The Fine Colour Of Rust
by P.A. O'Reilly
Published by Blue Door/HarperCollins
I was fortunate enough to recieve an autographed copy of this book as a gift from my Antipodean literary advisor. Despite having both a free book and a personal message from the author, I shan't let either cloud my opinion here. 

But if you're looking for a good read about a group of not-quite-ordinary people struggling to carve a life out of a small town half way between Melbourne and and a great big open space, then you'd do well to pick up a copy. 

On the other hand, if you're looking for something fast-paced and where the action explodes off the page, this isn't for you: this story moves at it own pace, it unfolds gradually and gives you the time to savour the grains and dust that make up so much of our lives.

The story revolves around Loretta Boskovic, a single mother among a sea of single mothers who daydreams of capturing the heart of a reliable and hopefully (though always imaginary) well-heeled man, whilst inspiring the rest of the town of Gunapan's population to do battle with big and small government. Her much dreamed of man also has to come with a pretty decent car because her own, as we explore in great detail, is always en-route to the scrapyard.

The town is, by and large, forgotten by everyone bar the locals and is thus ripe to be shafted by unscrupulous property dealers. Not only do they plan to nick the local water supply, they see the town as a sort of feeder factory of workers for the resort they plan to build (with help from some obliging members of the local council). That's battle No 2.

Battle No 1 involves dragging the Minister for Education, Elderly Care and Gaming into Gunapan to talk to the residents about their never-going-to-give-up battle to save their children's school from closure.

And if the minister's title brings a smile to your lips then you'll be happy to know that the book is laced with this kind of humour. It's not quite black, but for every situation Loretta and the town finds themselves in, there's nearly always a humorous lining. For me, one of the great lol moments was the hospital scene between Loretta, her sick mother and Loretta's children, which is both bizarre and sharply dark.

The characters, their lives and experiences are all well written and believeable - you warm to them all (except the scattering of baddies). If, like me, you read foreign literature to gain something of an insight into how other nations think and act, then you won't be disappointed, though it'd probably be wise not to imagine that the Gunapanians represent all of Oz. On the other hand, the issues being dealt with here are universal, the sort of things we read about wherever we are.

One of the things I like about reading books in non-British English is to discover how the langauge used differs to mine. So would I say that it is typically Ozzie in voice and circumstance?

I can't say I know enough about Australia and her people to comment, but it does reflect a certain gritiness, a willingness to get on with life without much moaning about what it's throwing at them. The language is undoubtedly Aussie, but given that Oz English is by and large British English, you only notice the difference in the details. In a way I'm a little disappointed by this: I know that if I read an American novel the English will be very different to British English. But this isn't a criticism of the book, it just shows how close Oz and British English still are.

My only real criticism is there is a long-ish build up to a fairly important event which we jump over, to land in the aftermath of an explanation of how it had unravelled and been dealt with. I felt slightly cheated because I wanted one or two of the baddies to get their come uppance, and I wanted the satisfaction of witnessing it.

On the other hand, O'Reilly twists and binds the ups and downs with so much humour and humanity that it's pretty easy to forgive her for not satisfying my expectations in that department.

It isn't a difficult book to read: the pages turn almost by themselves as O'Reilly's easy style of writing and the laughs keep you wanting more. Overall, I really enjoyed this snapshot of middle-of-nowhere Australia, a place populated with every-day people struggling to bring happines into some pretty tough lives, and not giving up on this despite the commercial and political skulduggery. Personally, I'd like to find out what happens next, but failing this, will settle for reading the rest of O'Reilly's back-catalogue.

You can order the book from Amazon, and while you're waiting, you can read the excellent interview with the author on her website.

Welcome to IAAY number five!

This week it's all about Australian composer and guitarist Simon Imagin, whose skills at both have to be heard to be believed - fortunately you can do that by following the links below. And if you happen to find yourself in Melbourne, make sure you get to see him live - I know I will.

