wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

Archive for the tag “jon bauer”

All I want for Christmas is…

Fancy a Sylvia Plath doll for Christmas?

Fancy a Sylvia Plath doll for Christmas?

I’m one of those people who is easy (some would say dull) to buy for. Every year, when my family asks what I want, I usually say books, books, books, magazine subscriptions or notebooks to write in. God, how I love touching and feeling notebooks. And there’s a Moleskin now that links up to Evernote so you can scan in your notes. Wow! I know this is starting to sound like a sponsored post, but I can’t help it if I’m a bit passionate.

I’ve also just been mouth-watering over Allison Tait’s list of gifts for writers (Ernest Hemingway or Sylvia Plath doll, anyone?).

What I like most of all is getting book vouchers so I can wander through indie stores like Gleebooks (Sydney) or Stoneman’s (Castlemaine) or Readings (Carlton) and just browse and choose randomly, usually going purely on design (yup I like doing that).

In the past year, though, I’ve been more and more seduced by the Kindle. Covered in soft leather, I can read it lying on my side in bed (my favourite position). The idea that it holds instant access to not just worlds, but whole solar systems of material, still blows my mind. I need a book right now, and I have it. Great for lazy, procrastinating types. I also prefer it for books to do with work. The highlights and notes function is incredibly useful for reviewing and analytical work, and very quick to jump around and trigger memories and ideas – and I’ve never been comfortable with writing in pencil directly in books; I like the pages designed and clean.

Which leads me to my book-hamper competition in a roundabout way. Just a quick reminder! If you are a fan of any of the following Australian writers — Jon Bauer, Simmone Howell, Walter Mason, Jo Case, Dawn Barker, Jenn J McLeod, Jessie Cole, Annabel Smith, Wendy James or Angela Meyer (first edited collection!) — there’s a chance to win autographed copies of all ten books!

All you need to do is write a little review of my novel, just_a_girl! If you’ve read it, just hop to amazon.com.au and pen a few lines here.

If you haven’t … the book is also available to download for under 10 buckeroos at the same place or you could offer it to someone you love for Xmas (parent of a teenage girl, perhaps!).

All authors really love reviews of their work, and the Amazon.com.au site is pretty new so would love some commentary there. Just see it as a gift to me:-)

I’ve also decided to extend the date of the competition to 15 January. Gives you a bit more time to read just_a_girl in wind-down time…

Which leads me to pressie time. All the books in my Xmas hamper have been carefully selected and fawned upon over the past year. I’ve been thinking about who I might give them to in my inner circle (see below). I’ve linked to their Kindle editions if you’d like to buy them too. They won’t be signed, but, so you can still enter the competition.

Walter Mason, Destination CambodiaJo Case, Boomer and MeWendy James, The MistakeDarkness on the Edge of TownFracturedThe Great UnknownJon Bauer, Rocks in the BellyGirl DefectiveAnnabel Smith, Whisky, Charlie, FoxtrotJenn J Mcleod, House for all Seasons

