New Essays

Monthly March 2014

 

In a cover story for the June 2014 issue of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell considers whether we’ve lost control of what we eat – and whether sugar deserves to be our new worst enemy. In "Sugar Town" she listens to both sides of the sugar/obesity debate and discovers strong resistance to change (and a lot of double-dealing) from the food giants.

Many will recognise the tactics of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma in our own Australian Food and Grocery Council. First, commission your own scientists to produce studies that refute claims that your product is hurting anyone. Then bury evidence that points the wrong way. Keep talking, stalling, seed the public discourse with doubts, discredit your opponents, and get the government of the day in your pocket.

 

Monthly March 2014

In the March 2014 issue of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell meets the author of the iconic book Tracks, and the actress who plays her in the film of the same name. In “When Robyn met Mia”, Gail interviews Robyn Davidson and Mia Wasikowska on the eve of the Australian premiere of the film.

Wasikowska read the Tracks script before she came to the book. “My parents, when I told them I’d got the script, they were like, ‘You’ve got to do the part, she’s a legend.’ Then I read the book and I knew immediately who Robyn was, or felt I had an understanding of her. I was sort of desperate to play her then.”

 

Monthly Summer 2013-14 In The Summer Issue of The Monthly Magazine December 2013-January 2014, Gail Bell journeys back in time to her years spent in Holland, living on a farm with her first husband, a native of Friesland. In Lowlands: To Holland and back with van Gogh she remembers the deep connection she felt to the art of Vincent van Gogh, and her efforts to create a home in a small rural village.

In a shipping crate that had come halfway round the world I’d packed the possessions without which I could not live: my library of essential books, special fountain pens and bottles of ink, the kind of paper I like to write on, art prints, favourite bookmarks, the small buddhas and the glass cat that sit on my desk, my collection of glass rings, the many small Chinese boxes that serve no useful purpose.

 

The Age

In a feature article "Friends at Sea" in The Sydney Morning Herald's Spectrum Magazine 23 November 2013, as well as The Age in Melbourne on 26 October 2013, Gail Bell reflects on an ocean voyage that reveals much about herself and her first marriage.

 

In the September 2013 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell reviews a new book for Arts and Letters: Nature Wars, American author Jim Sterba’s report on the latest developments in the age-old clash between humans and nature. "Home Invasions" looks at the Australian experience of wildlife moving into our cities and suburbs.

Possums drop like cannonballs onto the tin roof and race each other to their night feasts. A blue-tongue lizard feeds on my small strawberry patch. Bush rats, funnelwebs and water dragons never give up their quests to live indoors with us. Isn’t this what tree-changers hanker after? A benign cohabitation with nature? Well, yes and no.

 

Monthly December 2012-January 2013

 

In the December 2012-January 2013 issue of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes for the summer reading section, Hitting the Road, where she recounts her recent experience of being robbed in Madrid.

Paseo del Prado describes a few hours spent watching Spain’s annual Day of the Armed Forces in an atmosphere of passionate national pride.

“Viva España was barely off my lips when I looked down and saw the gaping empty vault and knew instantly the money was gone.”

 

Monthly October 2012

 

In the October 2012 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes about her recent experiences in the Gibson Desert of Western Australia for the special Arts Issue of the magazine.

Editor John van Tiggelen: "In 'The Logic of Water', Gail Bell visits the Martu painters of the East Pilbara and finds an art built of history, genealogy, geography and myth."

In the part shade behind a large shed where the painting supplies are kept, about 15 Martu women in floral skirts and purple beanies are bent over their work. They sit on a tarp spread over the red dirt. I take my place on the ground and try to blend in.

 

Monthly Sept 2012

 

In the September 2012 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes for the newly created VOX column. Editor John van Tiggelen writes:

Gail Bell wonders what she can do for a friend who is nearing the end of her life, and finds her answer in the pages of Austen and Hopkins.

After the others had said their goodbyes, I picked up Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen had been dragged into all kinds of strange embraces - zombies, vampires, werewolves - why not palliation?

