Introductory creative writing
- Engage students in some creative writing that encompasses an intense emotional experience. The most authentic writing is that which comes from a place of truth. Encourage students to employ a strategy that JTH herself uses: taking a real experience and manipulating it into something new and original, whilst still retaining the core emotional intensity of that experience. Begin with brainstorming the core emotion generated by the student’s real experience, developing a palette of images and phrases that capture its intensity. Develop this into a brief section of narrative.
- Such experiences could include joy, anticipation, love, anger, frustration, fear etc.
- Situations could be the birth of a sibling, a child’s anticipation of a birthday, a love for a pet, frustration over a parent’s decision, anger at experiencing marginalisation.
- Students should be encouraged to share their experimental writing, immersing themselves in a range of emotional experiences.
- This online tutorial on creating emotional resonance may be useful.
- This blog post outlines some important strategies for effective short stories from a writer’s perspective.
The short story
- As part of the introductory activities, students should be made familiar with the conventions of short stories. James Cooper Lawrence’s article is a good starting point for students to engage with critical writing on the form. Assign the article as pre-reading, with students making notes on the history of the form, Poe’s early theories, responses to Poe’s theories from other critics and Lawrence’s own views.
- To extend students, have them investigate the history and criticism of the short story form. This blog post offers a useful bibliography of critical approaches to the short story.
Impressions of Australian identity
As senior students, they will have been exposed to Australian literary texts in the past. Lead a discussion that encourages students to articulate their:
- understanding of Australian cultural identity,
- experiences of its representation in Australian literature,
- awareness of common motifs and thematic concerns in Australian literature,
- the relationship between literature and cultural identity (such as whether Australian writers reinforce or critique notions of cultural identity),
- their predictions for JTH as both an Australian writer and as an expatriate writer.
Introduce students to Janette Turner Hospital
Watch this video of an interview with Turner Hospital at The Wheeler Centre in 2012. As they watch, have students find the answers to these questions to foreshadow later discussions. The interview lasts for almost an hour. The questions have been allocated to specific ‘quarters’, if teachers do not wish to view the entire interview in one sitting. Alternatively, as the interview is on YouTube, some sections could be set as homework viewing.
- First 15 minutes
- Where has JTH lived and worked?
- With her short stories, does JTH focus on exploring characters or ideas? Why does she make this distinction?
- JTH bases her characters on real people. Why? How does she ensure narrative distance from the real people who serve as templates for her characters?
- What ‘essence’ is JTH determined to represent in her characters?
- JTH says, “I despair, therefore I insist on hope.” How does this belief impact on her characters’ journeys?
- What does JTH believe that flawed and damaged humans can offer?
- What makes a character vivid for JTH?
- Second 15 minutes
- Describe JTH’s childhood. What seems to be its defining features?
- Why did observation become such an important strategy for JTH?
- How do you think this pattern of observation influenced her writing?
- Where did JTH see herself positioned at school? What caused her relegation to this position?
- How did JTH first become published?
- Third 15 minutes
- What parallels does JTH draw between her home state Queensland and USA states such as South Carolina?
- What sort of connection does JTH feel to South Carolina?
- JTH says, in response to the first audience question, that she doesn’t always “answer the question” in her writing. What does she do?
- In JTH’s opinion, what happens to those with power? How is this relevant to her writing?
- Given JTH’s interests in developing her own characters, why do you think she is so fascinated by the phenomenon of psychopathy?
- Last 10 minutes
- What is significant about the fact that JTH has never been “allowed” to teach a unit of Australian Literature at her American university?
- Which Australian writers does JTH enjoy?
- Why does JTH seem reconciled to the fact she is yet to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize?
Reflection on titles
Collected Stories collates stories published in two previous anthologies, Dislocations and Isobars. In addition, a number of other stories have been collated into the third section of the anthology under the title North of Nowhere, South of Loss. Encourage students to explore the semantic possibilities offered by these three titles. In small groups, consider to denotations and connotations suggested by these words and identify potential connections between the three section titles. Some dictionary research may be necessary. Each group is to predict themes they believe JTH’s writing will explore.
Personal response on reading the text
Questions and comments while reading the text
- It is recommended that students make extensive annotations in their texts whilst reading. This can be accomplished through the use of adhesive ‘post-it’ notes if marking the text is not desired. Post-its are available in a variety of colours and could be used to colour-code various types of annotations, such as questions, responses, themes and ideas or use of conventions.
- A ‘quick-fire’ activity can be generated from these post-its. Post-it notes with students’ questions can be collected by the teacher, or space can be reserved on a wall for students to place their questions. The teacher can select questions from among these to use as the basis for quick five-minute discussions at the start of each lesson to engage the class.
Postcard to the author
- Encourage students to read additional stories as well as those that the teacher mandates. As they read, encourage students to find one story that resonates with them personally. They are then to write a postcard to JTH to explain the nature of the personal connection that they feel with this particular story. It may be because of the sense of place evoked, the emotion captured, the character constructed or the events taking place. Of course, students may make personal connections based on other aspects also.
