littlesmackerel

Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

Astra and Inland : a pleasing mix of contemporary and medieval music

One of the first concerts I went to as a primary school student was the Astra Ladies Orchestra — probably thought appropriate because it showed that women could, unassisted, put on an orchestral concert. I remember giggling at the ladies in floppy pink dresses. I think that Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was on the program. By the time I was at secondary school and during my student days, George Logie-Smith had taken over the orchestra — he added a choir (and men) — and, indeed, I sometimes played oboe in the orchestra. I recall it as fairly traditional fare, but he apparently included composers such as Bartok, Britten and Penderecki.

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The days of George Logie-Smith

Forty years ago John McCaughey took over Astra — he is still their Musical Director. My impression at the time was that he had vision — he could see that there were quite a few competent choirs around Melbourne — how could Astra be something special? He took on new music and encouraged commissions particularly from Australian composers. He is quoted as having said: ‘Music has to renew itself or it dies, and there is a feeling that a lot of it is dying’. Thanks to organisations such as Astra and John McCaughey, music in Melbourne is far from dying. This is apparent when we attend an Astra concert — such as the one I heard in the Church of All Nations last night, where McCaughey had deftly interposed Stravinsky, music composed within the last couple of years, and medieval music. The concert was presented by Astra and Inland, a group of instrumentalists with aims and styles similar to those of Astra, presenting new and unfamiliar music.

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The program flowed from one item to the next with applause only at interval and at the end of the concert.

Interposed between instrumental compositions (of 2018 and 2019) by Filippo Perocco and Anthony Pateras were  excerpts from Stravinsky’s ballet Agon, which we were told in comprehensive program notes offered ‘both a metaphor for the concert… and a musical source radiating to different forms of future and past’. Apparently Stravinsky (in his late 70s) took a long time to compose this work, reaching to medieval and folk music and the serial world of 12-tone music. The Agon excerpts were brilliantly played on two pianos by Kim Bastin and Joy Lee.

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Dancing the Argon ballet — although the performances at this concert were purely instrumental

Between Agon Parts III and IV were two superb pieces for choir by Stravinsky,  The Dove Descending (from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets) and an arrangement of Full Fathom Five from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

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Stravinsky at a rehearsal of Argon in the 1950s

After interval the choir and two soloists sang, in Italian, Giovanna Dongu’s Rising Through the Mellow Shade, composed in 2018. It was a first performance. The words are by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

Many a night I saw the  Pleiads rising thro’ the mellow shade,

Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

Astra quarter-tone bass flute

Quarter-tone bass flute

There was another first performance: Rohan Drape’s Chalk (2019) played by Rebecca Lane, quarter-tone bass flute, Jon Heilbron, double bass and electronics devised by Rebecca and Jon and manipulated by Rohan Drape. There was a 14th Century madrigal followed by a first performance of Riccardo Vaglini’s Ave Maria (2019) for two sopranos and choir, and a piece for double bass by Jon Heilbron, there are wild fires (2019) segued into Maura Capuzzo’s O falce di luna (1995) for choir and double bass. Then came James Rushford’s Leyning (2019) for two portativ organs and electronics (another first performance) — based on the Jewish tradition of textual chanting.

Astra Jon Heilbron

Jon Heilbron

The concert finished with a 14th century Ballata for voices and instruments, sung in Italian, Ecco la primavera, by Francesco Landini, the blind organist of San Lorenzo.

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Portativ organ

What a program! Congratulations to McCaughey and Astra for promoting so much new music and for giving us in the audience such a rewarding experience.

Solaris

In 1962, Stanislaw Lem wrote his masterful science fiction classic, Solaris. It was the year after Russia had sent the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into space.

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Lem’s story takes place on a space station that is orbiting a planet Solaris – there is lack of progress – why? Scientist/ psychologist Kelvin is sent to find out what is going on. He finds a crew haunted by ghosts of figures from their pasts. And this soon befalls him when he is ‘visited’ by his dead wife.

