If a collection of stories is put together on the basis that these are the ‘best Australian stories of 2016’, is it fair or reasonable to hope for some kind of cohesiveness or gestalt beyond those three explicit parameters of quality, place, and time? The answer will depend largely on what the editor’s ideas might be, not only about what makes a good short story, but also about the way to make a group of individual stories add up to a book: to something more than the sum of its parts.

This year’s editor, Charlotte Wood, herself a celebrated writer of fiction, is a woman of unusual intellectual flexibility and reach: at one end of the spectrum she is quickly gaining an international reputation for her dreamlike dystopian novel The Natural Way of Things (2015), at once a powerful political fable and an extraordinary feat of imagination; and at the other end she has experience as a senior arts administrator and a scholar, this year adding a PhD to her growing collection of achievements.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'The Best Australian Stories 2016' edited by Charlotte Wood
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text

    If a collection of stories is put together on the basis that these are the ‘best Australian stories of 2016’, is it fair or reasonable to hope for some kind of cohesiveness or gestalt beyond ...

  • Book Title The Best Australian Stories 2016
  • Book Author Charlotte Wood
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Black Inc. $29.99 pb, 230 pp, 9781863958868

Writers have, it seems, an insatiable appetite for reading about writing; and such advice comes in various forms. There are books that promise to teach their readers how to write in any form or genre imaginable. There are books on grammar and punctuation, on contracts, on making a living, on managing your profile. Whatever you want, it seems, you'll be able to find; though the quality is not always certain. This year the publishers have provided two more books in this idiom, each of which enriches the genre. Charlotte Wood, herself an accomplished author, talks with equally accomplished writers about their experience of the business – the life – of writing. (This prodigious effort is made more impressive by the fact that, at the same time, she was writing her Stella Prize-winning novel The Natural Way of Things [2016].) DBC Pierre, enfant terrible of the early 2000s and author of the Booker Prize-winning Vernon God Little (2003), offers what the blurb calls an 'irreverent guide to writing fiction', one that skips through principles and technical aspects, and weaves it together with anecdotes from his larger-than-life life.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Jen Webb reviews 'Release the Bats: Writing your way out of it' by DBC Pierre and 'The Writer’s Room: Conversations about writing' by Charlotte Wood
  • Contents Category Literary Studies
  • Custom Highlight Text

    Writers have, it seems, an insatiable appetite for reading about writing; and such advice comes in various forms. There are books that promise to teach their readers how to write in any ...

  • Book Title Release the Bats
  • Book Author DBC Pierre
  • Book Subtitle Writing your way out of it
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $27.99 pb, 297 pp, 9780571283187
  • Book Subtitle 2 Conversations about writing
  • Book Title 2 The Writer’s Room
  • Book Author 2 Charlotte Wood
  • Biblio 2 Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 446 pp, 9781760293345
  • Book Cover 2 Small Book Cover 2 Small
  • Author Type 2 Author
  • Book Cover 2 Book Cover 2
  • Book Cover 2 Path images/ABR_Online_2016/October_2016/THE%20WRITERS%20ROOM_400px.jpeg

In an isolated hut in the countryside, a young woman wakes from a drug-induced sleep to discover that she is dressed in a nineteenth-century smock. She soon finds another young woman in the same condition, and both are forced to submit to the shaving of their heads. It is contemporary Australia: kookaburras cackle outside. Are they in a prison, or a religious cult, or – as one of their fellow inmates suggests – inside a reality television show? It emerges that the ten young women living in the camp are modern-day media criminals condemned for making public the sexual transgressions of prominent men – as the mistress of a politician, the sexual conduit for a football team's bonding, or the victims of harassment by important businessmen, coaches, or clergymen. One has suffered in the army, another been abused and abandoned on a cruise ship. Despite their shaven heads, lack of make-up, and strange costumes, they vaguely recognise each other from the media flurry.

Charlotte Wood takes a clever idea – the transformation of media and community responses to women's protests about (and sometimes willing participation in) sexual misbehaviour into retribution through physical humiliation and deprivation. She draws attention to the hypocrisy behind the fear of young women's sexuality, and the way that some public figures deny responsibility for 'that woman' and their own sexual misdemeanours. Yolanda and Verla, the two protagonists, must struggle to survive in the old shearers' quarters of a station in the outback. At the beginning of the novel, in summer, the place appears desolate, but by autumn they begin to find resources in themselves and in the countryside that give them hope.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Susan Lever reviews 'The Natural Way of Things' by Charlotte Wood
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title The Natural Way of Things
  • Book Author Charlotte Wood
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $29.99 pb, 320 pp, 9781760111236
Tuesday, 25 August 2015 16:41

Open Page with Charlotte Wood

Why do you write?

To find out what I think. To understand myself. To forage in the chaos and murkiness of my subconscious, grasp hold of the difficult stuff, drag it into the light, and shape it into something beautiful.

Are you a vivid dreamer?

Yes! I have great epic sweeping adventure dreams; psychic battles, chases, quests. I wake up exhausted.

Where are you happiest?

At a boisterous dinner table, in the kitchen or the garden.

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  • Contents Category Open Page

Early in Charlotte Wood’s previous novel The Children (2007), one of Stephen Connolly’s sisters describes him as lost; she says he carries within him ‘a bedrock of resentment … never articulated and never resolved, but which has formed the foundation for his every conversation, every glance from his guarded eyes’. Readers may disagree with this harsh assessment as they read Wood’s new novel, Animal People, in which Stephen is the primary focus – this time more anxious than resentful. He is an inherently difficult character, but not a bad man. Wood unpacks him – sometimes ruthlessly – to reveal a person bewildered by the demands of all kinds of relationships.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Miriam Zolin reviews 'Animal People' by Charlotte Wood
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title Animal People 
  • Book Author Charlotte Wood
  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $29.99 pb, 264 pp, 9781742376851