- Have students carefully consider the postcard or notecard that they would choose to send to JTH, correlating its image and design to suit the story to which they are responding. Students may even like to design their own postcard.
‘Book Club’ reflection
- Divide students into three groups and assign them either Dislocations, Isobars or North of Nowhere, South of Loss. Within these three larger groups have students divide into groups of four. Each group of four is to spend a weekend reading the stories in their section, making notes as per the post-it activity above.
- Watch an episode of the ABC program The Book Club.
- In their groups of four, students are to host their own panel discussion reflecting on their initial reading of their given section of the anthology. Students should draw on their personal response, their initial skills of critical reading and their contextual knowledge of JTH to engage in thoughtful and personal discussion of their selected stories. Other students should observe as the studio audience and be encouraged to ask questions of the panel. Stronger and more able students should be encouraged to make connections to their own section of the anthology in their questions.
- If time permits, students could consolidate their initial reflections by writing a review of their ‘episode’ of the The Book Club evaluating their group’s discussion.
Outline of key elements of the text
Either reproduce the table below as an A3 size handout, or encourage students to draw it up in their journals. With each story studied, students should be encouraged to enter the details into this table for revision purposes.
|Title of story
|Section of anthology
- LitCharts are a visual summary of the themes of a text in a poster format. They provide a ready reference by which students might track the development of themes throughout a novel, or, in this case, an anthology.
- Return to students’ predictions of themes from the earlier ‘Reflection on titles’ activity. Review these predictions for accuracy, reflecting again on the titles that have been used for each section and how they thematically connect the stories within. Through discussion, develop a more nuanced list of themes that are explored across the anthology. As a whole class, assign each theme a unique colour.
- Each group should then take responsibility for creating the LitChart entry for one (or more) short stories that will become the focus of close study throughout the unit. After all have been completed, compile the various entries into a complete LitChart and distribute to the class.
- This link outlines the structure and format of a LitChart.
The writer’s craft
Reflection during analysis
Using a blogging platform such as WordPress or their educational offshoot, Edublogs, have students set up a literary blog in which they can record their thoughts and responses to JTH’s stories. After each lesson or sequence of lessons on a particular short story, encourage students to develop their reflective practice by going home and writing an entry on the story for their literary blog. The entry should seek to enlighten the blog’s reader as to the student’s understanding of – and response to – each story reviewed. The posts should be discursive in style, rather than purely analytical; teachers are not looking for ‘lit crit’ essays here but thoughtful literary reflections.
Each of the activities below should be used as the basis of the students’ entries, so that each entry has a different focus and flavour. For example, the first entry might be a reflection on, “You Gave Me Hyacinths” with a focus on its plot structure, with the second reflecting on “After the Fall” and character development.
- Encourage students to develop their own writing skills by exploring published examples of literary blogs and by exploring each others’ online writing. Focus on the key features of blogs: thematic development in each post (as opposed to an unstructured rant), strongly personal voice, consistent style, conversational or reflective tone and so on.
- Explore the genre of literary blogs by examining the following examples. These examples offer clear examples of the personal review and commentary that is expected of a literary blog. They represent varying depths of discussion to allow teachers to choose the most appropriate example to use with their students.
- Rob Around Books – a blog that offers brief, pithy reviews, as well as ‘forethoughts’ and ‘afterthoughts’ of a literary nature. Strong focus on short fiction.
- Musings of a Literary Dilettante – a blog with longer, but still very accessible, discussions of books.
- Ready Steady Book – a blog with detailed, thoughtful reviews of books with industry news thrown in as well.
- Kill Your Darlings – a highly rated Australian literary blog that includes reviews as well as other industry-relevant posts. Accompanies the KYD journal.
- HTML Giant – a literary and pop culture blog that offers quite sophisticated blog postings from a variety of contributors.
- See here for a resource on literary style in blogs.
Janette Turner Hospital has been quoted as saying: “We inherit plots. There are only two or three in the world, five or six at most. We ride them like treadmills.”
Use this quote as the basis for a discussion with the class. Alternatively, this could be conducted as small group discussion or as a think-pair-share activity. Encourage students to consider:
- What does JTH mean by this assertion?
- To what extent to students agree with this assertion?
- What might these plot types be?
Introduce students to the concept of archetypal plot structures. In his 2004 book, The Seven Basic Plots: why we tell stories, Christopher Booker identified seven archetypal plots. This YouTube clip may be a useful and entertaining way to introduce these at a basic level. Further information may be found on this blog.
- Discuss the seven plot structures and have students volunteer examples from popular literature, film and television for each. The ‘TV Tropes’ site may assist the teacher with examples.
- Based on their initial readings of JTH stories (or after further reading and analysis has taken place) students should categorise a range of JTH stories according to these plot types.
- Assign pairs of students a particular archetypal plot. Within their pairs, students should investigate two stories that offer variations on the same plot structure. An example might be “You Gave Me Hyacinths” and “Waiting”, which both follow the ‘Rebirth’ archetype, whereby the protagonist descends towards evil, stasis or despair before a ‘redeemer’ character appears and awakens the protagonist to clarity or a renewed ability to feel love or compassion.