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The planet Solaris is surrounded by a mysterious ocean that disturbingly probes the deepest recesses of the human mind. This ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is not apparent. Can the scientists understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts? As Lem says, ‘Man has gone out to explore other worlds … without having explored his own’ [page 164].

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A play, based on Lem’s book, written by David Greig, was staged at the Malthouse Theatre earlier this year.  The main ingredients of Lem’s novel are retained, although scientist Kelvin is a woman. Greig says of the experience of Gagarin’s historic flight, ‘It was as if, after 100,000 years of human existence, we were suddenly offered a mirror. It was a strange and disorienting experience.’ (Malthouse Theatre program notes) The realisation that we may not be alone is strangely disorienting, and, in the play and the book, the characters are confronted with the question, do we or don’t we attempt to make contact?

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A film has been made of Solaris, and I have not yet seen it. Film may be a more successful medium because it can be more versatile. The stage provides an excellent opportunity for conveying people confined in a space station — and this was portrayed with alarming reality. But the sea, which for me was central to the story — a constant, looming presence – could not be conveyed successfully on stage. The sea was shown by film, but the way it was done, between the many deftly executed scene changes, inevitably emphasised the psychology of the claustrophobic space station more than the powers of the manipulating and mysterious sea. Nevertheless, the central message of Solaris comes across: that humankind has ventured into other worlds without thoroughly examining its own.

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Never Look Away

 

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I recommend this movie — it is well worth the 3 + hours of viewing. On one level, it follows the life of an artist, Kurt – modeled on the German artist Gerhard Richter. But it is much more than a biography of someone who grew up in the terrifying circumstances of Germany during World War II, who was forced to study Social Realism in painting in East Germany, then escaped with his young wife to the freedom of West Germany in the early 1960s.

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As I viewed the film, at times I thought of Antonioni’s Blow Up – the kernel of the story is about intense observation. The film opens with 6 year-old Kurt attending an art exhibition with his young aunt, Elisabeth, whom he adores. She dares to divulge to him that she actually likes the Kandinsky that the gallery guard has been denigrating.  The intent way that young Kurt observes the world has been described as ‘like a camera with the shutter left open’.

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On the surface Elisabeth is a fine example of what the Nazi party wants in youth – fair and good looking. But she is diagnosed, by party doctors, as insane. Kurt observes her being forced into a vehicle and whisked off to an asylum. Sterilization follows (so that no more people like that will be born) and then, with other ‘insane’ women, she is euthanased. The SS doctor who authorises this is Professor Carl Seeband (he insists on being addressed as ‘professor’).

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Kurt has always wanted to be an artist. After the war, he is painting road signs in East Germany, then he gets into an art school where everyone must paint according to socialist realism.

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We, the audience, ultimately come to realise that the girl Kurt falls in love with is the daughter of Professor Seeband, whose grossly inhuman attitude is underlined when he performs an abortion on his daughter – supposedly because she has become pregnant before marriage; Seeband doesn’t approve of the young man, he believes that if the couple are confronted with the distress of losing their child, the relationship will break up. The couple doesn’t break up. But much later (after they’ve married and escaped to Western Germany) the daughter is told that because of the way that abortion was performed she won’t be able to have children. Devastating for the couple. However, some time later, they do successfully have a child. Seeband and his wife have been advised to flee to the West. Money is no problem and we see slides of the luxurious holiday they have.

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Kurt seems to be gradually piecing together the truth that Seeband worked for the SS – particularly when there is news that Seeband’s previous leader has been arrested (this is announced by a newsboy and Seeband leaves a restaurant hurriedly, where he was lunching with his son-in-law, Kurt). Kurt takes up a style of painting (that was actually practised by Richter) based on photographs (particularly of Seeband and the SS). Kurt seems to confirm his significant discovery when he juxtaposes a photograph of Seeband with one of himself and his beloved young aunt. Seeband sees the painting, obviously recognises young Elisabeth, and leaves in a state of agitation.

