Against Certain Capture on Rochford Street Review

Mytime@Varuna

Against Certain Capture: my review at Rochford Street Journal

With some very good advice from BookBub Partners, I called for reviews of my novel The Last Asbestos Town. Lucky for me, a poet who I’ve known since university days, Miriam Wei Wei Lo, brilliantly suggested that we swap reviews of our books; hers being poetry. I think I drew the shortest straw and was able to read her collection in a matter of days. Miriam had the task of reading a novel. No matter, we each enjoyed the works and of course wrote those very important reviews.

Rochford Street Review had previously published the launch speeches of my novel by Richard Regan and Leanne Searle a while back and so I made that earlier connection with Mark Roberts, the Editor. He often publishes launch speeches of poetry collections and to my surprise wanted to feature The Last Asbestos Town.

I have often wondered where this connection came from. Did I meet Mark Roberts while being at Varuna in 2008? His review journal is based in the Blue Mountains where I spent a week after winning a Macquarie/Longlines Poetry Award. Does he recognise me from this time? Or is he an egalitarian when it comes to Australian literature? I rather believe the latter, pinioning Mark as a rare breed who sets himself apart from the populist, Eastern States centric journalism that favours E.S. publications and writers. Any West Australian writer will tell you how hard it is to crack into the market of most Australian journals. Those prime ones being the Australian Book Review, the Sydney Review of Books, and journals such as Meanjin, Southerly, Quadrant, and Overland.

So, I deeply value Mark Roberts and the Rochford Street Journal. His support is invaluable, revealing WA writers such as myself, Miriam Wei Wei Lo, her collection Against Certain Capture and my novel. I am also chuffed that he has published my review of Lo’s collection, verbatim, as well as giving me the opportunity to include my bio, that showcases my current work.

CRIME FOR NOVEL NO. 3

4xtattoopics

“No sign of the intestines that had vanished from Quine’s body, nor of any forensic evidence that would have pegged the potential killer (for he knew that a rogue hair or print would surely have prevented yesterday’s fruitless interrogation of Leonora). No appeals for further sightings of the concealed figure who had entered the building shortly before Quine had died.”
― Robert Galbraith, Silkworm

My second novel, The Ozone Cafe, touches on white collar crime, however, crime writing is not really my area of expertise. I’m wondering if J.K.Rowling thought the same when she decided to pen her Cormoran Strike crime novels by Robert Galbraith. I’m not going to write under a pseudonym, but, as one does, you learn as you go. I am attempting a Domestic Noir / Crime novel as my third work of fiction.

My working title is The Tattooed City, the setting is Perth and surrounds, and especially includes dead tattooed bodies being recovered from various waterways. My protagoniist is Clare, newly widowed, and it’s her story with alternate crime chapters, mainly as a backdrop to a mysterious death and crimes that are indicative of a capital city. I have loosely plotted the novel, developing family characters early on, but for the life of me I will not know where this story will go. As they say, sometimes characters take over, sometimes your best intentions and storyline take several twists and turns and like my first novel, The Last Asbestos Town, I know I will have fun writing this one.

I have two police characters in mind. Sergeant Max Schultz and Detective Angela Macri. Although I have watched a slew of TV crime series, like SBS’s Nordic Crime Noir, countless BBC series, esp with James Nesbitt, Midsomer Murders and also Australian crime series like Jack Irish and Mystery Road to name just a few, writing scenes of dead bodies floating in the river, lakes and streams, will be the ultimate test. I have often wondered, do the bodies float face up or face down? Why do they surface even if the corpse has ingested an enormous weight of water far heavier than their body weight?

Research is the key. I am currently reading two books by Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm and The Cuckoo’s Calling, also Crimson Lake by Candice Fox.

REVIEW OF COMPLICITY CITY by Guy Salvidge

 An Enthralling Read – Due August 2021

Complicity City is the story of one woman’s pursuit for justice. Klara has died from an overdose of drugs and alcohol, and her best friend, Lesley, believes she’s been murdered rather than taking her own life.

Lesley wants revenge as she sets out on a quest to find out who has been complicit in the committing of this crime. Her days are spent determined to uncover the reason for Klara’s death. Lesley devotes her time to pursuing Patrick a guy she has had a brief relationship with and who has spurned her for Klara. She vehemently believes that he is responsible for her demise. Early in the narrative, his reputation precedes him as a sleazy, rich, misogynistic Irishman.

