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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A Sweet Tooth for Australia


Lois Shepheard is the author of several IP titles, including The Rag Boiler's Daughter, Memories of Shinichi Suzuki: Son of His Environment and Black McIntosh to Gold. An accomplished music teacher based in Melbourne, Lois has researched and written extensively on the migrant experience from Scotland to Australia.

Assistant Editor Imogen Sloss interviews her here about her latest book, The Sugar Doctor, which provides fascinating insights into 19th century Australian society and the foundations of the sugar industry.


IS:  You have an interest in stories of migrants – what first drew you towards writing about Dr Skinner in particular?

LS: Dr Skinner brought my great-grandmother to Australia from Scotland. He himself arrived in 1839 and became the 62nd medical doctor to be registered in New South Wales. I was intrigued as to why he had come and interested even more when I found him listed in government records as buying quantities of land. He is documented as having lived in the Philippines and again I wondered why.

IS:  Other than the Sugar Doctor himself, in this book, who was your favourite character to research and write about?

LS: I don’t have favourite characters! I have stated historical facts and tried to envisage what life would have been like in Dr Skinner’s varying circumstances.  

IS: What was the most surprising discovery you made while researching 19th century Scotland and Australia?

LS: In Dr Skinner’s case, it was research into his first wife’s background which led me to understand why he was interested in sugar-growing. He was already documented in some books on early New South Wales – as a doctor, never as a sugar grower. It was more a confirmation than a surprising discovery that all our early settlers came here for a reason and that we have to be very careful to research all available data before we write ‘historical’ facts.

IS:    How have Dr Skinner and his actions impacted Australia as we live in it today?

LSThe energy, vision, forethought and planning of such settlers as Dr Skinner laid the foundation of today’s Australia.  


IS:    How do you think attitudes towards immigration have changed from the 19th century to now? 

LS: Most Australians are the descendants of migrants. When those migrants arrived, this country welcomed them as much as it could. My own father came, with his parents, brothers and sisters, because of lack of work in Scotland. My grandfather quickly found work in New South Wales. I feel so sad when I think of today’s migrants who have fled difficulties in their own countries and are not welcomed here.

IS: How would Dr Alexander Skinner rate as a businessman compared to other nationally successful entrepreneurs of today?

LS: One could say he doesn’t rate highly beside a businessman of today  - given that he moved from place to place and from profession to profession, seemingly without due thought to circumstances. Today’s businessmen would be sure of the financial consequences of their actions. But Alexander Skinner lived at a time when there was no financial security. The very fact that he boarded a boat in the north of Scotland and sailed 10,422 miles to an unknown land proves how courageous he was and how convinced that he could make his vision a reality. If he had lived today, he would doubtless be a very wealthy entrepreneur.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Poetry set in the Middle-East

In anticipation of the launch of Dr Jane Simpson's A world without maps in Christchurch, New Zealand, IP Assistant Editor, Emerald Garcia-Finnis, interviewed Jane about how her experiences living in the Middle-East influenced her writing.






E G-F:    Do you see the book as promoting multi-cultural/cross-cultural understanding?

      JS: Good political poetry in the West is a rare thing. I would be very suspicious of poetry that aimed to promote ‘multi-cultural or cross-cultural understanding’. My professional background is in History and Religious Studies, first as a lecturer at the University of Canterbury, NZ, and then as a secondary school teacher in the UK after 2005. Religious Studies uses many different academic disciplines to help us understand religions and cultures from times and places which are very different from our own.

The first section of A world without maps draws on my experience of living and working in the UAE, at the boundary of Western and Bedouin cultures. Being in this liminal space gave me a double perspective; by understanding more of the Middle East we understand more of ourselves. Without this, cross-cultural understanding is impossible. Some of the poems in this section gently challenge our stereotypes of Muslim culture. Others are subversive and strongly political, especially so when read in the UAE. I hope that my poems, which tell stories and create strong images, open up for the reader new ways of seeing and understanding. For example, instead of fearing Muslims in the street after the London bombings of July 2005, I learned to see them as people. This carries over to my poems.


E G-F:    What experiences and influences drew you to write about the Middle East? 

