A ground-breaking intercontinental collection of speculative stories, in both prose and graphic novel form, with contributors from India and Australia including Isobelle Carmody, Margo Lanagan, Nicki Greenberg and others of similar calibre.
Kirsty Murray has written eleven novels for children and young adults - most recently The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie and The Year It All Ended - plus many short stories, articles, and several non-fiction books. Her novels have won numerous awards, including an Aurealis award and the NSW Premier's History Award. Kirsty has been a writer- in-residence at two Indian universities and a participant in the Bookwallah Roving Writers Festival, presenting at literary events across India. www.kirstymurray.com
Anita Roy lives in Delhi and cycles to work at Zubaan, a small independent feminist publishing house. Her stories and non-fiction essays have appeared in a number of anthologies, and she has completed a first novel for children. www.anitaroy.net
Payal Dhar has written seven books for children and young adults, and numerous short stories. She's also a freelance editor and writer, and writes on computers, technology, books, reading, games and anything else that catches her interest. www.writeside.net
Radio National's 'Radio with Pictures' version of Anarkali
Dystopian literature is new to me. Some of the authors, however, are not. Into this world of alternative endings I dived trusting and ultimately came out refreshed! There is no doubt this style is different. What caught my attention, in particular, was the nature of the project of which this book is the product. It is a collaboration of talents from India and Australia – you be the judge! There are stories to engage a wide spectrum of readers, the dream of any English teacher – from graphic stories to play scripts; re-worked fairy stories to moral tales that challenge the very fabric of our society.
In providing a scope born of a dysfunction of modern society – domestic violence, particularly against women – the contributors were asked “to re-imagine the world, to mess with the boundaries of the possible and the probable.” Enchantingly, they have done just that. The anthology upends stereotypes of gender roles and social values. Anything is possible as long as there is a clear purpose from the outset. Murray and her team have achieved amazing results.
For spring-boarding into authorial voice and purpose, the latter pages of the book share biographies of each contributor and ‘mission statements’ on each collaboration. As a writing teacher, this has immense value. Moulding ideas and editing are confronting activities for young writers, as they no doubt are for the most experienced author! Critical reading activities that combine the notes on the collaboration with the end product will hone students’ skill. The collection provides a set of stimulus pieces; students can read and reflect then create their own variations. It gives an excellent example of reflective writing, too, which sets the standard for the work – a skill worth practising!
Michael Cruickshank, Hellyer College, TAS
The marvellously titled Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy, is an anthology of short stories and comics by Australian and Indian women writers. The stories could all qualify as ‘speculative fiction’ in some way and there is a strong feminist element to them. What is a little more unusual about the anthology is that there is a collaborative element to many (but not all) of the stories, with the Australian and Indian authors put in touch with each other to brainstorm their approach. This cross-cultural collaboration isn’t always evident in the works themselves, but it has generated some very interesting results. Sometimes the collaboration is explicit, with writer and artist combining for a comic, but more often it takes the place of an exchange of ideas that informs the individual works.
As with any anthology, some works will resonate with the readers more than others and I certainly had my favourites. I was familiar with a number of the Australian contributors, such as Margo Lanagan, Isobelle Carmody, Justine Larbalestier and Nicki Greenberg, but all of the Indian authors were new to me, so there were some delightful discoveries as well as what felt like a return to familiar ground with some of the writers.
Nicki Greenberg’s “Backstage Pass” is like a bonus piece of material from her magnificent graphic novel adaptation of Hamlet, giving Ophelia a voice that largely gets silenced in Shakespeare’s play. Other highlights included the stories “What a Stone Can’t Feel” by Penni Russon and “Memory Lace” by Payal Dhar.
There are plenty of aspects for teachers to latch onto if this text were used in the secondary classroom and the cross-cultural nature of the anthology is perfect to engage with Australia’s place in Asia. It would work particularly well at Years 9 and 10.
Blair Mahoney, Assistant English Coordinator, Melbourne High School, VIC
What a fantastic title, makes you want to grab it straight off the library shelf and start reading. It’s a wonderfully illustrated book, full of dark and quirky feminist short stories.
