House arrest: Year 3

Having chronic fatigue is like being under house arrest. The more I stay home, the better I feel. It’s whenever I try to go out and live my life (doing wild and crazy things like attending a one-hour book launch) that my symptoms ramp up.

It’s been more than two years since I started getting sick, and a year since the Fatigue Centre doctors advised me to start tracking my daily step count. The concept sounded simple. I’m supposed to figure out how many steps I can do in a day without causing myself to crash (ie. feel too weak to get out of bed/think coherently). Then I’m supposed to do approximately that many steps every day for two to three weeks. If I don’t crash, I’m supposed to raise the figure by 20% and see if I can maintain the new threshold without crashing.

Yes, there’s maths involved in recovery. That’s how dire things are.

Managing my daily step count (along with timing my cognitive tasks, monitoring my symptoms, taking regular breaks, recording all this minutia, etc) takes a surprising amount of effort. Lately, I’ve been finding it difficult to make the effort.

So, instead of going out and getting more steps today like I should be, I decided to chart my daily step record instead. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, step count

On the positive side, you can notice a gradual upward trend. But overall, these results aren’t encouraging.

Notice how at the start of the year, the fluctuations in my step count were minimal? That’s how the entire year should look. Tight and compact, like an inchworm. Not Mt Everest meets the Mariana Trench. (All that walking in Melbourne was worth it though; I stumbled on some real treasures).

I didn’t include the y-axis figures because I know there’s other people out there struggling even more than I am, and I didn’t want to evoke unnecessary comparisons. This chart lets me compare Chronic Fatigue Ashley to Pre-Illness Ashley. A few years ago, I used a step counter for several months – you know, back when I did stuff like that for general fitness. The chart’s red line is my pre-illness daily average.

I guess what I’m saying is – I’m still pretty sick. There are so many events I missed this year, so many times I cancelled on friends because I felt so unwell I could barely move. And it looks like 2019 isn’t going to start off much better.

It’s not all bad though. My novella has received some excellent endorsements, and just this week received a stellar review from Karen Chisholm on Newtown Review of Books. Good news like this will help me get through another long year of house arrest.

 

The Unicorn and other amazingness

The Unicorn by Chris Roberts, created from the short story by Ashley Kalagian Blunt

By now I’m sure you’ve read my thriller novella, My Name Is Revenge, and are desperately looking around for more of my fiction writing.

You’re in luck! I’ve had a number of short fiction works published this year, including some flash fiction, and most of it you can read online for free from these fine publications. Enjoy!

The Unicorn
in SmokeLong Quarterly
A tiny story about a larger-than-life woman. The Unicorn inspired this amazing artwork by US artist Chris Roberts.

Your Results Are In
in Baby Teeth Journal
This story, inspired by several true events as well as my ever-growing stack of medical lab results, has been described as ‘creepy and fabulously funny’ (so definitely on brand).

Towers
in Stylus Lit
A tiny story about how rotten people can be.

Picasso’s Accountant
in Swamp
A story about relationships. (This piece came out last year.)

Pre-Morbid Status
in Verandah 33
The story of a woman discovering the bureaucratic horrors of nursing home life. (This is the only story listed here without free access, but no worries, the journal is available in both PDF and print.)

 

Serial killers, zombies, cults and genocide: ten podcasts to love

It’s been a year since I was diagnosed with post-infective fatigue syndrome, and about two years since the symptoms first began. In that time, I’ve spent a lot of hours on the couch/in bed, feeling frustrated and trying to remind myself that resting is recovering.

Before I was diagnosed, I watched a lot of TV. I’ve watched more TV in the last two years than in the entire previous decade. TV seemed like the thing to do when I was too tired to read. However, my doctors told me TV can be very mentally draining.

To allow myself to actually rest while I’m resting, the doctors recommended I listen to audiobooks or podcasts, an activity I can do with my eyes closed. As a result, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts this year. Sometimes I listen to an entire series in a day.

One upside of being ill is that I’ve had the opportunity to lean into things I find wildly exciting, including serial killers, zombies, cults and genocide. You know, the usual topics ladies enjoy.

