Sam van Zweden



lisa dempster

Exciting News!

Often in this writing caper I’ve been overwhelmed by just how generous more experienced writers are. I was first introduced to this incredible generosity through Lisa Dempster, in her role at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Lisa’s been kind enough to extend countless opportunities my way, and she’s always had a lot of faith in my capabilities – often more faith than I have in myself.

Just now (I’m a bit slow on the up-take, moving house means 2 weeks internet-less!) I’ve seen the amazing news on Bookseller and Publisher, that Lisa has nabbed the spot of Festival Director for the Melbourne Writers Festival! Even better, it’s a 3-year position. This is the same amount of time as Lisa reigned over the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and in that role she really went from strength to strength, building on what was already in the festival as well as introducing a lot of new, exciting ideas about what a festival can be and do. Lisa will take over from the current MWF director Steve Grimwade.

So congratulations, Lisa. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this position more, and really look forward to seeing you shine in this role.

A Month of Reading

With the extra day in February this year (a leap year), I’d convinced myself I’d have the upper hand and be able to read an extra book this year… Perhaps a whole book is a bit ambitious, but I am about a hundred pages ahead of where I’d be without the 29th of February. So thanks, Leap Year.

It’s been hard, but I have managed to stop myself from buying new books constantly. I’ve still “bought” a lot of books, but my book-buying budget’s reasonable now. I bought a book I want to review for the uni magazine (the new Daniel Handler – aka Lemony Snickett), as well as a weight-loss book. I bought books I need for school, and was quite impressed that the total cost of this semester’s texts came to a grand $39. Anything else that came in was a reading copy, a gift, or a used book.

The lovely director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Lisa Dempster, is leaving Melbourne at the end of the year. In preparation, she’s selling all her books. They’re cheap, in good nick, and there’s still quite a list up there. I picked up five books from Lisa for $20; three books I’ve been looking for cheap copies of for a while, plus two random grabs. Not only will you be buying good cheap books, you’ll be helping Lisa downscale and get some cash together for whatever adventure she takes on next. (If you’re not familiar with Lisa’s adventures, try here or here).

One last note on what’s come in: I started a book-sharing group, and it’s been pretty well-received. I made a Facebook group of my friends that I know like reading and have a lot of books like I do. Whenever we come across a book we don’t feel the need to hang onto any more, we post it to the group for another book-lover to adopt. The books in the “gifted” section this month came from that group. If you’re in a similar position to me and my friends (toooooo many books! But we all still want more…), I’d recommend giving something like this a try.

What have you read this month?

Books Bought:
Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler
Lose Weight Fast, by Susie Burrell
The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl, by Shauna Reid
Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipul
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Marching Powder, by Rusty Young
Trojan Women and Hippolytus, by Euripedes
The Psychology of Love, by Sigmund Freud
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
Symposium and Phaedrus, by Plato

Reading Copies:
The New Republic, by Lionel Shriver
Mateship With Birds, by Carrie Tiffany
Running Dogs, by Ruby J Murray

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Look At Me, by Jennifer Egan

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
All Of Us: The Collected Poems, Raymond Carver
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Books Read:
Flying With Paper Wings, by Sandy Jeffs
Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
A Visit From The Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

Currently Reading:
Killing, by Jeff Sparrow
The Confidence Gap, by Russ Harris

Comment July Challenge, Week 1 Wrap-Up

So I thought I’d post weekly highlights for the month of July, while I do the LitLife Comment July Challenge.

This first week has proved harder than I thought it would – 5 comments a day, not so hard? Actually, incredibly hard! I’m also trying really hard to make my comments more substantial than “Great post!”. This, at times, seems to be an exercise in showing how little I really have to contribute to discussions…

However, there have been some good discussions, and some great posts to comment on. So here’s my top five from the past week (in no particular order):

1. Lisa Dempster’s “How to Blog When You’re Not Blogging”
2. Liam Wood’s “What’s Hipster Than Being Cool?” on Virgule
3. Megan Burke’s “What We Can Learn From Mia Freedman” on Literary Life
4. Jo Case’s “Why The Internet Turned Me On (To Creative Writing)” on Kill Your Darlings
5. Q & A Monday with Lisa Dempster on Virgule

Are you part of the Comment July Challenge? How’s your week been?

