Writing & News

Reviews of Clean by Scott-Patrick Mitchell

“The sublime nature of Mitchell’s work is evident throughout, for the poet constantly juggles elements of both the picturesque and the sinister.” Holden Walker. Full review in Mascara here:

Reviews of My Giddy Aunt and her sister comedians by Sharon Connolly

“Female performers at the turn of the 20th century found both joy and frustration in theatre. If you thought Deadwood was a lawless, heartless place, try early Australia.”

“Connolly’s ancestors, male & female on both sides were musical, dramatic, creative, talented & driven. What would a woman do with her talents? Even if married to a pleasant man & had two sons that you loved, the desire to perform was insistent.”

Helen Elliot, The Weekend Australian 6 August 2022

Reviews of Words are Eagles by Gregory Day

“Gregory Day’s writing is inextricably bound with the landscape in this collection.

Words are Eagles is a tonic selection of Gregory Day’s various non-fiction published in Australian journals, magazines and newspapers over recent years (roughly the period 2015 to date). It anthologises his excellent essays for the Nature Conservancy Australia Nature Writing Prize and dips into his wreading – ‘that is, the simultaneous and recursive synthesis of the acts of reading and writing’ – a term Day attributes to the American poet and critic Jed Rasula.”
– Paul Anderson, The Newtown Review of Books July 2022

“It is an urgent invitation to become local, while respecting what you do not know and cannot claim. For a reader, like me, who is familiar with this place (the “Surf Coast”), Words are Eagles conjures an astonishing sense of what is hidden in plain sight: the polychromatic ochre timbres of the clay earth beneath the roads, the “pottery nest” of the willie wagtail couple in the boobiallas by the “eely river”, the Wadawurrung language the children are learning at the local primary school.”
– David Carlin, The Conversation July 2022

“I relished reading and re-reading Words Are Eagles, and keenly appreciated its poetic mysteries, philosophical playfulness, and powerful evocation of a region. It beautifully captures (and seeks to accelerate) a signifcant shift in Australian culture towards respecting and re-learning the language of nature and place: the ecology of words that belong here.”
– Tom Griffiths, Australian Book Review July 2022

“This is a thought-provoking collection that will be arresting to nature-lovers who find themselves struggling to describe the awe of the world around them. Day offers a blueprint of what a settler reckoning to their own naïve position in relation to landscape and language might look like.” (full review: https://www.artshub.com.au/news/reviews/book-review-words-are-eagles-gregory-day-2563187/ ). -Erin Stewart, ArtsHub July 2022

“What Words are Eagles narrates is Day’s long effort to know his particular patch of earth – Airey’s Inlet (or Mangowak, as the traditional owners call it) and surrounds – with proper intimacy. Only by entering into long imaginative collaboration with his local environment, in other words, can Day earn the experiential spurs to write about it. His opening essay The Watergaw is typical in this regard – while also being an extraordinary piece of creative nonfiction, blending autobiography, regional history, literary criticism and environmental thinking… Such efforts are a fraction of what Day considers in the thought experiments that make up this volume. His ideas range from eccentric to truly radical – and gathered together we can see that the author has quietly, doggedly, carefully, assembled one of the most intriguing and necessary body of works by a contemporary Australian author. When Day writes the word ‘Bunjil’ – the Wadawurrung word for Wedge-Tailed Eagle – one senses he has earned to right to do so.” -Geordie Williamson, chief literary critic of The Australian.

Words Are Eagles invites a broad audience to grapple with how we relate to place, and is
ultimately a must for bookshelves Australia-wide. –Duncan Strachan, The Big Issue.

The world of his essays offers a sensory and rhythmic oscillation between the personal – memories, family history and relationships – and vivid descriptions of the beauty of the natural world. This vital combination creates a necessary exploration of the language of Country – specifically the Wadawurrung and Gadubanud languages – as well as others transplanted to Australia through colonial settlement and migration. For example, in his tender essay “The Ocean at Night”, Day charts the migration of his family to the coast, inspired by his grandfather’s visit to Lorne after the death of his wife, long before Day was born. Day poses the question: “Are we that live in and around the coast … suffering from our lexicon of borrowed names?” The borrowed names he repeats are familiar: “gannet, myrtle beech, crayfish, bullant, bluegum, wattlebird, sheoak, bandicoot, leucopogon … Pull these words out by their roots and see how little soil is clinging to them here.” –Brooke Boland, The Saturday Paper

Statement about Upswell Publishing and The Dogs

The events of the past fortnight in the media and amplified on social media have been personally distressing as well as concerning for my very-new publishing venture. I had worked with John Hughes on four books before The Dogs. I take my role as a publisher very seriously in all aspects: primarily as a partnership between writer and publisher that then extends into a relationship of trust with the reader of the finished book. It has been exhilarating for me to take new writers into print and present their carefully prepared writing to readers they don’t know, and to reviewers and critics who, we always hope, will address this work with great consideration.