IAAY is published every Wednesday (yes, all of them), so there's plenty of time for you to join in too! Contact me via the comments or via Twitter: @mickdavidson.

It's All About Simon Imagin
It’s all about JS Bach
JS Bach's music has been a huge inspiration for me as a composer, musician and person. 

I first discovered Bach as a teenager studying classical piano. I had no time for the pomp and circumstance of the classical world - I just needed to know how people like Bach accessed the music which seemed to flow through them in rivers of intertwining melodies. 

Music filled my head but seemed stuck there for the time.

I was learning Bach's 2 & 3-Part Inventions and was comparing various recordings to show me different approaches. Most were performed efficiently but said very little to me. Then I heard Glenn Gould's versions.

Not only did he have a total technique and understanding of the music, but this eccentric Canadian was allowing the music to take him over. Everything was coming out of the moment that both Bach and Gould had found themselves in.

Gould's 1981 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations is the one I visit the most. Amazingly a film was made of it.

It’s All About Me
Now, although I am not anywhere near either man in skill, as a composer I had a small Bach/Gould experience in 2009 when I experimented with writing music in one sitting - virtually slow-motion improvisation. Bach often gives me the feeling where he is just as interested where the piece will lead as any listener so I decided to follow my inner ear with an open mind and see what I could come up with.

I started by inventing a short and simple melodic fragment that lasted a bar or two - just a few notes that suggested a rhythm. I wrote out the logical extension of that line until I had a nice musical statement that went for 4, 6 or perhaps 8 bars. Next I added a supportive bass melody and maybe a third inner line. If anything didn't quite sound right I erased and rewrote but I was always moving forwards and working steadily one bar at a time and not letting my attention wander too far.

When I found that I had a cohesive chunk of music (or "A part") I continued with writing a complementary (or completely different) "B" and "C" part using the same procedure. I also came up with an intro and outro to bookend the piece. The process wasn't far from that 'kindergarten feeling' of making something with the objects at hand. At the end of the session I had a two page composition and left it on the table. The next day I played through it and was amazed at it's originality. 

How did I write that? 

Not allowing myself to feel too smug I wrote 'piece two' and each night or so I added another until I had completed 36 complex pieces in the space of 60 days. Some nights I felt more tired but that seemed to help the music to come out more easily as I wasn't questioning the process. With a few small revisions these were arranged into six suites of six pieces each and they now form the bulk of my setlist. It amazes me how many simple moments added together can lead to such richness.

The notes are out there for us all I believe and we can catch them in our butterfly nets if we keep an open ear and are patient. Here are simple run-throughs of pieces 2 and 20.

You can contact Simone via his email address: simonimagin at gmail dot com

1. The Darkness Beneath - Free Copy
2. It's All About You

The Darkness Beneath: Sex, Death and Trains, all Yours For Nothing (still!)*

You can get a free copy of my first novel, The Darkness Beneath, by following this link - but hurry! Only the first 100 people to sign up can claim a free copy. *Terms and Conditions apply. 

It Is All About You!
Who me? No, you! IAAY is going from strength to strength in terms of responses, visitors and new participants. Rebecca Venn's contribution topped out at about 800 visitors in less than five whole days, which is excellent. Well done Rebecca! 

Both Rebecca and Maureen's stories have proved to be excellent examples to others and I've now got at least the next four weeks booked up. But there's plenty more room inside for you to talk about your creative inspiration, so get in touch and let's get you jammed into space too.

Next week's edition will, as it's the 4th July, feature another American (they've taken over the world, now they're taking over my blog...) in the form of writer Tonya Cannariato. And in the week or so after that we will have guitarist extraordinaire Simon Imagin, from Melbourne, Australia.

This week I will be mostly in the UK, all week in fact. Mainly in the office, the rest will be sleeping, though I'm hoping to slip in a visit to my sons, a few friends and the Tate Modern. I may have to reverse time to get some of this in. And to do that I have to stop writing this blog and start cranking Big Ben backwards now!