Neon Pilgrim Review

I’m officially on holidays, so I’m finally munching through some of the “to-be-read” pile. The first thing I picked up off that pile was Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster, which I bought from the EWF Page Parlour a few weeks ago.

I should probably flag it here that I interviewed Lisa for Yartz just before the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and she seemed absolutely lovely. I’ve also been following her blogging for a while, so I went into this book with an already reasonably good opinion of Lisa and what she’s been up to. I have to say though, that this book boosted that by about a hundred percent.

Neon Pilgrim is about Lisa’s journey along the henro michi – a back-breaking trek, 1200 kilometres through Japanese mountains, all the way around Shikoku. No small effort.

I’ve never really read travel books before. Something about the term “travel literature” puts me off – I imagine middle-aged intellectuals relaying things like “the rich history” of countries with Western histories much older than Australia’s… While it’s all very interesting, it’s not something I’m keen on dedicating myself to for a whole book. And I’m sure this isn’t even what travel literature entails. It’s just what my mind has made it.

When I heard about Neon Pilgrim though, I felt like this might be something I could relate to, and get something out of reading. When Lisa started the journey, she was a 28 year-old, overweight and very depressed. Having visited Japan as a student, she had heard about the henro michi, and decided that this was what she needed to pull her out of depression.

The pilgrimage is said to be enlightening, each henro (pilgrim) is accompanied by the spirit of Kobo-Daishi, who the walk is done in honour of. The Japanese who inhabit Shikoku believe that by giving settai (gifts) to pilgrims, they too honour the spirit of Kobo-Daishi even though they cannot do the trek. So the journey itself is a respected thing, and pilgrims are helped out a great deal by those who live in the towns and cities that the henro michi passes through.

The book is written simply, there’s no complicated jargon or assumed prior knowledge of Japan or its rituals. The book includes a glossary of Japanese terms used in the book, but most of the time it isn’t needed, as Lisa makes meanings very clear.

Along the way there are fantastic crazy old men, deeply respected veterans who have done the pilgrimage hundreds of times, and kind people Lisa’s own age, who are all doing the pilgrimage for different reasons. There are bears, and spiders, and blisters. Every story along the way has its place, and the pilgrimage becomes a mesh of encounters and problems to negotiate.

I won’t say that the prose is amazing. It’s good – very funny at times, and at others you can really feel Lisa’s frustration. But I wouldn’t call it artful. Artful prose isn’t what this book is about though.

There’s an old Taoist saying, that “the journey is the reward” – while Lisa’s fitness improves, and she meets some wonderful people along the henro michi, the reward in terms of escaping depression is less tangible. I think this is one of the things I loved about the book – Lisa proves to herself that she can still get out of herself and tackle the world, but along the way she still hits that brick wall many times. She doubts herself – in fact, it’s not until temple 76 that she actually thinks that perhaps she will actually reach the end. At certain times in the journey the only way forward is to “step. Step. Step”. And I think this is how it is, and how it’s meant to be – getting through tough things like depression is like that, it’s not “cure!” and then everything’s great. It’s just one foot in front of the other.

At the end of the book there is no definitive ending. Yes – Lisa makes it to the end. But it’s only the end of the henro michi – the start of something much bigger. And I didn’t even find the open ending frustrating, I found it incredibly hopeful. While I know I probably won’t do a trek like this, I have taken a lot from the “Step. Step. Step.” attitude and the idea that accomplishing something is not the end.

Lisa Dempster, the smiley lady you will see at many a literary event, has walked 1200 kilometers and slept in some very crazy places. She has gone through some absolutely insane shit – go shake her hand next time you see her. Or go read Neon Pilgrim. Or both.

Teaser Tuesday

Ladies and gents, I’m back in action! Today I handed in my final essay for the semester, and now I officially have four and a half weeks of holidays! And I have big plans. There will be blogging. There will be lots of catching up on the reading I miss out on during the semester – my to-be-read pile has grown into some absurd piece of architecture. I have plans to get a new project thing happening via this blog also, so look out for that during the next few weeks.

