Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review - The Best Australian Stories 2014

2014 was a great year for stories.

The Best Australian Stories 2014, edited by Amanda Lohrey, is my favourite in this series to date. I look forward to the release of these anthologies each year. They are one of my annual must-reads; the other being the poetry anthology by the same publishers, Black Inc. 

I don’t remember ever reading an anthology that gripped me as tightly as this one did. I loved every story. Every story. There are twenty-three of them in this marvellous book, written by a variety of talented Australian writers, or should I call them storytellers? There are no weak stories in this collection. Each is strong enough to hold its own beside the others. Of the twenty-three stories, thirteen of them had been previously published in some of Australia’s best literary journals, including Meanjin, Overland, Island and The Sleepers Almanac.

These stories are vividly imagined, with an emotional depth that is sometimes lacking in the form. The characters are complex, both harsh and vulnerable, confident and confused. There is a sense of loss and sadness throughout many of the stories, but overall you don’t mourn these characters. They are living life, every gritty, messy, real moment of it.

My favourites were too many to list in detail here. As I said, I loved every story, but there were a few in particular I’d like to mention. Blood and Bone by Lisa Jacobson, a simple story of a son called back from the city to the family farm to carry out a task his father is unable to perform. A story I would suggest you do not read on the train or in the lunchroom at work. The Panther by David Brooks, a fantastical tale that mirrors an urban myth many country Victorians have heard, but also a tale about faith and trust. Something Special, Something Rare by Rebekah Clarkson, where a boy constantly in trouble becomes the catalyst for the reimagining of a family.

I love anthologies. It’s a chance for a reader to sample an array of writers they may never have come across individually. Being able to dip in and out at random is the fun part. I’ll often begin with the shortest tales, checking the page numbers to determine which story to read next. In this way I move through the collection both forward and backwards. Having been on an editorial team for an anthology, I understand that Lohrey would have careful chosen the order of stories so apologies to her, but I think half the fun of reading collections like these is the freedom you feel in making these decisions for yourself. Lohrey did such a wonderful job of chosing what to include that it mattered not, at least to me, in what order the stories were consumed. Each course was a tasty delight to the senses. 

If you are looking for your next read, you can’t go wrong here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review - Blogging for Writers

Is ironic the correct term for me writing a review on my blog about a book called 'Blogging for Writers'? I don't know. It kind of seems that way. Especially when I am returning to blogging after a long hiatus. Hmmm... Maybe it's just a coincidence.

Blogging for Writers by Robin Houghton is exactly as the title would have you believe, a book on blogging, aimed at writers. The subtitle catagorises it even further - how authors & writers build successful blogs. However, I would argue that this book provides useful information within its pages for a far broader readership. It is filled with basic 'how-to' information for creating your first blog on two of the most well known blogging platforms, Blogger and WordPress. 

The scope of instruction provided ranges from a simple thing like naming your blog, to promoting it via other forms of social media, to monetising it and even selling it. I can't think of any reason a writer would sell their personal blog, after all, it is part of their online identity, their brand. This further supports my earlier idea that this book is useful for anyone wanting to start a blog, any kind of blog.

The chapters are sequential. (No, I don't mean by numbers.) Each builds on the last. There is no jumping forward into information that you haven't understood to that point. Everything makes sense. The information is set out in a visually pleasing way, and there are real blogs given as examples for the reader to check out. 

Screen shots of the blog platforms are included, with detailed information about the various tools used in creating, customising and posting to your blog. Houghton has given the reader over 170 pages of information and inspiration, including a glossary and resorces section. Even a novice could create a dynamic blog by using the information packed into these pages. 

You will learn the difference between a hosted and self-hosted blog. You will be shown how to use and modify a template, how to add images and video, plugins and widgets. Then there are the things that help people find your blog, like catagories, tags, metadata and search engines.

If some of those terms didn't make sense, and/or you really want to create your own blog, then this is the book for you. Check it out!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Yes, I'm still here...

It's been over a year since I last posted! To tell you the truth, that year went by in a haze of family craziness, stress and drama. Life's like that sometimes, isn't it? Every year I try to start with a positive spin, that things will be better - because they can't get any worse, can they - wrong. The last few years have been a roller coaster ride. I normally love a good, scary roller coaster, but this has been more along the lines of a roller coaster in an abandoned theme park that you know is broken and you may or may not make it out alive... Oh, well. 

I've been doing a lot of reading, as usual, and not so much writing, which bums me out. I have taken up art journalling and have rediscovered my love of drawing. I am experimenting with mixed media and have fallen in love with watercolors, they are just so versatile. So while I may not be writing as much, I am still connecting with my creative self and finding time to do the things that give me joy.

I have every intention to recharge and revamp this blog with more author interviews and book reviews. I hope you'll be patient with me and stick around. I am in the process of setting up a special corner in my home for this purpose solely. I need to motivate myself every day. No one else can do this for me. 

So here I go. I will take that creative leap and hope for the best.