 

Monthly May 2012

 

In the May 2012 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes about her experience of travelling to Sydney in the front carriage of a commuter train that is part of an experiment in quiet travel. As she writes in “Quiet, please”, “passengers are asked to refrain from loud conversations, using mobile phones and playing loud music”.

“In the gentle rocking embrace of my window seat I lapse into a trance. My eyes feel bigger. The visual world skims by…The clickety-clack conjures up childhood and having my hand held by a parent.”

 

 

Monthly March 2012

In the March 2012 issue of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell interviews and profiles the celebrated Australian author, Robert Dessaix.

“On the eve of the release of his new book, As I Was Saying, Dessaix reflects on the beautiful things in his life - his home in Tasmania, his travels, his writing and his loved ones - and takes solace in a newfound discovery of a single, well spent day.” John van Tiggelen, editor.

In certain lights, his high forehead and robust white hair remind me of Beckett without the etched anger lines. The absence of visible anger in Dessaix’s face may be the result of his new “live for now” philosophy, just as it may be the genetic gift of those green eyes.”

 

The Best Australian Essays 2011

Pub date: November 2011

RRP: $29.95

ISBN: 9781863955478

Imprint:
Black Inc.

Format: PB

Extent: 320pp

 

In the Ratroom” by Gail Bell was selected for Best Australian Essays 2011, edited by Ramona Koval

‘Turn the page and hear the voices within …’—Ramona Koval

The Best Australian Essays 2011 offers up bliss and illumination in equal measure – from the pleasures of the flesh to the events that convulsed the world in a year of change. Paul Kelly meditates on Frank Sinatra, and Robert Manne excavates the past and thoughts of Julian Assange. Inga Clendinnen dreams on cricket memories, and Anna Krien delves into the saga of the St Kilda schoolgirl. There is Peter Robb on Italian food, Anthony Lane on News of the World, Gail Bell on rats and Richard Flanagan on photography. This is a collection with something for everyone that never wavers in its quality.

Contributors include: Gillian Mears, David Malouf, Nicolas Rothwell, Robert Manne, Anthony Lane, M.J. Hyland, Craig Sherborne, Anna Krien, Inga Clendinnen, Gail Bell, Helen Elliott, Morris Lurie, Maria Tumarkin, Andrew Sant, Shakira Hussein, Lian Hearn, Amanda Lohrey, Paul Kelly, Peter Robb, Clive James, Delia Falconer, Richard Flanagan and Andrew O’Hagan.

Reviews & Interviews:

Read an interview with Ramona Koval on the Black Inc. blog

Buy the ebook:

Readings

iBookstore

 

Monthly November 2011

In the November 2011 issue of The Monthly Magazine, "A Quiet Anniversary" by Gail Bell marks the thirtieth anniversary of the discovery of AIDS, "the wasting disease that went by many names". Bell reviews Australia's response in effectively "taming" the disease over 30 years - a "good news story". Ben Naparstek, editor.

"Thirty years since the disease that came to be known as AIDS was identified, there have been no fireworks, no flagpoles planted on high, previously inaccessible peaks, and, outside the busy network of HIV/AIDS organisations and clinical researchers quietly getting on with their work, there was little to tip off the wider community to this 'pearl' anniversary."

 

Monthly October 2011

In a new essay in the October 2011 edition of The Monthly Magazine titled "Prescribing Behaviour", Gail Bell considers the rush to diagnose ADHD in children. From Ritalin to Catapres to Risperdal, a cocktail of potent drugs are regularly administered to kids for what is essentially a behavioural disorder - one likely to diminish in adulthood. Bell interviews teachers and students in special learning environments to see how the young members of the Ritalin club are faring, and whether there is a better alternative. Ben Naparstek, Editor

"There's no doubt that an out-of-control kid put on Ritalin settles very quickly. Do I wish there was another way? Yes. The reality is, as teachers we can't do our jobs when a kid is climbing the walls."

