Thursday, 23 June 2022

Mentone Public Library - the Story of a Tiny Library in Mentone

Tucked away in the Melbourne suburb of Mentone is a library.

When I arrived in Australia to live, my first priority was to buy a home and the second to join my nearest library. The previous year when staying with my daughter, I'd seen a sign to Mentone Library but couldn't locate it! I searched on the Kingston website and found plenty of libraries including those at nearby Cheltenham and Parkdale but no mention of Mentone. I guessed it had been closed like so many of the libraries in my native UK. My then local library in North London had been drastically reduced in size and hundreds of others in UK closed in spite of over-whelming public protest. 

But once settled (and now a holder of a Kingston Libraries card) a little more investigation found I was wrong. Mentone Library was alive and well, albeit by now sleeping during Covid lockdowns.

You won’t find it on the Kingston library website because it’s an independent public library.

On 14th May 2022 it celebrated its 97th birthday. In its newly painted interior, a number of us gathered around its brand-new tables amidst the bookshelves lining the walls and read aloud short pieces of our writing. Some were published authors, others still dabbling and some yet to commit to calling themselves a writer; all were made welcome. 

Established in 1925­ – making it the longest surviving community library in Melbourne’s City of Kingston – Mentone Library has always been staffed entirely by volunteers. Not only lending books, the library’s mission is to encourage literary discussion, promote local authors and community events. Current plans include establishing a writers’ centre.

I learned about its history from the City of Kingston’s Local History website in an article by Grahame J Whitehead. Mentone had a library in 1890 consisting of three room in the Skating Rink with a selection of 300 books and newspapers. Later, the books transferred to an estate agency as the rink’s room closed in winter. Lack of council funding and support led the people of Mentone to set about raising funds to establish their own library building. To raise money, they held a garden fete to be opened by the governor of Victoria, Sir John Fuller. He spoke of the importance of education and reading but, he warned, there were also many books, the trashy shilling shockers, which if read, left the reader worse for having read them. He hoped the good people of Mentone would avoid such nonsense. In spite of their endeavours the library closed down in 1924. Perhaps because those good people read too many shilling shockers.

A few months later a group of twenty-five people met with the aim of establishing a new library and on May 6th 1925 a temporary library opened in the rooms of the Rifle Range in Brindisi Street. It boasted 120 subscribers who could borrow any of their 550 books.

After the first ten years 175,000 books had been exchanged, with the stock now numbering 4,500.

The library moved home to a room in the council chambers in 1955, a time when the establishment of a new free municipal public library was under discussion eventually resulting in the library at Parkdale. The Mentone library was struggling and once again moved home, this time to a large container in the recreation ground. Another couple of moves found the library eventually settling into a room to the rear of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Florence Street in 1997 which is still its home today and where I made my first visit.

Today the shelves are packed with around 3,500 books bought with library funds and grants from Kingston City council, a great supporter of the library, and donations from members and other benefactors. From its inception as the only library in the area almost a hundred years ago Mentone Library is now sandwiched between well-stocked free public libraries so this little library needed to rethink its position. The committee is repurposing it as a writers’ centre and in keeping with that aim, its library stock will focus on books about the locale, whether histories, memoirs or fiction as well as books by local authors.

The volunteers kept events going during pandemic lockdowns by transferring to Zoom and they took advantage of the library’s closure to smarten it up but it remains a delightful combination of old and new.

The volunteers continue to be its life support as it is they who enable the library to open to the public. Currently this is for a two-hour slot from Monday to Friday10.00am-12.00 noon. More volunteers are needed to help expand the opening hours.

You may join as a member for $10 a year simply by applying at the library or emailing and bank transfer. If you’d like to receive the newsletter, email your request.

The committee is planning further events including open mic events and the library space will be available for hire for writerly endeavours, whether a short course or for a writing group’s regular meeting.

For more information and upcoming events see:

https://www.facebook.com/MPLWritersCentre

https://mentonepubliclibrary.blogspot.com/

Email: mentonepubliclibrary@gmail.com

MPL is to be found at the rear of the Information Bureau, 36 Florence Street, Mentone, Vic 3194. Plenty of parking in the Coles carpark adjacent. Walkable from Mentone Station.

