Most Underrated Book Award

As I’m sure you know by now, my novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot was short-listed for the Small Press Network’s ‘Most Underrated Book Award’ (MUBA), alongside Anna Solding’s The Hum of Concrete, Ginger Briggs’ Staunch and Merlinda Bobis’s Fish-Hair Woman.

Each of the shortlisted authors was invited to give a speech at the awards ceremony last week, on the theme of being underrated. Disappointingly, I couldn’t attend the ceremony as it clashed with the grand finale of a community arts project my husband has been working on all year and I wanted to share in his big night.

I still wrote a speech, which we recorded for the ceremony but apparently it didn’t translate well to video (or perhaps I didn’t translate well to video). Anyway, I thought I would reproduce it here:

My son, who is six years old, is obsessed with ratings. Anything that’s discussed in our home, whether it be a movie, a book or even a meal we’ve eaten at a restaurant, has to be assigned a star rating. He doesn’t know this yet, but he is, in this regard, a miniature human version of the internet, which demands that we assign a value to everything we experience. Recently, I made the mistake of writing a status update about a visit I had made to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Since then, Facebook has pestered me daily to give Circular Quay a star rating.

On Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor, Goodreads and Amazon, every man and his dog is encouraged to give their two cents worth about the value of something. These days, apparently, everyone’s an expert, qualified to assess things they often have no true understanding or knowledge of, using a system that has no real benchmarks.

What value then are most of the ratings we’re presented with? Can we trust a system in which Dan Brown’s Inferno has thousands more 5-star ratings than F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby? Do we even want to be highly rated by a society whose favourite book is about a character with a profession that doesn’t even exist – I mean, what is a symbologist anyway? Microsoft Word still puts a red squiggle underneath it so despite his millions of sales, Dan Brown hasn’t managed to persuade Microsoft that it means anything.

When it comes to television, popular taste is apparently even more dubious. One of the best rated shows of the last decade has been Big Brother, a contemporary Lord of the Flies in which adolescent boys stranded on an island are replaced with bogans in a suburban McMansion.

Call me cynical, but I fear we live in a world where marketers are telling us what to value, and then somehow tricking us into believing that we really do value it. We appear to have lost the ability to think for ourselves, and simply like what everyone else likes. As Connor Tomas O’Brien recently said on Twitter: ‘a crap book with a conversation around it is more compelling than a great book nobody is talking about.’ It seems to me that in such a world, it is almost a compliment to be underrated. But what does it mean, anyway, to be underrated?

Urban dictionary is an online forum in which anyone can contribute a definition to a word. One definition suggested that to be underrated simply means:

Not publicized as much as other things

According to the illuminating example sentence:

Most underrated stuff is better than the overrated stuff

I couldn’t agree more! I’m giving this definition 4 stars!

But my favourite definition was this one:

You’re the shit, you’re down as hell, and everything about you is great BUT people don’t think too much of you because they don’t know you. 

This is how I feel about Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. As it happens, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot is no stranger to the theme of being underrated. My protagonist Charlie is an identical twin. The second born, Charlie believes that Whisky, older by several minutes, is favoured first by their parents, then by the girls at school, later by women, potential employers and essentially everyone he meets. He works in advertising, lives in a fancy house in Toorak, drives a sports car. But beneath the trappings of success, Charlie believes him to be shallow, vacuous and pretentious; in a word, overrated.

If the world of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot was Amazon, Charlie would be The Great Gatsby and Whisky? You guessed it – Inferno. But when Whisky has a life-threatening accident which leaves him in a coma, Charlie is forced to reconsider the whole ratings spectrum. Maybe Charlie isn’t as underrated as he’s always liked to think. Maybe he’s actually a bit of an arsehole. Perhaps he is, in fact, Inferno.

*The Most Underrated Book Award 2013 was won by Merlinda Bobis for Fish-Hair Woman. Congratulations to Merlinda and her publisher Spinifex Press. 

                    

Want more?

Q&A with Author Anna Solding

Reading Round-Up: October 2013 

– See more at: http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/post/67620476186/most-underrated-book-awards#sthash.HzKwfp0d.dpuf

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Q & A with Author Anna Solding

Anna Solding is a fellow shortlistee for the MUBA. I interviewed her about writing, publication and how it feels to be underrated.

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Anna Solding’s first novel The Hum of Concrete was published in 2012. It has been shortlisted for the People’s Choice Award and the Most Underrated Book Award as well as being longlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize. Anna earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide. She works as a writer and publisher at MidnightSun Publishing, always on the lookout for the next literary gem. She lives in Adelaide with her supportive partner and their three children. When she isn’t busy being writerly, she enjoys bush walking, visits to the beach and baking Swedish chocolate balls.