Through quick, page-turning chapters, we discover that Lesley, Patrick and Klara, before her death, all work in the same company, yet when a meeting is called, Patrick is nowhere in sight. Searching for the man at his home address, Lesley meets Maria, Patrick’s Filipina housekeeper. In the following scenes, Lesley learns from Maria about the debauchery going on under Patrick’s roof. The latest is a consensual ménage à trois of sexual activities between Klara (last known sighting), Patrick and a so-called Tony. She becomes suspicious and more aware of the possible dangers that Klara faced, especially involving herself as a dominatrix in this illicit underworld of a corrupt, male-pimping culture. It is basically a man’s club where the most depraved of sexual acts, BDSM and sado-masochism are enacted. The club is called the Knights of Apollo, a boy’s club where many scurrilous acts occur ‘after a few too many sherbets of an evening.’ However, further in, more detail emerges about these characters that inhabit this underworld. It is a world of crime, company fraud, embezzlement, sex trafficking and rape.

Without revealing too much for the reader, one main character remains a constant focus, Klara’s brother, Frank. When Lesley visits Klara’s home in Piara Waters, she meets Frank, a man on the edge of drugs, booze and trying to get sober. He is also like-minded about his sister’s death, both agreeing it’s not suicide. He remains her sidekick until the very end.

There are parallels of China Miéville’s The City & The City with themes of a hidden or unseen city where the two exist in the same physical space, including a murder and an uncovering of the mystery. Salvidge’s Complicity City of Perth juxtaposes a picturesque river town of pelicans, white swans and cranes with a menacing, degenerative social world of sex, albeit power and control, and also a dead girl. The story reveals that Klara works as a dominatrix to supplement her income, but being involved in this sleazy, working environment in order to save for her own home, ultimately has its consequences.

Other characters are involved in Patrick’s life of crime, his henchman Sando, Royce who works for the company he embezzles, and his accountant Bill Darko. In her search, Lesley meets Bill Darko’s wife, Anna, and both try to find the missing housekeeper, Maria. In her attempts for the truth, without the aid of the police, Lesley’s travels begin at the heart of her concern, become all time consuming, then circular. We are led on a road map from one environment to another, from suburbs to freeways, from houses to a character’s business or workplace. In final scenes we move to a disused railway tunnel and a killing.

Salvidge’s writing bursts with energy and suspense and his chosen words exemplify the seedy underworld that is on display. His descriptions of the city are pictorial and his action scenes are both authentic and cinematic, which makes the reader imagine this book as a TV series or movie.

Guy Salvidge is one of Western Australia’s young and up-coming writers. He’s published widely, and is active in the Susannah Prichard Writers Centre where he gives his time in helping others. His first novel is The Kingdom of Four Rivers, 2009. His second novel Yellowcake Springs won the 2011 IP Picks Best Fiction Award, and in 2012 it was short-listed for the Norma K. Hemming Award for speculative fiction in Australia. Yellowcake Summer followed closely behind and was a Winner (Best Fiction) in the IP Rolling Picks 2013.  I look forward to his next enjoyable work which I understand is an historical novel set in Tasmania.

Helen Hagemann

M. Lo’s Review of The Last Asbestos Town

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I’m going to include the review, verbatim. One thing I have noticed is that no 2 reviews of my novel are alike. Somehow, readers have viewed the story on many and different levels. I like Miriam Wei Wei Lo’s review and will need to take her advice about predicability. I didn’t see that coming!

*The Last Asbestos Town* is the first novel by poet Helen Hagemann. A young couple, May and Isaac leave the city for the South-West. They buy a house in a country town only to discover that it is haunted and potentially made of asbestos. Their biggest external challenge is with asbestos-removal bureaucrats who want to evict them and tear down their house. The biggest challenge in their marriage is Isaac’s “Kelp” habit. Then there is the small problem of the ghost, Cheryl, who alternates between being helpful and being menacing.

What this novel does really well is place. If you read to appreciate landscape you will enjoy this evocation of South-Western Australian towns:
The park had three miniature gazebos, barbeques, swings and a large stretch of grass that ran down to the river. The tended park with all its shelters, basketball courts and soccer field held no
excitement for her. Rather, the river fascinated May … There was something mysterious about its
quiet repose. In the early morning, the bright sun highlighted the dark inky colors of the purple
swamp hens, and demarcated the dark to light brown tones on the wood ducks. (p. 11)

I enjoyed trying to guess which South-West town this might be based on … Nannup? Bridgetown? Collie? It could be any of them. The horror element of this book is also grounded in place and I will probably never look at a country town’s large drainage pipes in the same way again.

