A thousand thank yous

This week my thriller novella, My Name is Revenge, was officially announced as a finalist in the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award and published. The judge described it as ‘a remarkable work informed by a passion to express the haunting of almost unimaginable historical crimes, and the tragic shapes that vengeance for those crimes can take’. You can find it on Booktopia and Amazon.

The novella includes an acknowledgements section thanking the many amazing people who have helped me throughout the years I’ve worked to develop my writing skills. I didn’t feel like this was quite enough thanks however, so I’ve excerpted the acknowledgements section and am presenting it here.

Thank you from Ashley Kalagian Blunt
People I really can’t thank enough
My parents have supported my writing since my first story appeared in Young Saskatchewan Writers, when I was seven. My most heartfelt thanks goes to them. My husband began as my sketch comedy co-writer back in 2003, and has supported me in more ways than even an accountant could track. And way back in 2009, my in-laws gifted me a stack of Armenian history books to get this ball rolling. Each of these people also read drafts of the novella and gave feedback, and I can’t thank them enough.

I owe sincere thanks to many people who have helped me along the way, including the extended Kalagian clan, who generously shared their homes, memories, photos and recipes with me when I first began researching my Armenian heritage in 2010, including Bernice Kalagian, Mary Anne Jablonski and Diane Creamer, Trisha Jones, Richelle and Andrea Leahy, Laura Hoogasian Klimek, Robyn Stewart, Richard Hoogasian, Richard and Judy Kalagian, Carol Kalagian, Nancy Kalagian-Nunn and Dixie Petti. Likewise, an incredible number of people in Australia’s Armenian community have shared their stories with me, including most notably Ani Galoyan and her family. In Armenia, I was welcomed with open arms everywhere I went. To the many Armenians, American Peace Corps volunteers and others in Armenia who offered immense kindness and guided my understanding of Armenian heritage, culture and history – thank you. Thank you as well to the Turkish friends who have graciously spoken with me. So many people have provided kindness, support and guidance, and to each of them I’m forever grateful: the incredible Writing NSW staff, Jane McCredie, Julia Tsalis, Jeanne Kinninmont, Sherry Landow, Cassie Watson, Bridget Lutherborrow, Aurora Scott, Dan Hogan, and our many fabulous interns including Suzi ‘Sirius’ Ferré, Claire Bradshaw, Eliza Auld and Cathy Bouris; my amazingly talented writers’ group, Andrea Tomaz, Andrew Christie, Gabiann Marin, James Watson, Simon Veksner, Jonathon Shannon, Amanda Ortlepp, and especially Michelle Troxler and the generous and talented Jacqui Dent; the publishers and editors who have supported my writing, especially Linda Funnell and Jean Bedford, Julianne Schultz and Jerath Head, Rebecca Starford and Hanna Kent, Kirsten Krauth, Catriona Menzies-Pike, Stephen Romei, Paul Ham, Zoe Norton Lodge and Ben Jenkins; my academic advisors, especially Marcelle Freiman and the Macquarie University English Department, and Jane Park; the utterly inspiring Ren Arcamone; Hanna Kivistö, in whose unmatchable company I first forged a writing practise; Marije Nieuwenhuis, provider of early and incisive feedback; my fellow KSP writing fellows, Christine Scuderi and Nicole Hodgson; Fran Giudici, the best fan any writer could ask for; Lindsey Wiebe, for her unflagging support and steadying friendship; Kerry and Janet McLuhan; Helena Klanjscek, Carol Neuschul, Fran Jakin, Rachel Ramberran and Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk; my many incredible teachers and mentors, including Felicity Castagna and Toni ‘The Unpredictable Plotter’ Jordan, who both gave feedback on this novella, Luke Ryan, Claire Scobie, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Mishi Saran, Ethan Gilsdorf, Irene Lemon and Armin Wiebe; the inestimably supportive Walter Mason; and my fellow writers, who are a constant source of inspiration and encouragement, including Lee Kofman, Arna Radovich, Eva Lomski, Robin Riedstra, Sharon Livingston, Rebecca Chaney, LA Larkin, Adele Dumont, James Fry, Inga Simpson, Katherine Howell, Graham Wilson and Wai Chim.

And finally to Spineless Wonders, Bronwyn Mehan, Carmel Bird, State Library Victoria and Tablo, for bringing My Name Is Revenge into the wider world through the inaugural Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award – my immense thanks.

 

The best news yet

Way back in July, I was shortlisted for the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award. I’m immensely pleased to share that my novella was selected as one of the award finalists and is now an e-book! It has a new title and a snazzy cover.

A thriller set in 1980s Sydney and drawn from true events, including a series of international terrorist attacks, My Name is Revenge is the story of a young man seeking justice.

My Name is Revenge fiction by Ashley Kalagian Blunt, writer
My Name is Revenge is available from Booktopia and Amazon, as well as iBooks and wherever ebooks are sold.

You might like to read it, particularly if you like thrillers, new insights into 20th-century history, or fiction set in Australia. It’s a novella, which means it’s short as. Plus there’s an essay at the end that delves into the story’s historical context. And I heard you saying just the other day how much you love essays!