  • Jon Bauer‘s Rocks in the Belly  would go to my Mum. I’ve been raving about it since I first read it, and then he moved to Chewton and joined the writers’ group I’m in. I was a bit scared of him at first (read the book and you’ll get it). But, seriously, it’s a tense and brutal drama, and Mum would enjoy the edginess of it, and the strong characterisation.
  • Simmone Howell‘s Girl Defectiv would go to my mate, Klare. The seedy side of St Kilda. A record store on the verge of collapse. And a strong teen girl lead. She would love it. Simmone is also in my writers’ group and is one of the most dynamic authors I’ve come across in recent years. So witty and her characters have such unique voices.
  • Walter Mason‘s Destination Cambodia would go to my friend Jane, who I met on an Intrepid trip to Cambodia. The journey was characterised by hilarity and pathos, and Walter’s book captures the intricacies of the place well. Jane is always on an adventure somewhere and has just returned from trekking in Nepal *jealous*.
  • Jo Case‘s Boomer and Me would go to a fellow mum and friend I’ve made in Castlemaine, Karen. We have talked often about what it means to be a ‘good mum’ and what a relief it is to read a book by a mother, finally, who doesn’t pretend to be perfect and jolly hockeysticks and a domestic goddess. I mean, we can’t all be Nigella (although I’ve heard she has some ‘help’ anyway).
  • Dawn Barker‘s Fractured would go to my mother-in-law. I think she would enjoy the fast pace, the cool structure and the piercing narrative that makes you question all your assumptions about motherhood…and it’s scary in places; she likes thrills.
  • Jenn J McLeod‘s House for All Seasons would go to my Nanna. She is a big reader, likes drama and intertwining lives, along with strong female characters and a good dose of mystery. Whenever I visit Nanna, she has the week’s TV viewing circled into the wee hours of the morning, nearly all crime and suspense. I usually head off for my nanna nap at 9pm and leave her to be a night owl.
  • Jessie Cole‘s Darkness on the Edge of Town would go to my boss, Julia. I’m cheating a bit here because she has already read and raved about it. So I know she likes it! When staff at the NSW Writers’ Centre were asked to pick their favourite reads for 2013, Jessie’s debut novel came out on top.
  • Annabel Smith‘s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot would go to my sister in law. The book is cerebral, sensitive, pared back and unconventional (just like her). Annabel Smith is my great find of the year. As I’ve said often to anyone who will listen, she should be on the world stage, people! Soon she’ll be mentioned in the same para as Christos.
  • Wendy JamesThe Mistake would go to my best friend, Jill. Like Fractured, it’s a thriller that manages to straddle the literary and popular worlds. It teases the reader with its ‘suburban noir’, a dark underbelly of the domestic.
  • And finally, Angela Meyer‘s brilliant new edited collection, The Great Unknown, would go to my husband. With its short stories capturing the fantastical, macabre and absurd, he’d be able to dip in and out (while working on his laptop, checking his iPhone and looking at films on his iPad at the same time).

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT BOOKS WOULD YOU LIKE TO RECEIVE THIS CHRISTMAS?

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just_a_girl Christmas competition: win a book-hamper

FracturedI thought I’d get in the Christmas spirit and hold a little competition …

So … I have a prize pack on offer of 10 BOOKS from some of the fabulous writers who’ve shared their stories on Wild Colonial Girl over the past year. The winning Christmas book-hamper features SIGNED copies of:

  • Simmone Howell – Girl Defective
  • Walter Mason – Destination Cambodia
  • Jon Bauer – Rocks in the Belly
  • Jenn J McLeod – House for all Seasons
  • Jessie Cole – Darkness On the Edge of Town
  • Annabel Smith – Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot
  • Dawn Barker – Fractured
  • Angela Meyer (editor) – The Great Unknown collection
  • Jo Case – Boomer and Me
  • Wendy James – The Mistake

TO WIN?

My novel, just_a_girl, has just been listed as an e-book at Amazon.com.au and it’s looking a wee bit lonely.

Simply write a review (2 words, 2 sentences, 2 paras, a thesis – I don’t mind) and put it on Amazon here by 31 December (gives you a bit of time to do some holiday reading).

I’ll be choosing the winner (most unique response) on 1 January, and will announce it on the blog early in the New Year when I’ve recovered from staying up to 9pm to watch the fireworks (it’s never the same after you have kids).

I’ll also feature some of the reviews I love on Wild Colonial Girl next year.

THE BOOK-HAMPER: here’s a spotlight on the books you might win

Simmone Howell, Girl Defective

Girl Defective“It was just Dad and me and Gully living in the flat above the shop in Blessington Street, St Kilda. We, the Martin family, were like inverse superheroes, marked by our defects. Dad was addicted to beer and bootlegs. Gully had ‘social difficulties’ that manifested in his wearing a pig-snout mask 24/7. I was surface clean but underneath a weird hormonal stew was simmering. My defects weren’t the kind you could see just from looking. Later I would decide they were symptoms of Nancy.”

This is the story of a wild girl and a ghost girl; a boy who knew nothing and a boy who thought he knew everything. And it’s about life and death and grief and romance.

All the good stuff.

