I'm a novelist, poet, critic and sometimes writer for and about the theatre. Each of these things keeps interrupting the others. My poetry and criticism have won prizes. I'm the author of the popular and critically acclaimed fantasy quartet The Books of Pellinor, the Gothic fantasy Black Spring and The River and the Book, a forthcoming speculative fiction novel. In English, my novels are published with Walker Books (UK and Australia), Candlewick (US) and Penguin Books Australia. I have self-published two novels as Kindle ebooks: the literary memoir Navigatio and Jimmy Wonderspoon, a story that I wrote for my 10-year-old daughter. Presently I'm writing The Bone Queen, a prequel to the Books of Pellinor. You can find out more at alisoncroggon.com. And you can follow me on twitter at @alisoncroggon.

Why "Reimkennar"? It's an old word for sorceress that stems from old Germanic: literally "rhyme knower". Seems like a good title for a fantasy novelist slash poet slash whatever.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Also, while I'm at it...

...The Guardian launched its new Australian edition on Monday, and asked me to go to the press call for the musical King Kong, which opens in Melbourne next month, for the first public unveiling of the giant puppet.

It was big. Full report here.

What I Did On My Week Off From Novel Writing

Below is a short talk I delivered on Sunday for a panel with playwright Jane Harrison, thriller writer Alex Hammond and literary novelist Wayne Macauley on Finding Genre, which was part of the Emerging Writers Festival. The EWF is just one of the writing events filling Melbourne with buzz this month: this week I'm also at the State Library of Victoria for Reading Matters, a full-on YA shindig where I'll be catching up with some favourite colleagues. It is typical of my life that as a result I had to regretfully turn down an invitation to another favourite event, the Australian Theatre Forum, which is simultaneously happening in Canberra. Curses. Perhaps the below explains why sometimes I think it would be desirable to clone myself.

I’m not so sure that I have found my genres, so much as they have found me. I was always a poet – family legend has it that I wrote a verse on my first day at school. Poetry was a kind of inner necessity, more than any kind of conscious decision. And in a process akin to brachiation, everything else has evolved from where I began. Somebody asked at a Con last year whether my "brand" is too confusing. I freely confess that I am no good as a brand. I am a critic and a poet, I write for high art performance, I write genre novels. But poetry remains at the centre of everything I do.

When I am not writing novels, I spend most of my time at the theatre. As an incurable border crosser and margin dweller, I both write for it and criticise it. Theatre has always seemed a strange accident in my life: it just kept turning up, although I never quite intended to go there. I began writing about it as a critic in my late 20s, when by sheer chance I was offered the post of Melbourne theatre critic for the Bulletin, and at that time, uneasily aware of my ignorance, I approached each task as if it was a university assignment. I never went to university, as I trained as a journalist instead, and this was a way of catching up.

The culture of performance was an escape from what I increasingly saw as a suffocating insularity in the culture of poetry; it offered a more generous, collaborative possibility. It interested me because of the physical presence of the actor, the direct mediation between performer and audience, and because it only happens when you’re there. Thinking about this artform has taken up a lot of my time over the past decade, but all that work is a direct result of my practice and thought as a poet.

It seemed logical that I should write for theatre, because poetry has a close relationship to theatre writing, much closer than prose: theatre has an inherent poetic that writers ignore at their peril. Over the years I’ve written a number of plays, both for radio and stage, and six libretti. Libretti are a natural form for a poet because they offer language a heightened existence. But most importantly, I love the work of collaboration, the articulation and subsuming of the writer’s self in the larger frame of the work.

I don’t think of myself as a dramatist: even when I’ve written plays, I’ve always thought that they are the plays of a poet. I once included some plays in a collection of my poems, which just seemed to confuse everybody. I was told it was a bad idea because booksellers didn’t know whether to file the book under poetry or plays. It’s often a disavantage to move between genres. I remember the poet John Forbes telling me that he had always been deeply suspicious of the multi-talented, and certainly I’ve struck that suspicion quite often: there seems to be a widely held belief that you can’t do more than one thing without being somehow inauthentic.

My first venture in prose, a novella called Navigatio, was an exercise in poetic prose, a mixture of memoir and fantastic speculation that was really an essay on memory and imagination. The next time I attempted a novel, several years later, I went for broke: a four part high epic fantasy called The Books of Pellinor, which ended up being a story 2000 pages long. It seems logical for the kind of poet I am to reach for the cathedral-like architecture of the metaphors of epic fantasy: if I had been writing centuries ago, I would have written an epic poem. Again I was astonished that I finished that, but I did. And it woke in me the slumbering story teller that I had never quite realised was there.