 

Monthly July 2011

A new essay in the July 2011 edition of The Monthly Magazine, “IN THE RAT ROOM”, sees Gail Bell reflecting on her time as a laboratory assistant between 1969 and 1971. Bell catalogues the "ruthlessly eugenic" practices that were uncontested in the scientific world at the time, and explores the philosophical assumptions behind the treatment of animals in testing environments. Bell confronts us with realities about the animal experience that are particularly poignant given recent animal cruelty revelations.  Ben Naparstek, Editor

"It never occurred to me that rats might like classical music, just as it never occurred to me that they might appreciate having their lives enriched by toys or games. These guys were headed for the scalpel if they were lucky, and the torture chamber of drugs or electrodes if they weren't."

 

Monthly April 2011

In the April 2011 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell takes issue with a workplace bully in "Inside the Pillbox". The pain of watching a fellow worker succumb to the bully's bag of dirty tricks prompts Gail to intervene with management, only to find herself fobbed off with meaningless promises. As she works through the recommended published approaches to dealing with workplace terrorism---and finds them wanting---she ends up facing "certain miserable truths: bullying, like envy and greed and other sins I can think of, doesn't ever really go away".

Awake at 3am, Gail entertains revenge scenarios. She turns away from the "anti-bullying departmental manuals" and opens up Robert Browning's poem The Laboratory, deriving a perverse pleasure from the courtesan's question: "which is the poison to poison her, prithee?"

 

Monthly September 2010

In the September 2010 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes movingly about the day her mother-in-law has to leave her home of sixty years, in a piece called "Taking Care". Faced with choosing what to take with her to the nursing home, she is lost for words. "If she gives it all away, what's left of her life? What do all the treasures she's polished  and guarded, the furniture passed down from her own parents, the souvenirs from her travels really mean?". The family gathers to help her pack, but end up feeling like "cat burglars" ransacking the house. The nursing home is a grim parody of the welcoming home she created for her family. Now she will live in a single room. Beyond her door is "an alien world of shuffling folk and time-starved staff." Bell tries to imagine how this home-loving woman will manage the painful transition to "care".

 

Monthly July 2010

In the July 2010 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes a very personal reflection on her four months of illness, in a piece called "Heart to Heart". When her sister (a crisis counsellor) visits, she tells her story again. "I'm so sick of trying to make sense of it, I skim across the top, only breaking the surface in shallow strikes. Three different ambulances, a cardiologist, intrusive tests, drugs that made my ears thump, pain that pinned me to the bed." Still traumatised by the hospital's misdiagnosis, Gail appeals for credible, therapeutic answers when her sister, in a surprise move, suggests a psychic alternative.

 

 

Monthly May 2010

In the May 2010 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell reflects upon 40 years of the methadone program in Australia, in a piece called "Liquid Handcuffs". Tracing the history of the program's operation from its inception in a small clinic in western Sydney in 1970, Bell also charts the changing public and medical perceptions of the treatment of addicts since the early abstinence-based models.

“Methadone changed the way addicts stepped down off the heroin express. Instead of a stopover in a transit lounge, the travellers changed platforms for a parallel line with quieter, more comfortable carriages. The introduction of a long acting synthetic opioid, given once daily under supervision, addressed the toughest challenge to quitting, the intolerable doof doof of unsatisfied hunger.”

 

Monthly March 2010

In the March 2010 issue of The Monthly Magazine Gail Bell considers the “strange transaction” entered into when people (like herself) visit the homes of dead authors.

Ghost Writers looks at Virginia Woolf’s admonition: “I do not know whether pilgrimages to the shrines of famous men ought not to be condemned as sentimental journeys” and asks if literary voyeurism is an act of trespass or a valid expression of our need to connect.

“…erudite, provocative and entertaining.” Ben Naparstek, editor. 


Monthly Novemeber 2009

In the November 2009 issue of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell recollects a case history from 20 years ago. Writing for The Nation Reviewed she tells of her encounter with Felix, the man with the Golden Eye.
Small gold flakes, like glitter, float downwards from somewhere—it’s hard to describe—settling on whatever I look at.
Does Felix have a strange medical condition or are his visions a gift?

