Written by guest curator, Bec Taylor
Celebrating Tasmanian Literature Month has allowed me the privilege of connecting my past to my present and future. I have luxuriated in my precious memories of a wild and free childhood, shed tears over the dark and horrifying acts inflicted upon and by our ancestors, discovered incredible new-to-me creators, and glowed with pride over the hard working, passionate community of writers and illustrators the state has created and is nurturing.
It has been a honor to share the work of Tasmanian creators by representing the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative on ABC Radio and the Australian Book Lovers podcast. I am so grateful to the incredibly warm hearted, generous people who gave their time and energy to this project. It is thanks to you that we have been successful in bringing Tasmanian literature to the world stage.
I hope you have enjoyed this month’s spotlight and that you will grow your personal, professional, school, and public library collections with the titles that were shared.
Yours in reading,
Tasmanian Literature Month in Summary
Tasmanian Gothic, Crime, and Mystery
We started the month with Zane Pinner delving into what Tasmanian Gothic really means, and continued to explore the genre, and the follow on genres of mystery and crime through the work of Chloe Hooper, L.J.M Owen, Kyle Perry, Robbie Arnott, and Heather Rose. Richard Flanagan’s work was celebrated in two posts, one review and a snapshot of several of his best selling books.
The lives of Tasmanian writers and creators are in good hands.
CEO of Brand Tasmania, Todd Babiak, gave insight into what it means to be Tasmanian, and publisher Rayne Allinson told us the backstory to Tasmania’s foundation of a writing culture through bookstores and publishing houses.
Lyndon Riggall let us glimpse what it’s like to nurture the next generation of writers, and L.M.J Owen spotlighted various Tasmanian writing festivals and exhibitions.
Kidlit is where my heart is so it was such a pleasure to delve into the Tasmanian writer’s treasure box.
Avery McDougall’s sassy main character stole my heart in the YA realistic fiction novel about living with a hidden illness, “Invisibly Grace“.
“Spellhound” had me spellbound! This marvelous middle grade novel is sure to entrance many a voracious fantasy and adventure reader.
Tasmanian animals got a couple of posts dedicated to them, highlighting non-fiction and fiction books for young readers of all ages.
Indigenous Tasmanian storytelling for young people, orally and through picture books, was also explored this month.
Scientist Dr. Michael Stoddart took us on a journey through his life as an Antarctic and Tasmanian scientist, while Stephenie Cahalan, biographer, told us how Tasmania inspires her.
We learnt the heartrending stories of the convict women and their stolen children through the work of Dr. Dianne Snowden.
Memoirist Karen Harrland explained her writing process, and we learnt about the Chinese tin miners in eastern Tasmania.
Sports journalist, Martin Flanagan, was also celebrated this month.
Adult realistic fiction
I relished the opportunity to delve into some juicy novels by Tasmanian authors this month.
Meg Bignell blew me away with her contemporary fiction, and the list of prestigious awards for the work of Danielle Wood, Robbie Arnott, and Heather Rose just keep coming.
Indigenous author, Adam Thompson‘s work is quite rightly gaining global attention.
Historical fiction also got a mention this month when we featured the work of Ian Broinowski and Wren Fraser Cameron.
No celebration of literature would be complete without showcasing poetry. Dr. Cameron Hindrum shared two poems with us this month, one on the catastrophic bushfires of 2013 and another on the 1975 Tasman Bridge disaster.
What is next for Tasmanian literature?
The Hobart City Council is formulating a bid to get Hobart named as a UNESCO City of Literature.
The Hobart City of Literature Working Group’s proposal is based on the belief that writing and storytelling has been part of our city life for a very long time.
- Tasmania’s Aboriginal community drew on history, resilience, and creativity to create palawa kani, a hybrid of lutruwita’s Aboriginal languages which has seen this island’s original culture and stories revived.
- Literature flourished early in Hobart – Australia’s first novel was published in Hobart in 1818. Hobart had the nation’s first public library and published the nation’s first ‘free press’ newspaper.