- Within their pair, students should summarise their archetypal plot.
- They should conduct a close reading of the plot of their chosen stories, noting the ways in which they conform to, resist or subvert the archetype. Evidence should be collected to support the students’ readings.
- In discussion with their partner, students should critically examine the variations from the archetype. Is it in these details that originality is generated, that new insights into the human condition are revealed?
- Students should present their findings in a presentation to six other pairs, so that all students may be involved in collaborative learning of the archetypal plot structures.
- Students should then engage in discussion of whether their selected stories can be reduced even further to just two or three archetypal plots.
- Students should then discuss whether JTH’s assertion holds true. Can her stories be considered as variations on only two or three plots? Or are her variations significant enough that there is evidence of seven (or more!) plots?
- To extend, students could be given this article from ‘The Telegraph’ and investigate its author’s resistance to Booker’s arguments.
JTH indicated in the interview examined earlier that her short stories are constructed around characters, more so than ideas, in which she hopes to capture the essence of “an intense emotional state.”
Guide students through a reading of the protagonist in “After the Fall”. Encourage students to annotate their copies of the story extensively throughout the guided reading, identifying aspects of character revealed through actions, dialogue, interactions with others, narrative commentary and symbolism. Some suggested points of consideration:
- Aspects of character that are revealed, but then shown to be untrue, such as her married status and her affair with a lover.
- The parallels between the woman and the wilting amaryllis flowers, and the irony in her attempt to capture the “inexorability of self-destruction.”
- Her single-minded commitment to capturing the flowers in her art, even to the exclusion of her husband, lover and children, over several weeks.
- Her frustration at the inability to fix the flowers, to commit them to paper, as well as her dissatisfaction with each medium she chooses to use.
- Her preoccupation with change – and her “inability to keep up.”
- The elision of time and its connection to her state of mind – her unawareness that her husband and children have grown older and left home.
- The biblical allusions to the fall of Eve.
- Her revision of history in her memory, including the delusion it was she who took a lover, rather than her husband.
- The reactions of Suzy, her daughter, particular her confusion and concern over her mother.
- Her choice of metaphor, “a cancer in my breathing”, when talking to Suzy.
- Her seeming concern for Suzy during their conversation, which is overridden by her preoccupation with the amaryllis.
- The revelation that the woman is actually alone, and that her children and husband no longer actually live with her.
Individually or in small groups, students should create a character profile chart that maps the protagonist of a story of their choice, identifying key examples of action, dialogue, interaction with others, narrative commentary, appearance, etc. that reveal aspects of this character. Include page references in the chart for later reference. Alternatively, mind-mapping software could be used. Once these have been completed, students should share their character profiles in small groups, engaging in peer teaching to explore a variety of characters. Within the groups, encourage students to compare and contrast characters, noting similarities in the emotional experiences of the characters and how such characters respond to their situations.
An activity that might be included if time permits is to write the scene before or after the narrative provided by JTH. Most of her stories begin in media res and lack total narrative closure, leaving them ripe for students to extend.
A common feature of JTH’s stories is the lack of resolution the characters experience. Often they remain in an intense emotional state. Use this idea as the basis of a rapid fire discussion, where each student in turn has no more than two minutes to explain their interpretation of this lack of resolution.
Place is critical to many of JTH’s stories. Use this essay by Daniel Young as the basis of an exploration of both macro and micro settings within “You Gave Me Hyacinths.” In small groups, have students develop Young’s analysis by adding further examples and commentary.
Having scaffolded analytical writing in this way, students should now feel more comfortable in independently evaluating the role of setting in a short story of their own choice.
- Consider that many of JTH’s stories are set on the fringes of places or even cultures. Based on students’ reading of various stories within the anthology, brainstorm a list of places and spaces inhabited by the characters that might be considered on ‘the fringe’. Some of these will be literal, others symbolic. Ask students to write a brief reflection on JTH’s fascination with liminal and littoral spaces, and the characters who inhabit them.
- In many JTH stories, place becomes interwoven with ideas of identity and memory. Assign students one of the following key readings on the importance of place in JTH’s work. Students should identify the key points of the writer’s argument and prepare a brief summary, which they then share in pairs or small groups.
- Sue Lovell on the “Psychic Space of Queensland” in JTH’s short stories.
- Selina Samuels on “Dislocation and Memory in the Short Stories of Janette Turner Hospital” (available to read online for free by signing up for a free JSTOR account, or by logging in via a tertiary institution.)
Language and style
In “The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance”, the reporter says, “Words were his business, and if he often caught himself being plangent and acute, well, it was a forgivable sin… His words should be picked up one by one like stones from the bank of an enchanted creek.” This lovely image could be true of JTH also. Use this quote to introduce these lessons on language study, asking students to reflect on its implications.
- Can JTH be considered plangent (loud or reverberating, and typically melancholy) and acute (having or showing a perceptive understanding or insight). What about the instruction to pick up the words one by one? How does this suggest we should read JTH?
