Sunday, September 26, 2010

synchronised sinking

it's a beautiful day today - t-shirt weather in fact - and i'm listening to the lucksmiths. this song made me think about mimi and the blue slave (recent read) for the nautical theme and also inspired a scene (yes! finally! inspiration!) in the story i'm writing. and by golly do i love the luckies, so any chance to share them.

Synchronised Sinking, The Lucksmiths

You don't need to ask me twice
I'm not averse to giving advice
On a barstool basis
Four o'clock sounds fine to me
I'll meet you at the library
There's privacy in public places
Oh, but, reader, heal thyself
Put the book back on the shelf

Something's obviously wrong
Your face is all day long
It was lovely when you laughed
Come on – please get it off your chest
It's a commonplace but I'd suggest
A problem shared is a problem halved
Kick a stone across the road
Explain or you'll explode

Here we are
Silhouetted in the smoke
From the shipwrecks at the bar
Of the Anchor and Hope
And I haven't seen you smile in quite a while

Why don't you let go of your boy and see
You've lost none of your buoyancy?
So sobersided
Overboard and undecided
Have you come to the conclusion
That you've come to the conclusion?
Have you come to the conclusion
That you've come to the conclusion?

You're unsure
But at least you're thinking
This looks more and more
Like synchronised sinking
And I haven't seen you smile in quite a while
And I haven't seen you anywhere in ages
Knowing how you must be hating this
Going down with the relationship

so if you've never heard this one before, imagine with your ears a quick - almost ferocious - beat, jangly guitar and a melodica. from the album why that doesn't surprise me, available at Polyester Records (and from lots and lots and lots of other places too). this is one of my favourite albums. mama bear sent it to me while i was living in (now what does georgia nicholson call it?) och aye land and it was a lovely slice of home with summery beats and really aussie accents and references to the great dividing range, trams, the rooftops of north carlton and the excellent lyric "i love a sunburnt elbow pointing to the sea" from the year of driving langourously.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"while man has pores, mold has spores. it is one way to tell us apart"

Funny English Errors and Insights: Three-hundred-and-one humorous uses & misuses of written English, compiled by Troy Simpson (National Library of Australia)

this book is far too hilarious to have at work. i have been in hysterics and not doing any dusting.

the book is set out like an old-fashioned reader, with great black-and-white photos must all go out and buy it, but i'm sure it's ok if i give you a couple of samples.

"a metaphor is a thing you shout through"

law and government:
"the executor of a will kills the persons who are named therein"

"nets: holes tied together with string"

"a sob is when a feller don't mean to cry and it bursts out all by itself"

review : mimi and the blue slave

Mimi and the Blue Slave, Catherine Bateson (Woolshed Press)

Mimi’s father has died unexpectedly, leaving Mimi and her mother to cope with their antique bric-a-brac shop by themselves. The book opens on the day of the funeral and Mimi has a terrible bout of the flu. This was really a remarkable way to deal with such a desperately sad situation; Mimi floats in and out of reality, fever burning, and is cared for by her imaginary friend, Ableth the blue pirate slave. It made her grief and confusion so easy to understand.

These are the last moments of my father, I told Ableth.
Pardon me, my queen of the blue, but they aren’t, he said. You’ve got him in your head and heart and always will.’

Mimi and her mum aren’t totally by themselves – there are the slightly mad aunties Ann and Marita who try their best at advice and consolation, enigmatic people from the antiques-buying world and Fergus the boy from the fruit and veg shop who are there in the background for when the seas are rough – and they do get a bit rough.

I love that Bateson acknowledges that things like having skinny jeans like everybody else are still important to young people, even when they are grieving. Mimi is a lovely, sweet and mature character who loves all things piratical and who reminded me of Martine Murray’s Cedar B Hartley with her quirky thoughts. The old antique shop took on qualities of a pirate ship and Mimi, her mum, Ableth and the rest of the gang bucketed and swayed and splashed through their troubles - until hopefully reaching the calm after the storm.

Girls (mostly girls, though some boys may enjoy this book too) from eight or nine years of age will very much enjoy this book and though it is sad, it would be great to read aloud as a family.

I was given this book to review for Magpies magazine.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

style guide to shaving face

published by arsenal pulp press

Monday, September 20, 2010

adventurous chickens

wendy, gus gordon (viking)

wendy is a chicken with dreams. she dreams of daring feats, adventure and fame.

after she dings her beak falling from the high wire (a rope strung above the farmyard) she meets a circus bear in the hospital and goes on to be the amazing flying chicken at monty mcfloos mostly spectacular travelling circus!

but will wendy be able to cope with the pressures and the reality of fame? or will it all end in disaster?

i love the sepia-tone "photos" of wendy doing her daring deeds. and all the little details in the background - signs and little animals and all that. this is a lovely book. and so funny.

thanks to jen for bringing this one back to my attention. i have strung up a high-wire at home and am training little sophie, peggy, joan and pearl in the circus arts. so far all they can do is flap their little wings, peck the side of the box and poo in their water.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

this bothers me a lot

(and really, it's not at all important in the scheme of things)

when australian books talk about kids being in "the fourth grade" "the first grade" etc.

when did it stop being "grade 4" and "grade 1"? and why?

