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Our writers make waves across the land

Put on your writer’s hat and imagine your perfect location. A quiet place, without all the stresses of big city life. A naturally beautiful place, with its heart in community and creativity. All on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Whatever it is about Tasmania, our island is home to a growing number of highly-accomplished literary authors, and in many of their stories place is almost a character in itself.

The literary spotlight this year shone on Kate Kruimink (BA 2013) (A Treacherous Country), winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, and Erin Hortle (BA Hons 2014, PhD 2018) (The Octopus and I). Robbie Arnott (BA, BBus 2012), winner of the 2019 Margaret Scott Prize for Flames, released his second novel (The Rain Heron). Katherine Johnson’s Paris Savages, the basis of her University of Tasmania PhD (2019), was longlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards.

In 2019 Violet Macdonald (BA 2014) won the prestigious Sir Peter Ustinov Scriptwriting Award at the Emmy Awards and PhD candidate Sam George-Allen made a splash on the creative non-fiction scene with Witches: The Transformative Power of Women Working Together. Rohan Wilson (BA Hons 1998), who has multiple literary awards, moved from the colonial setting of his first two novels to a dystopian Tasman Peninsula in 2075 for Daughter of Bad Times, published in 2019.

They follow in the footsteps of Man Booker Prize winner and alumnus Richard Flanagan (BA Hons 1983, HonDLitt 2002), who released The Living Sea of Waking Dreams in 2020, and best-selling double act Danielle Wood (BA Hons 1994) and Heather Rose, who over the past decade have combined as Angelica Banks to produce the popular Tuesday McGillycuddy trilogy.

Wood, a past winner of the Vogel award, has had a huge year in 2020. She released The Lost Love Song hot on the heels of selling the film rights to Star-crossed, which has been published in more than 25 international territories. Both novels are written under the pen-name Minnie Darke.

Within the work of the authors above, there are numerous examples of how place shapes a novel, from the exquisite Eaglehawk Neck coastline inhabited by Erin Hortle’s octopus, to the labyrinthine caves and underground rivers beneath a 1950s dairy town in Katherine Johnson’s The Better Son.

Within her own busy writing life, Danielle Wood (BA Hons 1994) is a Senior Lecturer in English and Writing in the School of Humanities and has 17 years of teaching creative writing behind her. Many of her students have gone on to literary success. She believes the size and uniqueness of Tasmania makes it an ideal setting for emerging writers.

“In Tasmania we have a shared lexicon of foundational stories that we are able to visit, and revisit and reinvent from new and unexpected angles. And, they’re powerful stories,” Dr Wood said.

“We continue to need to explore and write about dispossession and colonialism, about human impacts on this island’s fauna and flora, about the convict experience, about the island experience, about our particular blend of lightness and darkness, our capacity for extremes of radicalism and conservatism, goodness and evil.

“Mark Twain once said of Tasmania that it was a kind of bringing together of Heaven and Hell, and I think that makes it a rich place for finding and telling stories.”

Dr Wood encourages students to find and write in their authentic voice, “to find and explore their unique vision. We’re not looking for cookie-cutter stories, but fresh, new, exciting, original, authentic stories that stem from our students’ selves”.

Her teaching philosophy involves encouraging students to work on two fronts – the imaginative skills that enable us to come up with great stories and the writing skills that enable us to convey our ideas to other people.

“It’s important to remember that while there are many, many ways to be storytellers, the units I teach are all about storytelling in writing, which is why we spend time working at the level of the sentence,” she said.

While creative writing classes at some institutions focus on ‘literary’ writing, the University of Tasmania units are open to other genres that students are interested in. It’s so popular and successful that students can now major in English and Writing within the Bachelor of Arts.

The School of Humanities has also established the Hedberg Writer in Residence Program. Robbie Arnott was awarded the inaugural residency where he will work on his third novel and conduct creative writing workshops.

From 2022 onwards, established authors Australia-wide can apply. The Program’s coordinator and Head of English, Dr Robert Clarke, said it was an opportunity to further highlight Tasmania as a writer’s destination.

Dr Wood said Tasmania had a strong literary culture fostered by great bookshops and dedicated readers who provide a market for books about Tasmania and by Tasmanians.

Robbie Arnott believes it is vital that those readers see their homeland depicted in the art and media they consume.

“There are countless novels set in New York, London, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney and because we grow up seeing these places in the fiction we read, we are conditioned to consider them normal and acceptable settings for the novels our own generation might create,” he said.

“I think it’s important that Tasmanians are able to see their own world as a worthy and vibrant setting for a story.”

Picture caption: Alumna, author and University of Tasmania staff member Dr Danielle Wood.

This article featured in the 2020 edition of the University of Tasmania Alumni magazine.

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Published on: 24 May 2021 2:00pm