Joelene Pynnonen

Joelene Pynnonen embraces the life of an avid book lover in every way. Her household is ruled cruelly by a wrathful cat; and should a fire ever start it is doubtful that she would make it past the elegant stacks of novels to her room door. At least once a year she coerces her mother into watching the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice with her, and will often follow up by re-reading the book.

 

Maleficent_posterThere were a plethora of amazing panels featuring authors from around the globe at Brisbane Writers Festival 2015. True to my bad work-schedule-luck, the final day was the only day that I was able to see any of them.

It turns out that that was all sorts of okay because on Sunday there was a panel called Ancient Myths, Modern Tales.

Reimagined myths and folklore have always been popular but more and more people seem to breathing new life into the old stories. This year alone I have read books strongly inspired by Irish myth, the tale of Scheherazade, Briar Rose, Greek mythology, faerie folklore, and Christian mythology. The popularity of shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm, and films like Maleficent, Cinderella and Snow White and the Huntsman make it clear that our collective imagination has locked on to these mythic and folkloric tales. On the Ancient Myths, Modern Tales panel, three writers discuss why this might be, and how the old stories contribute to their own writing.

The panel was moderated by the remarkable Angela Slatter, a Brisbane author who is no stranger to the folkloric tales and makes fantastic use of elements of them in her short story collections Sourdough and Other Stories and Bitterwood Bible. It was a disappointment that Angela herself wasn’t discussing the impact of ancient myths on current tales as her books are richly inspired by lore while retaining their own distinct essence. As a moderator, however, she could not be faulted. Her questions were thoughtful and precise, generating some enthralling discussion.

The authors on the panel, Holly Black, Kelly Link, and Sjón, all had fascinating ideas about how and why the epic myths have stayed with us as a society for so long; and each of them had some lesser known bits of lore or mythology to share.

Each had their own views on the topics touched on, but there were a few points that everyone agreed on. The biggest of these is that the old tales are being retold in every story, movie or show created. When the hero seems to die in action movies and is revived by someone mourning them, we accept this because we are conditioned to accept that the kiss of true love restores life. The myths are fused so closely to current tales that it’s easy for writers to dip into them for inspiration without even realising it.

Even further than that, though, is the idea that the reason myths and lore keep showing up in current creative trends is that they are based on reality and reality has not much changed from the time of those tales. The ancient Greeks would build shrines in the hopes of pacifying Poseidon and now, almost 3000 years later, we are still at the mercy of the ocean whether it means from tsunami or from the rising sea levels. The tale of Hansel and Gretel was based off times of hardship when there was no food for the parents let alone children. While this is not a problem the western world is facing, it is still a major issue facing so many people in the world. The myths and legends tapped into real issues people faced, and there are echoes of that in our stories as the major issues have not faded.

It is evident from so many of the books and films emerging that the tales that regaled our ancestors still hold power over us. Ancient Myths, Modern Tales gave me some insight as to why, as well as a few new myths to think about.

Amanda Wrangles

 

Amanda Wrangles is an award-winning crime and speculative fiction writer based in Melbourne. 

Slattern The Female Factoryprocreation is big business. Children are a commodity few women can afford.

Hopeful mothers-to-be try everything. Fertility clinics. Pills. Wombs for hire. Babies are no longer made in bedrooms, but engineered in boardrooms. A quirk of genetics allows lucky surrogates to carry multiple eggs, to control when they are fertilised, and by whom—but corporations market and sell the offspring. The souls of lost embryos are never wasted; captured in software, they give electronics their voice. Spirits born into the wrong bodies can brave the charged waters of a hidden billabong, and change their fate. Industrious orphans learn to manipulate scientific advances, creating mothers of their own choosing.

From Australia’s near-future all the way back in time to its convict past, these stories spin and sever the ties between parents and children.

As the latest joint offering from super-star writing duo Angela Slatter and Lisa L. Hannett, The Female Factory lives up to all expectations we’ve come to expect from these two wicked masterminds.