From the award-winning author of Notes from the Teenage Underground, and Everything Beautiful.

Walter Mason, Destination Cambodia

Walter Mason, Destination CambodiaThe ancient and mysterious ruins of Cambodia have long captured the imagination of visitors, more so now than ever before. In Destination Cambodia, Walter Mason charts an affectionate, intimate and deeply personal look at a Kingdom that has drawn him back again and again since his youth.

Whether he’s watching young monks recite the Buddha’s life stories, visiting shamans and fortune tellers, or discovering the darker alleys of Phnom Penh with a romantic novelist and a world-weary street hustler, Walter takes the reader straight to the heart of this famously unknowable country. As heat, dust and weariness take their toll, he remains alive to the charms, and even seductions, of a place that was once a byword for misery and human suffering.

Destination Cambodia takes us on a joyful and constantly fascinating literary journey in which Cambodia is vibrant and its people excited about the future while never denying their haunted past.

Jon Bauer, Rocks in the Belly

Jon Bauer, Rocks in the BellyHow far can you push a child?

Rocks in the Belly follows a precocious eight-year-old boy and the volatile adult he becomes. During childhood his mother fosters boys despite the jealous turmoil it arouses in her son. Jealousy that reaches unmanageable proportions when she fosters Robert, and triggers an event that profoundly changes everyone. Especially Robert.

At twenty-eight the son returns to face his mother. He hasn’t forgiven her for what happened. But now she’s the dependent one and he the dominant.

Jenn J McLeod, House for All Seasons

Jenn J Mcleod, House for all SeasonsBequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to their home town, Calingarry Crossing, where each must stay for a season to fulfil the wishes of their beloved benefactor, Gypsy. Here they finally face the consequences of the tragic accident that occurred twenty years ago and changed their lives forever.

Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love;

Poppy, an ambitious journo craving her father’s approval;

Amber, a spoilt socialite looking for some purpose to life.

Jessie Cole, Darkness On the Edge of Town

Darkness on the Edge of TownMy dad, he collects broken things … Where other people see junk he sees potential … My dad collects broken people too …

Vincent is nearly forty years old, with little to show for his life except his precious sixteen-year-old daughter, Gemma: sensitive, insightful and wise beyond her years.

When a stranger crashes her car outside Vincent and Gemma′s bush home, their lives take a dramatic turn. In an effort to help the stranded woman, father and daughter are drawn into a world of unexpected and life-changing consequences.

DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN is a haunting tale that beguiles the reader with its deceptively simple prose, its gripping and unrelenting tensions, and its disturbing yet tender observations.

Annabel Smith, Whisky, Charlie, Foxtrot

Annabel Smith, Whisky, Charlie, FoxtrotWhisky and Charlie are identical twins. But everything about them is poles apart. It’s got so bad that Charlie can’t even bear to talk to his brother anymore – until a freak accident steals Whisky from his family, and Charlie has to face the fact he may never speak to his brother again.

‘It is rare to encounter fiction that will appeal to adults and Young Adults alike that so intelligently explores the downright messiness of family relationships through adult characters; rarer still to find an author who writes of traumatic injury and the looming shadow of death with such verve and sensitivity.’ Australian Book Review

‘… by far the enduring sense of this novel is of having been in the hands of a storyteller with more than just a good story, one with something to say about how to live, and the energy and pluck to say it.’ The Australian

Dawn Barker, Fractured

FracturedAn unforgettable novel that brings to life a new mother’s worst fears.

Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn’t coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They’d come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?

But Anna hasn’t been herself since. One moment she’s crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, Tony thought; she’s just adjusting. He had been busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And Tony realises that something is really wrong…

What happens to this family will break your heart and leave you breathless.

Angela Meyer (editor), The Great Unknown

The Great UnknownThe imaginative stories in The Great Unknown take inspiration from vintage American TV programs such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits—and their contemporaries and successors—paying tribute to the cultural influence these shows have had on lives ‘down under’.

Episodes of these programs were often metaphors for equality, justice, the nuclear threat and other issues, while being memorably spooky and fun. Editor Angela Meyer wanted to see what themes might seep into the writing of contemporary Australian writers working with the spooky, the strange, the eerie, the fantastic, the speculative, the macabre and the absurd.