JS: To prepare to teach English to Muslim women teachers in Al Ain, an ancient oasis city in the Abu Dhabi Emirate, I read tourist guidebooks, company briefings and information from numerous websites. Nothing prepared me for what I encountered, as I became immersed in a diverse Muslim community, older generations of Emirati still close to their Bedouin roots but the majority becoming rapidly westernized and materialistic. Polyglot ex-patriate communities vastly outnumbered the indigenous people, and brought their own cultural riches. Enchanted by living in this world, I started to ask many questions, but didn’t know how to express them to others. A teacher from another company suggested I write a book for high-qualified westerners working in public-private partnerships in the Middle East, who needed a deeper sense of cross-cultural awareness to do their jobs effectively. Little then did I know this would be a poetry collection.




E G-F:    Did these experiences change your approach to poetry?

JS: The experiences of living and working in the UAE generated stories and images which I meshed with understandings from Islam, the sciences, archaeology and anthropology to create a deeper level of meaning. The two became integrated as I found metaphors that moved between these two worlds. I’ve always been interested in code-switching in poems, suddenly shifting from the exalted to the mundane. Middle-eastern cultures lent themselves to this approach (see ‘Where zebra crossed’). Few of the poems in my chapbook, Candlewick kelp, were political. In A world without maps all three sections have poems where the subject wrestles with changing power relationships. These are brought alive by the use of story, personification and metaphor.

Dr Jane Simpson


E G-F:    Your poetic techniques vary in style in each section. What were you trying to convey in each?

JS: I see the elements of poetry – form and pattern, space, line breaks, and the music (rhyme, rhythm and the ‘sonic’ landscape) as a repertoire we can draw on as we create and shape our poems. Other skills come into play in writing a sequence and putting together a collection. The music of poetry is very important to me; I have written poetry and music together and recorded a CD, Tussocks Dancing, now available on Spotify.

In Section I, ‘Desert logic’, the poems are stripped back and have empty spaces, in keeping with the desert theme. Compared with other sections, the layout is more varied; double columns create a space to bridge across from word to word, allowing meditation. Some poems have refrains.


In section II, ‘The space between the leaves’, and III, ‘Like fantails in the forest’, the poems are more tightly patterned and layered. They use a wider range of forms: sonnets, a blues sonnet and elegies. Some are direct responses to well-known poems. Sometimes I used a detailed sonic analysis of a poem by a contemporary British or American poet I had made months earlier (see ‘Lethe’). I believe that using the classical form of the sonnet makes the poems about my family much more than personal poems; listeners who have never met me immediately identify with the people in them, even if set in the 1940s and 1950s – a period I know well as an historian.


Jane's A world without maps will be launched by Bernadette Hall, Winner, New Zealand Prime Minister's Award for Literature, at Scorpio Books, 113 Riccarton Road, Riccarton, Christchurch, Saturday 5 November from 2pm.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Q&A with Harold Hunt

Indigenous Australian Harold Hunt has lived an extraordinary life. Growing up in far north-western New South Wales during the Great Depression, Harold has lived to see all of the dramatic social changes that took place in Australia during the 20th century.

Harold’s new memoir, Along My Way, charts his life story, detailing how he went from being an alcoholic to an OAM recipient in recognition of his exemplary community service.

Prior to the launch of his book at WestWords 2016 and touring events in Sydney, Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and regional New South Wales, we interviewed Harold to gain further insight into his very interesting life.

IP: What inspired you to write Along My Way?

Harold: 
I was inspired to write a family history that can be passed on down the generations. I wanted to show that regardless of where and how one begins, goals and dreams are achievable.

IP: What is your favourite memory from your childhood?

Harold: 

The attitude that my mother had to life—she lived her life with love, courage, and honesty. I hope I have done her justice in Along My Way.

IP: You have lived through a number of societal changes, what is one change that you never expected to see in your lifetime?

Harold: I never expected to see Aboriginal people rise above poverty and hopelessness. Nowadays there is an opportunity for us to break into the academic field and become doctors, lawyers, business developers and managers.

IP: Following on from the previous question, what is something that you have done in your life, that you never thought you would have the opportunity to do?

Harold: 
Due to only having a primary school education, I never thought that I would be able to anything other than physical work. But in my life I have been lucky enough to do many different things, including working for the New South Wales Health Commission and the Attorney-General’s later on in life.

