2014 columns, Books

Learning from semi-charmed lives

by Carody Culver , July 30, 20141 Comment

The Fictional Woman

I’ve never been one for celebrity memoirs, but perhaps the term is misleading: it can conjure thoughts of star footballers or pop princesses with rags-to-riches narratives, efficient ghostwriters and mammoth marketing budgets. But this isn’t always the case – stars who choose to pen their story often do so to share past experiences of addiction or disorders, exposing themselves as imperfect despite their outwardly charmed lives.

In the wrong hands, this can come across as whiny – ‘I’m so famous and rich, but look at my hard life!’ – but in the right hands, it can be fascinating and poignant. And when famous public figures take a step further and use their personal experience as a literary vehicle for exploring wider social issues, I can happily check my celebrity memoir prejudice at the bookshop door.

Two new releases that fall into this memoir-slash-social-commentary category offer insightful perspectives on two timely subjects that share cultural and personal ramifications: novelist Tara Moss’s The Fictional Woman questions ‘common fictions about women’, and writer and broadcaster Sian Prior’s Shy investigates the curious but common condition of social anxiety.

Tara Moss has been a successful crime writer for over 15 years, but her roll call of career achievements goes far beyond her nine bestselling novels: she’s also a journalist, blogger, UNICEF ambassador and TV presenter. Strangely, however, a label you often hear used to describe Moss is ‘model-turned-author’, even though she’s been a published writer for longer than she ever strode the catwalk. The Fictional Woman is Moss’s attempt to explore ‘the stark disconnect I once experienced between the real and the fictional me’ and ‘the disconnect between the representations of other women and the reality of who they are’.

Moss’s life proves an ideal springboard for a broader discussion about sexism. Her chapters tackle different ‘fictions’ about women (‘The Femme Fatale’, ‘The “Real” Woman’, ‘The Invisible Woman’), which she examines through the prism of her own experiences. She raises many pertinent points, although her (rightful) umbrage at not being taken seriously as a writer due to her ‘former model’ tag is a recurring theme. Leaving aside her compelling personal anecdotes (Moss has had a pretty extraordinary career – not many writers have willingly set themselves on fire in the name of research), there aren’t any new feminist concepts here, but that doesn’t lessen the importance of the book’s message.

Shy A MemoirSian Prior’s name might not have the same star power as Moss’s, but she’s also had a successful career in the public eye for more than 20 years – despite being dogged by shyness since childhood. Prior’s quirky memoir is both an exploration of her own recurring social anxiety and how it’s affected her relationships (particularly the 10 years she spent with a famous Australian musician) and working life, and a broader examination of what it means to be shy.

Prior wondered whether anyone ‘would actually believe that [she] was shy’ if she wrote a book about it, but her combination of frank personal revelations and observations drawn from her research into the science of social anxiety make for fascinating reading. What’s so interesting about Prior’s story is the apparent incongruity between her inner self-doubt and her outward confidence and poise – but Prior has deliberately put herself ‘into situations that forced [her] to deal with those feelings all [her] life’. This is sure to resonate with anyone for whom turning down social invitations out of fear or panicking at the idea of striking up a conversation with a stranger are tiresomely familiar experiences – if you’re shy, simple social acts that others don’t think twice about can take up an exhausting amount of mental energy.

So the personal is political in the world of letters, too, particularly in the cases of Moss and Prior. By using their life stories to explore cultural issues, they’ve potentially won new readers (those who perhaps weren’t existing fans) and revealed previously hidden aspects of themselves in the process of their thought-provoking social commentary.

Carody Culver is a Brisbane-based freelance writer, editor and part-time bookseller. 

ACO logo


Michaela McGuire

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Michaela McGuire defends Hot Little Hands

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defense of the book they believed most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Writer and Emerging Writers’ Festival Director Michaela McGuire spoke in praise of Abigail Ulman’s short story collection, Hot Little Hands. Read more »


Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their September picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »


Chris Somerville

The Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown: Chris Somerville defends Heat and Light

At our recent Readings Prize Shortlist Showdown event, six writers gave a speech in defence of the book they believe most deserves to win the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Author Chris Somerville spoke in praise of Ellen van Neerven’s debut work of fiction, Heat and Light. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Girl Gang: The value of female friendship

For two years I was the only girl in my class, along with four boys. Perhaps this would have been some kind of fantastic Lynx-filled utopia for a boy-crazy pre-teen girl, but for someone who was just beginning to figure out that she didn’t like boys in the same way other girls seemed to, it wasn’t what you could call ideal. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Written On the Body: Fat women and public shaming

The policing and subsequent shaming of women’s bodies is not unique to famous women. It happens to all women. Feeling entitled to denigrate fat bodies, and fat women’s bodies in particular, is one of the last bastions of socially acceptable discrimination. Read more »


Rebecca Shaw

Right Direction: The value of fandom

I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »


Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Straight White Men - Public Theatre - Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Jane Howard

Unbearable Whiteness: Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men

Though I am delighted to see Young Jean Lee gain traction in Australia, a work by playwright who is a woman of colour should not be such a rare occurrence; nor should this only come in the form of a play that blends effortlessly into the fabric of the work that is programmed around it. Read more »


Jane Howard

Putting Words In People’s Mouths: Performing the unseen, speaking the unknown

‘Do you ever get the feeling someone is putting words in your mouth?’ A performer asks an audience member in the front row. ‘Say yes.’
‘Yes,’ comes the reply.
This theme ran through multiple shows at Edinburgh Fringe this year, where occasionally audience members, but more often performers, were asked to perform scripts sight unseen. Read more »


Jane Howard

The Impenetrable City: Getting lost at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I just saw a one-on-one performance piece that ended in my bursting into tears and the artist sitting with me and holding my hands in hers for maybe ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We had a shared piece of history, and her work was delicate and took me by surprise, and I have a cold, and I am homesick, and I don’t know why I’m in Edinburgh, and I’ve cried a lot, and now I’m in a gallery because I couldn’t face another show. Read more »