(this is a question for editors, i suppose, more than authors)

Monday, September 13, 2010

review : our tragic universe

Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas

From the author of the brilliant, physics-inspired sci-fi-ish novel The End of Mr Y comes Our Tragic Universe. Looking at it one way, not a lot happens in this book. But if you look at it at a certain angle a whole mess of ideas (some unfinished and others half-realised) come spilling out. The protagonist, Meg, is struggling to write her ‘proper’ novel – instead distracted by the formulaic genre novels she churns out to pay for her rather meagre existence, which amounts to a damp flat in Devon with her unemployed (and quite frankly rather whingy) boyfriend Christopher and her dog B (who is very intelligent) and a cast of brilliantly curious characters (including a mysterious Beast). Lit up in lights, screaming at her for attention is the uncomfortable (but pleasurable oh please let it be pleasurable) truth about the kiss Meg shared with the handsome, older, curator of the local museum (and how she mostly wishes it would happen again). Thomas leads us down one-way streets, to dead ends, leaves one three-page, involved philosophical musing to head off down another. She explores the mechanics and methods of writing – the ‘storyless story’, the death of the author, metafiction – as well as philosophy, Zen Buddhism, poltergeists, magic, ships in bottles, fame and whether or not we’re actually all living in some kind of fictional Second World without ever knowing it.

What happens in Our Tragic Universe is what happens after Meg reads a book she thinks she’s supposed to review and it turns out it hadn’t ever been sent to her to review in the first place.

I think I loved it. It was certainly relevant to my life - it was as though my Novel 1 teacher was reading this at the same pace as me and would bring these very topics up for discussion in class. I definitely liked it a lot. I have to think that everything that Thomas (actually, I'm going to call her Scarlett, because I think we'd be friends) everything that Scarlett did in the novel, she did intentionally, because she's so smart and The End of My Y was just so brilliant and perfect. So when I sit back and think 'Well that ramble was all for nothing (and added nothing to your story) wasn't it Scarlett?' I think again about how she's (perhaps with just a smidge of an echo of intellectual pretention) just letting us know something new, and letting us be open to a different kind of storytelling. One outside of the neat 'beginning-middle-end' Western story tradition.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

review : big river, little fish

big river, little fish, belinda jeffrey (uqp)

tom was born backwards. from the first page, belinda jeffrey's story calls all of your senses as she details tom's tragic birth - ending with the death of his young mother - on the muddy banks of the mighty river, the old mother murray.

the story takes place in 1956, when tom has grown to a young man of fifteen. he has been raised by foster parents who, though they love their boy as their own son, are frustrated with him. tom lives in a backwards world, he does not read like the others in his class, the letters do not align properly for him. his teacher is impatient, cruel even, and his parents urge him to try harder. tom can speak to cars and engines, soothe and fix them, but his parents want him to go on to higher education.

the river calls to him, draws him to her every day. he has friends down on the bank, no-hopers, the sad and crazy lost souls. tom looks out for them and we see his strength and love and dedication. murray black, who was there the day tom entered the world, and will always protect him. and then there's hannah, almost like a sister for tom. hannah is a curious one. she understands tom, calls him 'mot' and helps him find his letters. the reader, straight away, realises that there is something about hannah, something you just can't put your finger on. i was fairly certain i knew what was going on, which made me flip back in the story to reread parts a few times because i felt like i had missed something, and my reading rhythm was broken a bit (this is my only teeny criticism of the book, but you know what? i have a feeling this was intentional). my hunch was correct, but it isn't until the end that hannah's truth is revealed.

big river, little fish takes place during the real-life floods of '56. the river, and the land, become a character in the novel; creating the drama, testing friendships and relationships. the river can take away everything tom has known in a moment. however, there is also the possibility that the river can give back as well.

belinda jeffrey's metaphors and amazing descriptions render this story evocative, beautiful, raw and totally engrossing. she created the small town of swan reach so vividly i could smell it. she drew the inhabitants of the town in perfect detail. i could feel their fear as the mother murray's levels rose, threatening the sandbags and the levees.

it was frightening to read a book about a flood now, with the horrific events in pakistan (you can donate to unicef and to the international federation of red cross and red crescent societies), and those closer to home this week.

this is a remarkable book, and a must-read for all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"a kid who can't leave well enough alone"

steven herrick spoke at the melbourne writers festival to a very full auditorium of school students, their teachers, other writers, friends and me. he spoke to the students, with the students, and not at them. he had the lights put on so he could see them. he singled the cheeky ones out and laughed with them. he listened kindly when a girl, inspired by one of steven's characters, shared her sadness at her mother's death. he talked about drinking, kissing, vomiting. masturbation. fathers. sons. how he left (or rather, it was suggested that he not come back) school at fifteen and now has twenty books to his name, and two sons and a football team of middle-aged men who wear pink. it was session that will not be forgotten easily.