I feel that novels are a difficult addiction, but now I am entranced by the possibilities of narrative. My most recently released book is Black Spring, which came out late last year. That’s a feminist twist on the Gothic novel which is a tribute to both Emily Bronte and Ismael Kadare. My next book is a lyrical fable called The River and The Book, which is set in a place like contemporary Central Asia and which is about the environmental and cultural changes of modernity. And that is different again. The book I’m writing now is a return to the epic fantasy world of Pellinor, and I find that I’m rethinking the form again on this revisit.

This means that I probably am a confusing writer. Sometimes I even confuse myself. I can only write the work that passionately engages me, and I loathe repeating myself. I’m kind of stuck with that. I am passionately fascinated by form: I like both inventing new forms, and exploring forms that already exist, like 19th century gothic or epic fantasy, to see how I can at once use and subvert them. I will always be, in all those forms, a lyrical writer. And I feel very much like Dorothy Hewett, another writer who worked across prose and plays and poetry: it’s all writing.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Australian Poetry Library, a site run from the University of Sydney, is an excellent resource for anyone interested in Australian poetry. It features hundreds of poems, biographies and further reading on a wide selection of Australian poets, and has a goodly selection of mine (although none from my most recent collections). This week they've made me feature poet, and they interviewed me, which I rather enjoyed. They also asked me to choose a poem from their collection and talk about it. From the interview:

Why do you write poetry?

I’ve never been quite sure why. I’ve written it for as long as I can remember. I experience the desire to write it as a kind of pressure, an internal necessity that eventually emerges in a poem.

Is poetry important?

I don’t know how to answer that. The fact is that it’s not important to many people: they get by their whole lives without encountering it, and who is to say they are the worse for that? I’m reluctant to proselytise about poetry: why should anyone read it, if they don’t want to? It’s important to me. It’s an art in which language is placed under pressure and investigated in ways which question the assumptions that we make about it, as creatures who use language every day without thinking. Poetry is like contemporary dance in that way: just as dance takes the body and its gestures as material, and treats them in all sorts of investigative ways, poetry plays with the materiality of language, foregrounding attributes that tends to be glossed in everyday life: its sonic and sensuous properties, its manipulativeness, its expressiveness, the tensions between abstraction and representation, and so on. It’s important, I guess, as a way of thinking, in the larger sense in which thought and feeling are integrated. It’s a way of becoming more conscious, as a reader and as a writer.

You can read the rest of the interview at the Australian Poetry Library.

Friday, May 3, 2013

On being mixed up

Every now and then I make a vain attempt to organise myself. Like that time I thought I'd give myself three email addresses, one for theatre, one for writing business and one for other. That worked really well: the glowing vision of beautifully organised mail turned out to mean in reality that my feral inbox simply tripled itself. Reimkennar was one of those bright ideas: let's do a blog that's just about the novels! Well, partly because I'm writing a novel, partly because I'm now regularly blogging for the newly launched superschmick ABC Arts Online, on top of my regular poetry reviewing and columnising for Overland Journal, as well as various random essays and other things that come my way, I find I don't have much to say about the novels. What I say about the novels, aside from the odd adventure into blog tours, is pretty much said in the novels. And sometimes I do get bored with my own news.

Though I should tell you that Black Spring was listed as a 2013 Notable Book by the Children's Book Council of Australia. Which was cool. And that at the end of May I'll be at Reading Matters, the upcoming youth literature shindig at the State Library of Victoria, with some of my favourite colleagues, including Garth Nix, Morris Gleitzman and my old mate Paul Callaghan, who used to run the independent gaming festival Freeplay. So if you're coming too, do come up and say hello.

Also, Black Spring's US release, through Candlewick Books, is coming up in August. So I'll no doubt be posting about that. I have ARCs, but I can't wait to see the final book.  I think that's all my novel news. Oh, I'm still plugging away at Cadvan, that stand-alone prequel to the Pellinor Books.  I'm probably about two thirds through, though it's hard to tell - it depends how long the book is, and, unusually for me, I'm still not entirely sure. It will be as long as it is.

Anyway, for this blog, I've decided to embrace the confusion. See those books up there? They're all my books. Some people might be interested in some of them and not at all interested in others, and some people might not be interested in any of them at all. This is perfectly okay. (However, the best and most fascinating people are interested in all of them and will want to buy them straight away). Some of them are poetry books. One of the poetry books has several plays in it as well as a kind of essay. (That confused the poets). One is an experimental novella. Quite a lot are fantasy. This is why someone asked me once if my "brand" was "confusing". My "brand" - I suppose I am branded, if that means that in the hour of my birth a demon appeared in a puff of scarlet smoke and smote me with a red hot iron that said THOU SHALT BE A WRITER - is confusing. It confuses me. I simply can't talk about what I'm doing as if I do one thing, because that's not how my life works (that is, if it works at all, which at this point is dubious.)

