Herding Kites – Celebrating the young and talented

November 8, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Age, A2, October 25, 2008.


Young writers test the outer limits in this eclectic collection, writes Dan Rule.

Herding Kites: A Celebration of Australian Writing
Edited by Michael Williams
Affirm Press, $27.95

The National Young Writers Festival is a five-day (and night) event that unravels in Newcastle each year over the New South Wales Labour Day long weekend. Over 10 years now, the wonderfully rag-tag festival has gathered a slew of Australia’s most promising (and, shall we say, enthusiastic) young authors, poets, comic artists, zine-makers and independent press sorts to debate, workshop, perform, collaborate and partake in whatever else it is that that young writers get up to en mass.

Herding Kites celebrates the festival’s first decade and, over its 288 pages, weaves together a hotchpotch of work from some of the event’s most accomplished and innovatory participants. What’s perhaps most refreshing about this beautifully designed and presented book – anthologised by reviewer and Triple R radio presenter Michael Williams – is its disregard of big names and reputations for the sake of dynamism. Little-known zine-makers like Luke You, Ianto Ware and Chay-Ya Clancy take pride of place alongside authors such as Sophie Cunningham, Charles Firth, and Nick Earls; scripts, plays, comics and works-in-progress rub shoulders with more formalised poetry and short fiction.

Some of the real surprises come in the form of journalism and non-fiction. People of the Singing Fish, Tuppy McIntosh’s insightful and very human report from civil war-scarred Sri Lanka, is one of the collection’s stronger moments, whilst a kinetic extract from Warrior Poets, filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour’s book on the sunken fortunes of the Lahore film industry, proves one of the most hilarious.

Elsewhere, poet Amelia Walker’s Astrocytoma is a poignant chronicle of illness, while Max Barry’s short story How I Met My Daughter is an intriguing, slightly eerie exploration of relationship dynamics. The work of graphic novelists and comic book artists Mandy Ord, Pat Grant and David Blumenstein, meanwhile, is a joy.

Any issues with Herding Kites rest with the editors rather than the raw content. If there is any rationale behind the collection’s arrangement and sequence, it’s not immediately apparent. With so many short pieces, it might feel a little impenetrable to some, and could have done with some kind of thematic chapters or parts to break up the book and make it a more easily digestible. Some more background information on each of pieces – the year in which they were written, for example – wouldn’t have gone astray either.

Nonetheless, Herding Kites achieves its literary ambitions admirably. Its curious title – a somewhat ambitious metaphor for the corralling of adventurous, creative and dissenting voices, explains Williams in the introduction – rings true. Lines are blurred and genres are squished in this feisty and refreshing read, just as they are each October in Newcastle.


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