Out of all the podcasts I’ve listened to this year, here are ten I highly recommend:

  1. The Great Crime
    I’ve studied the Armenian genocide for nearly a decade, but I’m still learning a lot of interesting details from this podcast narrating the genocide’s history. It’s well delivered, and exactly as its website promises: “open and accessible to everyone, whether you’re familiar with the subject or totally unaware of this often forgotten, misunderstood, and fundamentally tragic saga.” Also, turns out it’s from New Zealand.
  2. Uncover: Escaping Nxivm
    “NXIVM calls itself a humanitarian community. Experts call it a cult.” This investigative podcast from Canada’s CBC is a fascinating look into the group’s leader, Keith Raniere, and a member’s struggle to escape.
  3. Everything is Alive
    Okay, you might not be into genocide and cults, but I dare you not to be utterly delighted by these imaginative interviews with inanimate objects. The host works in interesting true facts about each object. In my standout favourite episode, Ana the Elevator, we learn about architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s plans for a mile-tall skyscraper with nuclear-powered elevators. But the best moment is when Ana sees a video of ‘outside’ and exclaims, ‘Is there no weight limit outside?’
  4. In the Dark
    This crime-focussed investigative podcast has two seasons. The first unravels the disastrous investigation of a boy kidnapped near his home in rural Minnesota, a crime that went unsolved, with no trace of the boy, for 27 years. The second season investigates the circumstances surrounding a Mississippi man tried six times for the same crime over 21 years. He maintains his innocence. Both seasons are fascinating and revelatory.
  5. Happy Face
    The Happy Face serial killer was imprisoned in 1995 after the violent murder of at least eight women. What’s particularly interesting about this retrospective is that it’s narrated by his daughter, who was a teenager when he was arrested.
  6. We’re Alive
    Don’t confuse We’re Alive with the only other fiction podcast on this list, Everything Is Alive. We’re Alive is four seasons of zombie attacks set in Los Angeles and the southwest United States. Season 1 is interesting, the story moves along. Season 2 starts to build on season 1. Then season 3 pulls together all the narrative threads from the first two seasons and takes the story to a new level.
  7. Criminal
    With over 100 episodes, Criminal looks at crime from a wide variety of angles, featuring interviews with culprits, victims and experts. My favourite episodes include:
    #15 He’s Neutral: a man who solves his neighbour’s crime problems with a Buddha statue.
    #51 Money Tree: a woman whose mother stole her identity for credit fraud.
    #85 The Manual: a murder investigation and the manual used by the killer.
    #101 The Fox: the story of two 1970s plane hijackers who met in prison.
  8. Revisionist History
    Malcolm Gladwell is an author and investigative journalist who looks at a wide variety of social and historical issues from surprising and compelling angles. I also recommend all of his books.
  9. Atlanta Monster
    A true crime podcast examining the Atlanta Child Murders: “Nearly 40 years after these horrific crimes, many questions still remain.” The narrator, Payne Lindsey, has another podcast called Up and Vanished. I tried to get into it, but I found both seasons very slow.
    Bonus: Atlanta Monster also has the best theme song of all the podcasts I’ve listened to.
  10. Story Club
    A growing collection of true stories from comedic narrators, recorded live in Sydney.

I’m probably going to spend a significant chunk of the coming year in bed again, so I’m pretty desperate for new recommendations. Please send them my way!

 

Canberra: world’s most ludicrous capital?

Over my several years in Australia, whenever the topic of Canberra came up, people derided it. Australia’s capital is the epitome of bureaucratic blandness, people told me, a snake-riddled suburbia of confounding roundabouts, especially punishing to anyone stupid enough to try navigating the city by foot.

In response to this unanimous negativity, I developed a perverse desire to like Canberra. (This is further evidence that my brain’s main goal is to sabotage me.) I’ll show them, I thought. When I visit Canberra, I’ll see it from a whole new perspective.