Hagemann also does a good job of creating recognisable contemporary Anglo-Australian characters. May and Isaac are like so many white hetero couples who move to picturesque country towns thinking it will save their marriage. Hagemann’s decision to alternate between May’s and Isaac’s points-of-view in each chapter is ambitious for a first novel but it does give a pleasing complexity to their dilemmas as the reader is positioned to see them from alternating perpectives. Isaac fits the irresponsible-but-charming male archetype and May matches him with the female opposite of responsible-but-controlling.

Plot is the area where this budding novelist probably has the most room for future growth. I like to be surprised by what happens next and I want the conflict, crisis and resolution of stories to be intertwined with character growth in a way that feels (to echo Harold Bloom on good poetry) inevitable without being predictable. There was a little too much foreshadowing in this novel for there to be genuine surprise and while things happened, I’m not convinced the characters grew that much as a result. What I did enjoy in the story, though, was the indigenous characters, particularly Steve and Buzz, and the role they played in bringing the story to its climax.

Western Australia needs as many stories as it can get and I have enormous respect for older women who try new things. I hope to see more fiction from Helen Hagemann that builds on the achievements of this book. I am grateful for this opportunity to swap book reviews with her. By paying critical attention to one another’s work, we create possibilities for the future growth and transformation of one another’s writing.

Miriam Wei Wei Lo is the author of a 2nd Edition collection titled “Against Certain Capture” – re-released in February 2021 by an imprint called the Apothecary Archive, formerly 5 Islands Press.

Review of The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

The FarmThe Farm by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have had a copy of The Farm sitting on my bookshelf, bought in 2015 at a Perth Writers Festival, and that was before Covid-19, when we had the privilege of talented, international guests. I sailed through this book, a good page turner, not knowing what the outcome or who was telling the truth in this family, Tilde or her husband Chris. I’m so grateful to the author for publishing this book, I haven’t read any of his others, but I think it’s a very delicate, suspenseful story, another #MeToo narrative about hidden abuse. The author slowly unravels the story of Tilde as a mother, wife and stoic, expat from Sweden. I won’t reveal a spoiler as the novel is what’s known as “open ended.” The reader has to guess or make up their mind about what happens next to a woman who is mentally unstable. In hindsight looking back from 2021 we realise it’s because of trauma. If I had read this book back in 2015, I might have reviewed it differently, ie spruking unreliable narrator, little action, and basically a one-sided, one character point-of-view. However, since we have now come to realise that mental and physical abuse, inflicted by many perpetrators, has been rife in our society, we can no longer look at a woman and call her ‘mad, insane, off the raiis, or living a different reality’. We know in our society there has been a terrible injustice to victims of abuse, we know there has been little inaction in relation to mental health as a medical priority. When we get to the end of The Farm , we know why this story was written.

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REVIEW OF AGAINST CERTAIN CAPTURE

Against Certain CaptureAgainst Certain Capture by Miriam Wei Wei Lo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I once had the privilege of hearing Miriam Wei Wei Lo read her poetry at the State Library of Western Australia and also on the ABC’s Poetica. That seemed so long ago, in fact it was 2004 when her first edition of Against Certain Capture was published by Five Islands Press, in the New Poets 10. The good news is that her book has resurfaced, it’s an identical second edition published by an imprint called the Apothecary Archive. In the meantime, it seems, Lo has been raising children, holds a Phd from the University of Queensland, has published a chapbook No Pretty Words with Picaro Press (2010) and currently teaches creative writing at the Sheridan Institute, Perth. I managed to get a copy from the author in an exchange for my debut novel, however, I drew the shorter straw and read through Lo’s poetry in no time, with much interest.
Against Certain Capture opens as a generous homage to family and the various struggles of two women, namely Lo’s grandmothers. Liang Yue-Xian and Eva Sounness make up Lo’s heritage: her father being Chinese-Malaysian and her mother Anglo-Australian.
Approaching this poetry, I must admit that I have only ever read some of Li Po’s work, but that doesn’t exclude me liking the serious reverence in this collection, especially the biographical nature of the text that highlights a time when higher education was rare in China, when women had little agency over their bodies & minds in a patriarchal dominance. Yue-Xian loses a sweetheart, enters into a loveless marriage or in Eva’s case, she is tethered to dependency and years of multiple pregnancies.