- Hobart has a thriving and award-winning contemporary culture of writing, reading, theatre, poetry and storytelling.
- Hobart is also home to a multitude of award-winning and best-selling authors who punch well above their weight in terms of national and international prizes won, including the Vogel Award, Stella Prize, Commonwealth Writers Prize, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and the Booker Prize.
We want to recognise and celebrate this on the world’s stage. We want to use this community energy to address one of Tasmania’s most pressing challenges: literacy.
That’s why we are working to submit a bid to be recognised as a UNESCO City of Literature and join the international network of Creative Cities.
If literacy rates matter to a community, then librarians and library services can, and should be, the heart of that community. Kay Allport is the current Tasmanian Director of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) and retired teacher librarian. She is a passionate supporter of children’s literature and believes that the important work of the CBCA plays into a thriving, literate culture.
A few years ago, Steve Martin, the President of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, Tasmanian Branch, was a member of the Federal Parliament and managed to get a grant to promote Tasmanian creators for 3 years. This is its final year of paying Tasmanian creators to go into Tasmanian schools and give a workshop.
We built up a list and blurb about each Tasmanian creator who was prepared to go into schools. These 14 creators can be found on cbcatas.org.au. Of course, not all creators could afford the time. On 1 March, the longlist Notables booklist was announced by the National CBCA and on 28 March the Shortlist was announced. On this Shortlist were 3 Tasmanian creators.
Kate Gordon – Book of the Year: Younger Readers nomination for “Xavier in the Meantime”.
Vianne Brian and Clare Bardley – Eve Pownall Award nomination for “Opal and Dart”.
Jennifer Cossins – Eve Pownall Award for “Amazing Animal Journeys”.
Jennifer Cossins is perhaps the most well-known due to one of her books being mentioned by Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway on the Ellen DeGeneres show a couple of years ago. The book was “101 Collective Nouns”. It turned out Anne’s son had been given a copy of the book and she was wanting to purchase another copy so could give Ellen a copy but couldn’t find one anywhere. So, Ellen asked if anyone knew Jennifer Skelly. (At the time Jennifer was writing under the name of Jennifer Skelly.) Of course, every Tasmanian who saw the show replied and there was a follow up section on another Ellen show. Jennifer has a shop ‘Red Parka’ in Criterion Street in Hobart ‘s CBD and she has since written more books –”The Ultimate Animal Counting Book”, “The Ultimate Animal Alphabet Book”, “The Book of Curious Birds”, “A-Z of Endangered Animals”, “A-Z of Australian Animals”, “The Baby Animal Book”, “The Mummy Animal Book”, “The Daddy Animal Book”, and “A Flamboyance of Flamingos”.
Also, on the Home page of cbcatas.org.au is our weekly blog – and the past blogs! These are written by authors, teachers, teacher librarians and publishers, and often feature Tasmanian authors.
Whenever a spotlight is shined on a region’s creative talents, it’s guaranteed that talented people will have been missed. I know there is so much more Tasmanian literature to discover!
Here are just a few more titles and creators that has been unearthed during this month. Please feel free to add your recommendations to the post via the comments.
Erin Hortle is an Australian author and bookseller. She grew up in Tasmania and currently lives in Hobart. Hortle has worked as a bookseller for many years and her love of books and reading has inspired her to become a writer. She has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Tasmania and her short stories have been published in various literary journals and anthologies.
Hortle’s debut novel, “The Octopus and I,” was published in 2020 and received critical acclaim and explores themes of isolation, grief, and the interconnectedness of all living things.
In 2021, Erin’s novel was shortlisted for the Indie Book Awards, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and the 2021 Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Prizes. “The Octopus and I” has also been longlisted for multiple awards, including the prestigious Voss Award for Best Novel.
Book Summary, taken from Allen and Unwin
A stunning debut novel set on the Tasmanian coast that lays bare the wild, beating heart at the intersection of human and animal, love and loss, and fear and hope.