You might like to tell your friends about it, since word of mouth is still one of the main ways people find out about new books. You could send them the link right now.

If you read it, you might like to leave a review on Booktopia or Amazon, since the number of reviews a book receives is a key factor in its success on these platforms, thanks to the magic of algorithms. Plus you’d totally be my hero.

 

Even gooder news

I’m excited to share that my manuscript, Full of Donkey: Travels in Armenia, has been shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Writers, in the UK. If it wins, Impress Books will publish Donkey!

Impress Prize for New Writers 2018 shortlist Ashley Kalagian Blunt

I began writing Full of Donkey in 2010, when I received a Winnipeg Arts Council grant to fund a research trip to St Catharines, Ontario. There, I interviewed my father’s family and other members of the Armenian community. I was deeply curious about how my great grandparents’ survival of the Armenian genocide of WWI had affected their lives, our family, and my cultural identity.

I continued to research the Armenian community here in Sydney. Then, I travelled to Armenia, where I spent two months interviewing pretty much everyone who would talk to me, with the help of many Armenians, as well as American Peace Corps volunteers. The project received a Varuna PIP Fellowship, which meant I was lucky enough to spend a week at the wonderful National Writers’ House in the Blue Mountains. The manuscript was also shortlisted for the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2017.

You can read an adapted excerpt from Full of Donkey published by Griffith Review and accompanied by my photos.Armenian genocide family memoir Ashley Kalagian Blunt

In July, the shortlist for the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award was announced, and included my other Armenian project, A Flicker of Justice, No More. Set in Sydney in the early 1980s, this novella explores the consequences of the ongoing denial of the genocide. It’s also my first work of crime fiction, a genre I’ve always loved.

Writing about the genocide has been an important part of my life for nearly a decade now. I hope both Full of Donkey and A Flicker of Justice will come to full fruition soon so I can share them with you.

 

Good news, for a change

I know I’ve been whinging about being sick for a while now (and there’s more where that came from!) but I do have some good news.

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 9.22.16 pm

My novella, A Flicker of Justice, No More, was shortlisted for the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award. This means you lucky ducks can read an excerpt on the State Library Victoria Tablo page. This novella is a crime thriller based on true events, including a terrorist attack in Sydney in 1980.

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 9.19.36 pm

Also, I’ve had one of my favourite short stories accepted for publication in Verandah issue 33. It’s called ‘Pre-Morbid Status’ and it’s as dark as it sounds! That’ll come out in September, so hold your breath!

Also also, back in 2016 I was the winner at one of The Moth’s StorySLAM events. Which means I’ll be competing in the GrandSLAM at Sydney’s Metro Theatre on Tuesday 7 August. This will probably be your only chance to see me perform live this year (and I know you’ve been lying awake in bed at night, wringing your hands, sweating about when you’ll be able to see me on stage again).

The Moth is a competitive storytelling event that takes place around the world, and you better believe I’m sticking to my oeuvre: a story that involves me almost dying, and also my husband in the role of himself.

Is it a good idea to perform while I’m sick? No, probably not. Am I going to do it anyway? Yes. Yes I am. I personally will only be on stage for five minutes and IT WILL GIVE ME A REASON TO LIVE. At least until 7 August. After that, all bets are off.

Road Trip to the Future

You should definitely buy ten copies of @thebigissue this month, not only because it’s always great, but also because my creepy Tasmanian time travel trip is in there. Here’s a sneak peek: Ashley Kalagian Blunt - Tarrahleah article

This article is excerpted from my current manuscript-in-progress, a memoir called How to Be Australian. It explores the experience of becoming Australian citizens and the complex process of developing an Australian identity through travel, socialising and wild curiosity.

This issue is on sale until 17 May.
Big Issue Magazine 561

 

From the Lighthouse: a writerly interview

From the Lighthouse writing and reading podcastDespite being unable to leave my house 87% of the time, I was invited for a guest interview on the reading and writing podcast From the Lighthouse with Stephanie Russo and Michelle Hamadache.

The interview was great fun, and I was able to share two key tips for writers, which I’m particularly keen on: setting rejection goals, and joining a public speaking club (like this particular one in Sydney’s Inner West). I also suggest rubbing salt in your wounds on an hourly basis because that is what it is to be a writer.

 

 

The writing year in review

In 2017, I became increasingly unwell and was eventually diagnosed with an untreatable chronic illness. This was not one of my new year’s resolutions.

