2016: Seeds and Skeletons
Seeds and Skeletons is the 30th collection from the prestigious Creative Writing program at the University of Technology Sydney.
Seeds & Skeletons brings together a vibrant collection of new and emerging voices, featuring short fiction, memoir, poetry and screenwriting.
The UTS Writers’ Anthology, Seeds & Skeletons, was launched to a packed audience at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. It was launched by Dr Catherine Keenan, co-founder and director of the Sydney Story Factory, a non-profit writing centre for young writers and readers, based in Redfern.
For thirty years the UTS Writers’ Anthology—one of the liveliest collections of new writing published in Australia today—has showcased the considerable talent that emerges every year from one of the country’s most respected writing programs.
by Graeme Simsion
A characteristic that writers have in common with rock musicians—besides the financial precariousness of their professions— is that their early work is often among their most successful. At the extreme we have the ‘one hit wonder’, a phenomenon with few parallels in other fields.
If we want our gall bladder removed, our portrait painted or our movie directed we will seek the seasoned practitioner ahead of the enthusiastic novice and duly expect a higher standard. Ageing rockers and authors will similarly assert
that they are playing or writing better than ever, that practice has honed their craft. But try telling that to a Rolling Stones concert audience demanding ‘Satisfaction’.
Why should this be so? Are young people more creative? Possibly, but not all new writers are young. Do emerging writers have to do better to break through while established authors can rely on their reputations? There may be some commercial truth in that, but the experienced writers I know are constantly striving to make their current novel, poem or screenplay their finest. Is it the rude public, unable to appreciate the sophistication of more mature work? I don’t think so. Look at the critics’ lists of greatest books—or songs: early work is over-represented there too.
I suspect the answer, at least for writers, lies in the fact that writing is generally about something, and the subjects we choose to address first are those closest and most important to us. ‘Write what you know’ is part of it but we will also write what we care about, which is sometimes what drew us to writing in the first place.
The pieces in this collection burn with passion and engagement with their subjects. They address big themes— sex and loss and mental illness; rape and murder and deception— and do so with intensity, intimacy and authenticity.
They have blood in them, literally in many cases, and it is not conjured-up stage blood: we believe that the writers know something we don’t about the often dark places they take us. Lily Mei (‘The Incident’) may never have stabbed her father’s girlfriend in the eye with a ripple pin, but she surely understands what drove her narrator to do it and how she felt afterwards. The dialogue in Alison Gibbs’s ‘The Hobby Farmer’s Daughter’ gives her harrowing school-bus vignette the credibility of an eyewitness—or victim’s—account.
The short format—there are two poems and a screenplay as well as conventional short stories—is well suited to showcasing ideas that might be exhausted or exhausting if stretched into something larger. It’s the rush of a three-minute song: straight in, nothing wasted, a concentrated blast.
Contrast comes from the variety of subjects and voices rather than from within individual pieces. The sensuality of food (Maggie Kerr’s ‘Tristitia et Voluptas’) and of place (Hong Kong in Hannah Bent’s ‘Bauhinia’) rubs against the sharp
and affectionate portraiture of Suzanne Boccalatte’s ‘Sister Mary Ginger Rodgering’ and the humour of the cognitive dissonator in Harry Goddard’s ‘A Night like Strong Wine’. Throughout, we sense that we are in the hands of the one person who can tell the story.
None of this is to discount the craft in these works. Passion is not enough: if it were, we would all be writers. And we can be too close to our subjects: it takes discipline to walk the line between sentimentality and indifference. Many
of the stories here address weighty subjects with a deceptively light touch. Echo Qin He’s ‘Grandma Tofu’, perhaps the most horrifying story, is told in the measured voice of an insider who has dealt with their own response, but is able to invoke it anew in others.
Nor does the writing draw attention to itself: the subjects are allowed centre stage and it is the image or emotion rather than the clever phrase that remains with us. The scarecrow in a wedding dress in Brie Evans’s ‘Backwards Somersaults’; the barber’s turmoil in Alex Moir’s ‘The Cut’.
There are rewards and surprises for the reader throughout the 30th UTS Anthology, not least for those who expect literary fiction to sacrifice substance for language, who might not pick up a book of new poetry or venture into a speculative piece. We are taken to places we might not otherwise have gone, into heads we might have avoided, pulled into a story we might not have read had it not appeared when we turned the page.