Part 1 opens with the young Yue-Xian trapped/ in the machinations/ of family and wealth/she loses the man she loves/to her cousin. The poem ends with a deep longing.

she will write
to deliver herself
from the snares of her feminine body,
from all forms of dependence,
she will write
until she can walk
through the gates of Canton University,
crack the egg
and sign
her name on the pavement
in glistening yolken gold.
p.7

In the poem No Pretty Words we encounter the deprivation of food and living at the onset of World War 11. Much has changed in Yue-Xian’s life now married to a gambler.

There are no pretty words for hunger
Only what thuds from the mouth,
flat and ugly,
like rice, fish,
sweet potato –
words to roll around in her stomach
or burn in her throat
when her husband comes home
with nothing. 
p.11

In Part 2, we continue with the dramatic narrative. Eva Sounness is the poet’s Australian grandmother. Born in Boulder WA, she also has an ambition for university, but this is thwarted by her father’s heart condition and no funds.

Eva has seen the results
all fifteen letters of her name
stamped in black type on the bursary list.
….
she has seen her father
white from exertion
stumble up steps
….
the word that hangs
in the air
‘angina’
and knows
that hope
is a thing to be swallowed,
to hold in the belly
until it turns sour.
p.20

And as with Yue-Xian’s life, “Here, the war is a headache that lasts six years.”  p.24

When the war begins
Eva is feeding her first daughter, Robin, oat porridge
boiled soft for her infant mouth which drops to an O
at the sight of the spoon, the small pink tongue expectant.
Kim, her son, is running around in the yard
rounding up chooks and shouting at sleepy dogs,
pretending to be a farmer.

Somewhere faraway
a place called Austria is annexed, Poland collapses,
Jews are garrotted and pinioned in ghettos.
With the usual burst of wattle and birdsong
spring arrives in the South-West corner
of Western Australia, which is, Robert Menzies declares,
also at war.
p.23

While there is evidence of a repressed society for women in the early twentieth century, disrupted by the onset of war, with all its deprivations, one wonders which grandmother may have lived life the hardest. The parallels of these two women’s lives are connected pre-feminist liberation. This was a generation that had little say over their bodies, tertiary education was rare, and conformity was dependency to a man, and/or childbearing.
I have not touched on many poems in this collection. The poetry is dense, lyrical and poetic lines such as “starlight touching the first dew of morning” are peppered throughout. The stories are a little bleak at times, and forms such as the pantoum and headline poems do not give an accessible narrative in a biographical sense. I would have liked some lighter moments, perhaps from Eva’s life, being Australian, but this is only a minor criticism. One poem that does touch on her character is revealed in Don’t call me Grandma p.30, but this is a fleeting image of her in later years. Perhaps in the future, Lo has plans for more lightweight incidents about family.
Helen Hagemann

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Kirkus reviews The Last Asbestos Town

In Hagemann’s novel, a feckless young couple trust in supernatural powers to save their dream home from demolition in a small town in Western Australia.

May and Isaac Lyons have just bought a dilapidated former Girl Guide Hall in the idyllic country town of Farmbridge, hoping to renovate it into a combined home, dress shop, and painting studio without obtaining the necessary construction permits to do so. It turns out that the hall is haunted by the ghost of a murdered teenage goth girl who had a creepy obsession with the occult and who now moves objects around at night. It’s also threatened with imminent demolition by the government’s Asbestos Task Force, known as the “Grey Shirts,” even though the couple firmly believes that the building doesn’t contain any asbestos. Practical May sells her handmade fashion creations online and finds solace in nature; however, spontaneous, childlike painter Isaac is in debt to a violent drug dealer. On the first day of his dismal new day job at a bauxite refinery, he befriends a young Indigenous man named Steve,whose grandfather Kal is a respected elder; together, they hatch a scheme to scare off both the dealer and the A.T.F. The author packs a lot of ideas and action into fewer than 200 pages in this debut novel, and the juxtaposition of realistic and supernatural elements is intriguing and unsettling, by turns. However, although the characters are original and well-drawn, their actions don’t always make sense; May and Isaac are surprisingly manipulative and secretive toward each other for a couple that’s also shown to be so passionately in love, for example. Hagemann’s prose can be lyrical and evocative, as in detailed descriptions of the town’s river and its wildlife. Other times, though, it can be awkward: “Joe had a stout body, a fat stomach including his neck.”

An often entertaining, if unevenly executed, tale of the extraordinary lengths that people can go in pursuit of their dreams.   Read full review here….  “KIRKUS REVIEWS’

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

I have posted this review verbatim as I think it’s a very honest take on the novel. More positive also, than I expected considering I follow (a not-so-good) review of John Grisham’s latest novel “Sooley”.


