Like everything else this year, my big acting debut happened while I was alone in my apartment, staring into the tiny green dot glowing above my computer screen.
And here it is!
Okay, yes, it’s just a quick video highlighting the great audiobooks available from my first publisher, Spineless Wonders, and the best app to get them from, AuthorsDirect.
But the raw emotive quality of my performance is clearly what carries the video, right?
Plus it’s no secret that Hollywood actors have larger than average heads, and mine definitely qualifies. It’s not just the hair! Although that does add several inches on top.
In conclusion, you should definitely listen to My Name Is Revenge on Authors Direct (or any good audiobook app) (or request it from your local library) and also don’t be surprised when I announce my role in the next Thor movie (probably playing a giant floating head intent on destroying New York City or at least lower Manhattan, I haven’t seen the script yet).
At 2.16 am on 23 November 1986, a car bomb exploded at 44 Caroline Street in Melbourne, outside the Turkish consulate in South Yarra.
Because it was the middle of the night, the only person injured was the bomber himself – he died, blown to pieces by his own bomb, which wasn’t part of the plan.
In theory, the bomb was supposed to go off hours later, when employees of the consulate would be at work. Reports at the time estimated that anywhere from 50 people to ‘hundreds’ could have been killed.
That morning, the police faced what’s been described as the first-ever investigation of terrorism in Victoria. They formed the Operation Caroline bomb task force, and within days had discovered the identity of both the bomber, Hagob Levonian, and his accomplice.
This was part of the series of international attacks perpetrated by Armenian terrorist groups against Turkish diplomats, in the hopes of pressuring the Turkish government to acknowledge and redress their ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide.
Two main groups, the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide and the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia, committed nearly fifty acts of terrorism across Europe, the Middle East and North America, as well as in Australia, from 1973 to the early 1990s.
Strangely, Levon Demerian, the accomplice, was charged with the murder of the deceased bomber, along with conspiracy. He was initially convicted of both, and sentences to 25 years. However, the Supreme Court overturned the murder conviction (if two people set a bomb together and one of them dies, is that really murder) and Demerian served 10 years for the conspiracy conviction.
When he went to prison, he was Australia’s number-one high-risk security prisoner. Prison guards told reporters he was a gentleman, the kind of person you’d want as a neighbour.
When My Name Is Revenge came out, I visited Melbourne to give a talk about the book. Melbourne seemed like the kind of place where people would be interested in Australia’s historical connections to the Armenian genocide, and author Toni Jordan kindly agreed to be part of the event.
On the night, it poured rain and the train lines were down in the suburb where the bookshop was, and only a handful of people turned up, most of them friends.
One man who I didn’t know waited until the end of the book signing to speak to me. He was Armenian Australian, and had brought a photo album full of newspaper clippings about both the 1986 bombing, and the 1980 assassination of two men in Sydney that I’d written about.
He wanted me to have the archive. I could see how much time had gone into it, articles cut from a variety of newspapers over almost a decade, and carefully arranged. And I could see that wanted someone to have it who was interested, who might do something with it.
It turned out Australia didn’t ‘need worry’ about the ‘Turk terror’, as one headline called it. That was the last attack here, and the attacks had ceased everywhere by the early 1990s.
Earlier this year, I was in Melbourne again, and visited 44 Caroline Street. It’s just an ordinary building on an ordinary street corner, with no hint of the violence that happened there 35 years ago.
There was some measure of justice done in the case of the bombing, with the success of Operation Caroline, unlike in Sydney, where there’s now a $1 million reward for information about the still unsolved 1980 assassination.
And unlike, too, for the victims of the genocide and their descendants, who still live with the legacy of the genocide.
In 2017, I found myself with a 12,000-word novella. It was best piece of fiction I’d ever written, and possibly my best piece of writing full stop, and it sat on my hard drive, dreaming of readers.
I hadn’t intended to write a novella; my master’s degree program had dictated the word length. But writing it had turned out to be very useful. It allowed me to more easily develop novel-writing skills on a shorter project. I was able to go from idea to final draft in 18 months, with heaps of feedback and revision, something I never could have found time for if I’d been working on a manuscript of 80,000 words.
But novellas are tricky creatures. Publication call-outs and competitions for novellas exist, but there are far fewer than for short stories or full-length manuscripts.
This is why I was excited to discover the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award, which accepted up to 30,000 words. It also suggested including an essay reflecting on the writing process. This excited me further, because I had a lot to say about my writing process. The novella had come out of years of research into the Armenian genocide, including interviews with 140 people on three continents, and two masters’ theses. In fact, I’d enrolled in a creative writing master’s program because I had the idea to write from the point of view of a terrorist connected to that history — and the idea terrified me.
Before entering the CBDLA, I read the examples suggested, My Hearts Are Your Hearts by Carmel Bird and Cracking the Spine: Ten short Australian stories and how they were written, both published by Spineless Wonders. Using these as a guide, I wrote my reflective essay, combined it with the novella, and sent it in.
In 2018, I was delighted to be one of 11 longlisted entries, and very surprised to learn I was one of three finalists. The prize included digital publication and $1000. The ebook of My Name Is Revenge was out by the end of the year.
When Bronwyn Mehan, the powerhouse behind Spineless Wonders, approached me about a print version, I said yes immediately. I’d been studying writing and revising drafts and racking up rejections for nearly a decade by this time, working toward the goal of having a published book. Technically I’d achieved that, but the book wasn’t yet a thing I could hold or sign or gift to my grandmother.
