What We're Reading / November 2022

Take a look at what we’ve read in November – a gripping Aussie crime, a Miles Franklin winner, a mental health anthology and more!


Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down

Rowena Tuziak, Membership & Operations Manager

Bodies of LIght Jennifer Down - What We're Reading November

Told with empathy and authenticity, Jennifer Down’s Bodies of Light charts the course of a life wrought by trauma. Maggie’s mother has died, her addict father is incarcerated, and she is thrust into the foster care system of Melbourne in the 1980s. It is the start of endemic institutional failures that compound her damage.

This compelling saga reads like a memoir with its first-person intimacy. Maggie is alive on the page and as readers, we are invested in her welfare. It would be easy for a work like this to slip into excessive despair, but Down knows when it is time for us to come up for air. It is thoroughly researched, with Down exquisitely capturing time, place, and character, with clean prose that is beautiful and precise.

Jennifer Down was a very worthy winner of the Miles Franklin this year. This is such a respectful and skilfully crafted novel, with storytelling that is layered and nuanced. As you might expect from a story of trauma, proceed with caution as this powerful book covers some confronting content.

Island Magazine 165

Isaac Wilcox, Administration and Digital Services Officer

Island Magazine What We're reading november

I’ve been reading Island Magazine 165. It’s a great edition, with the winner and shortlist of the Island Nonfiction Prize 2022, new poetry, fiction and arts feature.

I was really caught by the short story, ‘Hand Held,’ by Laura Elvery. The story is very familiar – distance, families, Covid, kids. It’s familiar and sort of comforting to remember it’s not just you who’s experienced these things and we’re all still coming through. Another thing that caught me was Pip Smith’s poem, ‘Daughters.’ Instantly I think of my wife and her own grim sense of humour. I wonder if she will find it as funny as I did. There’s a sense of loss and loneliness throughout the magazine. I wonder if there’s been something in the life of an editor, if it’s just me, or if we’re all just feeling exhausted and a bit lost. In saying that, the fact they’ve been written and shared, and I want to share them with others, is a hopeful thing. Just like that beautiful cover image by Helen Wright.

Island Magazine 165, Island Magazine

Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor

Jane McCredie, CEO

Dirt town hayley scrivenor

I’ve been reading Hayley Scrivenor’s debut novel, Dirt Town, after it was recommended to me by another member of the Writing NSW team, Amy Lovat. Regional crime is one of the most successful genres in Australian publishing at the moment and this is the best example I’ve read so far. Told from multiple points of view, the novel transcends the usual bounds of crime fiction with the quality of its writing and psychological depth of its characters. The simmering violence in Scrivenor’s fictional community will stay with me for a while.

Dirt Town, Pan Macmillan

Admissions: Voices within Mental Health

Keira Baker, Project and Communications Officer

Admissions voices within mental health what we're reading november

Admissions: Voices within Mental Health is a collection of work from Australian writers, comedians and public figures aiming to “define themselves beyond a diagnosis.” Edited by David Stavanger, Radhiah Chowdhury, and Mohammad Awad, the book collates a series of essays, poems, fiction, lyrics, and illustrations exploring lived experiences of mental health and creative practice. 

I was going to choose just one story to review, but the power of this book lies in how it cumulates, page after page. Elizabeth Tan writes about ‘smart ovens for lonely people.’ Cher Tan dissects the pursuit of happiness. Some of the pieces take us through lives or generations, others are just a few lines, a scribbled drawing – Maja Amanita’s Toilet Stall Poetry just reads: “They took the hook off the back of the toilet stall does at the psychiatric hospital, And I’m wondering if the lady in the next stall is crying for the same reason.”

In this way, despite some of the heavier content, there’s a hopefulness that finds its way through cracks. A sense of togetherness, of reclaiming language. The anthology describes it as “mad pride.”

Writing can be a strange and lonely profession. In a climate of anxiety and isolation, this collection is a reminder of the power of sharing stories.

Admissions: Voices within Mental Health, Upswell Publishing

What we're Reading November

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