Gail “reflects on the mystery and fleeting joy” of this unusual phenomenon. (Ben Naparstek, editor)


Monthly August 2009

In the August 2009 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell writes for The Nation Reviewed in light of the recent death of Michael Jackson. Croakers considers the uses and abuses of narcotics and anaesthetics as aids to the often insatiable desire for oblivion.

“If claims about Jackson’s use of this drug [Diprivan] are true, then it would seem in his case that an ethical boundary line has been crossed; one that has implications for our interpretation of the words ‘acceptable medical practice’.

Medical practitioners who willingly prescribe for the stars are often blinded by the light of fame and money, while in the parallel universe of the street an addict has to work hard to be seen at all. “William S Burroughs called these narcotic-prescription-writing doctors croakers”.

 

Monthly October 2008

In the April 2009 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell investigates matters of life and death in a new essay, "Endnotes". Drawing on her work as a pharmacist and her personal experiences, she offers an affecting and beautifully crafted meditation on the choices we make, and those we avoid, about ending our lives.

"Lena showed me her workshop notes. One sheet, 'Preparations for Life's Final Journey', asked for ten or so lines on the theme If I had six months to live, I would ... Followed by: If I had my life over, I would ... To me, these are unbearably sad subjects. I couldn't write a word if the exercises were given to me. I am not ready. For Lena, they are projects, goals, steps on the path ... She knows that she is not tired of life. Nor is she depressed. If anything, she's a pragmatist who has lived long enough to know that all good things must come to an end."

Editor of The Monthly, Sally Warhaft writes: "I think it is the best thing you've written for us. It's a very moving, informative and brave piece, beautifully written, and I know our readers will love it."

 

Monthly October 2008

In the October 2008 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail writes for The Nation Reviewed. Macbeth on Monday is a fond recollection of her fifteen years as part of a group that met weekly to read aloud from Shakespeare. As the group's founder becomes ill and the meetings wind down, Gail contemplates what she is losing: a dear friend of long standing and the unique gift of regular excursions into the vital and precise language of Shakespeare's plays-- in particular the tragedy of Macbeth.

 

 

Monthly April 2008

In the April 2008 edition of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell explores the legal trade in cold and flu tablets which is being exploited by criminal gangs who convert pseudoephedrine into the highly lucrative street drug, methamphetamine.

Chris Feik, editor at Black Inc who publish The Monthly and The Quarterly Essay, describes the essay "Running Dogs" as “intelligent reportage, stylishly written”.

Read an excerpt of the essay here and listen to Gail’s interview with Richard Aedy on Life Matters.

 

Monthly April 2008

In the June 2005 issue of The Monthly Magazine, Gail Bell reviews a new book by Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels. SELLING SICKNESS: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning us all into Patients exposes behind-the-scenes chicanery at work in major drug company dealings with the public.

Advertising experts, now embedded in the frontlines of the pharmaceutical industry, are busy “branding a condition” – like Adult ADD – where none existed before.

 

News

World Book Night, Saturday 5th March 2011
From The Guardian at guardian.co.uk

"On Saturday 5 March, a million books will be given away across the UK in the first ever World Book Night. We asked writers which books they give as gifts and which they've been most pleased to receive.

Terry Pratchett wrote: "I am a compulsive book lender and keep a stock of Gail Bell's The Poison Principle".

 

Excerpts from The Poison Principle were broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Day 2008 in the radio programme With Great Pleasure, presented by Terry Pratchett. Actors Michael Maloney, Helen Atkinson Wood and Michael Fenton Stevens read selected passages from Terry Pratchett's favourite books. Of the thousands in his library, the author said he had no trouble in selecting 15 of the best.

To explain his selection of The Poison Principle by Gail Bell, Terry Pratchett said, “I’ve always been a great fan of arsenic, and poisons in general” as well as the minds of the poisoners, and points out that he has used arsenic and some of its legends in one of his books. He explains that Bell “writes almost seductively about poisons” in this book.