Lucy and Jem live on the Tasman Peninsula near Eaglehawk Neck, where Lucy is recovering from major surgery. As she tries to navigate her new body through the world, she develops a deep fascination with the local octopuses, and in doing so finds herself drawn towards the friendship of an old woman and her son. As the story unfolds, the octopuses come to shape Lucy’s body and her sense of self in ways even she can’t quite understand.
The Octopus and I is a stunning debut novel that explores the wild, beating heart at the intersection of human and animal, love and loss, fear and hope.
Published by Allen and Unwin
Released 15 April 2020
Robyn Mundy’s writing speaks to her preoccupation with wild places and their sway on human lives. In the preliminary stage of writing Wildlight, she and her partner spent four months living and working alone on Maatsuyker Island as volunteer caretakers and weather observers. Robyn has summered and over-wintered at Australian Antarctic stations, working as a field assistant on science research projects. She works seasonally as an Assistant Expedition Leader on ship-based tours to the Antarctic, Arctic and other remote locales. At home in Tasmania, Robyn writes and teaches writing.
Book Summary, taken from PanMacmillian Australia
You spend your whole time on an island looking out to sea. Perhaps what you are facing is yourself.
Sixteen-year-old Stephanie West has been dragged from Sydney to remote Maatsuyker Island off the coast of Tasmania by her parents, hoping to recapture a childhood idyll and come to terms with their grief over the death of Steph’s twin brother. Cut off from friends and the comforts of home, exiled to a lonely fortress and a lighthouse that bears the brunt of savage storms, the months ahead look to be filled with ghosts of the past.
Steph’s saviour is Tom Forrest, a 19-year-old deckhand aboard a crayfishing boat. When the weather allows, Tom visits the island, and he and Steph soon form an attraction. But Tom must conceal at all costs the illegal fishing he takes part in, orchestrated by his tyrannical brother. And he dare not dwell on his fear of the sea or his deep-worn premonition that the ocean will one day take him.
Wildlight is an exquisite, vividly detailed exploration of the wayward journey of adolescence, and how the intense experience of a place can change the course of even the most well-planned life.
(If that last part of the extract doesn’t sum up the Tasmanian literature experience shown throughout this month, I’m not sure what does.)
Published by Picador Australia (imprint of Panmacmillan)
Released 23 February 2016
Poppy Gee is an Australian author. She was born in Launceston, Tasmania and currently lives in Darwin, Northern Territory. Gee’s debut novel, “Bay of Fires,” was published in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards and the Davitt Awards. The novel is a thriller set in Tasmania and explores themes of love, loyalty, and betrayal. Her second novel, “Vanishing Falls,” was published in 2020 and tells the story of a woman investigating the disappearance of her childhood friend in a small Tasmanian town, and was one of CrimeReads Most Anticipated Books of the Year.
In addition to her work as a novelist, Gee has also written for various publications, including The Age, The Australian, and The Sydney Morning Herald. She is known for her atmospheric writing style and her ability to capture the unique landscapes and character of Tasmania.
Book Summary, from William Morrow Paperbacks
Deep within the lush Tasmanian rainforest is the remote town of Vanishing Falls, a place with a storied past. The town’s showpiece, built in the 1800s, is its Calendar House—currently occupied by Jack Lily, a prominent art collector and landowner; his wife, Celia; and their four daughters. The elaborate, eccentrically designed mansion houses one masterpiece and 52 rooms—and Celia Lily isn’t in any of them. She has vanished without a trace.…
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Released August 4, 2020
I would like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land, the Palawa people of Tasmania, and to their Elders, past, present, and emerging. I acknowledge their deep spiritual connection to the land and their ongoing contributions to the culture of this nation.
About Guest Curator, Bec Taylor
I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.
Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.
I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators.
Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary
The educational hills I will die on are:
- a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
- there is serious magic in reading aloud,
- and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.
*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.