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a painting by Gerhard Richter

Apparently artist Gerhard Richter doesn’t recognise the film (or the book on which it is based) as an accurate depiction of his life.

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a painting by Gerhard Richter

 

 

 

 

Up-coming Q & A on Lily Campbell’s Secret

People who live in Melbourne will be able to attend an event on Monday 12th August, 6.30 pm at Readings Bookshop, Acland Street, St Kilda. I will be ‘in conversation’ with Peter Craven, discussing the writing of Lily Campbell’s Secret. Members of my writing group, Elwood Writers elwoodwriters.com  will be there too, to give insights into the way members of a writing group can support each other.

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The Readings Carlton book launch

Elwood Writers meets together every second Tuesday and we have been doing this for over 10 years. Some keys to our success may be that the group is small: just four people — so there is always time to discuss everyone’s work. We work on somewhat different genres: short stories, memoir, poetry, and I focus on longer fiction. Our meetings run for about three hours with a formal agenda that also allows time for a bit of general chat. The formal agenda enables everyone to have some time devoted to their writing, which we usually circulate by email before the meeting. The agenda also ensures that we don’t overlook matters such as planning for events such as soirees or preparing material for our forthcoming anthology.

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The group was invaluable as a support for me while I was writing Lily Campbell’s Secret. Everyone was intimately acquainted with the characters, they knew the general story line. I could try out ideas, always knowing that the advice I received was well informed.

We will discuss some of these things on Monday 12th August — if you live in Melbourne, I do hope you will be able to come.

Readings st kilda

Behrouz Boochani: No Friend But The Mountains

It is terribly hard to write about this book. For years, along with many other Australians, I have been deeply ashamed of the government’s treatment of refugees. When I think of it, I am humiliated. But here I am, sitting at my comfortable desk, groaning along with the crowd who voted against Scott Morrison as Prime Minister — yet my life hasn’t changed radically. I won’t become homeless, stateless or incarcerated.

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Behrouz Boochani, a professional journalist who fled oppression via Indonesia, wrote this book using a mobile phone and Whatsapp. It was mainly written after he was forcibly removed from Manus Island Immigration Detention Centre – Manus Prison – following a 23 day siege. He is still living on Manus Island and has no idea of his future.

Boochani was awarded the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature. And I remember feeling personally embarrassed when a self-righteous aspiring writer wrote a letter to The Age complaining that the rules, which she had followed assiduously, had been broken, because Boochani is not an Australian citizen. Why not? Read the book.

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Indeed, the award may offer Boochani a degree of protection, as he says: ‘Being known, perhaps, and my work being recognised and supported by organisations and other thinkers and artists perhaps gives me an element of protection.’

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The book is a beautiful piece of writing. It has been described as ‘anti-genre’. In one sense it is a piece of social reporting, yet it is also a poem that has grown from the Kurdish literary tradition. What courage — what persistence!

He graphically describes the horrific outcomes of the use in Manus Prison of a Kyriarchal system of social domination where the principle is to turn prisoners against each other. He also writes poetic descriptions — flowers, ‘gasping as though in love with the cool ocean breezes’.

We start off by experiencing, through his poetry, the truck ride to the boat in Indonesia: ‘we look up at a sky the colour of intense anxiety. Every so often someone slightly adjusts their position on the truck’s wooden floor to allow the blood to circulate through tired muscles’.

A terrifying boat trip. Inhumane and unexpected imprisonment on Christmas Island, and then a plane to Manus. Where there is ‘a confrontation of bodies, a confrontation of human flesh’, and where  ‘the untreated sewage spilling out around the facility produces a smell … so vile that one feels ashamed to be part of the human species.’

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I don’t suppose any of the government personnel who make decisions about immigration policy have read this book. Quite apart from being a beautiful piece of literature it is an important document and we must not blench from reading it.