So, approach this collection like a rock ’n’ roll album, not in spite of it being early-career work, but because it is. The writers’ craft will only strengthen with time, but here is how they chose to use it first.
Angela Argent is completing a MCA at UTS and has published in Visible Ink, Spineless Wonders, Irish Literary Review, Seizure, Gender and History and feminist anthologies. In a former life she lived in the Czech Republic with three small mad people. The novella she’s writing is set in Prague, just so she still gets to live there for a few hours every day.
Jack Batchen has just finished his MA in Creative Writing at UTS, and stubbornly wrote fantasy the whole time. He is currently working on his third novel, lives in Macquarie Park, and is afraid of tinned tuna. This is his first piece of published fiction.
Hannah Bent was born and raised in Hong Kong and returned to Sydney four years ago. Although she comes from a background in film, she continues to write her novel, which as a work in progress won the 2013 Ray Koppe Award. Hannah is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at UTS.
Suzanne Boccalatte is a designer, writer and director of design consultancy Boccalatte. She has appeared on TV and radio, lectured at universities and was appointed to the NSW Creative Industries Taskforce. She co-founded Trunk, an award-winning cultural compendium and presented Guardian Masterclasses in creativity. She has a BVA (First Class Hons) (Sydney), Grad. Dip. Communications Management (UTS) and is enrolled in a MA in Creative Writing at UTS.
Daniel Comensoli lives and works on a fruit farm, and in 2016 he’ll be spending a year in Argentina. He likes guitar bands and stories that hold his attention. He’s easily distracted. This is his second time in the UTS Writers’ Anthology.
Georgina Cook lives and loves in Manly, Australia. When she isn’t backpacking or bartending, she studies creative writing at UTS. Currently she is studying in Austin, Texas and has plans to marry a cowboy.
Rosie Croft has just completed her MA in Creative Writing at UTS. She writes short stories and essays, but only after several cups of tea. Her story ‘Harbour’ was published in the 2015 UTS Writers’ Anthology Strange Objects Covered with Fur.
Brie Evans lives in Sydney with her husband, Lachlan, their two children and a high maintenance Jack Russell. She is completing her MA in Creative Writing at UTS. This is her first time published.
Alison Gibbs is completing her MA in Creative Writing at UTS. Her short fiction has been published and broadcast in Australia and the UK and has been shortlisted for several literary awards including the 2013 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Prize. ‘The Hobby Farmer’s Daughter’ is the fourth of her stories to appear in a UTS Writers’ Anthology. She was the winner of the 2015 UTS Anthology Writing Prize.
Harry Goddard is a science-fiction and fantasy writer whose short stories have been published in UTS Vertigo. He can be found living in dodgy share houses in Sydney’s inner west, and most of his writing process involves drinking wine, playing the banjo and killing mosquitoes. His story ‘A Night like Strong Wine’ is an excerpt from his first novel-length project.
Richard Hall is 21 and is completing a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. He doesn’t consider himself particularly artistic or communicative … but is currently a bachelor. He hopes that with his degree, he won’t have to sell his soul to make ends meet.
Echo Qin He is perfecting her craft in the postgraduate creative writing program at UTS. She has given up her lucrative accounting business to pursue her childhood dream: to become a writer, which was forbidden by her father while growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China. She has been writing her first book for some time now, hopefully it will see daylight soon.
BG Hilton is a Sydney-based writer, specialising in speculative fiction. In the past year, he married the love of his life, completed his MA in Creative Writing at UTS and finished his first novel, the Steampunk adventure story The Bats of London. He can be found online at bghilton.com, where he writes about Frankenstein movies and serialises Do It Yourself, a fantasy novel set in a hardware centre.
Maggie Kerr is a fervent classicist who adores the works of Calvino and Nabokov. When she’s not attending foodie media events, you’ll find her crocheting blankets or working towards her Fellowship in Speech and Drama (FSDA). In an effort to one day build her own publishing house, she is undertaking a Creative Writing/International Relations degree at UTS.
Lily Mei is a Sydney-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in various news and literary publications across Australia.
Alex Menyhart is a writer and editor based in Sydney. His previous work has appeared in Voiceworks and Seizure. Alex Moir is interested in studying the different mediums used for storytelling. His time at UTS has helped him explore and develop this interest while completing a degree in public communications.
