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Peter McNamara, Margaret Winch.

On the 1st of June, editor Peter McNamara passed away after a long battle with illness. His editing partner, Margaret Winch, passed away late last year.

I didn't know either of them, so there's nothing I can saw about them personally. Even if I did know them, there are those who have known them better, longer, and in an infinite number of more personal ways than I. But they published me in the anthology Forever Shore, their last work together, and the sequel to the anthology Alien Shores, which the pair edited and published ten years earlier.

I was not in Alien Shores. The truth was, I wasn't even aware of a small press Australian writing scene in 1994. All I knew, in fact, at this stage, at seventeen, was that the Australian fiction I had read sucked. It's a cultural cringe that you can still find in teenagers, brought up mainly because Australian fiction is thought of as being primarily about the outback, in tiny little towns where the character grows up, learning about life in a really bland way. Think Alice Springs, and learning the piano, and your first girlfriend and the pretty blonde girl you always wanted to fuck, and when you do, you find out she's not what your fever little imagination thought she would be, so you go back to your caravan living girlfriend. And yes, I am talking about Peter Goldsworthy's book, Maestro, which I read in High School and which was just another book in an endless line of Australian books with outback towns and the true rural country Australia, which meant nothing to me. Sure, the book had a bit more sex, but the sex was nothing to show your friends. Anyhow, my point is, in 1994, Australian fiction was about rural towns and riding horses and Aborigines and so, to be honest, was Australian film and Australian poetry. Even the Australian fantasy novels and children fiction I read growing up always had the feel of the outback running through them, as they fled big bad cities, or entered post-apocalyptic areas that, if a guy calling himself a jackeroo showed up, he wouldn't be out of place.

And yes, I am generalising. Such is the position of being seventeen and utterly sure that your local literature is shit.

And no, I was not alone in thinking this.

But I had, at this stage, begun to think about the future. High School was ending, and teachers would sit down opposite to me, and say, "You really should be thinking about the future, Ben. What are you going to do after school? Have you thought about a job?"

A Job.

Well, no. Why would I want a job? I'd just spent twelve years going to school five days and week and listening to you guys tell me things that, I was pretty sure, I would have no memory of ten years later. Oh, sure, I might remember the Spartan word Hoplite, but I'd probably misspell it, and it's not like it'd get me to a place where I could begin a midget circus. So why would I want a job? A job sounds pretty bad, and I would say that, and then tell them that what I really wanted was to just cruise around and read books and play video games and meet girls and listen to music and travel a bit, and not ever have some sort of authority figure over me. Naturally, my teachers would sigh, and tell me that that wasn't very realistic, and that I should at least consider University.

"But," they would always add, "your marks..."

The final year of High School was plagued with these sort of comments. They got worse when I dropped Maths. Eventually, they stopped about half way through the year. The jobs got bought up--had I considered a trade?--but evidently University, and my desire to be a slacker, were not things I could hope to accomplish. Yeah, well, fuck you too. It was a little late to start listening to the majority of my teachers, and by this stage I had begun to think more seriously about my writing. I liked writing. I was good at writing. The weeks one of my fiction assignments spent getting accused of plagiarism by the English Department was, in a way, supporting of the idea that I could at least put some words together on the page.

And it beat the idea of selling hammers and nails to an unsuspecting public for the rest of my life.

The problem, of course, was that I was stupid. Australian films, Australian music, Australian art... well, it was all shit. I was a good generaliser, and if you needed a whole countries art trashed, I was ready to do it. I would, with others, tell you that if I heard Cold Chisel one more time, saw the Man From Snowy River for even a fraction of a moment, and read Maestro again (and I had only read it once) I would likely stab the country fucker who had brought those things to my attention.