IP: In Along My Way you move around a lot, how did you make the transition from growing up in the bush to living in the city?

Harold: Having overcome my alcohol addiction, my horizons widened. My wife and I had many discussions, and with her encouragement, the transition was not too bad. We believed that there was a wider range of opportunities in the city.

IP: You have spent a great deal of time with Alcoholics Anonymous as part of your recovery from alcoholism, do you think this is an effective model for recovery?

Harold: 
Alcoholics Anonymous operates worldwide and is definitely the most effective form of treatment for addictions of all kinds. It has been functioning exceptionally well in Australia for almost a hundred years now.

IP: In 2014 you received an OAM for services to the community, how has this award changed your life?

Harold: The Order of Australia award has not changed me at all. I had already received my rewards in the process of doing the work and being able to help others. However the government must have recognised my work, and it was for this which I received the OAM. I believe my OAM can and will be a great inspiration to other people who began in similar circumstances to what I did.

IP: Tell us about your involvement with the apology speech to the Stolen Generations given by Kevin Rudd. How did it make you feel?

Harold: I just felt that it was at last the decent thing to do.

IP: I believe you also attended Paul Keating’s Redfern speech, in which he publicly addressed the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for the first time. What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, which took place around the same time?

Harold: 
Twenty-five years ago the Australian Government established a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. Ninety-nine cases were examined and 339 recommendations were made. Since then only about 20 of those recommendations have been implemented and not unexpectedly, there has been an increase in deaths in custody since. It seems to raise the question of whether governments have had the political will to enact the recommendations proposed by the Commission. Furthermore, why do governments set up Royal Commissions knowing that they are not legally bound to comply with the Commission’s findings? My view is that the government is falsely telling the public that changes will be made. Where does that leave people like me who believe that a facility as high as a Royal Commission should ensure change?



One of our most exciting recent poetry releases is Jules Leigh Koch's Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky

A while back the release of the book was celebrated in Adelaide with a launch by Mike Ladd of the ABC, who for many years hosted Radio National's PoeticA program.

Courtesy of Rochford Street Review, we're happy to provide you with Mike's very detailed review of the book.

“Jules Leigh Koch finds the surreal within the real in his coastal, suburban and urban settings”: Mike Ladd launches ‘Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky’ by Jules Leigh Koch

Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky (Interactive Press) by Jules Leigh Koch was launched by Mike Ladd at the South Australian Writers’ Centre on Thursday 8 October 2015.
Mike Ladd and Jules Leigh Koch photo by Cary Hamlyn
Mike Ladd and Jules Leigh Koch. photo by Cary Hamlyn (2015)
Thirteen years ago this is what I said about Jules Leigh Koch’s second book, each goldfish is hand-painted: “Jules Leigh Koch is a poet who, like the French and Australian Impressionists works en plein air. He is a colourist, a sketcher with words, who sets up his easel at the beach, in city streets, suburban back yards and gum forests. With affection he records the quotidian details of our suburbs because they are ours. This is the environment we have made. It’s where so many of us live. While not blind to their faults and disappointments, this poet takes on the function of celebrating our lives. His metaphors are full of cleverly inverted perspectives: the jetty has been cast out. The poems seem simple and modular like the suburbs themselves, but look a bit deeper and you’ll discover the playfulness of his language and real human warmth. Jules Leigh Koch works with quick dabs, bright splashes of colour and deftly caught feelings.”
I think this is still fundamentally true of his new collection Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky. After all, Koch has a recognisable style that he’s been honing for decades: short lines, compressed imagery, unpretentious language, and metaphor, metaphor, metaphor.
Now in some circles metaphor is out of fashion. But I still think it’s one of the key poetic tools. It builds connections between the world and us. It works against isolation. At its best it offers new views that refresh our ideas of the world. And Koch really loves metaphor. In fact, he has a poem that’s called ‘After Love-making I Think in Metaphors’ – and I’m wondering if he even thinks in metaphors during it!
He is a romantic, no doubt about it. I often think of Oscar Wilde’s quote “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” when I read Jules Leigh Koch’s work. The stars haunt his poems, as does the moon in various phases, the sunset, clouds, the sea, the romance of rain, but it’s not some naive retreat into nature or an easy escape into myth making. In fact, he’s simultaneously very grounded in urban and suburban reality, there’s an edge and an unease, juxtaposed with the starry. His poems talk about failed relationships, addiction, alienation, and suburban bleakness as well as the beauty around us and above us.
These are some of the metaphors from Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky: “the artificial lake is calm as a sedative”, “sunset is a blood clot” and insomnia is “a tap dripping against flesh and bone.” For a man alone in a bar his drinks go down “like flares with no landing ground.” Sunlight “tears itself along a wall”, bird sounds are “high voltage machinery” and daybreak is operated by “ropes and pulleys.” On the steps of the Salvation Army hostel a “chemically troubled” woman waits “as calmly as a getaway car” (and that’s not calmly at all.) Birds have had their flights cancelled by fog, a kettle has an umbilical cord, sunlight is electric shock therapy, windows are guillotines, and stars are screws that hold the night in place.
Now I’m starting to think I have to modify my earlier description of Koch’s poetry. Maybe the comparison isn’t so much with the impressionists but with the surrealists, because Jules Leigh Koch finds the surreal within the real in his coastal, suburban and urban settings. And here I’m thinking particularly of Rene Magritte. Even the title of this new collection Stripping Wallpaper from the Sky reminds me of one of those strange Magritte paintings where exterior becomes interior and vice versa.
Some of Koch’s surrealism is found in the ordinary everyday – like the lady bowlers who are sponsored by a funeral parlour. Other examples are a little more out there, like this one:
Funeral Flowers
today I will try
to defuse a bomb
the one ticking somewhere
between your heart and genitalia
I will do it blindfolded
not to see the damage
or fallout created,
outside your bedroom I wait
with a bunch of white lilies
and my mini screwdriver kit
White lilies, a screwdriver, a blindfold, a bomb – I leave you to play with that sexual symbolism, but I can almost see it as a Magritte painting, maybe entitled ‘Boudoir of the Assassin.’
In The Essential Rene Magritte, Todd Algren has written a very interesting chapter on the poetic strategies of Magritte. Juxtaposition, dislocation, hybridization, metamorphosis – all these strategies used by the painter could also be applied to several poems by Jules Leigh Koch. But Algren describes another Magritte poetic strategy called “elective affinities” that fits Koch especially well: “he juxtaposes two related objects based on affinities or associative relationships between them” for example “the painting of a giant egg inside a bird cage, the most obvious affinity between the two being a bird.”
That’s it! When Jules Leigh Koch talks about jetties casting themselves out, happy hours spilling into each other, a construction site shovelled in with shadows, a fogbound airport postponing the flights of birds, he’s using elective affinity as a poetic strategy. Now I think I’ve finally nailed down Koch’s technique. But wait a second. Magritte himself also said: “People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking, ‘What does it mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable.”
So forget this analysis. Just let Jules Leigh Koch’s images ripple over you like one of his suburban beachscapes, enjoy a wander in his streets, and a patch of his sunlight.
-Mike Ladd

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Celebrate IP: 20th year anthology



Back in 1997, a publishing star was born out of the Big Bang collapse of the Penguin Australia Poetry Series. IP had been around for a few years before that as a publishing consultancy to business and government agencies, and so it was just a small step from Interactive Publications the consultancy to Interactive Press, our first literary imprint.


In those 20 years, many independent publishing ventures have come and gone, but IP has been more than a survivor – we've innovated. We were the first in Australia to publish to the Amazon Kindle and have established partnerships with global players like Apple, Google and Overdrive. While even the major players were text-bound, IP ventured into cross-arts publications as early as 2002, producing a Text + Audio Series, interactive multi-media, audio books and films.

We've done it all on the smell of the proverbial oily rag, and, through collaboration with our authors and artists, fine-tuned a business model that works for them as well as us. Significantly, we've never compromised on our standards, always insisting that the work we publish has to be the best it can be before we release it.

From our modest beginnings as a poetry publisher, we've now expanded to four imprints publishing authors from New Zealand and North America, as well as Australia.