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What was the inspiration behind your novel The Hum of Concrete?

There were several things that inspired me to write The Hum of Concrete. First and foremost it was an interest in the way people relate to each other; in friendships, partnerships and sexual relationships. I was, and I still am, interested in how mothers are considered mothers before they are seen as artists, engineers or teachers. How women in literature are seldom independent, strong mothers and how stories are seldom told from their point-of-view.  I set out to change that by creating five women characters who all become mothers during the course of my novel. So The Hum of Concrete  is about motherhood. I was simultaneously writing an exegesis to accompany the novel as part of my PhD in Creative Writing and that exploration was about the lack of contemporary stories written from a mother’s point of view. Think about it. How many can you think of? I included narratives such as Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees about an adoptive mother and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin about a mother whose son has gone on a shooting rampage.

Motherhood was a strong inspiration for me but so was my love for the city of Malmö in Sweden, where I grew up. I wanted to write a love song to the city, where the city would invite the reader in to explore and be enveloped by leafy parks and walls of glass. One of my happiest moments as a writer was when I went back to visit Malmö earlier this year and found The Hum of Concrete on display outside the Malmö Room in the city library. Even though Malmö is the third largest city in Sweden, very few books are set there so to see my book as an example was extremely thrilling.

Surprisingly, inspiration also came from an article in a weekend magazine. It was about Intersex, something I had never encountered before, and I became absolutely engrossed in research about the various conditions during my writing. I sympathised with the struggle of Intersex people and realised that I needed to incorporate Intersex into the book somehow. Hopefully, I have managed to do so in a way that will make more people aware of this issue.

How did The Hum of Concrete come to be published by MidnightSun?

Up to a point, it was the usual story: the manuscript was shortlisted for several awards, including the Best Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Adelaide Festival, but I still struggled to find a publisher. Everybody loved it but also said it wasn’t for them. In hindsight it’s easy to see why it was rejected; it has too many main characters, five of them, plus the city which is a character in itself; it is set in Sweden; and it’s a novel of connected short stories (a form I decided to call ‘a novel constellation’). How could you possibly market a beast like that?

One day in March 2011, and this is where the story diverges from the norm, I had lunch with a good friend who is an entrepreneur. I was grumbling about not being published and he simply said: ‘Why don’t we start a publishing company?’ I looked at him, incredulous, replying: ‘Because we are not crazy?!’ But we were crazy. After gathering financial support, MidnightSun Publishing was born. We decided to start our publishing experiment with my book, because we knew we would make mistakes with our first attempt and we preferred to make them with my book, rather than with someone else’s. We launched it at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2012. Ultimately we have been very lucky to have such strong support from the writing community, from blurb writers J.M. Coetzee, Brian Castro and Peter Bishop and from our readers. Since The Hum of Concrete was released, MidnightSun has successfully published another two novels and I have been transformed from a writer to a publisher. Unfortunately, my writing has been dormant for a while but I have just started working on a companion novel to The Hum of Concrete, one about fathers.

When did you first start writing? When did you decide that you wanted to ‘be a writer’?

I always knew that I wanted to write. I grew up surrounded by books and for me there was nothing better than lying on the beach reading a thick book. My early writing was well received but it wasn’t until my favourite teacher in grade five, as her comment at the end of an epic 30 page story, wrote ‘Anna Solding, future writer?’ that I felt the truth of it. However, it still took me years to find a path to writing, but since I was accepted into the Creative Writing Masters at The University of Adelaide in the year 2000, there has been no looking back.  I have completed a PhD at the same university since and the friendly Adelaide writing community has welcomed me with open arms.

Who would you say are your writing influences?

I absolutely adore Toni Morrison’s writing. Though I can’t emulate her style, I aim to write about the things that really matter in little people’s lives: love, parenthood, friendships, grief. Morrison once said:

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

I hope that is what I have done with The Hum of Concrete. Other influences are Tim Winton, Barbara Kingsolver, Lionel Shriver and all my friends who are writers. It might seem strange but reading my friends’ books inspires me immensely. This year there has been an abundance of amazing books from my Adelaide writer friends, including Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, Underground Road by Sharon Kernot, Pursuing Love and Death by Heather Taylor Johnson and The First Week by Mag Merrilees.

What are your writing habits?