- Conduct a language study of one of JTH’s stories, such as “The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance” to develop an appreciation for her style. This table (PDF, 269KB) may help. Importantly, develop students’ connections between the employment of literary devices to shape meaning and influence responses. Some of the features that are perhaps indicative of JTH’s style are:
- her lyrical prose, punctuated by incursions of the vernacular,
- a focus on interiority which is often emphasised by italicised or parenthesised asides,
- sophisticated vocabulary,
- use of literary allusions and references,
- use of biblical discourse and allusions,
- juxtapositions or contrasts,
- strong sensory imagery,
- motifs of liminality,
- a highly evocative sense of place.
Use “The Baroque Ensemble” as an example of how language can be used to develop unique character voices by comparing the sophisticated language of Peter, in both thought and dialogue, with that of Ethel. Note, too, how JTH plays with this by subverting our expectations of Peter at the end of the story.
- Set students the task of providing an example from another JTH story they have read where language reflects character. Less able students could return to “The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance” to compare the voices of Adeline, the reporter, the preacher, the policemen and the Aboriginal characters.
Thematic use of language
In several stories, particular amongst Isobars, language itself becomes a thematic concern. In “The Last of the Hapsburgs” and “The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance” JTH manipulates language in order to highlight its limitations and failure to capture acute experience. Have students locate examples of such breakdown of language and identify its function.
Motifs and Symbols
- Several symbols employed by JTH become motifs, evident throughout the entire collection. Most notably these include weather, littoral spaces and liminal states. Some examples of stories that use these extensively are:
- Weather – “You Gave me Hyacinths”, “The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance”, “The Ocean of Brisbane”, “The End-of-the-Line End-of-the-World Disco”
- Littoral spaces – “Uncle Seaborn”, “The Bloody Past, The Wandering Future”, “Isobars”, “Port After Port, the Same Baggage”
- Liminal states – “Waiting”, “The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance”, “The Chameleon Condition”, “The Loss of Faith”, “Here and Now”
- Use this table (PDF, 58KB) to guide students in making connections between these stories. Encourage the consideration of symbols within their individual context as well as how they form part of a motif that runs throughout JTH’s Collected Works, contributing to the overarching themes she explores.
- To further explore critical sources, this article by Sylvia Petter on olfactory imagery is worth reading.
Point of view
JTH employs point of view to great – and sometimes surprising – effect throughout her collection. Provide students with extracts from the following examples to examine how JTH positions readers in regards to certain characters.
- “Waiting” – uses third person omniscient but in a very calculated way. The story is in four distinct parts. The first three focus on each character in turn, in apparent third person limited. However the fourth section is in traditional third person omniscient. Discuss how this manipulation of point of view enhances the sense of dislocation and isolation felt by each character, before uniting them in a single moment.
- “The Inside Story” – uses first person, but precious little is revealed about the narrator and we remain quite distant from them. Instead, the bulk of the story is composed of the various other characters’ dialogue with the narrator. Discuss the effects of this technique as a method of positioning the reader to regard both the narrator and the prisoners. First person usually provides an intimate connection with the narrator; what is its effect here?
- “Some Have Called Thee Mighty and Dreadful” – uses first person in quite a traditional manner, so as to immerse the reader in the protagonist’s grief and fear.
- “A Little Night Music” – uses third person limited. Consider how it positions us to view Lucy’s experience. How might it be different if the story were in first person?
- “Isobars” – plays extensively with point of view. At times it appears almost in second person, as if the narrator were talking directly to the reader (“Perhaps we should be more conventional and call [the main character] Em?”) before segueing into third person, but a third person that elides characters, and finally some concluding lines from personified weapons. Discuss how this very postmodern manipulation of point of view works to reinforce the themes of interconnectedness within the story.
A useful exercise to explore the impact of point of view can be the rewriting of a section of one of the above stories using an alternative point of view. Students can discuss their re-writes in small groups to deepen their appreciation of the effect of point of view.
Text and meaning
Exploring individual themes
Selina Samuels, in her essay “Dislocation and Memory in the Short Stories of Janette Turner Hospital” suggests that her major themes “are distinctive of the short story form and of expatriate fiction: fragmentation and isolation, transitoriness and dislocation.” In both Dislocations and Isobars, JTH overtly addresses these themes. Given that her stories are so character driven, it is through the experiences of each protagonist that we come to a renewed understanding of these human experiences.
- Conduct a guided reading of “Waiting” where these themes are clearly evident. Consider the three main characters: Matthew Thomas, Chandrashekharan Nair and Jennifer Harper, who experience a kind of cross-cultural pollination in the waiting room of the Air India offices. Consider also how these very qualities of dislocation and isolation are, in fact, what unite these three disparate characters. Explore the universality of such experiences and the impact of examining them from different characters’ perspectives.
- Matthew Thomas:
- culturally different because of his status as a religious minority; he is culturally Indian but of Christian faith, and with a Western name – “Heir of both East and West”;
- his daughter has emigrated to America and is distancing herself from Indian culture – “Dear Daddy, please do not send the sweet pickle. I have no need of anything. I am perfectly happy.”
