classes carved out a space against the aristocratic notions of hereditary hierarchy.
In my former job as a book publicist, there was an inevitable stomach-churn that accompanied working with an ‘unknown’. Not because they weren’t good writers, mind you, but because, in a world saturated with content, opinion and information, it was difficult to make the public care about someone who wasn’t already a household name.
‘Just fucking do it,’ my friend said. At least, that was the gist. She’d just joined roller derby. I was contemplating boxing. I took her advice.
Set pieces in foreign locations have always been a hallmark of the spy film genre, but in the current crop of Anglo-American franchises they have reached new levels of baroque virtuosity. The modern cinematic secret service agent is at home anywhere, speaks all languages, walks over everything; he’s a silent drone, a lethal tourist.
Unlike sex trafficking today, white slavery – the abduction of American or European girls to be sold as sex slaves in foreign markets – was largely a myth.
From 622 entries, Enza Gandolfo, Jeff Sparrow, Jacinda Woodhead and I selected a short list of nineteen stories. Of the entries we received, 64 per cent were from women. Of the short-listed stories, seventeen are by women and two by men, figures which reflect the ratio of submissions in a blind-judged competition. Each of the stories on the short list has skill, energy and that great asset, a point of difference.
As a lawyer who’s worked for a number of years at the Copyright Agency, I am genuinely in favour of copyright and believe that writers and others who create works are served well by it.
Dimity is about to sneeze. She is lying in the yard, watching the bees around the clover. Grass between her knuckles, and at the back of her heels and her daisy-chained ankles. She turns her face to the sun, breathes in and –
Joe scrapes a homemade metal knife along the underside of a cowhide. Fat collects along the edge and he wipes it on his overalls. The hide goes into the pit, I throw buckets of salt on it and he starts scraping the next one. Inside this shed, just beyond the abattoir, Joe turns animal skins into leather and makes sausages. In town he lives alone, smokes too much and smells of preservatives. In the high school library, he teaches me how to play chess.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 dawns humid and somewhat cloudy in southern Vietnam. Millions of men and women ready themselves for work. Some make their way by scooter to downtown Saigon, or District 1, in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. Some go to the market.
So then the Librarian said:
‘the Piggy Bank is pi times ratshit squared’
and left the building seeking tundra.
Didn’t think I’d hear from that man again, but then there was a message in my inbox. Within five hours we were in his bedroom. His hair is not computer hair, it’s straight and black: turntable hair, old school, calligraphy brush hair.
He had good ideas in the shower, he was sitting upright heroically typing away on his computer – he improvised the filthiest, bawdiest limericks you can possibly imagine.
The scavenged tin hovels and wet pits of desert dwelling skags seem deserted save for the encircling shadows of bulimic buzzards. And hanging from the sprigs of thistles are toothbrush plastic rosary beads
At dawn the birch trees are ice-smacked: shocked and glassy. The man limps across the snow, like a toad,
supervene on the typical nonsense from afar asemic street and business signs
You don’t need eschatology to see the finitude
in all this. Cantilever arm of all sweetness,
pinions of every description
standing on top of the helicopter counting the bristles of my toothbrush i look down but not back
Il faut être toujours ivre. The hardest working man in the Pantheon Charon ferries only kebabs now, demands
The museum’s frog info site is sponsored by Alcoa, a company more responsible for the destruction of Hills frog habitat than any other. I went to confirm