Jo Case, Boomer and Me: a memoir of motherhood, and Asperger’s

Jo Case, Boomer and MeLeo is having trouble fitting in. Whether it’s pulling his pants down in the schoolyard or compulsively saluting Mazdas because the company sponsors his football team, Leo can never seem to say or do the right thing. And Jo is struggling to help him find his place as she juggles work and the ordinary demands of motherhood. But her beloved only child has been reading novels since he started school, amazes strangers with his encyclopaedic knowledge of sport statistics, and displays a wit sharp beyond his years – could he be gifted? In fact, it turns out Leo has Asperger’s Syndrome.

This is the bittersweet, blackly funny story of a boy and his very twenty-first-century family, and why being different isn’t a disability – it just takes a bit of getting used to.

Wendy James, The Mistake

Wendy James, The MistakeThe past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past …

Jodie Garrow is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks when she falls pregnant. Scared, alone and desperate to make something of her life, she makes the decision to adopt out her baby – and tells nobody.

Twenty-five years on, Jodie has built a whole new life and a whole new family. But when a chance meeting brings the illegal adoption to the notice of the authorities, Jodie becomes embroiled in a nationwide police investigation for the missing child, and the centre of a media witch hunt.

Meet the locals: author Jon Bauer

Author Jon Bauer, Rocks in the Belly

Author Jon Bauer

I remember first encountering Jon Bauer in a session, with Fiona McGregor, at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival on writing about mothers. As you know, this is a topic that continues to engage me (on many levels) and I was intrigued because it was unusual to have a male panellist (a refreshing change, actually), and he spoke eloquently about writing female characters.

After his debut novel, Rocks in the Belly, was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (2012) and won the Indie Award for Debut Fiction (2011) it became one of the first books I downloaded onto my Kindle. A mistake, I now realise, because I want to share the damn thing with everyone!


It’s a stark and brooding novel with a mesmerising and seductive mix of young boy and adult male voices. Reading through responses on Goodreads, it’s one of those love/hate books, the kind I think I want to write. I mean, really, does anyone just want an indifferent response? If you’re willing to trust the author to take you on a dark journey, this one is beautifully structured and carefully constructed. As Jon intended, it embraces and then repels you.


Jon has written a couple of great articles for Newswrite magazine — on the author Ray Bradbury (who recently passed away); and on the art of researching the second novel — and shortly after moving here, I heard he was also heading to town, to a little village called Chewton just out of Castlemaine. I spoke to him about the move (he started off in the UK) and how he goes about writing such memorable fiction.


You’re originally from the UK and have recently moved to Chewton. What attracted you to the area?

I think living in rural England. Australia is home now (Melbourne for the last 11 years) but I was always going to need some nature and space around me. Castlemaine isn’t far from Melbourne, but far enough that it has its own vibrant community. A garden and veggies and animal life, and a full view of sky makes me happy in a way that lattes and hipsters don’t.

Do you find living here has helped your writing?

Nope. Yes. Sort of. I’m busier here, where I thought I’d be ensconced in privacy. But knowing I can retreat whenever I want gives me a lot of comfort. I’m writing a lot right now though because I’m coming to the end of my second novel and can’t keep my hands off it.

Jon Bauer, Rocks in the BellyHow did you come up with the idea for ‘Rocks in the Belly’? Was it shaped by your own family at all?

Rocks is based on a picture I saw on a mantelpiece years ago. The image was of a young foster child with an intellectual disability. She had died, and the family who took her in really missed her.

I kept that image in my mind for years and it bubbled up again one morning while I was lying in bed looking up at clouds. In terms of the shape of my own family, I suppose Rocks has an emotional authenticity, in that I was completely befuddled by the family I found myself in, and very aware that I was bottom of their list of priorities. Do you hear violins? But otherwise, it is that fictional weave of authenticity and invention.

There are many confronting moments in the book where the reader wants to look away, step back. How did it feel going to those dark places, entering into moments of violence, brutality, cruelty, misogyny (and pain)?