Still, blind stupidity will get you only so far. I had, due to the oncoming presence of the World After High School, moved into curious stupidity. I started reading books about how authors got their start, and that sort of thing. It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was a little depressing, but I kept looking around, kept researching. I wasn't doing Maths, so I would have a free period once or twice a day, and that helped. And since I was into speculative fiction, I ended up heading in that direction, learning, reading, killing my stupidity in tiny ways into the pursuit of learning the ways one can use their writing in life. I learnt about courses, about publishers and agents, about writers, and it was all interesting, but in the back of my head there existed this belief that Australian writing was all about farms and being two steps away from fucking your sister, and who wanted to spend time writing that stuff?

And then, in a local science fiction and fantasy bookstore, my stupidity got dragged out into an alley and beaten for being what it was. The bookstore was called Infinitas, and the shop is still around, though the guy who owned it back then is gone. He was, however, one of those guys who liked to promote the local press, and I came in one day in my quest to kill my stupidity, having been in there once before, and not knowing anything about his little agendas for local books, and I said hi and...

Well, that's where Alien Shores, and Peter McNamara and Margaret Winch come into the story.

The book was primarily pink, an unfortunate colour, but it did have a cool looking tank on it, which helped a little. I was told that it was a book that defined the local scene. That was the first time I heard anything of the local scene, and so I turned the pink block over in my hands and thought again about all those horrible Australian books I had read. I mentioned this. I was told this was not the case. I was assured that I would enjoy the majority of stories in it.

At any rate, I took the book home, and suddenly, suddenly, I had a whole world opened to me. At the end of the book, I thought, well, okay. Okay--that's about all I thought, because my head shifted and altered and I decided that writing was what I was going to do. Somehow. In my country. About my country. In the ways that interested me. I didn't care much about the time frame--however long it took, who cared, this was what I was going to do.

It's a pretty basic plan, but like I've said, I'm stupid.

Alien Shores and Peter McNamara and Margaret Winch were the start of new thoughts. You always remember your new thoughts, and how they got there. They take a special place in your head, a memory of thought, just as important as a memory of image. And in 2002, when they took my story for Forever Shores, I got a little extra buzz because of that. It's hard to describe without sounding like an idiot, but you're all smart folk, and you can read between the lines for what that buzz was. I was part of it, I was giving back, I'd come full circle... pick your way to describe it. It's a bit of all those things, and a bit of something else.

They're both gone now, and you can only say that, and tell these stories.

Comments

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ironed_orchid
Jun. 2nd, 2004 08:39 am (UTC)
For me, my introduction to Australian fiction that doesn't suck was with Peter Carey and Frank Moorhouse, I would have been about 17 or 18 at the time, and they were writing a good 10-15 years before I found them.

However, one of my favourite reading moments was with Greg Egan's Quarantine, which starts of in Perth and mentions several familar landmarks. SF set in the not too distant future in my own city, that's a combination I'm not used to.
benpeek
Jun. 2nd, 2004 05:34 pm (UTC)
i didn't find carey until only a few years ago. the film version of oscar and lucinda really turned me off his stuff, but i've actually quite liked the stuff i've read. never been into moorhouse, however.

i never liked egan's novels, either. he did some nice short stories, though. i hear, actually, that these days he's doing a lot of work with people in detention camps.
ironed_orchid
Jun. 2nd, 2004 07:42 pm (UTC)
I don't think Egan's ever really mastered the novel. He has interesting ideas tho', and if you like them, which I usually do, you can forgive some lapses in narrative. I think Diaspora is his best novel to date.

He was always pretty involved with the refugee issue. I know he was giving away those "we are all boat people" t-shirts on his site for ages. Even some of his earlier stories, e.g. "Fortress" are concerned with the increasing antagonism to refugees.
benpeek
Jun. 2nd, 2004 09:01 pm (UTC)
diaspora was the novel i hated the most. it was the last one i read, though i admit that i never finished quarantine. the first one, permutation city, was good for the first half. however, i do like some of his short fiction, like cocoon and our lady of chernobyl... hmm, i just butchered the spelling of that.
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