Review: Page Seventeen Issue Eleven

p17issue11coverPage Seventeen returns from its hiatus with its eleventh issue and a new, glossier format. There’s clear emphasis on the new, as editor Beau Hillier invites you to abandon stuffy old front-to-back linear reading in favour of a novel pathway system. (Think those Choose Your Own Adventure books you read as a child.) This small touch personalises the reading experience, allowing you to shape the overarching narrative in a small way.

But, of course, what you really want to know about are the stories. Kathy George’s opener ‘Blessed are the cracked …’ takes a lateral look at the nature of creativity, demonstrating the sometimes obtuse ways artists find inspiration. (For more on this topic, check out the Busybird website, where Page Seventeen contributors were invited to share their processes or anecdotes which have inspired their work. Mine is reproduced on this blog here.)

In ‘A step back in time’, James May takes a soul-searching trip back to his hometown of Adelaide, seeking answers, catharsis and a new perspective. This was a visceral piece, full of grit and longing.

With ‘Protest’, Beverley Lello crafts an exquisite literary tale about acceptance and marital dissonance. Meanwhile, Lois Murphy’s standout ‘Mosquito bites’ tells a ripping yarn about a likeable-but-downtrodden young man with an addition to his already-lengthy list of mistakes: allowing his loved ones to believe he is dead. The story starts with a memorable one-two punch – ‘We were pretty pissed off when my cousin showed up at his own funeral. All that effort, those wasted tears.’ – and takes several unforeseen turns, with the cousin cutting an unexpectedly tragic figure.

In ‘Onshore, offshore, unsure’, Eril Riley uses poetic language to tell of one family’s traumatic struggle for asylum. Hemmed in body-to-body with other survivors, the protagonist waxes philosophical while enduring discomforts like urinating in a battered metal drum. This story made me appreciate the freedom and luxuries we take for granted.

Other highlights include Joshua Coldwell’s ‘Swan song’, a black comedy about a young man’s obsession to uphold the family legacy (by imparting witty or memorable last words), and Geraldine Borella’s ‘Achilles and the maple leaf’, a tale of unlikely friendship, and a touching reminder that sometimes the universe smiles upon us, bringing people into our lives precisely when we need them.

Warwick Sprawson continues to impress with ‘Spin’, a tension-filled casino story about a dealer with a sizeable (ahem) chip on his shoulder.

There’s also a veritable smorgasbord of poetry – much of it esoteric, all of it thought-provoking. I’ve never had much of an ear for poetry, but particularly enjoyed Katherine E Seppings’ quiet, assured ‘Seville’; Paul South’s perplexing ‘No sense’; and Jude Aquilina’s ‘Love suffers’, which begins:

Love suffers from a plague of clichés.
It claims to gleam like a bolt
of silken sun through winter cloud
but actually, it’s sharp and quick
like a tattooing needle.

Page Seventeen Issue Eleven is available for purchase here.


Update: Publication News + Reflection

My story, ‘The Reunion’, has been accepted for publication in literary journal Page Seventeen. As part of the lead-up to publication, editor Beau Hillier asked each contributing writer to reflect (in 250 words or less) on the process of writing their respective piece.

I fear it won’t make much sense without first reading the story, but it does effectively document the way disparate influences can come together and inspire a piece of fiction.

From the Busybird Publishing website:


The P17 launch date is fast approaching – not long now until the latest issue of page seventeen is available!

It’s an open invitation to come on down to our launch event and open mic night at the Busybird workshop – 2/118 Para Rd, Montmorency – from 7pm onwards on 19 November.

In the meantime, a couple more of the Issue 11 contributors have offered a little more insight into what went into the latest P17 edition.

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Tom O’Connell on ‘The reunion’

My inspirations for ‘The reunion’ are threefold.

Firstly, this story was written in response to the Murakami short ‘All God’s children can dance’, wherein a young man, lied to about his supposed birth by Immaculate Conception, searches for his true biological father. The search culminates on an empty baseball diamond, a final image which has remained with me.

Years ago, I took regular evening walks around the streets of Northcote. On these walks, I often passed sporting grounds where local AFL teams had their weeknight training sessions. During training, the stands and grounds would be empty. The field would be lit, but only coaches and a dozen or so players were present. (I love how this contrasts the bustle of Game Day. Empty sporting grounds are so serene.)

One night, I noticed a hooded figure watching the boys train. The stands were unlit, so he was shrouded in darkness. I passed another night and he was there again. He came regularly. No one paid him any notice. He was probably one of the boys’ fathers, but that didn’t stop me turning over the possibilities. What if he was a spy, or homeless, or generally unhinged? (Amusingly, an earlier draft emphasised this angle.) The idea developed and he became an absentee father.

