Not the book I set out to write

My Name Is Revenge book cover as chocolate launch cake

Tonight is my first ever book launch. I started writing this book ten years ago. Except it wasn’t this book; it was a different book.

Ten years ago I planned to write a book about my great grandparents’ survival of the Armenian genocide. I knew they’d both lost their entire families, and ended up in Canada as orphans in 1920. I knew Paravon, my great grandfather, had hidden in a tree while his family was murdered and his village burned to the ground. So, in early 2010, when the Winnipeg Arts Council foolishly encouraged me with a research grant, I thought it would be easy to travel to my great grandparents’ Armenian community near Niagara Falls, learn their story, and write a book about it.

I had no idea that in the coming years I would end up writing two master’s theses on the Armenian genocide, spending two months in Armenia, and interviewing nearly 150 people in Canada, Australia and the Caucasus about Armenian identity.

What’s driven me through a decade of research and writing is that I find Armenia fascinating. I was long fascinated by the genocide, by how a government could callously and blatantly organize the murder of 1.5 million people, and then go on to deny it for decades in the face of overwhelming evidence. But the more I researched Armenia, the more fascinated I became. When I travelled to the Caucasus, I grew obsessed with first the Soviet history, and then the cold and dark years of the 1990s, when much of the country was without electricity or gas. Armenia is full of resilient people with amazing stories. I also became fascinated by Armenia’s history as the world’s first Christian nation. I was astounded when I visited its centuries-old monasteries.
Geghard Monastery, Armenia, in My Name Is RevengeSo I spent five years writing and rewriting a travel memoir of Armenia and everything I’d learned there. That manuscript was shortlisted for two awards, one in Australia and one in the UK.

And in the meantime, I became fascinated by the wave of global terrorism that began in 1973. Conceived as retribution for the denial of the genocide, that wave of terrorism reached Sydney in December, 1980. When I learned about Armenian terrorists targeting Turkish diplomats, I was startled to find that, despite abhorring their methods, I intimately understood their motives. So I wrote the novella that became My Name is Revenge.

When I started writing ten years ago, I had no idea that the book about my great grandparents’ survival would become a travel memoir of Armenia – and until recently,  I had no idea that my first published book would be another book entirely, a book of my collected writing on Armenia that came out of all of that research. My Name is Revenge is an attempt to capture what has fascinated me, and to share the connections between Australia, Canada and the genocide, and the urgency in its historical lessons.

If you can’t make the launch, you can hear me talk about the book in this interview with SBS Armenian Radio.
Ashley Kalagian Blunt on SBS Armenian radio
And if you’re keen on hearing about more of my upcoming author events, plus great reads and book giveaways, sign up for my monthlyish enews.

Ashley
xo

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 Livingstone, 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.

 

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

 

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.