Boochani’s work will continue to be revered in Australian literary circles. Indeed, his poem ‘The Black Kite’ is in a book, The Sky Falls Down, to be launched next Saturday 13th July at Readings bookstore, Glenferrie Road Hawthorn, 2.00 pm.

Book cover Sky Falls Down (1)

Brett Dean’s Hidden Agendas String Quartet

Book-ended by a refreshing Haydn string quartet  (opus 33 no 4) and a dramatic, 21st century interpretation of Beethoven’s late quartet in C-sharp minor (opus 131), the brilliant Doric Quartet performed last night a new work by Brett Dean for Musica Viva.

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The Doric Quartet, from England

Brett Dean is an outstanding, internationally recognised Australian composer. I have written before about the performance of his opera Hamlethttps://wordpress.com/post/jenniferbryce.net/1010 .

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Before the performance, Brett Dean came on stage and told us that he composed this piece in London just recently, during the present ‘democratic challenges’ posed by the Brexit situation in Britain. The piece was commissioned  through Musica Viva for the tenth anniverary of the Melbourne Recital Centre.

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Brett Dean at work

It is absolutely a piece of the moment. I was on the edge of my seat most of the time. The very idea of ‘Hidden Agendas’ evokes ‘aspects of the strangely fascinating and invariably unsettling political climate of extreme personalities, Twitter outrage, groupthink and other challenges to the democratic process in which we seem to find ourselves as we enter the 2020s’ [Limelight Magazine].

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There are five movements. The first movement, entitled ‘Hubris’ conveys a false sense of confidence, an unease, that pervades the whole work. The music gives an expectation of change — but it doesn’t happen (reflecting, for me, very much Britain’s dealing with the European Community). By the second and third movements, ‘Response’ and ‘Retreat’, the musical lines become more fragmentary. After the third movement, before the fourth, titled ‘Self Censorship’, the players clean the resin off their strings and take up resin-free bows — resin helps the bow to grip the strings, so without it the sound is more tentative: whisperings and flutterings. Gradually, led by the ‘cello, the players start to play with resin again and embark on the fifth movement: ‘On-message’. Is it a kind of reconciliation? There is a sense of confidence, but it came across to me as a false confidence.

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This work depicts our times: the bombardment of messages, fakeness, uncertainty. The work ends violently with finely wrought energetic aggression. I am sure that the work requires performers of the calibre of the Doric Quartet, who achieved magical contrasts in tone and dynamics with mind-blowing technical facility.

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My book launch

For me, the most exciting part of publishing my book was to see it there, bound, in a cover — a real book, rather than a word file or a heap of pages spewing all over the floor from my printer.

Sorrowing woman leaning on table in front of photo of her husband

But the next most exciting experience was last night, at Readings Bookshop, Carlton, where Toni Jordan launched it. Toni has a huge deadline to meet in a couple of weeks’ time, yet she had spent time thoroughly reading Lily Campbell’s Secret and looking back to her notes, to the time, in 2015, when I took her workshop, Refining Your Novel. I had naively thought that my carefully drafted novel was ready for refining! No way. It went through several iterations, but after the workshop with Toni it gained direction and purpose.

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Toni Jordan launching Lily Campbell’s Secret

Barry Lee Thompson, from my writing group, Elwood Writers Elwoodwriters.com gave a generous talk about the development of my book from the perspective of the writing group. I expected that they might have thought it would never be finished — but he said I had persistence (like the main character, Lily).

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Barry Lee Thompson of Elwood Writers

There was a huge gathering of about fifty people — wonderful to see so many friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for many years. Tremendous to have that support. Angela Munro took a fine collection of photographs both at the launch and at the dinner afterwards at University Cafe.