At times my hands were shaking as I typed. But I felt purged afterwards. I think, early on, I wanted to punish the reader. The book softened a great deal though as I redrafted it. People are so multi-faceted, and all too often characters are polarised in films and in literature. It’s important to me to write the essence into my characters that we are all capable of almost everything. How else would murder, war, rape and brutality transcend time, geography, and culture?

As for misogyny, that was something I watched extremely closely in the book. It is important for me to go to the places in society that are unacceptable. I am writing about child abuse now, among other themes. What mattered to me with Rocks, is that it was not a misogynistic novel. Which I steadfastly believe it is not. Chauvinist characters, evil characters, racist characters, they’re all okay in my book, and can sometimes do more to highlight injustice and bigotry than writing an idealised character. But there are writers who write chauvinistic books, and racist books, and don’t even realise they’re doing it.

You mentioned that when you were writing the novel, you did an acting course where you were encouraged to improvise. How did finding your voice and experimenting with it here affect the way you were developing characters?

That is a big part of why the protagonist is less likeable than he might be. That acting course (Meisner) was a permissive space where I could explore my darker side. There was a moment in the writing where the protagonist did something small, like drop a piece of litter. But feeling anxious of keeping the reader sweet, I sent him back to pick it up. Then I thought, bugger it, drop the litter. It sounds small, and the moment isn’t even in the book anymore, but it was a turning point.

I wrote Rocks to walk a tricky line between compelling and repelling the reader. It’s a heady mix, kind of like doing the splits. I won’t have got the balance right for all readers.

‘Rocks in the Belly’ mixes the voices of a young boy and his adult self beautifully. How did you conjure up these two versions? Who emerged first?

Rocks is based on a short story I wrote, so the adult came first, but at times in the story, you can hear his voice lapse into younger language as he recounts the past. When I was coming to write the novel, I knew I had to try the younger voice. I wasn’t confident I could do it, but once I started it poured out. Kids are easy to write, I think. Just bring out your most narcissistic and associative side.

The book is essentially about vulnerability masked as something else — all the characters (and all of us) share these traits to some degree. Do you find as a writer you are stripping off the mask in some way?

Fiction is a safe place, so there’s no unmasking. But I am shining a light on the fact we’re multi-faceted, as I said. And that ultimately, most violence and anger comes from pain and woundedness. Also that childhood is brutal, no matter how happy you think yours was.

People don’t like you to talk negatively about the halcyon world of childhood, but it’s important to normalise the ambiguity and complexity of all spaces: religion, parenting, family, marriage, love, childhood, sex … We like to simplify things, and usually for the better. But they aren’t simple. Ambiguity is a larger place, and allows a lot more freedom in life, and in story.

You’re currently immersed in your new novel. What’s the process? Do you research extensively? Or do you hit the ground running once you’ve found a character?

Both. This novel took a long time to find the story. I knew I wanted to write about a man. Then he became a man going blind. That led to a period of research, which was long and interesting, and confronting, but ultimately inspiring. Then just writing the words. Lots of them. It ended up being 160,000. I’m now stripping it back and shaping and grooming it. Down to 116,000, but I want it lower, if it’ll let me.

Are you a writer who likes to stick to a routine, who finds comfort there, or do you embrace spontaneity?

Routine shmootine.

We’ve talked in the past about the importance of play. Is this something you incorporate into your writing process?

Creativity IS play. Certainly initially. If you aren’t largely enjoying it, you’re doing something wrong.

You seem to be always drawn to the psychology of young boys? What is your interest in psychology and this particular age group?

The more I write the more I see themes. The key ones, I think, are that I write children (of both genders) as brutalised heroes. I tend to write the elderly as vulnerable, and the adults as flawed and negligent. That seems to be the over-simplified gist. And children make great narrators, and compelling protagonists. Who can’t cheer on a child character?!

In a ‘Newswrite’ article (‘Writer on Writer’) you wrote of how you were inspired by Ray Bradbury. What other writers do you go to for inspiration?