 

Friday, 22 April 2022

Examining the Past and Challenging the Future.

Perhaps the reason one of my A' Levels was a grade too low was because I went out dancing the night before. Or maybe I'd not revised enough. Whatever, it meant I wouldn't get my place on the prestigious librarianship course unless I re-did the A level or worked in a library for a year. I duly applied to the central library in Bristol and was granted an interview just after my 18th birthday in October. I was offered the post and asked when I could start. 'Could it be January?' I asked. The chief librarian looked horrified so I quickly explained that I was currently working in a children's home and really wanted to be there for Christmas.  'I think you are not very serious about this position,' replied the librarian frostily to which I agreed that no, perhaps I wasn't. And there ended my potential career. 

Instead I went on to qualify as a Residential Child Care Officer which later led me to becoming a speech and language therapist. My choice on that day was something I've never regretted. And Christmas at the children's home was wonderful. I still have the card that 6 year-old Fred drew for me. A bright pink panther (Fred's favourite cartoon) with a speech bubble announcing 'Happy Chrismas from the Pink Panter' [sic] 

Since those far off days there has been a huge re-examining of children's homes in the recent past, many of which were full of abuse and did little or nothing to protect the children in their care. I trust none of those I worked in were guilty (I certainly never witnessed nor suspected any such behaviour.) I've always believed that abusing a position of trust is one of the worst crimes we can commit against fellow humans. I have happy memories of the children who were in my care but I've often wondered whether their memories are as positive. I hope some of their recollections are but making stable relationships with carers was always going to be hard as they were subjected to a series of people, however good, passing through their lives. And did we address all the needs and the concerns of the children on the matter of their identities? And how well prepared were those entering their adult years? Years on, with greater wisdom, I see there may well have been failures.

Like many people I've noticed how often the killer, especially serial killers, in books or TV programmes and films are orphans. (In reality relatively few children in care are orphans.) I'd assumed this wasn't so much that the writers believed orphans are evil, but that they couldn't be bothered to think up suitable reasons for why a child turns into an adult killer. If there is no family, parents or siblings, no-one needs to be held accountable for perhaps contributing in some way to those crimes. No backstory needs to be written - just some unnamed children's home. But much as I was aware of the unfairness of these portrayals, I didn't consider what that was like for people who are care-experienced. Josie Pearse writes a much more carefully considered article here.

When Rosie Canning - fellow founder of Greenacre Writers and The Finchley Literary Festival - began working on an examination of representations of care-experienced people in literature, partly to address  and challenge this issue, I suspect she didn't then realise how this theme would blossom into a number of other projects such as the UK/Australian Care Experience and Culture with Dr Dee Michell. 

Their recent online book club featuring representations of care in literature includes memoir and novels.

Sarah Hilary joined the first discussion with her book Fragile, a modern gothic novel telling the stories of two young people who were in the care system and their foster mother. 

The second event's speakers were Susan Francis from Australia and Anne Harrison from UK. I was already following Susan on Twitter but hadn't, at that point, read her book The Love That Remains. Anne Harrison and her memoir, Call Me Auntie, was at the time unknown to me. 

Both spoke so eloquently about their memoirs and the search for their birth parents, I knew I wanted to read them both. I had been lucky enough to win a copy of Call Me Auntie from the book club which was winging its way towards me, and I quickly ordered a copy of The Love That Remains which I dived into immediately I received it. 

The books are very different but have a great deal in common. At the core of each is the writer's need to know their identity. The 'Where did I come from?' Both authors, one adopted, and one initially fostered and then living in children's homes, set out to search for their roots. They search for their birth mothers to learn about their identity and in the hope of forging a relationship of some sort. Both find answers to some of their questions but many are left unanswered.

Both books are well written and enable to reader to follow the narratives easily. Anne Harrison's Call Me Auntie is a factual account; much of her early history is related using documents from her care file which was made available to her quite recently. This is not a 'misery lit' account by any means but some was hard to read. The treatment of the children in one care home was emotionally and physically abusive which made me feel very angry and the scenes with her birth mother filled me with sadness and dismay. 