I’d created this space to post comedy snippets, but things don’t seem as funny when your body is a prison. I know, it’s not a great punchline. Still, looking back at this year, I managed to write some things, things that were published various places. Here are the highlights:

Griffith Review
Today Is Already Yesterday: Growing up with the digital revolution

The Australian
The Choice: Auschwitz survivor deals with Mengele and freedom

Sydney Review of Books
The Crime of Crime: Genocide, A World History

The Cusp
I Tracked Every Dollar I Spent for 8 Years. Here’s What I Learned.
The Introvert’s Guide to Networking
I Tried 10 Productivity Hacks. Here’s What Worked. 
Your Guide to Surviving a Long Distance Relationship
How to Give to Charity Without Spending Money
 

Newtown Review of Books
Adult Fantasy by Briohny Doyle
Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh
The Year of the Orphan by Daniel Findlay
The Promise of Things by Ruth Quibell

How to Write 3 Memoirs by the Age of 35, Lee Kofman’s The Writing Life 
Picasso’s Accountant, Swamp Writing
Local StoriesCiao Magazine

Shortlistings
Full of Donkey: Travels in Armenia, shortlisted for the 2017 Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award
How to Be Australian, shortlisted for the Lane Cove Literary Awards, memoir

Events
Blind Dating with Books, Noted Festival
Talking Writing: Casing the Joint, NSW Writers’ Centre
Millennials Strike Back, Newtown Festival Writers’ Tent
Raw Comedy Semifinals, Comedy Store
How Not to Be Australian, Story Club

Story Club comedy performance, 'How Not to Be Australian' by Ashley Kalagian BluntI suppose I should have some hope that I might be able to accomplish more in 2018 than merely lying on the couch binge-watching all 19 seasons of SVU, even if being funny seems as impossible as being healthy does.

Blind dating with books: the game

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 9.21.15 pm

I recently hosted Blind Dating with Books as part of Noted Festival’s LitHop, where a Lonely Reader from the audience played to find the book of his or her dreams.

Some of the books the Lonely Reader met included the fine, well-known titles listed here. Can you guess the identity of these books? They may be fiction or non-fiction, for adults or kids. Answers below. No cheating!

Book 1
Setting: New Zealand
Themes: good vs evil, heroism, climbing volcanoes, love of jewellery, friendship, long journeys, getting out of your comfort zone, The Great Outdoors
Plot notes: Supernatural big brother, communing with trees, etc

Book 2
Setting
: The Middle East, or a vaguely desert-like place
Themes: Salvation, good vs. evil, begetting, killing your child, the patriarchy
Plot notes: Probably the most famous beginning, major flooding, getting swallowed by a whale, giant vs. slingshot, murder via DIY woodworking

Book 3
Setting
: modern Europe
Themes: ancient conspiracies, bad grammar, murder, “symbology”
Plot notes: murder in a museum, cryptic clues, famous artworks, historical and scientific inaccuracies

Book 4
Setting
: Nazi Germany
Themes: Survival, friendship, how great books are, hatred/racism, death
Plot notes: hiding from Nazis, book burnings, orphanhood, getting whipped (but not in a sexy way)

Book 5
Setting: A fruit bowl?
Themes: counting, transformation
Plot notes: chocolate cake, ice-cream cone, pickle, Swiss cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake, a lot of various fruits

Book 6
Setting
: Old timey England
Themes: love, romance, marriage, social inequality
Plot notes: boarding school, secret spouse, dead parents, typhus and other old-timey diseases, horse-riding accidents, a proposal from your cousin, arson

Book 7
Setting
: Northern Europe, present day
Themes: murder, justice, challenging stereotypes
Plot notes: computer hacking, open marriage, lucrative ghost-writing, Nazi relatives, amateur tattoo artistry, patricide

Book 8
Setting
: A private island
Themes: murder, mystery, survival, justice
Plot notes: cyanide poisoning, message in a bottle, confession, life imitates poetry, a marble clock shaped like a bear

Book 9
Setting
: Old timey England
Themes: love, romance, marriage, family
Plot notes: snobbery, balls, fever, never-ending marriage proposals, horse riding, the worst brother-in-law

Book 10
Setting
: Melbourne
Themes: love, romance, acceptance, reducing inefficiency
Plot notes: very specific menus, ‘affirmative’, cocktails, trip to New York, project work, bicycles, science!

Book 11
Setting
: small-town America
Themes: childhood trauma and its echoes in adulthood, ugliness lurking behind small-town quaintness, overcoming evil
Plot notes: stuttering, oversized spiders, Dracula, Hansel & Gretel, a werewolf, Frankenstein’s monster, blood oath, a random turtle

Book 12
Setting
: Modern day US
Themes: power/control, life choices
Plot notes: “I don’t do the girlfriend thing”, drunk calls, private helicopter, “written consent”/nondisclosure agreement, “hard limits”, a lot of crying

Book 13
Setting
: The universe
Themes: Science! Learning! Amusing anecdotes! Terror!
Plot notes: How did the universe start? What are supernovae? Big Bang Theory, the size, shape, weight and orbit of the Earth, theory of relativity and quantum physics, the fabric of spacetime, potential deadly meteor strike, Yellowstone supervolcano, global warming; possibly recurring ice ages

Book 14
Setting
: London
Themes: love and romance, self-improvement (?), weight loss
Plot notes: Having a crush on your boss, how confusing men are, a time-share scam, awkward dates, culinary disasters

Answers
1. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
2. The Bible – God et al.
3. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
4. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
6. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsen
8. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
9. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin
10. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
11. It – Stephen King
12. 50 Shades of Grey – EL James
13. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
14. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding