The Sleepers Almanac No. 9

Louise Swinn and Zoe Dattner (eds) / Sleepers Publishing

Sleepers Almanac, the (almost) annual anthology of original Australian writing, has always had the touch of the carnival about it. Here in its ninth edition, editors Louise Swinn and Zoe Dattner have again erected a tent into which they have invited a fairly motley bunch of storytellers without issuing instructions for specific dress code, aside it seems from the injunction that they’ll only put on stage a tale well told, and told on its own terms.

There’s formal play here in Darby Hudson’s whimsy, a table of ‘100 Points of ID to Prove I Don’t Exist’ –  ‘Letting all my bills get eaten by snails (23 points)’; and Rhett Davis’s ’Interior Exterior’ which recounts the screenplay for a Kaufman-esque film about Yvette and Manny who grow up suspecting they are playing out their lives on shoddy film sets in a film about themselves. The thread of self-invention is also of interest to Tim Richards whose ‘The Destiny of All Who Oppose Destiny’ follows peripatetic James through a story of self-invention, self-doubt, love, and a mirror-self who is unable to say which one is the original.

It’s stories like Richards’, those that open doors from narrow worlds into the abysmal universe, that are most successful. The current champion of this type of writing in Australia (even though there is no such title) is Ryan O’Neill who here plays movingly, and with measured, gentle irony on the line between invention and actuality in ‘The Stories I Read as My Mother Died.’ Pierz Newton-John occupies similar territory, as he scoops up equal measures of memoir and pop-philoso-physics in the brief but busy ‘Something for Nothing’.  So too Chloe Wilson’s stanzas that arrive tenderly on an intimate version of Trotsky’s last words. In ‘The Block’ Anicca Maleedy-Main touches the raw spot of suburban dreams, where shameful secrets are told under lemon trees, in the dark, and drunk, with the kind of insider/outsider self-disgust that never really gets old.

As with any anthology, the Almanac is the kind of publication that merits some dipping into and out of, not only to offset the couple of shallow moments in it, but also so it doesn’t get too noisy. It is a carnival after all and with it comes a clamour: there are lots of clearly very talented local writers in it who have saved up their some of their most attention-grabbing work for this. It’s wonderful to sense this kind of confidence among the ‘emerging’ category of Australian writers of the kind that Sleepers, as publishers, have now spent over a decade nurturing, that they cut it with some real verve, particularly as they are lined up with some more established names. It’s a mark too of the respect that local writers afford the publication, particularly as they are a sizeable part of the community of readers to whom the book is addressed. 


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