Susan Francis's The Love That Remains tells of her need to discover the truth about her parents. Even though she was happily adopted, her unknown roots left her with insecurities. Here too, many scenes make for emotional reading. But Susan's need to search for the truth about the past doesn't stop with her birth parents. She discovers another awful secret which needs verification, and to be understood and accepted.

Ultimately, both books are journeys of courage and discovery and yet more courage. 

To follow these authors on Twitter:

Susan Francis @susanfranciswr1 

Anne Harrison @anne4harrison




Tuesday, 22 February 2022

A Competition for Competitions.

I've written about entering competitions before, whether to keep submitting a story or give up on it after a number of rejections or failing to hit a longlist. 


A blogpost from Lisa Kenway interested me and I had a few thoughts of my own on the subject. I've studied details of loads of competitions to see if I am eligible or have a possible entry. I've entered 28 competitions since the beginning of last year with a spectacular lack of success. I was longlisted in one of Australian Writing Centre's Furious Fictions but got nowhere in the other seven I entered. 

Six of the competitions are yet to be announced but apart from that longlisting the rest resulted in zilch. 

My gripe isn't my lack of success (much as I wish for it) but that some of the competitions did not give a set date when results would be announced and in the event did not let non-winning competitors (ie: me) know they had been announced. Some did not have long lists and in one case no shortlist - just three winners. Some gave an announcement date but failed to deliver any results by that date. 

The AWC Furious Fiction winners are announced on the day they say they will announce it. There is only one cash winner but there is a shortlist with stories published and a named longlist. They deliver what they promise. As do Lorraine Mace's Flash 500 competitions where all entrants are emailed to say the results are in.

I imagine the big well-known competitions also deliver long and short-lists and winners on time (I wouldn't know not having entered them) but some comps don't do well in this respect. No acknowledgement of entries and no announcements made well after the date advertised doesn't bode well. Has my entry and fee disappeared in to the ether? 

Having co-run three competitions for Greenacre Writers we did both in a timely fashion! Of course there can be delays for any amount of reasons, but let your entrants know! Because of delayed announcements, I've sometimes missed a deadline for a second competition in which I've intended to enter a story if it got nowhere in a previous comp. 

I've seen several competitions that didn't advertise who the judge will be. That may not be important to some but after something that happened in a Zoom creative writing event last year I decided not to enter a particular story in a competition I was considering because, unless all the other entries were all utterly dreadful, I knew it wouldn't be placed let alone win. 

This story had been shortlisted by readers in another competition the year before and passed to the judge. It wasn't placed. Fair enough. The Zoom writing event was conducted by the writer who had been the judge. After doing some writing exercises she talked about what wins competitions. She mentioned the usual suspects and then mentioned the comp I had entered and was very rude about the non-winning short-listed stories. 

She made a very negative comment about one entry that could well have been my story so when I learned she was to be the judge in this forthcoming competition there was no way I was going to pay a fee for it to be dismissed again. Had she made constructive comments, who knows, maybe I would have tweaked my story and entered. I disliked her dismissive attitude to the work put in by those shortlisted writers. We may not have been up to her standard but there was no need to be so rude. I'll be avoiding her from now on!

So I think it's time we had a competition for competitions. Which would be in your top three? 


Thursday, 23 December 2021

My favourite books of 2021

These 'best reads' lists are ubiquitous but I make no apology for adding to them. Mine isn't based on the books that I think might look good in my list, those prize winning tomes that pop up in so many literary top 10s. There will be some of course but sometimes I see books that have had great publicity but I thought nothing special and wonder whether people selecting them as their best reads really liked them! For me there's a difference between good reads and favourite reads. Some books, that I can see are worthy literary specimens, aren't necessarily ones I enjoyed reading although I appreciated their merit while others may not be brilliant literature but are thoroughly enjoyable. This list is about enjoyment. 

Owing to further lockdowns I read more books than most years - even beating last year but that was because last year's books included A Suitable Boy. I've read 74 so far this year with another couple to be added before the year is out.