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Jennifer Bryce at her book launch

Thanks to everyone who came. And if you still want to buy a copy, if you live in Melbourne, it’s available from Readings Bookstores, Avenue Books, and some independent book shops such as Jeffrey’s in Malvern. Out of town it’s available from New Leaves (Woodend) and Aesop’s Attic (Kyneton) and The Trading Post (Mount Macedon) (the setting for much of the book). Otherwise, it can be obtained from Amazon: Click here to buy from Amazon, Click here to buy from the Amazon Kindle Store, Click here to buy from Apple iBooks. Goodreads  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45275708-lily-campbell-s-secret?ac=1&from_search=true 

or Book Depository  https://www.bookdepository.com/Lily-Campbells-Secret-Jennifer-Bryce/9780994256645?ref=grid-view&qid=1560492949777&sr=1-1.

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Mozart and Birds

In March this year, at the Adelaide Festival, I attended Barrie Kosky’s extraordinary production of The Magic Flute.

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Only the front of the stage is used, and much of the action involves animation on a huge screen, the actors at times greatly elevated (singers must be getting used to singing from alarming heights — I think of Kate Miller-Heidke in the Eurovision contest). The animation is by the company 1927, and indeed we are in the realms of the silent films of the Weimar Republic.

By no means an opera buff, I don’t like recitatives and on this occasion I didn’t have to listen to any because the words were shown as intertitles, in appropriate silent movie font. I particularly loved the depiction of the Queen of the Night as a huge spider.

Mozart Magic flute 2

The hero of this opera is Papageno, the Bird Catcher, who , after being the proverbial loser, ends up with his Papagena. The opera is about love, and as reviewer Cameron Woodhead has said, it depicts love as ‘something visceral, irrational and disordered, but also an intrinsic delight’. https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/opera/kosky-s-magic-flute-enchanting-and-unforgettable-20190302-p511cj.html

I loved the animation. But I was aware that the music of the Berlin Komische Oper was superb. In particular the high soprano notes of the Queen were piercing and amazing. I did feel that the novelty of the animation distracted me a little from the beauty of the music. What would Mozart think of this?

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In March, I hadn’t yet read Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s book, Mozart’s Starling. For three years Mozart had a pet starling, which he kept in his rooms in Vienna. Some say that he revisited the pet shop and bought the bird because it could whistle a phrase from his piano concerto no. 17 in G major. (Who composed it first, I wonder, Mozart or the starling?) Haupt tried to teach the phrase to her starling — in case it was a natural part of starling song — but was unsuccessful.

Mozart's starling 7

Lyanda Lynn Haupt is a keen bird lover. Although she doesn’t describe herself as an ornithologist, she knows a lot about birds, and she cares about them. She rescued her starling, Carmen, from a building that was to be demolished. In Seattle, where she lives, starlings are reviled. They are rats with wings. They decimate crops and invade sensitive habitats.

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In Haupt’s book, we have the parallel stories of her bird Carmen, who becomes a much-loved pet, and Mozart’s starling, ‘Star’. One thing that puzzled me, reading this book, was the matter of translation. Did Mozart call his bird ‘Star’, or the German equivalent? Also, there are long quotes in English of letters that Mozart wrote, and poems, beautifully rhyming — all quoted in English.

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Carmen was so much a part of Haupt’s family that she sat on Haupt’s head or shoulder while Haupt was writing, frequently ‘pooping’ in her hair or on her computer keys.  Starlings are great mimics, and Carmen could imitate sounds such as the creak of floorboards.  There is interesting discussion about bird langauge and understanding, with reference to the work of Noam Chomsky. Haupt suggests that Star was similarly a pet in Mozart’s household. Haupt visited Vienna and stood in Mozart’s apartment, imagining Star there.

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It is said that when Star died, Mozart arranged an extravagant funeral, whereas he hadn’t managed to find the means to travel to the funeral of his own father. Through Haupt’s book I came to see Mozart as a relaxed and fun-loving man. Previously I had thought that because his life was so short and he wrote so much he must have been driven and pedantic. No, he would have loved Kosky’s production of The Magic Flute.