- he is experiencing cultural clash with increasing western tourism to India, particularly in regards to gender roles – “Those Western women… had worn trousers as if they were men.”
- his interactions with Jennifer in the hope that he might learn more about his daughter’s life – “I will visit your daughter and I will write, ” Jennifer says. “I understand all the things you want to know.”
- Chandrashekharan Nair:
- experiencing cultural dislocation in post-colonial India – “It was fitting that the Nairs, who had from ancient times guarded the Maharajah of Travancore and defended his lands, should be as it were the guardians of Kerala in this modern age.”
- culturally different because of his Marxist affiliations, at odds with traditional Indian beliefs – “The girl’s family were raising questions about his associations with the Marxists.”
- struggles to balance his ancient heritage, modern beliefs and aspirations and traditional customs – “It was not wise to be on record for any political opinion… His father was becoming increasingly annoyed… The girl’s family was waiting.”
- he is experiencing cultural clash with the West’s capitalist incursions into India, and it’s more liberal gender values – “It was… the fault of Americans and their Coca-Cola and their independent women.”
- Jennifer Harper:
- experiences isolation studying in India – “After months of conspicuous isolation as the only Western student at the University of Kerala.”
- struggles with the physical and cultural environment – “her desire not to fall apart from the heat, the exhaustion, the dysentery, the inefficiency, the interminable waiting.”
- is painted as an American imperialist by Nair – “But I am not an imperialist.”
- India recedes to a memory – “Jennifer Harper watched the red-tiled flat roofs…and the rice paddies dwindle into her past.”
- Matthew Thomas:
- Set students a second story to analyse in small groups, making notes on how the character embodies a sense of cultural dislocation. Most stories will work for this exercise, but consider “Ashes to Ashes”, “Port after Port, the Same Baggage” or “Moving Out”. In particular, note how JTH frequently uses liminal spaces as a motif to suggest dislocation, such as the airline office in “Waiting”, the crematorium in “Ashes to Ashes” or the ship in “Port After Port, the Same Baggage.”
- Individually, students should then write a comparative response in their journals, of around 1,000 words, evaluating the construction of this theme in each of the stories.
- Finally, expand students’ understanding of dislocation by exploring other ways in which this theme is explored by JTH. Not all of the stories are about cultural dislocation, but about the dislocation between past and present, memory and identity, self and other or change in place.
- Examine some of JTH’s stories from Dislocations that are set in Australia, such as “You Gave Me Hyacinths”, “The Bloody Past, The Wandering Future”, “The Last of the Hapsburgs” and “After Long Absence”.
- Analyse the stories for their representation of Australia, particularly in terms of the tone that permeates these stories. Note the differences between the representations of Brisbane as opposed to northern Queensland.
- Set students to write a journal response of around 500 words, explaining the extent to which they agree with Samuels’ assertion that JTH tends to “romanticise the past and past place.”
- Compare to stories from Isobars such as “The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance”, “Bondi”, “Eggshell Expressway” or “I Saw Three Ships.”
- Do these stories reflect the same degree of romanticism of Australia?
- Do the stories set in Sydney offer a different representation of Australian to those set in Queensland?
- Is there a difference between those Australian-set stories that seem to be more autobiographical and those that are not?
- Choose one story that is not Australian-set, but still focuses on themes of home.
- Is the experience of ‘home’ similarly nostalgic for characters from other cultures?
- Does JTH’s own cultural heritage colour her representation of Australia as ‘home’?
- Next, consider “The Owl Bander”, which is almost allegorical in nature.
- What comments about home are made here? Can one’s memories of home actually be self-destructive?
- Finally, examine “Litany for the Homeland”, which was written specifically on the theme of homelands. Note how JTH explores the concept of home from multiple perspectives.
- Another line of enquiry might be to consider that in each subsequent collection within the anthology, Australia features more significantly. What might this suggest about JTH’s own relationship with home, given her expatriate status?
“To Be Discontinued” and “The Loss of Faith” are two stories that overtly deal with memory. Have students read these stories and answer these questions with detailed paragraph answers:
- Outline the memories that are so significant for each protagonist.
- How are these memories evoked within the narrative; what prompts each character to remember?
- What happens to time within these stories? Does it remain linear?
- What is the significance of place to these memories?
- What impact does memory have on each of the protagonists?
- What does JTH seem to suggest about the nature of the past and our relationship with it?
Selina Samuels suggests that JTH constructs “place as the repository of memory”, suggesting that there is an integral connection between memories and the places to which they are attached.
- Discuss this concept with students.
- Is this true of their experience of JTH’s stories?
- Is it true of their own memories?
- Engage in some creative writing, where students write about a memory of their own that is closely connected to place. Aim for the evocation of emotional intensity so important to JTH.
- Conclude by considering the significance of memory to personal identity.
Ideas of personal and cultural identity figure greatly in JTH’s stories. Use the Jigsaw method to explore four stories exploring themes of personal and cultural identity.
- Set up four stations in the classroom. At each station place enough copies of one story for a quarter of the students. For large classes, it may be more appropriate to have five or six stations.