These are a collaboration of Indian and Australian women writers prompted by the appalling rape of a poor young woman in India. This story shocked the world because of the obvious acceptance in Indian culture of this type of behaviour by men against lower caste women. The stories are set in the past, present and future and feature girls and women bravely rebelling and seeking out a different life. The stories are mainly Sci-Fi and Fantasy genre, some as prose and some as beautifully illustrated cartoons.
In a twist to the fairy tale Red Riding Hood, Poppy seeks to escape the confines of her Under Shield City to see the stars and the moon and visit her Grandma who has refused to live in the Shield City. She confronts a creepy voice [the wolf] following her all the way to Grandma’s. Red Riding Hood is brave and fights him off. She finds her grandma has died but achieves what she set out to do and returns to Shield City.
Swallow the Moon is a beautifully illustrated Rite of Passage story in which the girls of a community have to earn their adult names. They see the ruins of a desolate world where commodities, oil, deforestation and personal greed were the priorities and the peoples had sacrificed their world for them. The girls reach an understanding of their forest life and the importance of a sustainable environment and return as women.
The stories are weird, scary, rebellious, dark, but full of hope. They are a call to men for justice, to be responsible for their actions and change their attitudes to women. They are a call to girls that they can not only dream of a different life but actually live one.
As a collection, Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean would be a great tool in the classroom, engaging students in lively discussion on the many issues that arise in the stories.
Writers include Isobelle Carmody, Vandana Singh and Nicki Greenberg.
Wendy Hancock, Upwey High School, VIC
I thoroughly enjoyed this short story collection, which was refreshingly different in terms of focus and content to others I have encountered lately, particularly with regards to the range of writing styles included. The result of a collaboration between writers from Australia and India, and between story writers and graphic novelists, the collection offers a range of creative takes on elements of the female experience. The stories also, for the most part, convey strong environmental messages, explored through the creation of dystopian futures using science fiction and fantasy settings. Each of the stories - ten traditional format, six in graphic form and one play - present a fresh take on life, and of the challenges of being a girl or a woman.
The collection includes twists on fairy tales, reality television, the obsession with body image, as well as friendship and love. Other stories focus on the problems of being different, on the true value of material objects and on the need for women to be their own rescuers. The different perspectives on elements of life in these stories would provide great starting points for discussion of issues facing people in modern society and for the exploration of different stereotypes and assumptions. These perspectives would also serve as a strong basis for students’ own writing.
I would recommend this text for use in the classroom at Year 9 or 10 level, and they would be particularly inspiring for single gender female classrooms, though the issues raised and the aspects of human experience explored are also suitable for mixed classes. As a collection, the text could serve as the basis for comparative writing, a focus of the new VCE study design, either by comparing the stories contained within the collection itself, or by contrasting specific stories with examples of the more traditional versions they are subverting. It would also suit analytical text response writing in its own right, as the strong thematic links between each of the stories allows developed discussion of the text as a whole.
Anne Sim, Dromana Secondary College, VIC
Wow, wow and wow.
Secondary school teachers, this may be the only book you need for the semester. There are 17 thought provoking short stories in this collection. Some are prose and several are graphic, therefore they should appeal to even reluctant readers. They are contemporary stories about the politics of relationships and equity, beauty and body image, our sense of place, the future after we have ruined the now. So many issues to discuss, so many futuristic scenarios, places and inventions to imagine and elaborate on.
Hamlet is fabulously reworked in Back-stage Pass, as is Red Riding Hood in Little Red Suit. Weft is an understated exploration of the price of beauty. What price would you pay to have ‘celebrity looks’? A great question for young people to debate. Swallow the Moon is exquisite and painful and haunting. Space does not permit a comment on every story – some left me bereft, some gave me hope – how will you challenge your students to engage with each one?
Some of the stories are collaborations between writers and illustrators, from Australia and India. Could your students collaborate and produce their own story?
But wait, there’s more. There are notes by the authors and about the authors. All 20 of them. These lead to websites with background information and blogs and inspiration. Students could be set the task of selecting an author or illustrator to research and write about.
The back cover invites you to “plunge in and enjoy!” I say, please do, and take your students with you.
Lois Best, ESL, WA