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Release of The Sky Falls Down: an Anthology of Loss

I have a short story in an anthology, edited by Gina Mercer and Terry Whitebeach. It has just been published by Ginninderra Press. The anthology has been described as a compelling collection in which eighty-nine writers traverse their particular territory of loss and bring back travellers’ tales.

Book cover Sky Falls Down (1)
‘This beautiful collection of writings explores the landscape of loss. It will meet you where you are. You’ll find yourself reaching for particular pieces that somehow articulate how you’re feeling, even before you’ve found the words to express it yourself… May this book become both a friend and a warm companion.’ – Petrea King, Quest for Life Centre.

If you would like to purchase a copy, it is available through Ginninderra Press: https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/

The editors, Gina Mercer and Terry Whitebeach are trying to raise money so that the contributors can be paid. They are doing this through crowdfunding. To contribute or find out more, please visit: https://australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/anthology-of-loss/.

All writers need to be paid — some of these contributors are particularly in need, having survived horrific experiences such as bushfires, some are asylum seekers and refugees.

Release of Jennifer Bryce’s novel, Lily Campbell’s Secret.

Sorrowing woman leaning on table in front of photo of her husband

It’s 1913, and Lily’s comfortable middle-class Melbourne life is completely upended when she falls in love. As she sits in the hall of her private school, portraits of past headmistresses frowning at her, she realises the ‘glaring, unalterable fact’ that she is pregnant, the father a young stablehand called Bert. Her parents disown her: the first of many wrenching challenges she must face. She marries Bert and they have a few happy months together in rural Woodend, where their daughter is born. When the war starts, Bert volunteers and Lily is thrown very much on her own resources. After Bert returns home, Lily has to face the most momentous decision of her life.

Lily’s role as mother, musician, wife and lover, leads her to confront issues of patriarchy, nationalism, love… and the value of a human life.

In Jennifer Bryce’s ‘Australian Gothic’ novel, the suppressed grand passions of her long-suffering heroine are finally resolved in a way that is both shocking and completely natural.

— Irina Dunn, Director, Australian Writers’ Network

Original and compelling. A vivid sense of period; a breathtaking finale.

Virginia Duigan

 

The Launch has happened!

The novel was launched by Toni Jordan (https://www.textpublishing.com.au/authors/tonijordan),  in Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) at Readings Bookshop, Carlton, (309 Lygon Street) on Thursday 13th June.

Readings bookshop

 

Published by Rightword Enterprises, the novel is available from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Lily-Campbells-Secret-Jennifer-Bryce-ebook/dp/B07QXM6HLX/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=JENNIFER+BRYCE&qid=1556328182&s=books&sr=1-4 ), Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks,  (RRP $A25.00). Also, if you live in the Melbourne area, from Readings bookstores, Avenue Books, Jeffreys Books, Malvern, New Leaves (Woodend), Aesop’s Attic (Kyneton), and the Trading Post (Mount Macedon).

In case you need some encouragement to buy, here is the opening of the novel:

There was no escape. I would have to tell my parents. The glaring, unalterable fact wouldn’t go away. ‘Mother and Father, I’m in love …’, ‘Mother and Father, I’ve met a young man …’, ‘Mother and Father, I know you’ll find this difficult, but …’. Nothing seemed right. I was sitting on my favourite bench under the magnolia in the public gardens opposite the house where I’d lived for all of my seventeen years. I supposed Mother thought I’d gone to the gardens to read, but I couldn’t possibly concentrate on a book today. I looked across to our solid grey stone villa. The roses in their neat rows were coming into flower and our Chinese vegetable man was at the tradesmen’s entrance with his scales balanced over his shoulders. Shirley, our maid, was sweeping the verandah.