 

From Emerging to Established Author!

  

For over two decades I’ve been an emerging writer. Once you tip the scales and have several books, ie poetry (2) and novels (2) you’re an established author (it seems). I’ve recently applied for a residency in this category and now realise I have competition with the very best. It’s quite daunting when you think about your peers in your own state, those who have high profiles, get invited to writers’ festivals, attend public and community talks, etc. Suddenly you find yourself in a different category and wonder does this bring kudos?

MAYBE? I have noticed of late, that I am now being invited to submit my poetry to Australian online & print poetry journals. Sure, my publisher Adelaide Books in New York (I’m a listed writer) invites us all to submit to their Anthology Award every year. There are short stories, poetry and essays, all neatly packaged in a bound book for each genre. I haven’t been a winner, but I feel assured each time that my work is being supported and my prose poetry gets published. I’m now in their 2019 & 2020 Adelaide Poetry Anthology.

While I have moved over to fiction, my poetry has really taken a back seat. I do, however, write prose poetry from time to time, and I find that it’s fun posting to my Instagram @evangelynewriter with graphics to match. Getting back to the subject, twice now and probably it’s a “mutual friendly society” but I have been initially invited to Phillip Hall’s poetry journal “Burrow” – the first poem in the September 2020 issue and more recently another poem forthcoming in September, 2021. The latest invitation is from one of the Editors of a forthcoming publication – the Australian Poetry Journal, APJ 11.1. Fingers crossed, and a giant blog post to follow, if successful!

I thought I had left poetry behind, to move forward and fully concentrate on novels, but the old genre keeps pulling me back with plenty of surprises. I am also soon to write a poetry review for Miriam Wei Wei Lo on her 2nd Edition of Against Certain Capture. I used to write poetry reviews for Plumwood Mountain eco-journal which suddenly stopped. (I don’t think they liked me steering away from the ecological side and not all collections supplied had that theme). Still, I may have luck getting Miriam’s review published in the Rochford Street Journal.

I can hear my dad with his old fatherly saying, “Wonders never cease.”

2nd Writing Retreat @ KSP

RetreatWalk

One of the things that I like to do while in rereat is to discover the terrain around the place that I’m staying in. I’m spending another week at the KSP Greenmount and, of course, you can’t write 24/7. There is a need to get out into the landscape, stretch that curved-writing spine and exercise. For the last two days, I chose to walk in the John Forest National Park. It’s quite an extensive area, although a little hilly for my taste. Closer to the Ranger’s House, café and store is a smaller and more level paved-walk. As you can see from the photos, it is a pleasant meander around a lake cum water feature with ducks, bridges across to the other side and wooden resting huts. Or perhaps they are picnic huts for weekenders? An added feature, I’m sure are here for the tourists, are the kangaroos. One day, I counted twenty, all hanging out at the local store. It appeared that they were waiting to be fed. Not much grass around this picnic area.

RetreatWalk1

The John Forest National Park is also historical. There are plates showing the early pioneers, especially Lord Forest and Lady Forest. A nice surprise was to read one about Katharine Susannah Pritchard who is quite revered in this area. It doesn’t matter who you talk to, and I also visited a friend up here for coffee, most locals know about the Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers Centre and the lady herself. It’s good to see that some history is preserved, especially here where I am. Her original writing cabin is next to my cabin. Back to the manuscript!

Review of Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

Lost Memory of SkinLost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Russell Banks is one of my favourite authors. Since reading his novel “The Sweet Hereafter” I have searched for more of his books. [The Sweet Hereafter was an excellent 1997 film by Atom Egoyan]. I also have “Cloudsplitter” waiting on my bookshelves. I’m now up to Page 140 in “The Lost Memory of Skin” and liking the novel so far. How does he do it, he mixes tenses seamlessly?
Now finished, it was a great read with so many twists and turns and definitely not predictable. I sympathized with the character Kid (main protagonist). Banks highlights how some people are victimized not through any fault of their own, but through a serious of life’s circumstances. The Kid, although an adult, is a convicted paedophile, wears an ankle bracelet which has to stay on for 10 years. However, you begin to realize that he is not really a criminal, that he’s been convicted through being young, uneducated both morally and socially. He is also a little naive and I liked him. I also understood the parallels with Banks’ other character the Professor. It makes you wonder about people in life, just who is the baddie?
I’ve now moved on to Cloudsplitter.
Helen

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