Four novellas stitched together with the common theme of our innate need to reproduce, belong, love (and be loved); along with the often frightening lengths humans will go to in their craving to do just that.

The collection opens with ‘Vox’, a tale set in the near-future and my personal favourite. Protagonist Kate is desperate to be a mother, her empathy stretching far past what most would consider healthy, though it’s easy to care for this rather kooky character immediately. The authors absolutely nailed Kate’s emotional state in the early pages of this story with a good dose of both humour and darkness. And then comes the ‘surrender’, the ‘storage’ and the never ending search for voices – but only the right ones, of course.

‘Baggage’ plays with what if’s; what if some women had the ability to store multiple embryos at any one time? What if they could pause those pregnancies at will? Just how much would infertile couples be willing to pay a surrogate for the opportunity to become parents? And what lengths would those surrogates go to (or not) for the big bucks?

‘All the Other Revivals’ is quite a different story to the first two. A very Australian tale about small-town prejudice, a teen who doesn’t quite ‘fit’ and a magical billabong. A nice little nod to ‘Baggage’ is included in this one, if you look for it.

The title story, ‘The Female Factory’ concludes the collection. With an historical theme, this one is set around the convict era and the dark past of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and its female correctional facilities. A group of motherless children will do almost anything to find – or create – the love they’ve never known.

As with many of Slatter and Hannett’s stories (both as a duo and independent authors), I found I needed to read these stories twice. This collection is thought provoking and pushes the reader to uncomfortable spaces, making you ponder just how far you would go for the most basic of human needs. While they might make you squirm, these tales are also seriously beautiful, the words singing from the page. But – warning to readers – to allow yourself to get caught up in the song, to read too quickly or with a single passing is to do yourself a disservice. These are stories to be devoured with the luxury of time, at leisure and preferably with a comfortable couch and whole lot of quality chocolate.

Volume 11, Twelve Planets

ISBN: 978-1-922101-15-0 (pk)

ISBN: 978-1-922101-16-7  (ebk)

Cover Design by Amanda Rainey

Ebook Conversion by Charles Tan

Published December 2014

 

Joelene Pynnonen

Joelene Pynnonen is a Brisbane-based writer, reviewer, bookseller and bird expert.

slatter-bitterwoodA group of girls study at a school for assassins, preparing for their wedding nights when they will kill their grooms. A lonely coffin maker finds company with the dead when she cannot have the living. Travelling holy women hunt down and capture all of the knowledge and stories in the world. These are just a few tales in the The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings.

Set in the same world as that of Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible is a prequel comprised of thirteen short stories. Not all of them correlate to each other, but many of them have intersecting places, characters, or objects. As each piece of the story comes together, it creates a rich, vibrant world as compelling as any novel.

It’s going to be difficult to write a review that does justice to this wonderful book. Trying to explain the depth of world-building and the poetry of the writing style doesn’t do enough to convey the pull of The Bitterwood Bible.

Drawing on themes of fairytale lore and mythology, The Bitterwood Bible is explored almost solely through the eyes of women. Not all of these women are good, kind, or smart. And not all of them get their happily ever after. They are, however, fully realised and completely developed characters with strengths and flaws in equal measure. Every one of them is distinct and compelling, making the stories flash by.

While these are short stories, a plot arc emerges as the book progresses, culminating in a climax. Like most stories in the book, the ending leaves some things to the imagination and keeps some of its secrets, but is satisfying for all of that.

My favourite story in the collection, Now, All Pirates Are Gone, doesn’t tie in to the overall plot arc as closely as the others. Though it’s as ruthless as many of the stories in The Bitterwood Bible, it is hopeful. The main character, Maude, is also one of the best characters in the collection. She’s practical and resourceful without being too hard.

With its poetic writing style and gorgeous illustrations throughout, The Bitterwood Bible is a book that would have stayed with me anyway. The fact that it depicts a world that feels true, is a bonus. Now I’m going to have to find the sequel, Sourdough and Other Stories.

 

Bitterwood Bible – Angela Slatter

Tartarus Press (September 1, 2014)

ISBN: 9781905784653

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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