When I’d missed ‘the curse’ for a second time, I started going to the library after school, where I read Everyday Human Biology, over and over, desperately searching for some other explanation. But the book stated with stark authority that if, after menstruating regularly for a year or more, a woman misses more than two cycles, the reason is most likely that she is ‘gravid’. I looked up the meaning of the word and it meant ‘pregnant, with child’. I was as bad as Primrose Macfarlane, who had been expelled from school for a reason too terrible to divulge to us girls. She was called to the Head Mistress’s office, then later a prefect came and collected her things. We never saw Primrose again, but there were hushed whisperings and proclamations of self-righteous disapproval from girls who, days before, had been her friends. Now there might be whisperings about me – although fortunately school would finish for ever in a few weeks.

Earlier in the afternoon, out walking with Dorcas, I had seen a woman pushing a perambulator. In less than nine months’ time I would be pushing a perambulator. A baby was growing inside me – a baby that would be mine, and mine to care for. I’d never even held a baby and I’d certainly never imagined what it would be like to be a mother. Dorcas had urged me to tell my parents.

Tonight I was going to do it. Gripped with dread, I walked through the shadowy front gate, along the rose-lined gravel drive, up the stone steps, through the door and down the passage to the room where my execution would take place.

We took our places as usual at the long mahogany dining table: Mother, Father and I. The laughing cavalier in the painting gazed at me with his penetrating eyes; he knew what I’d done, he knew what would happen – he was laughing at me. The crystal, the silver, the harlequin cruet set were in place on the appliquéd table-cloth, and all this was scrutinised by an aloof audience of empty high-backed dining chairs placed around the walls, waiting.

We ate our soup in silence and Shirley cleared the bowls. I would do it while Shirley was out of the room. I wiped my mouth with my serviette and uttered the words I’d practised.

‘I’ve met a young man I would like to marry.’

‘Oh?’ said Father. ‘This is a very surprising turn of events. You keep pestering us about going to university. Now you want to marry …’

‘You are too young, Lillian, dear, you need to meet more young men to be sure that you find someone suitable.’ Mother straightened her back and toyed with her silverware.

‘I’ve met other young men at dances and … I’m sure …’

‘What school did he go to? How do we know that he’s the right young man for you?’

‘I don’t know, Mother …’

‘Oh? Where did you meet him?’

‘When I stayed with cousin Constance, I …’

‘Oh, well, Aunt Mildred would only allow a respectable young man …’

‘Yes Mother …’

‘We’re not expecting you to marry until after your twenty-first birthday, Lillian. You really are too young.’

The grandfather clock in the hall chimed the quarter hour. Shirley returned, wheeling in the roast for Father to carve. Father stood up and brandished the sharpening steel, holding his usual command over the meat. Maybe I could tell them tomorrow? I looked down at the table-cloth: what would Dorcas do? She would tell them now.

‘Mother, I love him … and …’

‘Love, dear. You may think it’s love, but you’re only seventeen. It’s probably just a passing fancy…’

‘I do love him, Mother and …’

‘Now, don’t be rash, Lillian dear …’

‘… he works in the stables at Aunt Mildred’s …’ The room began to spin. I couldn’t hear what Mother said next because my ears were humming, but she put her serviette down firmly on her side plate and stared at me. Say it now: ‘I think I’m expecting a baby!’

Father’s steel clattered onto the carving dish. A fly buzzed around the uncut meat. No one brushed it away. Mother made a spluttering sound then she was choking. Father bent towards me, lowering his voice, ‘Did I hear you correctly, Lillian? My daughter … with child?’

I could bear it no longer and ran to my room.

I flung myself onto my bed and wept into the pillow.

I don’t know how long I lay there, but after some time I could hear footsteps thumping down the passage, my door burst open, the ornaments on my mantelpiece rattled as Mother thundered in. She stood over me.

‘Lillian. Have you been with a young man?’

‘Yes, Mother.’

‘How could you? After all we have done for you …’

She shouted at me and I tried to block out what she said, but I took in ‘disgrace’ and ‘guttersnipe’. Then she stormed out. There was silence. Sometime later I heard her sobbing in the passage outside my room. I pulled the bedclothes right over my head.

 

 

More information from this website at: jenniferbryce.net/my-novel/

 

 

 

 

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