Susan Sontag described writing best when she said that, ‘It feels like leading and following at the same time.’ I try to live life like that too. Otherwise, I’m a buffet reader — dipping in and out of many writers. Mostly, I read non-fiction: psychology and ontology. I think I’ll be a therapist one day, and am hellbent on gathering more and more information on that unassailable thing — life. Fiction is a good place to do that, both writing it and reading, but I devour books on how to live betterer.

HAVE YOU READ ROCKS IN THE BELLY? OR ANY OTHER FICTION THAT IS BOTH REPELLING AND COMPELLING? WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS.

If you enjoyed this, you might also like to meet another local writer: Adam Ford. As Castlemaine has such a vibrant artistic community I’ll be doing more of these interviews in the coming year.

Beyond the Bonkbuster: Australian erotic writing

Fifty Bales of Hay by Rachael TreasureAs I look at my web stats for the first year of Wild Colonial Girl, I note the top ranking search items: ‘wild’ and ‘spanking’. Usually entered together. It seems that putting ‘wild’ into my blog’s name attracts lots of pundits looking for pleasure (good move) — who must be disappointed to discover that the ‘spanking’ only leads to Keira Knightley unceremoniously being berated for her performance in A Dangerous Method (bad luck).

With Australian publishers so keen to jump on the Fifty Shades bandwagon (Fifty Bales of Hay just landed on my desk), I am intrigued by the desire to pin the ‘erotic’ down. I spoke to a number of writers about how they define, read and write the erotic.

The following article was originally written for the NSW Writers’ Centre’s Newswrite magazine and gave me the chance to look deeper into Australian erotic fiction, the kind I might want to read.

Susan Johnson can make eating a piece of cheese sound like it deserves a plastic shrink wrap cover and restricted classification.

(Kirsten Tranter)

Today I had three separate conversations about Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven’t read the book. The people I was speaking to hadn’t read it either. But it’s created a frenzy of speculation. Why are people reading it in droves? Why are women so intrigued by a tale of submission? Why does everyone want to talk about it even though they haven’t read it? And, damn it, why didn’t I write it?

Susan Johnson, My Hundred LoversAndrew O’Hagan in the London Review of Books traces the history of what he playfully terms the ‘bonkbuster’ from the 70s through to now. From Jackie Collins to EL James, he argues that: ‘Each era gets the erotic writing it craves, or deserves, if that doesn’t sound too much like I’m asking you to spank me into an ecstasy of submission.’ In Australia, we’ve experienced our own bonkbusters, relevant to the times. While we didn’t have the sweaty slick surfaces of Sidney Sheldon, we had the kinky grunge of Justine Ettler’s The River Ophelia, the comic frenzy of Linda Jaivin’s Eat Me, the curiously conservative anonymity (at first) of The Bride Stripped Bare, the grim then romantic works of Kate Holden and, now, the luscious morsels of Susan Johnson’s My Hundred Lovers.

Now, erotic writing. What is it exactly? It’s a term that can define almost anything, and not necessarily just sex. When I think erotic writing, I think of poetry, of tastes and textures, of books squirreled away where others can’t find them. Reading erotic writing is an intensely private experience or one to be shared with a lover. Many have argued that the appeal of Fifty Shades has been heightened by its presence as an e-book. You can download it secretly. You can read it on a Kindle, without a book cover letting everyone know on the train what you’ve got your hands on. There’s no doubt that part of its success has been due to the e-revolution but you can still read over someone’s shoulder pretty easily when they have an iPad. I think there’s more to it.

Erotic writing breaks down into many genres too. It’s by no means an all-encompassing term. As author Krissy Kneen points out, there’s ‘romantic erotic, paranormal erotic and literary fiction with erotic elements’. There’s creative non-fiction (Kate Holden seems to be paving the way here) and a new breed capturing the imagination — erotic fan fiction — where writers imagine sexual encounters between celebrities, politicans, musicians, you name it! But even the word ‘erotic’ can be problematic. Fiona McGregor, whose 2002 novel Chemical Palace delves deep into Sydney’s queer dance party culture, with lashings of sex, prefers other words:

I have a slight mistrust of the term ‘erotic’ as a middle-class euphemism for ‘porn’, although it is usually not nearly as much of a turn-on as porn, and instead (perhaps aptly) stodgy and middle-class. I definitely respond to sexy writing, to good sex in writing. I think it works best when it is woven in with everything else, intrinsic to the narrative. The awkwardness and exquisiteness of human intimacy, the elation of love, however fleeting.