Oh, I wish I had such things. Because I work mainly as a publisher at the moment, I find it very difficult to squeeze in any writing time. Going away on writing retreats seems to work best, when I don’t have to worry about getting my children to school or cooking dinner or tiding up (well, maybe I wasn’t ever too worried about that…). Generally, though, mornings are my best writing time. But when I am in the middle of a project, I can usually push myself to keep going all day with little powernaps and lots of chocolate. I am a firm believer in that you have to turn up, so I’m not really following my own advice at the moment, but I do tend to walk around thinking about the project for months, even years, before I put pen to paper.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? And if so, how do you overcome it?

I used to suffer terribly but that seems to have faded over the years. Staring at a blank page for hours really isn’t much fun. I think my writer’s block started to lift when I had a clear idea of what the novel was about, when I knew the characters and let them guide me rather than trying so hard.  Being a perfectionist really doesn’t serve you well as a writer because often the best work comes out of redrafting and refining. I write longhand and I still try desperately to find the right words straight away but these days I am a bit more generous towards myself; instead of thinking ‘is that all?’ or ‘that’s all crap’ and throwing it in the bin when I’ve only written a page or two, I pat myself on the back and think ‘great work’ because being positive about the little things actually protects against the dreaded block. Before I begin, I always read through what I wrote in the previous sitting and that usually helps to get me started.

How did you feel when you discovered your novel had been shortlisted for the MUBA?

Excited and honoured. The other shortlisted titles all look amazing so I was very pleased to be in a group of such talented writers. I think the award is a great opportunity to promote the titles again just in time for Christmas. I remember sitting in the audience at the Independent Publishing Conference last year when the shortlisted entries were announced, thinking ‘that could be my book next year’. The fact that this is actually happening is thrilling beyond words.

Want more?

Q&A with author Madeleine Thien

Writers Ask Writers: Why I Write

Happy Birthday Whisky Charlie Foxtrot

My second novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot is one year old today. Yes, this time last year we were drinking whisky (of course) at the wonderful Crow Books to celebrate its release into the wild.

                         

To celebrate the anniversary I’d like to thank all the people who’ve been great supporters in the first year of its life, including book clubs, libraries, bookshops, bloggers, all those who follow me on social media and every reader who’s taken the time to share with me in any way shape or form, what the book has meant to them.

Book Clubs

It means so much to me that someone likes my book enough to choose to share it with their book club, and invites me along to share the discussion (and the cake!) I’ve had the pleasure of visiting fifteen book clubs this year and it’s really a memorable experience to hear readers’ responses to my book face-to-face. A special shout out to Louise and Jeff who loved my book so much that they chose it for not just one but BOTH of the book clubs they’re part of, and invited me along to join in the fun. Ah, you guys warm the cockles of my heart.

Beaufort Street Bookshop

Jane, Geraldine, Brooke and all the team at Beaufort Street Books have been amazingly supportive of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. They hosted an evening for their customers in which I chatted about the book and signed copies and even provided triple cream brie! They always keep a stack of copies on hand, sometimes displayed on their front table with ‘staff picks’ stickers and recommend the book to their customers. I heart Beaufort Street Books!

Blog Followers

I’m hugely grateful to all the people who read and comment on my blog. Sometimes when you write a blog, it can feel like only your mum is reading it, but when people take the time to comment, it makes me feel like people are interested in what I have to say and encourages me to keep blogging. I’d like to make particular mention of Steve, for being such a loyal follower and commenting on the blog in the early days when no one else was. Thanks Steve! Thanks also to all the people who follow me on Facebook and like, share or comment on my posts – you guys rock! 

Reviewers

I’d like to thank all the bloggers who’ve reviewed Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, including Emily PaullKristen LevitzkeLouise Allan and Rashida Murphy. I’m especially grateful to Lisa Hill of ANZ Lit Lovers who included WCF on her list of favourite books of 2012; given that she read 167 books last year, that is quite a prestigious list to appear on! I’d also like to thank those readers who’ve taken the time to leave a review for me on Goodreads or Amazon – I really do appreciate it. If you enjoyed WCF and haven’t yet left a review, I’d love it if you’d take a few minutes to pop over to Amazon or Goodreads and add your voice to the chorus.

Libraries

Nine libraries, including regional libraries in Albany, Denmark, Dunsborough and Margaret River have been generous enough to host Meet the Author events for me to share with their members the story behind Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. Libraries are such an amazing community resource.

It’s been a lovely birthday gift to have WCF shortlisted for the Small Press Network’s Most Underrated Book Award (MUBA). I hope you’ll join me in wishing Whisky Charlie Foxtrot many happy returns!