- Working collaboratively, students should mine their story for its ideas on the theme of identity. Use this retrieval chart (PDF, 245KB) to record findings. They are now ‘experts’ on this story.
- Regroup so that new groups are composed of one student from each of the original groups. Each student in turn teaches the others in the group about the story on which they are an ‘expert’.
Many stories focus on characters responding to trauma, particularly in terms of the impact it has on identity.
- “Golden Girl” explores the effects of a dreadful accident on a three friends, from the perspective of a girl who is disfigured as a result.
- “After the Fall” explores the effect of a traumatic marriage breakup on a woman.
- “The Second Coming of Come-By-Chance” focuses on a woman who was raped whilst working in Queensland.
- “Dear Amnesty” explores a woman’s empathetic connection with a political prisoner.
- Consider the characters within some or all of these stories. How does the experience of trauma change them? What is the impact of trauma on identity? Is trauma another form of dislocation?
- Role play an interview with JTH, discussing this theme.
The power of language and communication is, according to Debra Adelaide, “a prime concern” of these stories, particularly those in Isobars. JTH alludes to her love affair with words even in Dislocations, in stories such as “After Long Absence”:
I always remembered the word, not knowing what it meant. I saw it as dark and cumulous, freighted with classroom awe, a bringer of lightning bolts. Epidemic. I sometimes credit that moment with the birth of my passionate interest in the pure sound of arrangements of syllables.
However, in later stories such as “The Last of the Hapsburgs”, language proves to be incapable of capturing experiences: Miss Davenport “needs a different sort of alphabet, a chlorophyll one, a solar one” because the place “will not fit into words.”
- In pairs, have students discuss the words that inspire them. Encourage an exploration of the aesthetic appreciation of language. This could be extended into a project where students create a poem celebrating the aesthetic appeal of language.
- As discussed earlier, JTH’s stories are based around intense emotional experiences. Discuss why characters such as Miss Davenport find that language fails them. Can some emotional experiences be reduced to words, no matter how powerful such words can be?
Making connections: “Isobars”
According to this story, an isobar is “an imaginary line connecting places of equal pressure on a map.” Debra Adelaide suggests that “isobars are also imaginary lines connecting personalities of equal pressure across the vast map of the human psyche.”
- Ask students to make a final entry in their literary blog devoted to considering this statement, its accuracy as an assessment of JTH’s body of work in this anthology and the connections the students have made between stories, and between stories and their own experience.
Set a discursive essay on the following topic:
Michael Faber quotes JTH as saying “Fiction is the only safe place to tell the truth.”
Rich Assessment Task 1 (Creating)
Multimodal sensory project
Students are to create a multimodal text that seeks to capture an intense emotional state. Multimodal texts vary considerably in scope and nature, but embody a text that combines two or more language modes (for example, still or moving image, music and sound, physical performance, digital texts, spoken word or written language). The students’ texts do not necessarily need to be narrative in nature, but there should be a strong focus on the artistic and aesthetic functions of the text. Successful texts will actively consider audience and seek to generate a strong, specific sensory impact. Encourage students to push the boundaries of medium and form. Conduct a mini arts festival during which students present their pieces via performance, exhibition, installation, screening or dramatic reading.
These sites offer comprehensive assistance in the development of multimodal texts:
- Literacy, Media and Technology Resources for Teachers: Creating multimodal texts
- Syllabus Bites: Creating digital and multimodal texts
- Digital Tools for Teachers: Digital multimodal texts
See here (PDF, 248KB) for a sample task sheet and rubric.
Ways of reading the text
Alternate reading practices
Outlined briefly below are two possible approaches that might offer varied and enlightening alternate readings of JTH’s work. Teachers may choose to develop both of these approaches with the whole class or focus on one or the other. Alternatively, allow students to select one as the basis for independent study. For each, a brief reading list is suggested, along with recommended focus texts from Collected Stories. Finally, a set of focus questions are also provided to direct students in their reading.
JTH as a postmodern writer
- Suggested stories:
- “The Chameleon Condition”
- “For Mr Voss or Occupant”
- “Litany for the Homeland”
- Focus questions:
- A major tenet of postmodernism is ‘the centre cannot hold’; that is, an exploration of how previously adhered-to systems and certainties break down.
- How does JTH undermine accepted ‘truths’ in her writing?
- How do you read JTH’s fascination with dislocation in light of the above statement?
- How many of JTH’s characters are forced to confront the breaking down of their own certainties?
- Does JTH’s positioning of many of her protagonists on the fringe allow her to offer a more critical perspective on the ‘centre’?
- A feature of postmodern writing is lack of narrative closure.
- How many of JTH’s stories provide narrative closure?
- Do her characters find resolution?
- What are the implications of this denial of resolution for her readers?
- Revisit the features of postmodern writing site.
- Which of these conventions does JTH commonly employ?
- How do these work to position contemporary Australian readers?
- In what ways does she experiment with the ‘slippage’ or ‘play’ of language?
- How does an awareness of these conventions inform your understanding of JTH’s overarching themes?