According to all the experts, this kind of confusion is highly inadvisable, but what can I do? My brain is very disobedient and just keeps running off and doing stuff, often without my permission.

So. Hello. I'll be posting different kinds of stuff here. It may be confusing, but it may also be interesting. That is all I know.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Poetry reading

On Monday night, a rare event: I'll be doing a poetry reading, for the first time in ages. With Stephanie Honor Convery, I'll be part of the first of a series of new literary salons, hosted as part of the Gilgamesh Readings in South Melbourne. Monday February 4, 7.30pm, at the Evening Star, corner Cecil and York streets, South Melbourne. Details and press release below:

First Monday will feature writers Alison Croggon and Stephanie Honor Convery. A well-known novelist, poet and critic, Croggon will be reading poems. A novelist, blogger and activist, Convery will be reading work based on her in-progress book on the politics of exercise and the body. The event will be MCd by the wonderful Bo Svoronos; open session for writers following the features. Upcoming writers at the salon, to be held the first Monday of each month, include Petra White, Steve Smart, Gig Ryan, Kent MacCarter, Ali Alizadeh, Matt Hetherington, Elizabeth Campbell, Cheryl Overs, Kevin Brophy, Elizabeth Campbell and Jacinda Woodhead. The idea of the salon is to create a serious but pleasurable forum. 'Like' the Port Phillip GR Page and we will keep you updated on the future Salons. 

Alison Croggon has published several collections of poetry, which won the Anne Elder and Dame Mary Gilmore Prizes and were shortlisted for the Victorian and NSW Premier's Literary Awards. Her most recent collection is THEATRE (Salt Publishing 2008). She is the author of the best-selling fantasy quartet THE BOOKS OF PELLINOR, which has been published worldwide, shortlisted for two Aurealis Awards and named one of the Notable Books of 2003 by the Children's Book Council of Australia. The US edition of THE NAMING, was judged a Top Ten Teen Read by Amazon.com. Her new novel BLACK SPRING has just been released in Australia and the UK. From 2004-2012 she ran the review blog THEATRE NOTES for which she won the 2009 Geraldine Pascall Prize for Critic of the Year, and was formerly Melbourne theatre critic for The Australian and The Bulletin. She has written several works for theatre, including the operas THE BURROW and GAUGUIN with the composer Michael Smetanin, and MAYAKOVSKY, commissioned by Victorian Opera in 2013.

Stephanie Honor Convery is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, criticism and commentary in the fields of feminism, politics, Indigenous Australia, literature, art and travel. Her work has been published by Meanjin, the ABC Drum, Overland Literary Journal, the Melbourne Writers’ Festival blog, harvest, Voiceworks, The Wheeler Centre and The Big Issue. She has completed a first novel, BIG RIVER, a magical realist drama set in the Australian tropics. She is presently writing a non-fiction book on the politics of exercise and the body. Stephanie is also an activist and academic. She blogs regularly at www.gingerandhoney.com

MC: Bo Svoronos - who calls himself a casual neo-troubadorian and host and producer of curious things - is known to many of you as a writer and performer. He recently completed his doctorate in Indigenous Festivals and Reciprocity. He has been an independent producer and tour manager for the Global Poetics Tour and chairperson of WELL Productions inc. In his role as Indigenous Arts Officer for the City of Port Phillip, he founded, produced and programmed five Indigenous multi-disciplinary festivals, curated visual art exhibitions and established significant cultural programs. Bo re-founded, produced and co-directed two St Kilda Writers’ Festivals. He also writes and performs his own works across various disciplines and genres.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

World building, rewriting classics and more etc

It's been a full-on January for me. When I gave up writing my blog Theatre Notes, I had a vision of unbounded vistas of time. Each morning I'd gracefully arise in my boudoir, don my silk dressing gown, pick up my quill and leisurely continue the next chapter of my novel before, you know, going out to cut roses or something. The good news is that I have been writing the novel - this is the story about Cadvan in his youth, a prequel to the Pellinor stories, which now is reaching what I think is the halfway mark. But in between, I seem to have been as busy as I was before. I'm not complaining much: of course it's all my own fault. I needn't have said "yes" to all those interesting things. But I did, because I'm like that.