My impulse is always to stand by my author. Why otherwise would I enter into an agreement with them? When I read the manuscript of The Dogs, I was instantly attracted to the character of Michael Shamanov, a dissolute and very flawed middle-aged man dealing with his aged mother who wanted her life to end. Although I have read most of the books now revealed as being quoted without attribution in The Dogs, I sincerely did not recognise them folded into a new text. That’s a trust thing, I think. They formed part of this narrative; I don’t have the kind of mind that can sift through the strands of a long novel to hear discord. Besides, it is a book about discord and discomfort between people. (In literary publishing we do not use software tools to track plagiarism.)  I was affronted when John Hughes wrote, in his rejoinder in The Guardian yesterday: I wanted the appropriated passages to be seen and recognised as in a collage

But this isn’t really about literature: I have published many writers who use collage and bricolage and other approaches to weaving in other voices and materials to their own work. All of them have acknowledged their sources within the book, usually in a listing of precisely where these borrowings come from. I should have pushed John Hughes harder on his lack of the standard mode of book acknowledgements where any credits to other writers (with permissions or otherwise), and the thanks to those nearest and dearest, are held. I regret that now, as you might expect. To have provided a note in this book with attribution would have been the only way to treat it.  I now recognise this as a breach of my trust.

Ethics and accountability are paramount considerations for me in the business of publishing books, and my obligations at this moment are focused upon readers and potential readers of the books I make and, importantly, to all the writers who have entrusted me and Upswell with their labour, intellectual and imaginative, and their trust. 

Upswell relies upon credibility and trust. That has been damaged this fortnight, and I seek to reaffirm my position. I am currently thinking seriously about my options. It will take time to untangle this mess.

Sincerely, Terri-ann White. 17 June 2022

Response to plagiarism in The Dogs 9 June 2022

Responses by John Hughes and Terri-ann White regarding The Dogs.

I’ve never written a book like The Dogs before that has taken so many different forms over so many years. My books are for the most part short and written in a burst. But for the past fifteen years, my previous four books have each intruded into it – pressing for attention for different reasons – and for a time taken it over. Each time I put it aside, when it came to taking it up again, it had become in my mind something else. The original novel changed hugely, in other words. My reading and research was worked and re-worked so much over the years, built up by such a slow process of accretion, it became a part of my own imaginative life. 

It came to me as a surprise, then, to find how much of Svetlana Alexievich there was in Part II of my book. After so many recordings and transcripts of conversations with my Ukrainian grandparents and trying to integrate these into the ‘ruins’ of the earlier drafts, I’d come to think of that oral material as theirs. (I had heard so many similar stories from them, and it’s clear they were common experiences for many people during the war.) This is not to say the words are not Alexievich’s, simply that I no longer remembered them as such. Over the years I’d picked up so many bits and pieces and woven them so tightly into what I hoped was a coherent whole I could no longer unpick them, even if I had wanted to. I don’t mean by this to excuse the appropriation, merely to explain that Alexievich’s first-hand accounts of Russian women from the Second World War are so much like my grandmother’s fragments as she related them to me, the two became conflated in my mind. Even the scene of the baby in the swamp (which corresponds to other horrific accounts of people in hiding), I remember it as a story she told me, even as I see now that it was Alexievich’s version I included. But there are important differences as well that result from the appropriations (my book is nothing like hers). In Alexievich, for example, the woman is left frozen in the moment of horror, whereas in The Dogs I imagine a life for her before and after that terrible moment. I believe I make it into something different by doing this, that the incident becomes a part of a much larger story. 

This might sound like a justification. It isn’t. I’m not trying to justify myself here. I am rather trying to account for how I could have used so directly parts of another writer’s work without realising I was doing so. I have taught creative writing for many years and the importance of small detail in the evocation of voice has been a key component of that teaching. I read The Unwomanly Face of War when its English translation was published in 2017. I admired the book enormously, especially Alexievich’s methodology of using the oral testimonies of others to build an account of a lived history. It was perfect for me when it came to talking to my creative writing groups about voice (and I certainly acknowledged Alexievich then as the source). I typed up the passages I wanted to use and have not returned to the book itself since that time. At some point soon after I must have added them to the transcripts I’d made of interviews with my grandparents and over the years with each new draft come to think of them as my own (the voices and experiences of wartime, as I’ve said, were so much the same). 

