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1.

One of the most thrilling events that has ever happened in my literary life is this: an Australian poet has created a ‘found poem’ out of something I wrote a long time ago.

2.

The poet? Stuart Barnes. The poem? ‘Stern Man’. The written thing of mine? A novel called Remnants.  It really is magical, this poem, for many reasons. Reading it, working it out, returns me to 2001, when I was completing a Master of Creative Arts/Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong, which I’d thoroughly enjoyed. An early draft of what would become Remnants was produced during that deliciously immersive period of study.

3.

I never thought the manuscript would see the light of day. But buoyed by something that my external examiner, Ian Syson (the then editor of Overland), had written in his feedback, that the manuscript would ‘surely’ find a home somewhere, I shopped the thing around. With no luck. Eventually a colleague suggested I meet with Ian Templeman, who at the time was the publisher at Pandanus Books, the Australian National University’s press (which appears to no longer exist). Ian had read a short story of mine in Overland and enjoyed its ‘intimacy’, so agreed to read my manuscript; months later he made an offer to publish it, though I would have to wait ‘some time, years perhaps’ as he needed to create an imprint to do so.

4.

So, in 2005, out into the world came Remnants.

5.

It’s a quiet story, a humble production, but somehow it received a large number of reviews, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Canberra, Times, the Age, and Antipodes; all but one was more than positive.

What’s it about?

Following his wife’s death, Mitchell Granville, retired barrister and son of a celebration politician, spends his twilight years hidden in a village in the Blue Mountains. For company he has his books, his late father’s semi-wild peacocks, and a sculpture of a naked woman’s torso. Over time he succumbs to loneliness and realises that there is at least one person he needs to rediscover. When he finally makes contact, all does not go as planned. Soon he finds himself being coaxed into at trek that crosses the breadth of his country and the depths of his past.

At least that’s the story according to Pandanus.

6.

Remnants: humble, inexplicable.

Remnants: inexplicable.

I loved writing Remnants, and rewriting it, and editing it, and polishing it (though I admit to moments where I thumped the desk because the story and/or the prose just wasn’t up to scratch), and it was a thrill to see it make its way in the world. However, almost a decade later, I feel as though I’ve moved on. In 2010 there was the Launceston experience, those four weeks during which the way I wrote was turned on its head. Since then, I’ve been working on the Blemish novellas, which are much shorter works than Remnants. It’s almost as if that novel was a blip, an aberration, some kind of literary miracle, and perhaps it was. But now I’m thinking about that book again, because of Stuart Barnes’ ‘Stern Man’.

7.

Stuart’s lines are collected mostly from the short proem that opens the story: Mitchell Granville, a melancholic man at best, is taking a bath in what was once an apple-picker’s shed, though something more serious is going on. What I admire most about ‘Stern Man’ is that Stuart has lifted the chosen lines and created something entirely new, something – yes – magical. I do love the idea of a peacock collecting firewood.

8.

Magical, also, because I based Mitchell’s bath on the one I used to enjoy in the Blue Mountains holiday cottage that my family rented for many years every summer and some winters. You had to make a fire in a barrel and wait for it to puff like a steam-engine before turning on the tap so the water would warm and dribble through. When I was nothing more than boy, when I was soaking in that rust-brown water after yet another day of exploring wild bushland, did I used to imagine that my brain would spark a novel and that my novel would spark a poem written by someone else? I may have been a relentless dreamer, but I could never have dreamt that far.

9.

Enough from me.

10.

Here’s ‘Stern Man’ by Stuart Barnes, which was first published in Four W twenty-four (2013). Please note: what’s not included in the image, but is included as a footnote to the original poem as published, are the words ‘a found poem; source: Nigel Featherstone, Remnants, Pandanus Books, 2005′.  These things are important.

Three cheers for literary miracles.

11.

Stern Man by Stuart Barnes (2014)

 

 

Fall on Me: you be the judge

Giving away art for free - who benefits in the end?

Giving away art for free – who benefits in the end?  (Someone once said that I reminded them of a ‘better-looking Thom Yorke’.  I’ve never known if that was a compliment or not.)