- The exploration of identity – both personal and cultural – as a significant concern for JTH.
- How do JTH’s characters manipulate memory and identity?
- How does JTH blur the lines between writer, character and reader?
- What are the implications of her postmodern approach on our understanding of JTH’s sense of personal identity?
- How does this approach help us understand the issues of cultural identity in the modern world?
- How has a postmodern understanding of JTH’s work encouraged you to reflect on your own identity?
- A major tenet of postmodernism is ‘the centre cannot hold’; that is, an exploration of how previously adhered-to systems and certainties break down.
JTH as a transnational writer
- Franco Moretti’s essay “Conjectures on World Literature”
- Bill Ashcroft’s essay “Australian Transnation” (published in Southerly) or“Beyond the Nation: Post-Colonial Hope”
- Michael Jacklin’s article “The Transnational Turn in Australian LIterary Studies”
- David Roberts and Brian Nelson’s article “Literature and Globalization: Some Thoughts on Translation and the Transnational”
- “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk
- Jessica Trevitt’s article “Of Frames and Wonders: Translation and Transnationalism in the work of Janette Turner Hospital”
- Ken Gelder’s article “Proximate Reading: Australian Literature in Transnational Frameworks”
- Lynn Jacobs’ article “Homeland v ‘The Tropics’: Crossing the line”
- Suggested stories:
- “Litany for the Homeland”
- “Dear Amnesty”
- “To Be Discontinued”
- Focus questions
- Transnationalism seeks to dismantle the connection between a national identity and its literature. As a practice, it seeks to read literature in a global context.
- In what ways can JTH’s stories be seen as resistant to being considered purely Australian literature?
- How might her postmodern style be interpreted as a tool in dismantling nationalistic understandings of literature?
- JTH has variously been claimed as an Australian writer, a Canadian writer and as a Writer in Residence at an American university. Her first stories, however, were written while she lived in India. How do these experiences contribute to her work being considered transnational?
- Transnationalism recognises that diaspora has led to many people living outside of their nation of origin, and cites this as a factor in the value of reading transnationally.
- How significant is JTH’s somewhat nomadic life in considering how as a transnational writer?
- How has her expatriate status shaped her view of cultural identity?
- How can we reconcile the apparent nostalgia for Australia in many of her stories within a transnational framework?
- What role does Australia’s celebrated multiculturalism play in our understanding of the value in reading transnationally?
- Nationalism is concerned with enforcing borders, both literal and figurative. Transnationalism can be understood as the attempt to bridge those borders, or to transgress against them.
- How can we interpret JTH’s fascination with littoral spaces and liminal states in light of this statement?
- Many of JTH’s characters cross national boundaries. How do they deal with such crossings?
- Many stories develop a strong sense of dislocation. What are the implications of this for the transnational reader?
- What is suggested by those stories featuring characters having parallel experiences in different cultural contexts?
- Trevitt, in the reading above, suggests JTH “portrays a simultaneous resistance to and identification with the nation, the reinforcement and transgression… which is central to the concept of transnationalism.” It is in these symbolic spaces that a transnational identity can be developed.
- Many of JTH’s characters find themselves in liminal states. How do you interpret this motif in light of the above statement?
- In what ways do her characters come to new understandings of their identity as a result of their interaction with other cultures?
- How might JTH’s exploration of other cultural identities reflect the development of her own transnational identity?
- Transnationalism seeks to dismantle the connection between a national identity and its literature. As a practice, it seeks to read literature in a global context.
Comparison with other texts
The Janette Turner Hospital Appreciation Club
- JTH is as famous for her novels as she is for her short fiction. Introduce students to her novels by presenting them with 1–2 page extracts from each.
- In small groups, students should take turns reading the extracts aloud to the others, before engaging in a discussion comparing the style of the extracts to each other and to the short stories studied.
- More than one reviewer has suggested that JTH’s novels are typically more experimental than her short fiction. Do the students agree with this assertion?
- Based on their reading of extracts, and if time permits, encourage students to read the JTH novel that intrigued them the most. After completing their reading, rejoin with their group to discuss their impressions.
- JTH herself said in the Wheeler Centre interview that while her short stories are character driven, her novels are novels of ideas. Was this true of the students’ experience of reading her works?
- Consider having students review their novels formally to share with their peers.
Crystal ball gazing
- Using the Think-Pair-Share model, have students predict the developments – thematic, theoretical and stylistic – that might be found in JTH’s next anthology of stories.
- JTH’s subsequent anthology is called Forecast: Turbulence. Discuss the thematic potential of this title.
- If time permits, students may enjoy devising a treatment for a story that may appear in this anthology.
Australian studies using Reading Australia
- Explore some of the other short fiction writers included on the Reading Australia site, such as Barbara Baynton, A. D. Hope and/or David Malouf. Compare their representations of, and relationship with, Australian identity and landscape with that of JTH.
- Expand the comparison to include David Unaipon and Nam Le. Do these writers create a disruption to the ideas established by Baynton, Hope and Malouf?
- Refer to the Reading Australia ‘connection to place‘ collection for further suggested titles to explore the connection to place that is a feature of much Australian writing.