Linda Jaivin, Eat MeAnna Hedigan, in her Moral High Ground blog, talks of the appeal of dirty books, the ones without pictures (as opposed to visual pornography): ‘Written smut … gives you ideas. You are in the middle of those ideas. If something takes your fancy but isn’t quite to taste, well, it’s in your head now. Play it another way.’ In an ABC Radio National panel on erotic fiction, Linda Jaivin agrees, arguing that ‘it’s better to read dirty books as a kind of antidote to visual porn’ — but she warns that these days we are in ‘neo-Prudish times’, and far less open in our attitudes to and discussions about sex than when she wrote Eat Me in the mid-90s. She believes writing erotica is a freer form than pornography because imagination — along with other things — is stimulated: ‘All fiction is an act of creation between the reader and the writer … You come together on the page.’ (Yes, it’s almost impossible to avoid continual double entendres when talking on the topic.)

When I asked some writers to chat about their favourite Australian erotic writing, many attempted to run a mile, keen to distinguish their tastes as literary (rather than the erotica genre). Krissy Kneen summed up the general consensus: ‘I am not a big fan of most of the “erotic” novels as a genre. It is rarely done well without relying on cliché. I prefer literary books, that are not afraid of their sensuality.’ Favourite writers cited by a number of authors included Rod Jones, Sonya Hartnett, Frank Moorhouse, Linda Jaivin, Kate Holden, Emily Maguire, Sophie Cunningham, Christos Tsiolkas, John A Scott and Dorothy Porter.

Emily Maguire, Taming the BeastEmily Maguire, whose debut novel Taming the Beast explores the relentless and damaging sexual relationship between a 14-year-old girl and her abusive teacher, singles out the work of Krissy Kneen:

I’m a huge fan of Krissy Kneen. I rarely find her work ‘erotic’ in terms of arousal, but I think she writes about sex and the erotic in a deeply intelligent and empathetic way. I always come away from her work feeling warmer towards strangers and humanity in general. It’s like she uses the erotic to uncover the gorgeous, hugely varied, vulnerabilities of human beings. She really captures the desperate need to be approved of in all our most private weirdness, to be touched and loved.

But when writers talk of the erotic, there’s one name that crops up again and again. Susan Johnson. I take to her new novel, My Hundred Lovers, with a hot water bottle and a Kindle. The entire work just glistens off the screen. Every word shimmers with suggestive delight. It’s not just about attractions to other people (and ourselves) but to objects and experiences: a warm bath; lying under a tree; a loyal dog; a bridge in France. As author Kirsten Tranter comments, ‘the most erotic piece of writing I’ve come across recently is in My Hundred Lovers, where she’s discussing what it feels like to eat a croissant. My god.’

The deeper I go in — to the critics exploring erotic writing in Australia, the discussions, the book reviews, the research — the more I end up elsewhere. Outside our borders. The writers on Australian erotica seem to be, well, French. The publishers releasing books about Australian erotic writing (and its history) — like Xavier Pons’ fascinating Messenger of Eros: Representations of Sex in Australian Writing — are based abroad. Pons’ book looks into authors like Helen Garner and Justine Ettler, with a particular focus on writers from culturally (and/or sexually) diverse backgrounds like Lillian Ng, Simone Lazaroo and Christos Tsiolkas.