I did not at any stage in the writing intend to pass off Alexievich’s work as my own and was truly surprised when I saw the material included in the article (there is nothing more disturbing than discovering your creative process is not what you had assumed). I can see that the appropriations are real, but I don’t remember making them. I see now that was a false memory, but it was still my memory all the same. (Ironically, this is exactly the kind of forgetting I marvelled at in my grandfather when I wrote the first essay in my first book, The Idea of Home, and called it ‘An Essay of Forgetting’.) If it hadn’t been my memory (if I’d been trying to pass off a Nobel Prize winner’s work as my own), I wouldn’t have used the details and stories so directly! Memory and the unconscious play such a crucial role in the creative process, but the process can still remain opaque, even to the creator. I don’t think I’m the first writer ever to have experienced this. Nevertheless, the fact remains, and I would like to apologise to Ms Alexievich and her translators for using their words without acknowledgment. 

As the publisher of The Dogs I stand steadfast alongside the author, despite the appropriations now evident in this text. I, too, had read Svetlana Alexievich when her remarkable books arrived in English translations. Her polyphonic style mesmerised me, in the words of the Nobel Prize citation, as a monument to suffering and courage in our time. I did not recognise these lines she had recorded in John Hughes’s novel: they are, ultimately, unadorned descriptions of human voices speaking of violence in a simple and often banal style, balancing testimony with survival. 

As a writer I understand how creativity can get mixed up in the making of a long work, like a novel, when copious notes from research, listening in to conversations and reading the work of others, can begin over time to sound like your own words. To find a sounding board in what is usually a private space of writing and inhabiting characters is a remote option. I am only sorry that I didn’t recognise these borrowed descriptions used by John Hughes in his larger story of a survivor, a woman who lives to an advanced age in this profound novel. 

Now identified, it is my responsibility to make amends and acknowledge these primary source materials in the book I have published.

Reviews of Imaginative Possession by Belinda Probert

“Wanting to belong forms the root system of Belinda Probert’s Imaginative Possession, marking the terrain – how can she, as an immigrant, ever feel at home in Australia? – and producing shoots of longing for the landscapes of her English childhood. Even now, forty-five years after arriving in Perth to take up a teaching position at Murdoch University, after which she lived briefly in Adelaide before raising a family in Melbourne, that question lingers. Specifically, given that she feels at ease with the people and culture, why does she still feel needled by the natural environment? To explore this, Probert employs the triple treat of academia, bibliophilia, and gardening nous. Perhaps leaving Melbourne will make her feel more congruent with the country, an impulse that sees her, in her early sixties, buying a rural property in the Otways. Or maybe, despite the wealth of knowledge she gains there, it won’t.
— Paul Dalgarno, Australian Book Review, September 2021

“Thirty-five years after migrating to Australia from London, educator and social scientist Belinda Probert is still struggling to feel at home in a country that is so ancient and so unlike the pastoral England of her childhood. Believing that to feel at home in Australia she must first feel at home in its landscapes, Probert purchases a 28-acre piece of land in south-western Victoria and sets out to create her own garden.
Thankfully, the resulting book is much more than a collection of gardening anecdotes. Woven throughout her encounters with the flora and fauna of her garden (from kookaburras and a resident echidna to tiger snakes and leeches) are insights into bushfire measures and farming practices and considerations of the ancientness of the land and its cultures. Yet what proves most valuable in Probert’s quest to ‘imaginatively possess’ her adopted country is a close reading of the works of prominent Australians interested in the same questions of belonging, from George Seddon to Kim Mahood.
Ultimately it is Probert’s own enthusiasm for transcending personal and collective preconceptions about the Australian landscape that allows her to explore alternative ways of belonging, such as social, cultural and political belonging. Acutely observed and deeply reflective, Imaginative Possession is a welcome addition to the necessary conversation happening around identity, ownership and the values that underpin our society.” Jacqui Davies is a freelance writer and reviewer based in South Australia
— Jacqui Davies, June 2021