For now though, it’s Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page.
  •  You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“It was seventy-five kilometres away, one of the longest distances between temples anywhere on the pilgrimage, and the walk had a reputation for being awful; supposedly it was the place where the majority of walkers drop out and return home. After my night at Saba-daishi, I began walking alongside the famously wretched Highway 55.”

From Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster.

Pride, Procrastination and other Disasters

You’ll have noticed my blog has been incredibly quiet of late. I apologise.

I’ve written very little. I’ve blogged hardly at all. I’ve read only to wind-down before bed or else I’d never sleep. I’ve seen hardly anyone and I haven’t had a beer in over a week.

This is life on the arse-end of the semester. Four assignments due in a three-week period. We’re still in that period, the last one’s due on Tuesday.

So I’m still not blogging and all of the above.

But in the name of procrastination and pride, I thought I’d post the following interviews I did for Yartz, with Lisa Dempster and Emilie Zoey Baker. They were done just before the EWF, there’s just been a little delay in getting them up – technical stuff. Computers, hey?

As I can’t figure out how to embed youtube clips:

Here’s Lisa’s interview.

And here’s Emilie’s.

And for those of you who just can’t get enough, here’s a link to the reading that EZB was kind enough to do for the Yartz .

Enjoy your weekend viewing, my friends, and I will return to this very blog after Tuesday when I am officially ON HOLIDAYS!

Darkness and Addictions

It’s a well-known historical fact – creative people, writers particularly, are really good at addictions.

Amphetamines, prescription drugs, opium, alcohol.

Life have compiled a whole album of “Famous Literary Drunks Or Addicts” – there are some surprising addictions up there such as Louisa May Alcott’s addiction to opium, though typhoid-related-fever is a decent excuse.

I can’t say I was surprised by this. I know addiction and creativity go hand-in-hand. Many creative people seem to have that “something-to-get-away-from” in common. Perhaps this is why so many of us find ourselves in reading, and deal with ourselves better in writing. Or drinking. Or substance abuse. They’re all just ways to crawl away from the dark places.

Over the last weekend at the Emerging Writers’ Festival,  on a panel titled “Going To A Dark Place”, writer Joel Magarey talked about his OCD. I left that room really encouraged by the fact that this man has written a book that deals so candidly with something that’s so stigmatised and crippling. To look your demons in the face like that, and not be afraid to put it out there, is amazing. It should also be noted that the OCD is not all Joel’s book is about. It doesn’t take over.

Lisa Dempster’s “Neon Pilgrim” confronts her depression. Henry Rollins’ “Black Coffee Blues” talks about depression, making it dark but essentially toothless. Even J.K Rowling’s “Harry Potter” has dealt with depression in her children’s books, and she is not ashamed to tell people.

The list of writers with depression or other mental illness is endless, but mostly we never find out about it. And when we do it’s an “Oh. Who’d have known?” situation. It’s certainly more okay to put these kind of things out there now, but I don’t think we should underestimate the strength of people who do.

I’m constantly chased by anxiety. And when I hide in the toilets now there’s that poster on the back of the door staring at me, letting me know that “Anxiety Is Paralysing” (thanks Lady, I get it!) and I curse that bitch while I try to breathe like I have normally sized lungs.

I think the key to dealing with the “dark” parts of ourselves is to accept them. Work around them.

Turn the darkness into something productive.

Page Parlour Haul

Today was awesome. I woke up late, I went to Page Parlour, I met someone I’d only ever known via twitter, I went to an art show, I caught up with friends.

Day three of the Emerging Writers’ Festival saw the Page Parlour grace the heated walkways of the atrium at Federation Square. Page Parlour brings together a bunch of emerging writers and publishers to present their books and zines in a market type setting.

My Haul?

The Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam
Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing ed. Karen Andrews
Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster

There were other things I wanted to buy – uni student income said no.

But I’m pretty satisfied and itching to get into this haul!

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