I even tried to navigate the city by foot. This experience is best captured by this actual Canberran sidewalk to nowhere:

Sidewalk to nowhere, Canberra, Australia
This stretch of pavement may as well end with a sign reading, ‘That’s what you get for walking, you two-legged idiot! Regards, Canberra.’

The more I learned about Canberra, the more ridiculous it became. The city’s name comes from nganbra, a Ngunnawal word supposedly meaning ‘meeting place’. However, according to local elders, writes my favourite Aussie historian, the word actually means ‘breasts’. As David Hunt put it in True Girt, ‘Australians are the only people in the world who would name their national capital “Tits”’.

This is typical of the national tendency to appropriate Aboriginal words without grasping their meaning, Hunt adds. In this way, Canberra is somehow more, rather than less, appropriate as the name of the country’s capital.

Or, consider this: front and centre over Parliament’s main entrance is a stainless steel rendition of the Aussie coat of arms, kangaroo on the left, emu on the right, each leaning in to support the shield. According to Justine van Mourik, Parliament House’s art curator, when artists submitted coat-of-arms designs during the building’s construction, at least one was rejected because the kangaroo was ‘not visibly male’.

The kangaroo now poised above Parliament is definitely visibly male, its hunk of maleness the same size as its snout.
Visibly male kangaroo, Australian Parliament Coat of Arms

Van Mourik offered no explanation for this criterion in Parliament’s coat of arms; there’s no mention of animal gender in the charter that dictates the design, and it’s definitely not a standard feature. Here is another rendition of the coat of arms I found in Canberra. Note neither of these animals are visibly male. Also, they’re rocking some A+ googly eyes.
Australian coat of arms with googly eyes, Canberra

Another Parliament fact: if you take the guided tour, you’ll learn that the monstrosity holding up the flag is ‘the largest stainless steel structure in the southern hemisphere’. So there’s something to inspire national pride!
Parliament House, Canberra, Australia

I’ve also read conflicting accounts of the city’s design. The American town planner responsible, Walter Burley Griffin, may have based the layout on occult symbols, maybe Freemasonry or Kabbalah. National Geographic observed that, seen from above, Parliament House looks suspiciously like the Illuminati’s all-seeing pyramid eye, and some people believe the double ring roads encircling Capitol Hill indicate the area is a consecrated temple. National Geographic went on to note that these suspicions are baseless – but that’s exactly what the Illuminati would want you to think, isn’t it.

And one more thing, which isn’t exactly a civic issue, but I’m including it anyway. Canberra is home to the gang-gang cockatoo, nicknamed the squeaky gate cockatoo. This is because their call sounds exactly like you’re in a horror movie and a deranged man wielding a blood-soaked chainsaw is creeping up behind you through an unoiled door. Which, I can say from experience, is especially unsettling to hear when you’re walking through the bush alone.

I first visited Canberra in 2012, and I’ve been back a few times. Though I now accept that it’s a ludicrous city in many ways, I actually like it more for all these reasons. And sometimes, it’s also quite beautiful.

Swans, Canberra Australia
Black swans on Lake Hurley Burley, sunset

Just don’t expect to get anywhere on foot.

Revenge: The first review!

My Name is Revenge fiction by Ashley Kalagian Blunt, writer

The first review of My Name is Revenge has been published, and it’s come from the delightful Fiona Robertson, an Australian short fiction author, currently shortlisted for the 2018 Richell Prize! Fiona has perfectly captured what the novella does and why. You can read her review here. (Obviously it’s positive, otherwise I probably wouldn’t tell you about it. Or maybe I would, who knows.)

You can purchase My Name is Revenge at any ebook retailer, including Booktopia, Amazon and Apple iBooks.

As you finish and catch your breath, you realise you’ve devoured a fascinating narrative and essay, but you’ve also learned about the Armenian Genocide of World War I, in which as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed by order of the Ottoman Government. … My Name is Revenge is immersive and affecting, written with balance and compassion.