Anyway, some of those things have been writing posts on various fantasy-related topics for the Black Spring UK blog tour, and I find that I have fallen behind in logging them here. I've been doing this through January, and have just finished the final one, discussing YA and story telling, which will appear on February 1 at Narratively Speaking. Meanwhile, here are the others:

* On worldbuilding, with some handy hints from WG Sebald, at Sister Spooky

* On rewriting classics, at Book Angel Booktopia

* On adding fantasy to a classic book, at The Overflowing Library

* And, in case you missed it, On sexism in fantasy at Serendipity Reviews

Thanks so much to the bloggers who have been hosting me on my virtual tour. It's been deeply appreciated, and also, which is not unimportant, it's been fun.

Meanwhile, more Black Spring reviews have been rolling in, so here's some linkety goodness:

Buzz Words, the Australia/New Zealand emag for children's writers and illustrators, has given it a rave: "Alison Croggon has created a verbal and visual masterpiece. The sheer beauty of the magnetic prose and the outstanding descriptions of the rugged natural world won’t allow you to stop reading before the end." Woohoo!

From the UK, Michelle Moloney King also talked about the writing, finishing with: "I would heartily recommend a read, the beautiful prose alone is worth it."

On I Read Therefore I Blog, the book also gets a thumbs up. "All in all, this was a vivid, well-told book that takes elements from WUTHERING HEIGHTS but (for me) riffed on them to more entertaining effect. I look forward to reading Croggon’s other books."

And over at My Favourite Books, Essjay says: "If you've never read it and you enjoy Black Spring then possibly you'll read Wuthering Heights. If you hate the original then this may well remind you why. I find it an impressive modern retelling which captures something of the language, drama, madness, tortured love and agony of the original. Well worth reading."

Thanks again to all you hardworking bloggers, both hosts and reviewers.  Now, hugely encouraged, back to the novel...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

And so it begins!

This week Black Spring is officially out in the UK, and to celebrate I'm doing a virtual tour, guesting at some hospitable British bloggers. (Dates and topics are in the banner on the right). The first post, a brief meditation on sexism and patriarchy in fantasy writing, is now up at Serendipity Reviews. In part:

The presence of women (or of people of colour, or any other so-called minority) in fantasy narratives remains controversial, and the fantasy genre is still too prone to white them out as decorative, characterless, generic extras, if indeed they are held to exist at all. The excuses given for what is actually lack of imagination (this is fantasy, right?) or plain bad writing often come down to so-called “historical accuracy”: writing about sexist worlds means that it’s perfectly acceptable for writing to be sexist. In Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical, author Foz Meadows magisterially takes this idea down and shows it for the shabby, historically inaccurate laziness it is. 

You can read the rest here (and read Foz Meadows's zing of a post while you're at it). And there's also a nice review from Vivienne, in which she says: "Anyone who can turn my most hated read into an excellent enjoyable book is definitely an author to be explored further." There seem to be two schools of thought on Black Spring, among those readers who like it: those who love Wuthering Heights and therefore enjoy my spin on Bronte, and those who hate Wuthering Heights, and therefore enjoy my spin on Bronte. I never realised that it was such a polarising book!

From the "I love Wuthering Heights" school come two new UK reviews, which particularly pleased me because they are by people who are clearly very intimate with Bronte's original. Erin Johnson is in the second year of her DPhil in English at the University of Oxford, studying representations of masculinity in the Bronte's writing, and so may be said to know her onions. On her blog Oxford Erin, she has a look at Black Spring, and gives it a terrific thumbs up along the way.

It's a bit difficult for me to write about - because I love the source text so much, because I also have literary critical opinions about the novel and how its works, and because Croggon's take probably fits into the Neo-Victorian genre (think A.S. Byatt's Possession), a genre which often creates complex intertextual links with Victorian novels and which I have researched and written on in the past year.

That said, there are two important things you can take away from this review.

1)  This is a fantastic book.
2)  In my opinion, it is also a respectful, critical, fascinating reworking of Wuthering Heights.  If you like Bronte's novel, I suspect you will enjoy Croggon's too.
Of course, like all authors, I am delighted when someone enjoys my books; but what delights me most of all is when a reader picks what you did, and why you did it. This is one of those reviews that does exactly that. As does Beth Kemp's, on her blog Thoughts from the Hearthfire. Beth writes: "Wuthering Heights with Wizards! No, I couldn't believe it when I read that either, but I loved it. Much of the darkness and strangeness, the ethereality of Wuthering Heights is captured through the fantasy elements in this retelling, while the romance is brought more clearly into focus... this version is uncannily similar and yet still its own. All the way through, there are episodes and details which mirror the original and were an absolute delight to me."

Thanks for the lovely responses; and maybe I'll just swing a bottle of champers against a bookshelf or something and officially declare the UK Black Spring launched!