Australia - you can't beat it! Of course, I'm biased as I have several lovely friends there. But the country itself, the people and the geography are fantastic. You should visit at your earliest possible convenience. (And as an aside to that, yes, for many of us it IS a long way away, but it ain't that far: most of the distance is in our heads not on the plane.)

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend three weeks there in January and enjoyed not only the very warm hospitality from everyone I met, but also the warmth of the sun and even the sea. I can't tell you how much I loved escaping the winter in northern Europe! This was brought home to me by the icy blast that hit me as I emerged from the plane in Schipol airport when I returned to NL after three weeks of glorious heat. And was further underlined by the snow that fell the next day. By the end of the same week, a week I spent in the UK, it was falling with a vengeance and I was lucky to get home.

One of the things that struck me about Oz is how like any other big and hot country it is. I've been to many in Latin America and have seen loads in the USA via films and TV. The all have common characteristics: towns tend to sprawl; electricity cables hang like Death's washing line everywhere; the streets are parched and bleached and everything that can't escape the sun is really no more than an apparition; no one can be seen when midday arrives and the sun blasts everything into oblivion. The only things that move are the tourists who drag their reluctant suitcases behind them as they look for lodgings or somewhere to eat. Them and the occasional foolish photographer out hunting down the graffiti.

Oz is no exception. But despite that, I love those sorts of places: places where the sweat rolls down your face because you had the audacity to move, places where the rain soaks you but five minutes later you're dry again, where cicadas scratch away night and day providing a snare drum roll to the creaking off-beat of the wobbly fan in your dirt-cheap hotel room.

Oz is also very MASSIVE - something that's hard for us western Europeans to understand. It is a country of huge cities with very little in between, except a countryside that rolls off into the distance. A countryside that will eat you for breakfast if you put one foot out of place. It is a place I cannot help but love. 

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you can see many of the day to day photos I took in my albums there (see public links below). I've also put a load of pics of the graffiti I saw there on my other other website.

Links to Public Folders on Facebook
As I write there's four hours left of 2011 - a year I'll be glad to see the back of, yet it wasn't all bad. The financial sword of Damocles continues to dangle above my head, wiping the smile off my face if I go over-exuberent about being alive - but what the hell! I am and I will not be defeated.

There were plenty of good things but I can't say 2011 was the best year I've ever had: a lot of the surprises and twists and turns life takes were negative. I won't go into the details, but it wasn't just about me - some close and dear friends also had some severe setbacks.

On the upside I got a fair amount published, becaume a regular columnist with Specter Magazine and a member of the Specter Collective, and got an offer from Trestle Press to publish my first novel as an ebook, which will be out in the new year. Alongside that I submitted two short stories and the first three chapters of Novel 2 to organisations who I think highly of. One is for the BBC (should find out if that's been accepted in the summer), one its for the short story competition run by Peirene Press and the last was for another competition. The prize for the later is to have the story critiqued by a real live literary agent. There's also a poem entered into the competition run by Holland Park Press.

I've also found at least one really good target to pitch my second novel - a bike-based romance set in the Netherlands - which is a huge bonus as we all know a focussed submission is less likely to fail than a more random one. More on that as soon as I've despatched the finished work to them.

So 2012 is already lining up to be a good year: I know the BBC will accept and broadast my story, and it's a dead cert that I'll win at least one of the competitions - how can you doubt me? :) Yes, I know - no one but a fool would believe such nonsense. But as I said, I will remain optimistic (and yes, sometimes I will be wildly optimistic!) and not be held down by negative feelings and natural and unnatural disasters.

The start could hardly be better as I'm off to Melbourne in Australia for three weeks, two of which will be a holiday and all of which will be spent with a very talented and creative friend. And I'll be on such a high from that I'll still be soaring like a bird come June! :)

Happy and succesful new year to you all. xxx