Krissy Kneen, Swallow the SoundBut what of the act itself? The creation of text that turns you on, that stimulates your senses, that gets you going. Is it just a matter of sitting at your desk and pumping the words out, as for other writing? Or does it require something special? Writers approach it differently. Like all sex, and relationships, characterisation comes first. And it’s always complicated. Krissy Kneen writes:

Recently I had the experience of finding it very difficult to get an orgy started in a book I was writing. It was pages and pages later and they still weren’t even close to getting their clothes off. It took me the better part of a week to finally realise that one of the peripheral characters had all the power in the situation and all my protagonist had to do was confess to him that she wanted an orgy and he very quickly and easily made it happen. Sometimes, like that example, starting the sex is the hardest bit. Sometimes characters aren’t ready to leap into bed but often if you make them just do it and it is awkward and embarrassing, that makes for a great sex scene…I can tell when a sex scene is really working. I can always feel it. It feels like you are riding a wave and you just have to stick with it till it comes to a natural end. It feels a bit like sculpting actually. It feels physical, like you are touching the shape of the scene. It is very sensual work.

Kirsten Tranter likes to hold back, revealing power plays at work between her characters, making them (and her audience) wait:

Erotic scenes are fairly challenging for me because in general, in a very broad sense, I’m hopelessly drawn to the anti-climactic, to the moment that almost arrives and yet doesn’t, is deflated in some interesting way; what this has meant for the sex scenes I’ve written is that there’s a distinct lack of sexual consummation. In my last book, ‘A Common Loss’, the main characters don’t get to have sex despite their spending a weekend in Vegas … I’m interested in erotic longing, and erotic encounters that are interrupted and maintain and intensify that energy. There’s as much or maybe more erotic energy in an interaction that is interrupted or frustrated as there is in one that is fulfilled.

Jon Bauer disagrees, arguing that you need to give readers something of what they desire. He creates erotic scenes to move the story or conflict along:

I was surprised to find myself writing saucy scenes in ‘Rocks in the Belly’. Genuinely surprised. But I felt that they progressed the reader’s insight into the character and said something about his use of sex as a salve, his misogyny, and his discomfort with becoming genuinely close to others. All scenes are fine, no matter their content, if they are contextually relevant … As a writer, I think it is important for a novel or a narrative to build tension, but also to release some of it regularly. A reader needs compensation along the way, and won’t thank you for not providing at least most of what you promise.

We’ve heard words from the experts but you don’t need to be a published author to write erotic fiction. With the internet’s burgeoning erotic scene, anyone can have a go. Whatever you’re into — sex dolls, wearing nappies, hairy men, amputees — there will be someone else to share your predilection and a forum to exchange ideas. There’s also the increasingly popular erotic fan fiction. The banal and repetitious nature of much graphic sex means it can work best in short bursts, and is even more entertaining in performance. Eddie Sharp organises regular readings of erotic fan fiction at festivals and The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. Started in 2006 with a handful of people at UNSW, the event now regularly sells out quickly, helped by writers/readers like Andrew Denton. FBi radio’s Sunday Night at the Movies highlighted some recent works in their ‘Erotic Fan Fiction, Edition #2’ night, including the chance to hear Eddie performing his now legendary ‘At the Movies’, a deeply unnerving take on what really goes on between Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton when they’re filming their weekly TV show. With subjects like Mariah Carey and Beyoncé, Toby and Josh from The West Wing (and even some of the performers’ fellow colleagues), anyone’s game.

This all sounds fun but what if you’re the subject of erotic fan fiction, sexually stripped and humiliated in front of thousands? A Kill Your Darlings podcast explored the predicament. Comedian Lawrence Leung was surfing the net (or googling himself, actually), and came across an erotic fan fiction all about him. He was appalled and intrigued, that ‘someone has to tell this story in an anonymous forum’. He decided to explore this idea in a comedy show of his own (Beginning, Middle, End), of a fan who decides to take ownership of Leung’s character, of using him, turning him into fiction: ‘For the first time I was confronted with someone taking my life, and my identity, and running with it. It’s kind of like identity fraud of the most disturbing kind.’

As you can see, there’s a lot happening in Australian erotic writing. Whether you want to focus on genre (in all its forms), add some spice to the literary possibilities, or get your favourite characters into a range of positions, the field is open to play and experimentation — and big bucks if you manage to pull off the next Australian (or international) bonkbuster.

HAVE YOU READ OR WRITTEN ANY EROTIC FICTION? WHAT EXCITES (OR HORRIFIES) YOU ABOUT THE GENRE?

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