Over the years, our titles have earned recognition in the State awards and Premier's Reading Challenges against stiff competition, and they continue to do so.

Now, as we enter our 20th year of business, it's time to celebrate not only IP's achievements, but IP as an emblem of what is possible for independent publishers even during challenging economic times.

The focus will be Celebrate IP: a 20th year anthology (tentative title, but you get the message). And we're inviting not only past and present IP authors, but all authors who want to celebrate the spirit of independent publishing, to submit their best work to us for possible inclusion in the anthology.

There will be two anthologies – a print version, and a digital one. The print edition will be more modest in length, while the digital one will not only be more inclusive but also open to cross media works.

There will be no cost to submit, and probably no payment (unless we can secure some grant funding).

Here are the guidelines:

• submissions must be in digital format: Word/Pages for text, mp3 for audio, .mov for video
• include your name, email and phone contact in the email with Celebrate IP in the suject line
print submissions are limited to 4-6 poems, or 2 prose pieces (max. 2500 words each), either previously unpublished, or with permissions already cleared with existing publishers
• audio/video submissions must be 3 minutes maximum with a file name as follows: yourfullname_titleofwork.mp3 or .mov. In the case of audio readings/performances, please include a text version. You can send it/them via Dropbox invitation.
• the deadline for submission will be COB, 1 May 2017 for anticipated publication in September, 2017
• successful contributors will receive a free copy of the digital version and may order copies of the print edition at 50% of the cover price + freight
• a preliminary and final contents list will be posted on this blog, and no further correspondence will be entered into.

We look forward to your submissions and encourage you to spread the word.



Monday, 11 July 2016

The Timelord lands in Perth!

We're pleased to report that David Reiter (also known as the Doctor) has had his latest work, Timelord Dreaming, shortlisted for the 2016 Western Australia Premier's Award!

This is the third time David has been nominated for this coveted award. Nullarbor Song Cycle, a short film that documented his road trip across the iconic semi-arid landscape, was shortlisted in 2011. My Planets Reunion Memoir, the interactive website and film completed while he was residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts, won the award in 2012.



 P.S. Cottier, reviewing for the Sydney Morning Herald, says of the work: "In reusing motifs from popular culture, particularly that of science fiction, the poet ties deeply personal experiences to those we share through the web and other created worlds."

Leah Kaminsky, author of We're All Going to Die and Deputy Edior of the Medical Journal of Australia, says: "Illness as altered reality isolates us from the world. Sharp as a scalpel, David Reiter beams trippy tweetems from his hospital bed, cracking sterile walls and piercing us with poignancy."

And Anna Maguire, of Digireado, commented that "In the half-life world of hospitals, pain and medication, Dr Reiter has taken us on his journey into and through his mind. Taking twists, turns and delightful detours, he has developed a new form of digital communication – tweetems. While some draw on visitations of Doctor Who, the tweetems also take us on a myriad of musical and educational voyages. Between sonic screwdrivers and white cell scouts, Timelord Dreaming ensures our normalacy bias will be prodded and deconstructed."

At first glance, Timelord, in its print edition, seems more conventional than David's previous work. Each page has a dedicated three line text that he describes as a "tweetem" – a hybrid form that is influenced by Japanese poetic forms and limited by the 140 character max of the tweet.

But then there are "internet call-outs" that invite the viewer to link to external websites, with a surprise at every click. Sometimes the links are to sites about medical issues, or to musical clips and videos associated with the theme of the tweetem. And of course, there are the links to aspects of the latest Dr Who series.

The book was an outcome of David two week stay at the Mater Hospital during which he was recovering from an emergency gallbladder operation, and where he met an orderly lookalike of the latest Dr Who, Peter Capaldi, who watched over him during the Emergency Ward and carted him off for the CT scan that finally diagnosed the gallbladder problem.

The tweetem form occurred to David as a means of capturing the fragmentary nature of the hospital experience from the patient's point of view, where the mind and imagination drift in and out of focus, bringing together a variety of images, sounds and insights, as well as a reflection on the patient's loss of control and even identity as the hospital stay continues.

While Timelord is of course available in a print edition, we recommend the digital version for those who want the full immersive experience of being able to immediate link to the external sites.

Since you're online now, why not check out a preview here?