Special mention

In the Sydney Sun-Herald Books Extra section  15th April, 2007, best-selling British author Terry Pratchett named my first book The Poison Principle as one of “five books that changed me”. He singles out the story of the lady in the arsenic-laced ballgown for special attention. Here is part of that story from the chapter called “Lethal Greens”:

“It is 1862. At the London ball season crinolines are the rage. A young lady is wearing twenty yards of green tarlatane…a passable substitute [for silk]. The tarlatane comes from a factory in Leipzig where they have the knack of laying a paste of starch and copper arsenite (called Schweinfurt Green) onto cotton. When the paste is dried and polished, the cloth dazzles like an emerald. Fully rigged for dancing in matching gown, headdress, fan and shoes, the young lady is carrying enough arsenic on board to kill everyone in the room. If she dances till the late hours in a jostle of overheated bodies, thousands of lethal green particles, loosened from the paste on her dress, will lift and spin in the whirls and eddies of a room shut tight against the damp air. When she raises her fan, which has lain between times in the folds of her gown, or when her dress is admired and the folds extended, she will dust her partners with green death.”

Exhibition

British artist Rebecca Chesney’s art exhibition being held in the Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, UK,  from 11 May to 7 July 2007, called “Death Equals All Things—omnia mors aequat” drew in part its inspiration from information on poisonous plants and famous poisoners in The Poison Principle.

Rebecca wrote to me in March, “Your book has been a fantastic source of information and comment. I am growing Hemlock in a cabinet… and I made a lab in my basement at home and tried to make poisons from plants ... Poison is a dark subject with a dark resonance and I want the viewer to feel a little uncomfortable but intrigued too—a bit like our morbid fascination with all things surrounding murder and that invisible, subtle power a poisoner wields.”

I have written a 500 word introduction to the exhibition catalogue but regret that I wasn’t able to travel to Britain for the opening in May.

Rebecca’s work can be viewed on her website is www.rebeccachesney.com

The Worried Well

In the second Quarterly Essay of 2005, Gail Bell investigates Australia’s depression epidemic. Why, she wonders, do well over a million Australians now take antidepressant drugs? Read more about this on The Worried Well page.

The Sunday Age, 3 July 2005, describes The Worried Well as “an intensely literate and thought-provoking essay” and “a joy to read”. For the full review go to this link: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/07/02/1119724847149.html

The Worried Well was ranked number 3 by Nielsen BookScan in the fastest movers for week ending 2 July, 2005, and
number 15 by Neilsen BookScan from booksellers nationwide, 16-17 July 2005.

The Worried Well ranked number 2 in the Independents Top 10 Bestseller list, SMH, 16-17 July 2005, and
number 6, 23-24 July, 2005.

Life Matters on Radio National 28 June 2005
Writer and pharmacist Gail Bell investigates what she calls “The Depression Epidemic” in a thoughtful Quarterly Essay published this week. The interview is available for download in MP3 format from the ABC website at: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/feeds/lifemats_20050628.mp3

 

Appearances

Gail appeared at the Sydney Writers' Festival on 27 May 2006 on a panel with Australian authors Georgia Blain and James Bradley, chaired by Dr Jeremy Fisher and presented by the Australian Society of Authors.

5-10 March 2006 - Adelaide Writers' Festival
Gail appeared in 2 sessions at the Festival:
* Wed 8 March in the West Tent, Pioneer Women's Memorial Gardens, for a solo session "Meet The Author" at 1.15 pm
* Thurs 9 March, West Tent again, on a panel called "Too Chilling" with Val McDermid, Nicholas Jose & Dorothy Johnson at 11 am

20th to 28th August 2005 - Melbourne Writers' Festival
Gail appeared in 2 sessions at the 2005 Melbourne Writers' Festival, both on Saturday 20th August 2005:

  • 12 noon in the Beckett Theatre, on a panel called "Depression" with Esther McKay, author of Crime Scene, chaired by Martien Snellen.
  • 6pm in the Merlyn Theatre, on a panel called "The Artist's Life" with Alice Garner, Shalini Akhil, and Merlinda Bobis, chaired by Jane Clifton.

 

 

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