Finally, I suppose this story was written, in part, to satisfy an innate curiosity about my biological father, whom I have no relationship with. Paternal bonds often figure into my fiction, though never usually this explicitly.

Tom O’Connell is a writer, editor and tea-enthusiast. He is currently studying for a Bachelor of Writing and Publishing and has been published in [untitled], n-SCRIBE, Vine Leaves and Crack the Spine. Follow his writing at

Publishing Update: Interning Impressions and Interview

Two quick links for those interested in the happenings of Tom Town.

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Article Published on Writer’s Edit.

Writer’s Edit is a Sydney-based online literary magazine that publishes content for writers and book lovers. My article is a reflection on my interning experience with Busybird Publishing. Check it out if you’ve ever wanted an insight into the working practices of an independent publisher. (For more on Busybird Publishing, check out Publications Manager Les Zigomanis’s primer, also on Writer’s Edit.)

Fully Awake Dreamer Interview.

My blogging pal Amanda Kontos recently interviewed me for her blog’s Fully Awake Dreamer interview series. In the interview, I talk at length about my writing practices and projects. There’s also an excerpt from a work in progress.


Review: ‘[untitled] Issue Six’

ImageThe sixth issue of Busybird Publishing’s flagship literary journal opens with a question: ‘Where has [untitled] been?’ The journal, which ordinarily sees an annual release, was an unexpected no-show in 2013. According to the editorial, the publisher’s self-imposed deadline repeatedly slipped by as the editors-cum-mad scientists deliberated over their largest assortment of stories yet. Talk about perfectionists! But issue six is here now, and I’m happy to report that [untitled] has come back strong.

The issue opens with one of my favourite stories: Josh Donellan’s ‘The Stench of Adventure’, a charming, fictionalised account of the author’s Cambodian travels. Having been to Thailand, I related to Donellan’s depiction of South-East Asian culture. It’s a sweet story, playful in tone. But also worth noting is that the author nails the shameful way privileged westerners treat lesser-developed countries as their personal playgrounds. This story sums up what [untitled] is all about: smart, well-written, entertaining stories that can be enjoyed by anyone. There was no pretension in ‘The Stench of Adventure’, thus it struck me as the perfect opener.

Another highlight was second story, ‘An Open Book’. This story was vintage Ryan O’Neill: the state of a relationship is revealed through passages, doodles and notations made in the margins of a book. It’s quirky, involves a bit of light detective work and appeals to our base voyeurism. Ryan O’Neill’s relentless cleverness continues to impress.

‘The Crying Space’ was a melancholic account of a man experiencing trauma-induced blindness. Despite how it may sound, I found this refreshingly unsentimental. There are no miraculous recoveries (at least not within the timeframe of the story), and main character Bryce is forced to re-evaluate his perception of the world. Author Peter Farrar excels in his sensory descriptions. It’s deeply affecting and impossible not to project yourself into Bryce’s situation.

Wendy Purcell gave a memorable reading from her story, ‘The Broker’, at issue six’s launch, and I’d been thinking about it since. Purcell subtly implements an intriguing, fantastical concept (a pawn broker removes sellers’ memories of the objects they’re divesting from, Eternal Sunshine style) into an otherwise familiar setting. This closing story was a multi-faceted page-turner, and ended the journal on a perfectly poignant note.

The 2013 [untitled] Short Story Competition

Also included in this issue were the winners of the 2013 [untitled] Short Story Competition. Not sure what was in the water this year, but I found all five of these very impressive.

Suzannah Marshall Macbeth’s highly commended ‘Niall’s Edge’, a mournful comment on global warming and our acceptance of fate, was perhaps the most ‘literary’ story in the whole issue. The precision in her descriptions was astounding.

Contrasting this was Venetia Di Pierro’s ‘Rollerbaby Queen’, a buoyant, Fifties-style story about an adolescent friendship. Di Pierro’s story excelled in its rich portrayals of Fifties culture and of authentic teenaged friends growing apart.

Peter R Hill’s ‘She’s All Broken’ was an occasionally funny, sometimes frustrating, always powerful art heist caper. This story’s point of difference was that it starred a disabled protagonist with a fully functioning mind, but communication difficulties. ‘She’s All Broken’ bravely inhabited a minority’s point of view to beautiful effect. Putting the reader inside this character’s skin enables them to experience, first-hand, just how fearful and prejudiced society can be towards the disabled.

Adrienne Tam’s ‘The Human Child’ initially struck me as a moody, atmospheric tale about family dynamics, which it is – but it evolves organically, becoming much more. Tam sucker-punches the reader with a dark late development, transforming the story into a fantastical fable, akin to Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Well-executed.

