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

Short Story: ‘The Wall’

Mandi Kontos has featured my story, ‘The Wall’, which was published late last year by Crack the Spine, as part of her blog’s Sharing Sunday segment. It’s probably the most direct way to read the story (as Crack the Spine is a somewhat fiddly online-only interactive PDF thing). Enjoy!

Review: ‘Sweet Tooth’

ImageContrary to the way it’s been marketed, Sweet Tooth is not an espionage novel. Not really. Among other things, it’s a love story, coming of age tale and meditation on literature. By fictionalising elements of McEwan’s youth, it also works as a strange composite of fiction and reality. Long-time McEwan fans will enjoy the various nods to his past work. There are myriad references, and an interesting look at the relationship artists have with their work.

Set in the afterglow of the Cold War, Sweet Tooth details Serena Frome’s (rhymes with ‘plume’) unlikely ascent from plucky academic to MI5 agent. So far, so James Bond, but Serena’s mission is not to take down the irrepressible Jaws; she is sent, as MI5’s resident bibliophile, to covertly cajole promising young writer, Tom Haley. Under the guise of representing a national literary foundation, Serena commissions Tom in the hopes that she can get him to unwittingly pen novelistic propaganda. It’s the 70s, see, and an international war of ideas rages. Britain is facing industrial unrest, and MI5 are desperate to influence the national culture. One of their approaches is to use well-received fiction writers to lure left-of-centre European intellectuals away from the Marxist perspective. Continue reading

Flash! Friday Vol. 2–18 Story – ‘A Missed Deadline’

ImageThis is my response to Flash! Friday‘s eighteeth prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit, with a ten-word leeway. The secondary theme (which informed my story so strongly it became my title) was ‘A Missed Deadline’. Enjoy!

* * *

‘A Missed Deadline’ (159 words)

Molly was worried. It was twelve past six and still no sign of Julian. She raised her binoculars and crouched low.

‘How much longer can we wait?’

Stephen’s hands found his pockets. He stepped gingerly from one foot to the other. ‘Long as it takes.’

The wind pelted them with fresh snow. They withdrew into their coats, but it was futile; they were completely exposed.

Molly hugged her knees and said, weakly: ‘I think we should go.’

‘You’re kidding.’

Stephen’s head was bowed. Molly saw a frost cloud rising from the brim of his hat.

‘He’s your boyfriend,’ Stephen went on, his voice deepening. ‘We’re not leaving him.’ He had hoped to sound resolute, but a shiver passed through him like electricity.

Molly’s gaze fell. ‘I’m going, Stephen. I can’t chance them finding us.’


‘I won’t go back there. Stay or join me; choice is yours.’

Stephen held his breath and looked out across the icy abyss.

Why Classics are a Waste of Your Time

Excuse the hyperbole. Was going to go with ‘My Recent Aversion to Classic Literature’, but what a wishy-washy, nancy-arse title. Today’s post comes because I feel like being a literary anarchist, like raising a little hell. My tongue is firmly in my cheek, though. Well, mostly.

I finished Joyce’s Dubliners last night, but rather than review it I thought I’d write about something that’s been bothering me for a while. Over the last year or two, I’ve been plummeting out of love with ‘classic literature’ (umbrella term, here applied liberally). As mentioned in my Guide to Reading for the Aspiring Writer posts, I champion eclectic reading habits and usually sandwich one classic between every three–four contemporary books. Classics, I’ve always thought, are like vegetables: they taste rubbish, but are good for your development. (Analogy’s retrospectively flawed; these days, I love vegetables.)

Here’s why I once thought it was important to read classics:

  • They’re highly regarded by most of the literary community. (Hence calling them ‘classics’ and not ‘past mistakes’.) When I was young, fresh-faced and uncynical (jokes – I’ve always been cynical), I had no idea what books I liked to read, so tended to follow others’ advice.
  • Classics had to be good because they’d somehow endured and remained relevant. I mean, for Boo Radley’s sake, many are still part of the zeitgeist today! Why else did the latest film adaptations of Anna Karenina, Les Misérables and The Great Gatsby gross through the roof? In truth, these books remain relevant – at least in part – because they are still being studied in most high schools and universities. Many classics are multifaceted and require (or at least benefit from) close critical reading, which is why they’ve become syllabus staples. (Controversial aside: Apparently it doesn’t matter that most are boring and wont to scare prospective young readers away.) Take, for instance, Orwell’s Animal Farm, a book that superficially deals with animals, but is actually using allegory to satirise and criticise Stalin-era Soviet Union. Although there are oodles of relevant, contemporary literary titles that could replace them, classics still have a role to fulfil in modern society. ‘If it ain’t broke,’ most teachers must say. (‘Fucking break it already,’ I say, though I concede that modern texts aren’t as rife with symbolism.)

Continue reading

Review: ‘Room’


  • This is from my enormous backlog of book reviews, most of which were written between 2010 and 2012. Posting this one because, looking back, I found my intense reaction to this book funny. You can see the spit fly. It’s obviously been a while since I finished this book, but I’m still happy to discuss it with anyone else who may’ve read it. (Note: Spoilers abound.)

Room is a Booker-short-listed novel by Irish writer, Emma Donoghue. The ultimate book club book, it was always destined to be a conversational powder keg. This book divides people. The fact that it was recognised by a major literary prize only exacerbates this. Its concept – a woman kept as a sex slave in an underground ‘room’ – is strong enough to carry you through it, irrespective of whether you like the voice, the writing, or the eventual shape of the narrative.

With all this in mind, here’s one opinionated guy’s take on it: Continue reading