A personal tragedy brought Fiona Nivison back to writing after a prolonged absence. Six years later, she is nearing completion of her MA in Creative Writing at UTS. The inclusion of ‘Second Best’ in the UTS Anthology is her greatest publishing success since winning a rural colouring competition when she was eight.
Zoe Rochford likes to tell stories: short, sad, long, tall. She’s graduated from elaborate tales about why she was late for work to the kind you write down, and she likes the second kind best. Zoe is in her fifth year of a Law/Writing and Cultural Studies degree. This is her second story published in a UTS Anthology, and she writes for mamamia.com.au
Sharon Rundle is a Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner. She co-edits Indian–Australian anthologies featuring some of the best known authors from both continents. She is Chair of UTS Writers’ Alumni.
Naomi Russo is an editorial, fiction, copy and to-do list writer. You might have spotted her writing on anything from wombats to carpet designs in Smith Journal, Australian Geographic and Peppermint, among others. Her fiction has been published in the 2012 UTS Writers’ Anthology Hide Your Fires and Country Style Magazine.
Sarah St Vincent Welch is a Canberra-based writer, editor and writing teacher who studies at UTS by day, and chalks her poems on pavements at festivals like ‘Noted’ and ‘Art not Apart’ by night. An Australia Council grant and an Australian Society of Authors mentorship encouraged her continuing exploration of themes around pregnancy and fertility, and she hopes that her story ‘Shadow Work’ will one day be the title piece of a thus unpublished short story collection. When she’s not writing poems for ‘Project Three Six Six’ (a poem a day for a year), Sarah blogs about writing, reading, time and place at sarahstvincentwelch.com
Ian Streeter lives on Sydney’s northern beaches and is often found in, on or near the water. His story ‘Homecoming’was published in the 2014 UTS Writers’ Anthology. His day job as a lawyer provided his introduction to, and most regular training in, the art of writing fiction.
Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi poet and essayist from the NSW floodplain fringe. Alison’s writing links the visceral with the political, drawing from her scholarship and work in cultural studies and Aboriginal women’s law and policy. Her debut verse novella Lemons in the Chicken Wire, winner of the State Library of Queensland’s 2015 ‘black&write!’Fellowship, is slated for release by Magabala Press.
Mia Casey is a copywriter for UTS and works part-time at her local library. She is currently in her final year of studying a Bachelor of Laws and Communications, majoring in Writing and Cultural Studies. Mia hopes to someday work as an editor for a publishing company and essentially be paid to read for a living. She also likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.
Maggie Kerr is a professional logophile. She has an Associate Diploma in Professional Communication, as well as a Licentiate in Drama and Performance. She has written for Eat Drink Play and Sydney Scoop, coached Public Speaking and Debating at Pymble Ladies’ College and now teaches Speech and Drama on behalf of the AMEB. Currently undertaking her second year of a Creative Writing/International Relations degree, she blogs at bearlykerrteous.wordpress.com
Zoe Knowles is an aspiring editor and author. She currently works for Allen & Unwin and is completing a MA in Creative Writing. Zoe works as part of the editing team for the UTS magazine, Vertigo, in which her writing has also appeared, and volunteers with the Sydney Story Factory.
Lachlan Mackenzie is a freelance writer, editor and radio producer, who hopes one day to contribute to society. In 2014 he was an editor of Vertigo, in which his writing also appeared, and in 2015 he was the executive producer of So Hot Right Now on 2SER 107.3 FM. You can find his writing in Junkee, Writers’ Bloc, The BRAG and Broadsheet Sydney.
Lily Mei edits fiction for Voiceworks and flash fiction for Seizure. She is the communications and event coordinator for The Ernie Awards for Sexist Remarks, and last year she edited the UTS Writers’ Anthology Strange Objects Covered with Fur. She is currently completing her undergraduate degree, majoring in Writing and Cultural Studies.
Alex Menyhart is in his final year of Writing and Cultural Studies. He loves editing because it’s a lot like writing, only without all the crippling doubt and self-imposed isolation.
Jessica Surman is a Cultural Studies honours student. Sometimes her friends recruit her to edit their text messages, and she loves an Oxford comma. In her spare time she likes to start craft projects but she always comes back to words, which don’t require fancy equipment.
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