Special mention must go to Luke Thomas’ first-place-winning story, ‘Regatta’, about a fractured married couple’s travels through Africa. Luke Thomas’ ‘Real Estate’ was one of my personal highlights in [untitled] issue five, and, for me, ‘Regatta’ cements the author as one of Australia’s seminal short fiction talents. It’s hard to articulate why this story resonated with me the way it did. Listing its superficial qualities feels insufficient. ‘Regatta’ has intangible magic; it’s a perfect marriage of voice, technique, character and story. Thomas wholly inhabits his protagonist, Tom. The story is no meditation on angst, but Tom’s pain is positively palpable. And still he holds things together, hoping, with grace, restraint and occasional wit. The titular boat race becomes a desperate, metaphorical struggle. More than the sum of its parts, ‘Regatta’ is a delicate, Hemmingway-esque story that will doubtlessly stay with me.

Overall Impressions

Unfortunately, not all of the stories in this issue were direct hits for me – ‘Puppet Fears’ was a bit beyond me, and may require closer re-reads; ‘Tilly’ showed fleeting brilliance, but felt tonally confused; and ‘Pretty Birds’, despite inspiring an excellent cover image, was underwhelming and a bit obvious. I’m fast realising, though, that this is the nature of reading anthologies. Different stories appeal to different people; it’s possible – even likely – that others may rate these as favourites. Overall, the sheer diversity of styles in [untitled] issue six was undeniable and greatly appreciated.

I’m thrilled about [untitled]’s return. It is an excellent celebration of Australia’s diverse literary talent, and issue six maintains the high standard set by previous issues. Reportedly, Busybird are working to get issue seven out by the end of 2014, so hopefully the wait won’t be too long for more short fiction goodness.


Review: ‘Thirteen Stories: Volume I’

ImageThirteen Stories is the inaugural entry in what I assume will become a series of short fiction anthologies. Released exclusively in ebook format, Thirteen Stories showcases a wide array of established and burgeoning Australian literary talents. Many of these stories have been sourced from other Australian literary journals (some were even published in other Busybird publications); others placed highly in short story competitions (of particular note, Louise D’Arcy’s ‘Flat Daddy‘ was the recipient of the 2010 Age Short Story Award). I think republishing high-quality and obscure (occasionally out-of-print) stories is a noble and worthwhile venture, as it will lead readers to some great stories from yesteryear. Continue reading


Graduating the School of King – a Guide to Reading for the Aspiring Writer: Part II

Continued from Part I.

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The market today is different from a hundred, even fifty years ago. These days, it’s a bloated beast of genres, sub-genres and sub-sub-genres (I may’ve made this one up). So just where the hell do you start?

Here’s an approach you might consider trying. Jump online. Fire up your favourite search engine and type in something like ‘100 Best Books of all time’. Scratch around, find the lists that look the most reputable – y’know, the New York Times, the Guardian, Time Magazine. Read plot summaries and delve a little into each book’s background. You want to find out why these books have had such a strong impact on not just one, but several generations of readers. Note the big titles, the ones that reoccur from list to list. These are usually good places to start. Novels typically don’t develop esteemed reputations unless they have substance to back them up. While you’re doing all this you should be making notes of any books that sound interesting to you. Remember, it’s important to keep an open mind. Continue reading


Writers vs Literary Journals: a Lesson in Respect and Etiquette

As David Attenborough once said (in a dream I’m pretending to have had), ‘A curious relationship exists between the writer and the staff of a literary journal.’

Today I wanted to talk about the different ways writers and literary journal staff regard each other. A couple of days ago, my buddies at [untitled] wrote a blog that really resonated with me. The blog touched on some of the hidden etiquettes to consider when submitting fiction. If you’re someone who actively submits, or you’re thinking about submitting in the near future, I’d strongly advise that you check out this post.

(Fun, vaguely related fact: Not only do [untitled] publish short fiction of any genre, they also have an outrageously accommodating word limit. If you happen to write short fiction of any genre, make sure you check out their submission guidelines.)

I’ll assume you’ve had a gander at the link. Hopefully most will consider it common sense, but to those who haven’t sent their work out before, or to those who are just innately assholish to everyone they cross, it would pay to keep the suggestion of courtesy at the forefront of your minds.

I read a lot of writing articles (forget Spider Solitaire; this is procrastination, 2013 style), but what I particularly liked about this [untitled] one is that it sheds light on The Other Side. Publishers, that is – not the afterlife. I like that the insights come from someone who’s played both roles: the benevolent gatekeeper and the impoverished artist banging futilely against the iron gate. I also like that it reveals something about the people and processes who exist behind the label of Literary Journal. Continue reading