Sunday, March 08, 2015

Collating the stories behind New England's writers

The Armidale Express has just featured Janene Carey's latest writing project.

Following publication of her latest book, A Hospital Bed At Home which attracting praise from author Helen Garner, .Janene hopes to take on the enjoyable yet daunting challenge of collating the stories behind the region’s greatest writers.

The new project will be in collaboration with the New England Writer’s Centre, and aims to showcase writers who have portrayed the region and its people, as well as writers nurtured here who have achieved fame elsewhere.

“It’s not going to be a scholarly book, it’s for a general audience,”Janene said. “So there will be anecdotes and snippets of [interviews] and hopefully [it] will be written in a colourful, engaging way.” From my viewpoint that's a good thing, for it will help give us the back story to the writing itself.

One of the people Janene would like to interview is Shirley Walker whose book, The Ghost at the Wedding, won the 2009 Asher Literary Award.
I haven't actually read Shirley's book. I have to say that it sounds interesting from the Penguin blurb.
"Three generations,two world wars,one family
The young men who worked in the canefields of northern New South Wales in 1914 couldn't wait to set off for the adventure of war. The women coped as best they could, raised the children, lived in fear of an official telegram. They grieved for those killed, and learnt of worse things than death in combat. They bore more sons to replace those lost, and these were just the right age to go off to the Second World War.
The Ghost at the Wedding chronicles events from both sides of war: the horror of the battlefields and the women left at home. Shirley Walker's depictions of those battles – Gallipoli, the Western Front, the Kokoda Track – are grittily accurate, their reverberations haunting. Written with the emotional power of a novel, here is a true story whose sorrow is redeemed by astonishing beauty and strength of spirit."
So much to read!


This is the way that Janene wrote of her contact with Helen Garner on her blog. I have taken the liberty of quoting the piece in full:
Last week I went to a couple of public events connected with the Association for the Study of Australian Literature conference at the University of New England. Iconic Australian writer Helen Garner was a special guest. I spoke to her after a lecture on Judith Wright, and gave her a copy of A Hospital Bed at Home. As homage, really. I love her writing, especially The Spare Room. 
The next day, I went along to the other public ASAL event, Helen Garner in conversation with literary critic Susan Lever. When I arrived for the pre-talk refreshments, Anne Pender from UNE was chatting to Susan Lever, and she introduced us. Susan’s first words to me were, “Oh, are you the Janene who gave Helen a book? She’s been telling me all about it; she’s been reading it all day!” 
When I spoke to Helen before her talk my head was spinning so much that I can’t even remember exactly what her compliments were. She said something about the clarity and directness of my writing, and the way the emotion was handled. I suggested that she’d had a strong influence on my style and she laughed and said, “That might be why I like it!” 
Anyway, this week I plucked up the courage to contact her through her publisher and ask if she would consider giving me a quote for the cover. I thought it quite likely that she would refuse as she must be asked so often. But she emailed it to me within a couple of hours of receiving the request. Actually, I have two – what she sent would fit on a back cover, but I was keen to have it on the front, so she allowed me to trim it. 
So the front cover now says: “An articulate, practical account of the work of love in the face of death.” – HELEN GARNER.  
The longer version that has gone online is: 
“A quietly articulate, intensely practical account of the work of love in the face of death: a guide for the timid and a challenge for the confident.” – HELEN GARNER (Author of The Spare Room)

You can see why Janene was chuffed. By the way, if you want to buy A Hospital Bed At Home you can find out how here. I haven't bought my copy yet, but will do so next pay.

I want to write a little more about the reasons why I think that Janene's new project is important, why we all hope that she gets grants to complete the work, but that will have to wait to a later post. 


Janene Carey said...

Roundabout at Bangalow and Ghost at the Wedding are both delightful reads, Jim. The first book has a little about New England, but the main reason to interview Shirley Walker would be because she did her PhD on Judith Wright and stayed in touch with her over many years. The Express didnt really communicate that this project is dependent on getting grant funding, and I was disappointed by the cursory mention of the Helen Garner encounter. The full story of that is on my blog at

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Janene.

I will certainly read all the books. As you know, I use a broader definition of New England than used in your project, so Shirley falls smack within my scope.

In addition to her connection with JW, that's interesting in itself, she can also provide a personal perspective on the Armidale literary scene.

I agree that the Express did not get the message including the importance of the grant. I really, really, really want this project to proceed. I can add a little, but I do expect to draw heavily from you in painting one aspect of broader New England life.

I will bring the Garner material (I would be chuffed too) up in the main post.

Gorgeous Dunny said...

I am a long w away at Portland, Victoria. And my links with the area are tenuous. I am a South Australian originally, and worked for many years at SA Tourism in Sydney.

When free tertiary education came in, I enrolled at University of New England for my degree. I have fond memories of going to Armidale for the Residential Schools in May and September.

Since then I worked as an Employment Counsellor in South West Victoria, and have written a series of case study stories, some of which have appeared on blogs.

Eventually, I'll publish. So it appeals to me to be in touch with writers from New England. I still have occasional online contact with Paul Burns of Armidale. He did his degree the same time as me.

kind regards

Don Wilson

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Don. Great to hear from you. Why don't you join the New England Writers' Centre -
and the public facebook page -

You don't have to live in Armidale, I don't, but its a great way of maintaining links and gaining professional stimulation.