Twenty short stories, almosty 40 poems, and, surprisingly, 16 other pieces, which the editors call either creative non-fiction or academic non-fiction.
Speaking on behalf of the Bendigo TAFE group which put together this anthology, Ian Irvine notes that the book was intended, early on, as a “literary anthology” of short stories and poems.
However, they decided to include work by “popular fiction writers, journalists and creative non-fiction writers”, to show the strength and diversity of Bendigo TAFE creative writing graduates.
That decision makes Scintillae an unusual and lively collection.
Alongside experienced writers such as Justin D’Ath, John Charalambous, Lisa Jacobson and Di Demspey, there are new writers, such as Leslie Burston and Madeline Cooke.
Penelope Sell works her story around a close watch on the way we use words, and Cassy Nunan takes us courageously but with care into the sad, tough, delicate areas of human interaction.
This lovely smorgasbord of creative writing is high quality, confident and engaging, a testament to the teaching that encouraged much of it.
The essays are a bonus. The Lead Pencils at the Bendigo Writers Festival made an impassioned case for critical writing to be more valued, and when you read stories and poems alongside critical essays, you realise how important it is that we not only read, but think about our response to what we read.
To take just one example from Scintillae, Sue King-Smith writing on political poetry gives us an opportunity to encounter writing we might not otherwise have sought out, and then to find a way to think about it, which is enriching.
And then you get something like Pam Harvey’s essay – more a meditation, really – on responses to death, a lively, personal, but still very controlled piece of writing.
Ian Irvine talks in his introduction about how contemporary society tends to dismiss serious artistic endeavour, as though such striving is a waste of time.
Scintillae is serious, in the sense that you are aware, as you dip into each of the contributions that each writer is striving to make the word matter, to stretch us a little to capture something beneath the surface glitter.
But it is never dull, never stodgy, always envigorating.
It is a fine collection, a worthy celebration of what has been, and continues to be, achieved by Central Victorian writers.