…Part memoir, part essay, part literary appreciation, Imaginative Possession is a fascinating and thought provoking book that will get you thinking about what the Australian environment means to you…
— North Melbourne Books

‘The result is a book of quiet personal introspection told with humour and self-deprecation. Probert has learned so much and is keen to share this with her readers. Her style is enormously approachable, and her writing is vibrant and compelling. Happily, Upswell Publishing saw a place for this kind of writing, and as readers, we are richer for sharing in the experience.’
—Kara Nicolson, Readings Bookshop reviews
(Full review here)

‘Reading Probert’s book is like sitting down with a wise, warm friend. Probert’s work skips seamlessly from the personal to the critical, drawing on work by people such as Bruce Pascoe and George Seddon, as she tackles her own steep learning curve, and broader issues related to colonialism, belong and conservation.’

Eliza Henry-Jones, ABC Organic magazine

Reviews of The Sweetest Fruit by Monique Truong

Review in The Saturday Paper by Leah Jing McIntosh, September 2021

“A slow burn, The Sweetest Fruits is a thoughtful layering of fictions and truths, a novel that will most certainly dazzle.”

Reviews of Delia Akeley and the Monkey by Iain McCalman

Review in Australian Book Review by Libby Robin March 2022

“This book is about Africa but also about the stifling limits of New York that drove Akeley, his two wives, and JT to different sorts of madness. Fevers are often associated with African jungles, but the expectations of the urban jungle of Manhattan added another level of craziness. As museums serve postcolonial audiences today, their silences and historical aspirations become even more important. Delia Akeley and the Monkey is a highly original dive into the intergenerational museum family.”

Review in The Age/Sydney Morning Herald by Jessie Tu February 2022

“Iain McCalman’s Delia Akeley & the Monkey is a confronting read, insofar as one finds oneself in the difficult position of assessing actions of those in the past using hindsight — it’s hard to accomplish this task without judgment, without acknowledging the “humane revolution” that has taken place since the 1960s in the ways we co-exist with our fellow animals.

Yet McCalman, a cultural historian who has published books on science and the natural environment, paints a sympathetic picture of a woman who lived at atime when her gender ensured her life was contained and reduced.”

Preview in Books and Publishing November 2021

“On an African hunting expedition in 1909, an American woman named Delia Akeley captured a baby vervet monkey to settle an argument. It was a casual act that changed both their lives: while Delia initially intended to return the monkey to the wild, she found herself so charmed by her new companion that she decided to keep her. For the next nine years, JT the monkey was both a beloved pet and a subject of intense study as Delia—who had a natural flair for primatology that went largely unrecognised thanks to the gender politics of her time—carefully observed JT’s interactions with humans. Historian Iain McCalman’s meticulously researched account of this unlikely pairing recovers the little-known story of a remarkable woman and engages with the complex ethical questions raised by Akeley’s fateful decision in 1909. The book goes beyond the near-decade Akeley and JT spent together to examine the far-reaching ramifications of their union, both for Akeley herself and for the field of natural history. While McCalman argues persuasively that Akeley should be remembered as a patriarchy-fighting forerunner to renowned primatologists such as Jane Goodall, he’s also clear-eyed about her flaws and her position as a privileged white woman in a problematic colonial context. Delia Akeley and the Monkey is an illuminating and important book that will appeal to readers who enjoy history and creative nonfiction by writers such as Mark McKenna and Sophie Cunningham.”

Reviews of The Blacksmith’s Daughter by Selim Özdoğan

Review in Sydney Morning Herald/The Age, January 2022

“Selim Ozdogan is a writer of the Turkish diaspora, born in Germany. The first in a trilogy, this novel is realist, focused on aspirational workers. It is also a devastating critique of entitled patriarchy and its consequences: smothered women. The blacksmith Timur is a loving father who still lets his daughter Gul have little agency beyond the domestic, being a maid for her stepmother. In turn, Gul is devoured by thoughts unspoken, paths never taken. If the father is wilful with money, then the daughter is with self-abnegation. Ozdogan draws village life skilfully: hard, relieved by summer abundance, but cursed with envy and malice. It is possible to escape, the hope of better wages causing emigration to Germany. Again, this decision is not for Gul to make.”

Reviews of No Enemies No Friends: Restoring Australia’s Global Relevance by Allan Behm

Working with Words: Belinda Probert

A Q&A with Belinda Probert.

Where have all the adventurous readers gone? By Terri-ann White

The astounding popularity of book series such as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones comes at a cost, writes publisher Terri-ann White.