Here are my favourites. 

The Dutch House - Ann Patchett. One of my out-of-last-year's-lockdown purchases.

Transcription - Kate Atkinson. A library loan because I've liked previous books of hers.

Winter in Tabriz - Shelia Llewellyn. A library loan picked simply because I've been to Tabriz. 

The Freedom Circus - Sue Smethurst. A non-fiction purchase after hearing Sue talk about it. 

Wimmera  - Mark Brandi, another library loan as I'd had this one recommended. 

Shuggie Bain - Douglas Stuart. A purchase, and while it hit my top reads, I did have to read another couple of frothy books at the same time because of the endless bleakness.

Honeybee - Craig Silvey. A library loan because I'd heard good things about it

The White Girl - Tony Birch. Library loan, ditto.

The Tea Ladies of St Jude's Hospital - Joanna Nell. A purchase because I love Joanna Nell's books.

The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett. A loan from my local street bookshelf.

The School - Brendan James Murray. A non-fiction giveaway from the author which I wrote about here.

At The End of the Day - Liz Byrski. A click and collect lockdown purchase because I've enjoyed a number of her books. 



Friday, 12 November 2021

Inside Fictional Minds by Dr Stephanie Carty. A brief review.

 Inside Fictional Minds by Dr Stephanie Carty. Published by Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021. 

Available in UK from Ad Hoc Fiction (UK) 

Available in Australia from  Amazon

 

Dr Stephanie Carty is a consultant psychologist working in UK’s NHS and is also the writer of innovative flash fiction of whom I’ve seen many a mention because she keeps winning competitions and being published on flash fiction forums and in anthologies!

When she developed her online course, The Psychology of Character, I booked and found an interesting, fresh approach to writing our fictional characters. The book was developed from the course. It’s a slim volume, just 126 pages, but is packed with useful information.

We’ve all read stories with good and interesting characters who make a decision or do something that jars, without any explanation why they are acting so differently. Stephanie’s aim is to help writers create more realistic characters, still full of individual quirks and traits but whose behaviour and emotions follows a realistic pattern for that particular person.

This isn’t about abnormal psychology but everyday people, their beliefs, their values and how their emotional life
develops. For example, we can all think of times when we might feel anger but how it manifests can vary enormously from person to person depending on aspects of our personality, the values we hold and the behaviours we deem acceptable.

Drawing on well-known psychological theories, such as attachment theory, Stephanie explains them in a straight forward manner. She even uses certain pandemic behaviours, that we all heard about, in the section about characters’ internal rules which illustrates how the same behaviour might arise from very different internal rules or experiences.

Throughout the book Stephanie asks us questions about our characters and invites us to keep looking deeper. Throughout the book there are 123 questions divided into 48 sets of tasks.

For example, in one section we are given these example questions: How does your character view himself? What does it achieve for him to think this way? What would happen if he stopped thinking this about himself? And so on. Some questions ask us how it might affect the readers of our work if they knew more or less about our characters and their motivations. 

The final section of the book is the chapter on change. Writers are constantly exhorted to have their characters change some aspect of themselves or their thinking throughout the story to give a satisfactory story arc. Yet in reality, people often resist change and the questions in this section guide us in making this a realistic and believable process.

There is a useful Further Reading section with books and links to various websites with recent quality information if readers wish to find out more on particular subjects.

This is a book that can be read and worked through in sequence or it can be dipped in and out of. Personally, I’d recommend reading it through to get a good overview and then using the sections you feel are most the relevant to your characters. This book could also be the starting point of creating interesting new characters for stories you’ve yet to write.


Saturday, 9 October 2021

Books from Their Authors.

I love books! I buy them from bookshops (aiming for independent bookshops where I can) but sometimes from mainstream book shops and have found some gems in charity shops. I avoid one large online retailer but have occasionally resorted to it if I can find no other outlet. I borrow books from my local libraries, from our community book-swap and from friends.  

This year I have also been given books through social media book promotions by their authors. I've been lucky enough to receive three books this way. All very different, they all looked interesting. 


