I'm thrilled and honoured to be awarded First Prize in the current Bath Flash Fiction Award (UK). Sincere thanks to judge Meg Pokrass, and to Jude Higgins and all at BFFA. Congratulations to the other award winners: Nod Ghosh, David Rhymes, and Melissa Goode. (By chance, this part of the world is well represented - 3 out of the 4 winners are from Australia or New Zealand.)
My winning piece, Tying the Boats, can be read here.
Non-fiction this time, and one to make your heart race. I recently attended an interesting interview of renowned English brain surgeon, Henry Marsh. Although he has a new book out (Admission: A Life in Brain Surgery), I opted to buy his first memoir, Do No Harm. And what a read it is - fascinating, compelling, humane, startling. In the preface, Marsh writes about his search "to find a balance between the necessary detachment and compassion" required of a surgeon - perhaps never more important than when operating on the brain. This book will make you think about your own brain, perhaps prize it a little more; certainly marvel at its delicate but incredible power. It also made me think about the astonishing complications of a career in brain surgery, that near-impossible balance "between hope and realism". Henry Marsh is nearing retirement now, although judging by his casual mention of the amount of medical, charitable, and literary work he continues to do, he seems a long way from putting his feet up. Do No Harm is a wise, thought-provoking, honest book that you will not easily forget.
Kent Haruf's final novel, Our Souls at Night, is a gorgeous creation. It's a small town love story between two elderly people. If you suspect it might be mawkish, think again. This short novel is both charming and, as the New Yorker put it, "sneakily devastating". The only thing I didn't like was the absence of speech marks, especially given that there is so much conversation in this book. Yes, I know it's fashionable to purge one's work of punctuation, but the absence of quotation marks was jarring to me - at least in this book - and not fair on the author, who I doubt ever wrote a jarring sentence in his entire life. Our Souls at Night is magnificent.
I'm re-reading Josephine Rowe's short story collection, called Tarcutta Wake (UQP, 2012). The first piece in it, "Brisbane", remains one of my favourite pieces of flash fiction. In about 500 words, Rowe manages to create an unforgettable panorama of grief and hope - a young mother driving north to Brisbane with her two young sons. On the run? Or breaking free? I must have read it twenty times over the years and each time I see something new. It's haunting and beautiful. And I love the long first line: "And she had this way of swivelling her head round, like an owl to talk to you as she drove, except not an owl because the skin of her neck creased up in folds and she looked so old when that happened, though she wasn't, not then, and Luke would lean over and say, Watch the road, Mum."
I haven't read her new(ish) novel, her first, yet. It's called A Loving Faithful Animal (UQP, 2016).
I've been re-reading the four amazing pieces of flash fiction by David Swann that feature in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine (Vol. 8. No. 1) published by the University of Chester, UK. They're incredibly good. I found "Dead Colleague" particularly powerful. Here's an excerpt of Swann's piece:
"I thought I saw him again today. He looked just the way I remembered, carrying a tray through the university canteen.The feeling lasted for less than a second. Then I recalled helping to empty his office after he died, remembered the large photograph we found hidden behind his filing cabinet: a rowing boat, painted sky-blue, pulled onto a bank of shingle, with a glimpse of sea beyond. He had stuck it in a place where no one would ever see it. Gulf of Corinth, 1978, it said on the back, in his handwriting.
His widow had said: 'Bin it all'.
But the boat refused to enter the waste-basket." ....
Amanda O'Callaghan is an award-winning writer of short stories and flash fiction. She has been published and won awards in Australia, Ireland and the UK.
I am honoured to have been one of three recipients of a Queensland Writers Fellowship (2016). Congratulations to my fellow awardees: Trent Jamieson and Pamela Rushby