- Nam Le is often interpreted as a transnational writer.
- Select one story from The Boat to compare with one from Collected Stories. In light of the ideas of transnationalism explored above, have students conduct a comparative analysis of the two stories, writing up their findings in their journals.
- Discuss whether any of the other writers above, such as Malouf, could be considered transnational in their approach.
- Consider, too, how Unaipon, in translating indigenous stories for a non-indegenous audience, operates within a transnational paradigm.
- In groups of four or five, students should engage in a panel discussion on the following topic: To what extent can JTH be considered an Australian writer?
- Drawing on their contextual knowledge of her life, as well as considering the scope and range of settings in her work, discuss JTH’s identity as an Australian writer.
- Students should consider what it means to be ‘Australian’ in an increasingly global world, JTH’s status as an expatriate and by what definition(s) we may categorise a writer as ‘Australian’.
- Students may wish to consider her work in light of other contemporary female Australian writers, such as Thea Astley, Helen Garner, Kate Grenville, Gail Jones or Elizabeth Jolley.
Rich assessment task 2 (Responding)
Students are to curate a mini anthology of six JTH stories, carefully selecting stories for a chosen audience that demonstrate some particular connection, either stylistically, thematically or as a result of a particular critical approach.
Having decided upon their selection, students are to write the foreword that would accompany the publication of this mini anthology, offering a thoughtful analytical commentary on these stories, a critical insight into their interrelationship, and justifying their selection through clear reference to the intended audience of the anthology and their own critical interpretation. Students should aim for an original and well-considered intertextual discussion.
This should be approximately 1,000 words in length, be carefully composed with a particular audience in mind and draw evidence from both the stories themselves and the students’ wider reading.
Students should design a stylistically relevant cover for their proposed anthology, as well as the contents page, a bibliography and their foreword.
(ACELR062) (ACELR063) (ACELR064) (ACELR065) (ACELR069)
See here (PDF, 198KB) for a sample task sheet and rubric.
Synthesising core ideas
In a final entry on their literary blog, have students post a final, summative reflection, in which they discuss the personal significance of their studies into JTH’s short stories. In particular, ask students to consider:
- how JTH’s stories reflect cultural change and difference,
- where JTH’s stories sit within a wider tradition of Australian literature,
- the impact of their studies of JTH on their own understandings of personal and cultural identity.
Rich assessment task 3 (Responding)
I-Search is a strategy that allows a student to direct their own investigation into a topic, linking it explicitly to an area of personal interest. You can find out more about I-search at the ReadWriteThink site, including the research basis and a step-by-step guide. Essentially, this involves students exploring a topic generally, before determining a specific line of investigation that is of personal interest or relevance. It encourages the development of metacognition as well as independent inquiry and personalised learning.
Steps in the activity:
- After becoming familiar with JTH and her work, students should reflect on their current understandings, deciding upon a particular aspect of JTH’s work that is of personal interest or relevance.
- Next, they determine a single main focus question to narrow their further reading and research.
- From this single focus question, they should devise four or so supporting questions to frame their investigations.
- Using the stories as their primary source material, as well as secondary sources such as critical commentary, biographical references, interviews and discussions with JTH and theoretical reading, students will conduct their own investigation to resolve their focus questions. A detailed bibliography should be maintained.
- Note that students may revise their original research questions, as their investigation brings to light new understandings. Throughout the project, encourage students to reflect on their original question(s) and be prepared to adapt to follow new lines of inquiry.
- Importantly, students should evaluate the impact of their findings upon themselves, personally.
- Students present their findings in a multimedia presentation. See this guide for some suggested multimedia presentation tools.
- Alternatively, students could present their findings as a formal report, academic journal article, a series of blog posts, speech or a feature article. This blog post has further interesting ideas.
- A KWL chart could be a useful planning tool for this activity.
- An advantage of this strategy is its adaptability. If need be, the task can be modified to suit students of varying abilities. For example, students could be paired together to conduct joint, rather than independent, reading and research, or topics could be suggested to those students who struggle to come up with an independent line of inquiry.
- See the suggested task sheet at the bottom of this page for further detail.
- Some suggested topics are:
- How is the idea of cultural displacement represented in JTH’s stories?
- Is JTH’s expatriate view of Australia tinged with nostalgia or criticism?
- What comments about Indian culture are made in JTH’s stories that explore this culture?
- Do the experiences of women vary across the cultures explored in JTH’s stories?
- How is grief (or another acute emotion) represented in JTH’s stories?
- What is the the significance of weather imagery in JTH’s stories?
- What is behind JTH’s fascination with littoral zones?
- What role does memory play within the stories of JTH?
- How does JTH manipulate the short story form?
- How has JTH influenced my understanding of x?
In addition, and depending on the students’ chosen topic, this task will address further Literature Unit 4 content descriptors from the following outcomes:
- Evaluate the dynamic relationship between authors, texts, audiences and contexts
- Evaluate and reflect on the ways in which literary texts can be interpreted
See here (PDF, 239KB) for a sample task sheet and rubric.