Monday, September 6, 2010

coffee : irrewarra sourdough shop and cafe

the irrewarra sourdough shop and cafe is on james street in the heart of geelong. mama bear and i were perusing the secondhand bookshop just down the street (barwon booksellers) so popped in for lunch. my skinny latte was ok - bit milky (but i feel this so often at so many different places that i wonder if it's just me) and way too hot. my vege pide was delish though, with beetroot and some goats cheese too. service, however, was quite ridiculously slow. it took ages to be served initially, then after our food we waited for someone to clear the plates and take our coffee order. and waited. i turned around in my chair and smiled at the two staff, who were behind the counter chatting and wiping benches and things. nothing. a third guy wandered through the tables, ignored us completely and walked away. by this time the cafe was mostly empty. in the end i had to stand up and wave. i felt rude. even then he didn't even take the dirty plates away. i apologise, cafe, for plonking them on another table. luckily we were having a lazy day and didn't have to be anywhere. so we just laughed at how ridiculous it was. but...ridiculous it was.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

film : tomorrow, when the war began

You know what? I really liked it!


Sure, Fi was totally wrong - in that instead of being a sweet, naive, wholesome "private schoolgirl"-esque character she was...kinda trashy...but her character arc was nice and she did have some funny moments.

...and when one of the characters ate Vegemite out of the jar with a spoon i thought - oh dear, those poor foreigners will be even more confused about Vegemite. That's not cricket.

...and they filmed it in New South Wales so Hell and surrounds looked completely wrong too. John Marsden set the books in the Victorian Alpine region, specifically around the Terrible Hollow (aka Hell), the Devil's Staircase (Satan's Steps) and the Crosscut Saw (Tailor's Stitch), which is near Mt Howitt and Macalister Springs. Beautiful country.

This* is how it really looks:


I was happily surprised with Caitlin Stasey as Ellie (even though Ellie would never have worn such short shorts in the bush!) and Deniz Akdeniz was brilliant as Homer. Ashleigh Cummings, although I was unsure to begin with, portrayed the incredible character of Robyn with the perfect balance of fragility and strength (although I always imagined Robyn a bit older, practical, the ferocious netballer). That scene at the end (no, not the very end, but the bit just before they blow up the bridge) which was a departure from the book, but very well done, was so moving - mostly, I believe, due to Cummings' performance.

As a big-budget film I think it works. The explosions were great, the action acting pretty good. The comic moments were great too, with a special mention to the conversation between Ellie and Corrie during which they conclude that books are always superior to their films. Cute touch.

With a couple of moments of creative licence the plot sticks to the orginal story - enough that I was anticipating the next scene, thinking 'oh yes, now they go back to Corrie's...' I was disappointed that they dropped the Hermit storyline, although I understand that not everything can be included in a film that can be in a novel.

Ultimately, it all felt so wonderfully familiar. It was like finally meeting old friends (pen pals, perhaps).

I'm so glad the movie wasn't awful. Now bring on The Dead of the Night.

*I took these photos in 1997. The place may look different now, but I don't think so.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

why didn't the cat drink its milk?

because it had no face!


brian's very, very bad ideas, the killer koalas from outer-space who will rip off your face, the dog-poo family...I LOVE THEM ALL. and a very bad special mention to the very bad teacher - your nightmares are real. i love her.

what a good start to thursday.

the very bad book is written by andy griffiths, with drawings by terry denton and published by pan macmillan.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

review : girl saves boy

Girl Saves Boy, Steph Bowe (Text)

This debut novel is alive with humour, verve, friendship and romance - not to mention lashings of garden gnome theft and lobster liberation. It is also unabashedly teenaged; the smart and snarky characters are delightfully kooky and have a lot of heart.

Girl Saves Boy begins with Jewel Valentine – loner, painter and head case – saving Sacha Thomas’ life when he comes close to drowning in the same lake where Jewel’s brother drowned a decade before. Jewel’s family broke down following the tragic death of her brother, and she has grown up prickly and independent. At the book’s open she is trying to adjust to life back with her mother, while mourning the death of her grandmother. Sacha has a complicated mess of problems of his own: a life-threatening illness, the death of his mother and his father’s new partner (one of his teachers from school). Sacha’s friends provide a good foil for the main characters: Little Al is a genius bogan - whose family are delightful and the comic relief - while True Grisham is an intelligent, driven young woman who came across to me as a bit superior and rather unlikable character but who relaxes and comes through at the end.

The opening chapters, in particular, were great - understated and engaging – and the dialogue was very good. Maybe being a teenager yourself helps your characters sound right…as much as Steph Bowe claims she is not your average teen! I thought it was funny, to the point of a bit strange, that we kept being given the characters heights; the characters were always talking about so-and-so being taller, or shorter and it made me giggle. The book suffers a little as a result of the almost overwhelming array of problems each character faces, but there is no doubt teenagers will enjoy the drama. The funny thing is, if this was real life I probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but reading it I kind of felt like the characters were almost one-upping each other with family issues and deaths.

Nevertheless, Girl Saves Boy is an excellent first novel by young author Steph Bowe, and I know that as she continues to write she will develop and hone her already considerable skill. She is certainly a very welcome addition to Australian YA.

I received this book for review from Bookseller+Publisher magazine. You can read my shorter review (though I’ve nabbed bits from there to put here) and also my interview with Steph in the current (September) edition.