No, regrettably this little novella isn’t going to be a contestant on The Voice, but there is a music connection.  In 2007 the British rock-band Radiohead famously released their seventh studio album, In Rainbows, on a pay-what-you-want-for-the-download basis.  Whilst definitive results of the experiment are hard to come by, indications are that about 60% chose to pay nothing, while the remainder paid on average a significantly discounted price.  Overall, however, once the album was released physically, In Rainbows was a financial and critical success, making more money than the band’s previous album across all platforms.  At the time, Radiohead’s approach was considered ground-breaking, but over the years there’s been debate about its impact on the music industry in general; even Thom Yorke, the band’s free-thinking frontman, said that the strategy may have been a mistake, as it played into the prevailing internet culture that everything should be free.

What’s this got to do with literature and Fall on Me?

For a limited time only, the e-book version of Fall on Me is available to download on a pay-what-you-want basis. Nice.

For a limited time only, the e-book version of Fall on Me is available to download on a pay-what-you-want basis. Nice.

As is increasingly obvious, the publishing world is currently in turmoil and in many ways is following on the digital coat-tails of the music industry, or at least trying to.  Publishers big and small are looking to try anything and everything to get their books in the hands of readers.  And my publisher, Blemish Books, is no different.  So, for a limited time only, Blemish have released Fall on Me as an e-book on a pay-what-you-want basis.  It’s a very interesting proposition, because it’s actually the mirror-reverse of the In Rainbows experiment: Fall on Me has already had a successful run as a physical book, in terms of both numbers sold and positive reviews achieved.  But will this new strategy generate downloads?  And how much will readers pay for it?  And what do I reckon about all this? I’m just glad that the life of Fall on Me is being extended, and if Blemish’s cheeky Radiohead-esque move means more readers can experience the novella then I’m all for it.  Plus I have a phone-bill to pay.

I’m Ready Now for Smith’s and the Southern Highlands

This little baby's gonna be out and about a bit more.

This little baby’s gonna be out and about a bit more over the coming months.  I’ll probably turn up as well.

Meanwhile, the most recent of the two novellas, I’m Ready Now, continues to make its way in the world as a hard-copy-only book.  A handful of reviews down, and some public-reading gigs in the bag, I’m Ready Now has a few more outings up its sleeve.  At 6pm on Thursday 20 June, I’ll be joining my Blemish stable-mates, including PS Cottier and JC Inman, at a special one-off event called A Very Blemished Evening, a title that suits me perfectly.  It’ll be held at the new Smith’s Alternative, which is a longstanding and iconic Canberra bookshop that’s recently had a major overhaul and is now as much a bar and performance space as it is a place of books and reading.  Do join us: there’ll be booze, which is the main thing, isn’t it.  Oh and I’ve heard gratuitous gossip that there’ll be music by Canberra’s favourite streetwise troubadours, The Cashews.  Now that’s something to get excited about.

Then, a few weeks later, at 4pm on Saturday 13 July, I’ll be taking part in the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival.  Established only last year, this time around the Festival has on offer literary luminaries such as Anne Sommers, Mark Tredinnick, Ursula Dubasarsky, and Geordie Williamson, all in a charming venue with an intimate atmosphere.  Don’t like the massive crowds of the big-city festivals?  Me neither, so come to this one.  I’ll be sharing the stage with Christine Howe, which is a bit nice as we’re both alumni of the University of Wollongong’s creative writing program.  We’ll be talking ‘Fantastic Fiction’ – apparently this requires us to dress as superheroes.  Me in lycra?  It’ll never happen.  But I’m sure Christine and I will still be able to keep you entertained.  Especially if there’s booze at the end of it.

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As always, thanks for your support and interest.  Fingers crossed that I’ll see you at one – or maybe both? – of these events.  And if you’re in the market for the highest quality e-book known to mankind, I do hope you’ll be able to press the right buttons and make a very independent publisher and their very independent author just that little bit happier.  Plus there’s that phone-bill to pay.  Chink-chink.

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