– Fiona Robertson, Australian author

I’ve also received this endorsement from Katerina Cosgrove, who has likewise written about the Armenian genocide:

Ashley Kalagian Blunt delivers what truly potent novellas are capable of: awakening us to new possibilities of thought and feeling. As with Orwell’s Animal Farm and Garner’s The Children’s Bach, this story raises questions that linger and does not give us easy answers. Raw, intense and at times unbearably tender, Kalagian Blunt gives voice to survivors of the Armenian genocide — voices that cry out to be heard in their power and poignancy, their historic hurts and continuing hope for redemption.

Katerina Cosgrove, author of Bone Ash Sky

I’ve added a page to this site where I’ll continue to share reviews and news about the novella. Of course, you’re welcome to leave a review on Amazon or any ebook site as well. Unless you hate it. Then maybe … don’t?

 

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.

 

Pose with my grave and skeleton

NewSouth City Series travel books

Before visiting Melbourne in September, I read Sophie Cunningham’s Melbourne. It’s one of the City Series from NewSouth, ‘travel books where no-one leaves home’. I’ve spent several years working my way around Australia while reading my way through this series. Melbourne has been my favourite yet.

Melbourne travel book in Melbourne Laneway
Look how almost perfectly I lined up this shot, thanks to the help of a very patient tour guide.

There’s a moment in the book where Cunningham is learning letterpress at a workshop downtown while listening to AFL (Aussie-style rugby) on the radio and taking soup breaks to stay warm. ‘I realised,’ she writes, ‘that I felt about as Melbourne as it’s possible to feel. It was a good sensation, one akin to (but colder than) waking up and taking an early morning dip at Bondi Beach and consequently feeling very Sydney.

This is my favourite description of both Melbourne and Sydney.

Travel to the Nicholas Building Melbourne AustraliaThe letterpress workshop took place in the Nicholas Building. I was keen to visit it because of Cunningham’s description of the three ‘lift operators’ that work the building’s elevators. ‘Joan has been spending her days in the lift for thirty-five years, and its walls are covered with newspaper clippings and photos of children, grandchildren and animals. Some of the animals are her pets, others belong to building tenants.’

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to ride in a lift like that? It seemed too good to be true, and it was. Melbourne was published in 2011. Sometime since then, the lift operators have vanished. There were no newspaper clippings or photos, and I had to push the lift buttons myself.

Still, I was already inside and decided to wander around the Nicholas Building, which had the vibe of a curious relic. I was immediately rewarded with this sign on a seventh-floor door: The Royal Over-Seas League in Melbourne, Australia

What is the Royal Over-Seas League? I’ve entertained myself by tossing around possibilities for days, and I’ve come to hope they’re the Avengers of the Commonwealth, like the Justice League but British, knighted by the Queen maybe – and I had stumbled on their Australian headquarters!

I was also rewarded when I reached the top floor. Travelling in Melbourne Australia, discovering graffiti

Amid the mess of graffiti, I found a real gem: Graffiti in Melbourne Australia

So now I know what I’ll carve on my tombstone. I’m even toying with the idea of having my skeleton put on a pole, like one you’d find in a science lab, and positioned beside my tombstone, perhaps holding a sign inviting photos. Could be a real tourism opportunity for whatever lucky city I’m buried in!

Being sick, I wasn’t able to do a lot in Melbourne. In my wanderings through the Nicholas Building, I went through the wrong door, got trapped in the stairwell, and had to walk down several flights to exit on the ground floor. The exertion of walking down stairs made me nauseous. And when stairs make you nauseous, that’s when you know it’s time to return to your hotel and go to bed at 4:17 pm.

Still, it was a treat to wander along different streets, sit in different cafes, and catch up with some the many friends who’ve moved to Melbourne. The theme of this catching up was definitely Let Me Tell You About How My Body Has Turned On Me, but that’s fine. I’d much rather people ask about my crazy illness than pretend everything is normal. And I’m slowly slowly slowly (like a sloth through tar) getting better, so I feel optimistic. I know I’ll eventually visit Brisbane and Adelaide and even Alice Springs, and read those books. Who knows what unexpected wonders I’ll stumble upon. ~

PS. The tour guide who helped me out was Local Guide to Melbourne. Highly recommended!

 

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.