March 13th, 2012

Women's History Month - guest post from Sue Bursztynski


It was a tough choice to make. There are so many wonderful Aussie women writers around. Only recently, I’ve been enchanted by books by Melina Marchetta and Margo Lanagan.

In the end, I decided to go for one whose books I have read over and over, not for “beautiful (literary) writing” but for the kind of writing that brings me back time after time, even though most of it is crime fiction and after the first read I know exactly “whodunnit”.

What I love about this writer’s books is the sense of place and history they create.

Let me divert a little bit to give you some idea what I mean.

Some years ago, they knocked down a building on my local shopping strip. They were going to put up a fancy set of flats where the old building had been. It had been next door to an even older building. When it was knocked down, as if by magic a piece of history appeared on the side of the place still standing. It was a billboard, painted on the side, advertising some product made in the 1920s or 1930s. It had been hidden for a very long time and now it was revealed. We got to see this piece of history every time we passed for some months, before the constructors got to work and it was covered once more. If it had been recently, I would have made sure I used my phone to record the old piece of advertising. Alas, that wasn’t possible at the time.

The thing is, history came to life for me. It was real. I could imagine the 1930s cars going past and people in their 1930s clothes thinking about whether they might buy what was on that billboard.

History comes to life for me when I read one of Kerry’s Phryne Fisher novels. Melbourne in 1928 and 1929 appears by magic, just as that small part of 1930s Melbourne was revealed once more on my local shopping strip. I can hear the jazz, see the old-fashioned cars rumbling along among the horses and carts that were still on the streets. The series has now appeared on the ABC as a TV show, but I don’t need that to see it in my head.

The sense of place is there, even in her Corinna Chapman novels, which are set in the present day. Corinna walks or goes by tram all over Melbourne’s CBD and inner suburbs and describes them with great relish.

And if she fantasises a little, making Phryne Fisher rich, beautiful and smart, able to do lots of physical stuff, giving both her and Corinna gorgeous lovers – who can blame her? Wouldn’t we all love to be able to do what Phryne does and have a lover like Lin Chung or Daniel? Not in real life, of course – few would trade in their delightful real-world partner for a fictional one. But just for a short time, while we’re between the covers of one of Kerry Greenwood’s books, we can pretend.

Sue Bursztynski is a children’s and YA writer who also writes speculative fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Worlds Next Door (Fablecroft), Trust Me! (Ford Street), Spinouts (Pearson), Inter Alia, Family Circle, Mythic Resonance (Specusphere) and will soon be in Trust Me Too! (Ford Street). She won the Mary Grant Bruce Award for children’s fiction twice and her YA werewolf novel Wolfborn was a CBCA Notable Book in 2011. There will be a story set in the Wolfborn universe in Andromeda Spaceways #54 in 2012.

If you’re curious, there are sample chapters from this and Sue’s Ford Street children’s non-fiction book Crime Time: Australians behaving badly on her blog, links below.

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I have two updates, one serious and one very funny. The serious one is that there's a rather warm and friendly and nice-feeling ETA on Deborah Kalin's post. I was evil and got her to write it so that I would have enough energy left for this. Then bed it is, for it's a tiring week. (Did I say I got to teach my new writing class tonight and that they're lovely and attentive and want to learn everything at once?)

The amusement is the right eye, of course. Until class finished my streaks and swirls were that. Some of the blood was dissipating, so I even had a speckled dome to look though for about an hour. Then one streak became spider like. Not just any spider. Huntsman. My big phobia. So all evening I have had a huntsman jumping and leaping across my eye. Fortunately, it's a chemically induced phobia (sensitivity) not fear of the creature itself. Otherwise this would not be nearly as funny. Still, I like it when my eye's shut or the room is dark and my vision is not full of webs and that web has no deep-brown inhabitant sprawling as if it owns my vision.

What the ophthalmologist didn't tell me yesterday was that my right eye would start telling different stories to the rest of me.