The first was the wonderful non fiction The School by Brendan James Murray which I wrote about here


Second was Violet's War by Rosemary J Kind. In the category of women's historical fiction, this is a well researched story set during WWI and focuses on the rise of women's football in UK at this time. The team in the book is fictional but was inspired by true events. 

Violet's husband enlists leaving her and their young son living with her parents-in-law. Now working on a munitions factory, Violet, whose brothers have always played games of football, enjoys teaching the basics to her son in his father's absence but when she becomes involved in coaching a women's team at the factory, the fear of her mother-in-law's disapproval conflicts with her love of the game. 

When the team is asked to play in a proper match to raise funds for the local hospital for wounded soldiers, Violet has to decide which is more important - behaving in the demure way that society has deemed for married women or doing something proactive that could ultimately help her husband and his fellow soldiers.

In chapters that alternate from Violet's story to that of her husband in the front line, each uses real headlines from the newspapers of the time along with verses of songs that were popular, lending further authenticity to the plot. 

Believable characters and a good plot tell us more then the simple story - it also highlights the restrictions placed on women at a time when they took on many of the roles of men who were away fighting but still had few rights themselves. The suffrage movement had not yet won universal votes for women in UK.

Set a hundred years later and 12,000 miles away from Violet's world we have Kate in Making March by Hayley Walsh. The book is written in the form of recently separated Kate's diary beginning on her 40th birthday on 1st February. She has a month before her friend's wedding where she is to be Maid of Honour. 

The bride is her dear friend and the groom is her ex's closest friend. To complicate matters the ex is now seeing the groom's sister, the woman with whom he cheated on Kate, so of course they'll be at the wedding. 

I'm pretty sure I'd have emigrated to avoid this scenario but Kate is made of sterner stuff. There was a great deal about Kate that I could identify with, but if she thinks she's old at 40, I can assure her, she's in for a hell of a shock over the next 25 years. 

Many of her diary entries echo what many women have thought and I can imagine sitting down with Kate to have a right old rant about a million different things, laughing all the while. By the end of our conversation, we'd both be feeling good and if everyone agreed with us, the world would be a more sensible place. I'd definitely emigrate to avoid the hens' cruise though.

Hayley promised me a lighthearted read which was exactly what I wanted after weeks of lockdown 6, and it didn't disappoint. Yes, it's frothy but I've always been partial to literary pudding  And for the record this one does win a prize for sheer fun.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

I Will Not Write....


Whatever I write in future, no matter the genre, the format, I vow to never write the following unless it is integral to the plot which is highly unlikely.

I will not write:

Women who, when they are a weeny bit stressed about something, will be unable to eat, (and will fortuitously lose that stubborn pound/kilo or two.) My characters will probably definitely eat more.

Someone who orders a meal but does not eat it. Unless the restaurant has to be evacuated for some dramatic reason. Or as a statement. My main character in my almost-certainly-never-to-be-published comedy novel took such action. When a date commented that she was overweight and ‘should do something about it,’ she did. She ordered an expensive meal then walked out leaving him with the bill. As you do. She then went home and finished of a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, but still, she took action.

A character who will have a lengthy conversation with someone who is about to get in a train that is ready to leave the station. (How do directors in film and TV dramas get away with this nonsense?)

I will not use the word ‘thrum’ which as writer, editor and reviewer, Bec Blakeney pointed out on Twitter, is now ubiquitous. She wondered whether every Australian editor was secretly adding it as an in-joke but it’s been in the last three UK novels I’ve read too. I think it's been in every book I've read  that was published in the past couple of years so it's definitely in some of the books mentioned below.

 

Continuing my appreciation of Australian authors, here are my latest good reads.

Mark Brandi: Wimmera

Mark Brandi: The Rip

Sue Williams: Elizabeth and Elizabeth

Kate Grenville: A Room Made of Leaves

Pamela Hart: Digging Up Dirt

Craig Silvey: Honeybee

Tony Birch: The White Girl

Liz Byrski: The Woman Next Door

Gary Disher: Peace

Allie Reynolds: Shiver

Helen Garner: The Spare Room

Chris Hammer: Scrublands

Molly Murn: Heart of the Grass Tree