‘One thing,’ Bronwyn said. ‘At 17,000 words, it’s not long enough to have a spine.’
So we added in two additional companion pieces, essays previously published by Griffith Review and Sydney Review of Books. This brought the collection up to 25,000 words. We also included photographs from my time in Armenia.
The idea of the thriller novella was to hook readers with a gripping story, set in Sydney and based on the real-life assassination of the Turkish consul-general and his bodyguard. The assassination took place in 1980 and remains unsolved. When readers finish the story, the essays and photos provide the historical context for its events, a history that has been suppressed due to the ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide.
We launched My Name Is Revenge in June 2019, with author Emily Maguire giving the launch speech. It was one of the happiest events of my life.
With the book out in the world, I organised bookshop visits and library talks. I pitched myself to festivals and podcasts. This helped when, later in the year, I had a full-length manuscript under consideration with Affirm Press, which became my second book.
I thought that might be the end of the story for Revenge, but Bronwyn is full of great ideas. There was a voice actor named Felix Johnson, she told me, who would be perfect to narrate Revenge as an audiobook. This delighted me; I love audiobooks.
I worked with sound engineer Jeff Zhang to record the essays, and Felix worked with Jeff and Eleni Schumacher to record the novella, with Bronwyn coordinating everything, working around covid restrictions. It was rewarding to have the opportunity to narrate my work — and also exhausting! I’d never guessed reading out loud could be so tiring. It gave me new respect for audiobook narrators, especially those who bring characters to life the way Felix does.
My Name Is Revenge is now available as an audiobook worldwide, and also in print-on-demand and ebook formats. It’s so much more than I could have hoped for when I wrote that 12,000-word novella, and I credit my success in the CBDLA with launching my writing career.
“What I would ultimately like, you know, my huge big goal [for the book, is that] people can look back on this and say, ‘You know, there are bits in that – as a non-Indigenous person – I didn’t understand, but that’s okay, and I don’t need to acquire and learn and make meaning for everything in that book,’ because sometimes parts of that book are for Aboriginal people, some parts are for Yuwaalaraay people, and other parts are for Yuwaalaraay senior people.”
Our first guest for 2021 is Yuwaalaraay author Nardi Simpson. From North West NSW freshwater plains, Nardi is a founding member of Indigenous folk duo Stiff Gins, and has been performing nationally and internationally for 20 years. Her debut novel, Song of the Crocodile, was a 2018 winner of a black&write! writing fellowship.
Speaking to us from a beach on the Northern Rivers, Nardi delved into the intercultural aspects of the book, and of navigating modern society as an Indigenous person in Australia.
Song of the Crocodile is set in the fictional town of Darnmoor, in regional NSW. The story spans four generations of the Billymil family and their effort to sustain their Indigenous culture and community despite the overt and covert racism of the settlers, and the corrosive impact of intergenerational trauma.
Filled with ancestral spirits and Yuwaalaraay language, it presents both an insight into an ancient worldview that understands the healing power of the natural world, and a sharp, affecting critique of Australian society.
Her book reminded me of my own research into my family members’ survival of the Armenian genocide and the process of weaving that research into fiction when writing My Name Is Revenge.
“What happened to those families is basically what happened to my family,” Nardi says. “I wanted to understand that, and I didn’t want to judge it.”
Going too much into detail on the connections would be a spoiler for both Nardi’s book and my own, but one of the broad strokes points we both explore is how much has been lost due to the violence suffered by both communities – not just lives, livelihoods, homes and land, but also cultural knowledge and worldviews.
It’s a great conversation, and Nardi is a fascinating speaker and well as a powerful writer.
In this episode, we also discuss Bindi by Kirli Saunders, The Road to Woop Woop by Eugen Bacon, and James’s thoughts on reaching the end of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-book memoir series.
I know, I know, it’s the week before Christmas. The carols are playing, the shops are bustling, and the tinsel is glittering (which makes me wonder if scientists are including tinsel in their call for a worldwide ban on glitter).
But it was on 17 December 1980 that Australia’s first geopolitically motivated assassination took place in Sydney, which means I need to interrupt your Christmas cheer to share some breaking news.
This week, thirty-nine years after the assassination, a memorial was held for the two murdered men, Turkish consul-general Sarik Ariyak and his bodyguard Engin Sever. If you’ve read My Name Is Revenge, you’ll know this event kicks off the book. It brought the violent backlash against Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide to Australia, intimately involving the nation.
Though the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide took responsibility for the attack, no-one was ever charged with the murders. The case remains unsolved.
NSW Police announced a $1 million reward for information, increased from the $250,000 that has been on offer since the 1980s. The police are also reviewing the case. The NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team created Strike Force Esslemont to re-investigate. (I assume this strike force isn’t named after Canadian speculative fiction author Ian C Esslemont, but I could be wrong. Maybe someone on the strike force is a big fan.)
The police media release doesn’t state where the reward money has come from, or why they’ve reopened the investigation now. (It’s a total coincidence that after all these decades, this happened months after my book was released, right?)
I hope Strike Force Esslemont discovers the two men responsible for these murders, and I hope they’re brought to trial. The victims’ families deserve answers, and the case and its political context deserve more attention. It’s an important example of the ongoing repercussions of genocide denial and intergenerational trauma, and the need for a coming together between communities.
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, Amazonand 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.
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?