Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 bests

lots of people are making their lists of 2012 best reads and if i made a list it would go on forever, so i've decided to go with just two: a YA best and one grown-up one. as it happens, one is the first book i read this year, the other is the last. this is a kind of symmetry i like. one was first published in australia in 2012, the other is from a couple of years ago, but which i only just got around to reading.

there were many amazing YA titles this year (and A LOT of australian ones), but i'm going with daniel handler's why we broke up, illustrated by maira kalman. i love these guys; loved their collaboration on the picture book 13 words. when i read this i was just about to start work at hardie grant egmont and it made me feel so chuffed that my new workplace had chosen to be the australian home for this book. it made me feel confident that we would get along.

why we broke up

min green and ed slaterton are breaking up, so min is writing ed a letter and giving him a box. inside the box is why they broke up. two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

beginning to end, all the angst and heartbreak included, this was a delight. all the (made-up) films and movie stars, the references that min made and which baffled ed. the conversations that went around and around, the tangents and segues. why we broke up is a brilliantly written and smart book - plus, so perfectly teenage. min is hyperbolic, feels things so deeply. she's over-dramatic (some might say) and i know there were many adult YA readers who didn't like this one at all. and this, above all, is why i love this book so: a teenager's life should often exclude or baffle an adult and i felt that min and ed and al all had the space to exist as teenagers and as people. they felt real, they spoke their thoughts and got things wrong. they were unlikable, precocious and whimiscal (angsty). and i loved them for it.


i don't read a lot of books for grown ups, and even more rarely do i read non-fiction. but i've been coveting patti smith's memoir just kids for a month or so now, drawing it out and savouring it. i finished it this morning; i loved it.

just kids

just kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to new york city during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. a true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.

smith's prose is dreamy and yet straightforward, it's intimate but not self-exploitative. i knew so little about her life, and littler still about her relationship with robert mapplethorpe. this was such a special book. i loved the way she spoke about all those crazy cats who inhabited manhattan and brooklyn and paris in the 60s and 70s - it was just life, it never felt like she was name-dropping or big-noting. i appreciated the solemn, serious and dedicated way she approached her art. i think this is one i will read again and again.
yet you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. it had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. perhaps it was an awereness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. sometimes i just wanted to raise my hands and stop. but stop what? maybe just growing up. (p.104)
happy new year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

i really like christmas

puppies, a game of croquet, a trip down the great ocean road, a surf lesson, a swim with australian fur seals and much delicious food and drink - this christmas holiday has been one hundred per cent fantastic. the family i worked for in france six years ago came to my parents' place to spend five days with us during their three week holiday in australia. the kids are older, but just as brilliant, curious and hilarious. and though it has been four years since we were last together, it felt like no time had passed at all. we introduced them to paper christmas hats, fish and chips, the hole in the ozone layer and homebrewed beer.

this is actually the evil sister, not a frenchie. she should know better...

i was also having a nosey through my grandmother's recipe collection and discovered this little bit of delightfulness:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

the quiet

Writers are told not to write down to young adult readers, but I can’t help but feel that this is constantly happening today—it simply doesn’t take the form that we might imagine it to. By giving readers books that are all about taking down the state or fighting werewolves we’re implying that it’s only these problems that are of any value, that the everyday teenage experience is otherwise something that should be easily navigable. I can’t think of any worse way than putting down a reader than by suggesting that their lives do not merit reading about.

In addition, by excising all of the quiet space that exists in these classic books in order to make room, make room! for more attention-grabbing plot, we’re denying readers the thinking room to be able to truly experience all of the wonders of reading. We’re assuming that they want their reading experience to be as little like a reading experience as possible, and the result is books with narratives that stream by like tickertape. I can’t help but wonder whether they’ll be forgettable, these books that disallow readers the space that we need to reflect on a story, to engage with it, and to draw our own conclusions.

Not all readers read to escape, nor do they necessarily read in order to live vicariously as action heroes. Sometimes readers read to identify, to make a friend who’ll remain with them forever, and to be charmed. Sometimes they want to be able to read a book that gives them the space that they need to think about the questions posed by the book, and to answer them themselves.

Surprisingly often, too, it’s the quiet books that are the ones that change lives.

from Stephanie at Read in a Single Sitting

I love the quiet books, they're my favourite. And Anne, above all. I think Stephanie is so right when she says that there are readers who want this kind of book. It's really important that there are slow reads, tales that meander, language that dips and peaks and swirls, the characters who (like Anne) just grow up, and be.

It's good for our brains to read these kinds of books. Life is so hectic and noisy and barrelling along, surely we don't always need our books to push us through their plots helter-skelter. It makes me exhausted! Even now I'm struggling to think of the quiet stories, to give examples. I constantly feel busy (which is total bollocks, I'm not so busy really). When I sit back and try to think about the quiet things I end up just getting distracted...I don't know when my attention span shrank so.

Here is what I did this evening:

Had dinner with a friend.
Wandered homeward.
Read through twenty pages of the story I'm working on. It's awfully rough. Found many lines that made me cringe, found other that made me happy to keep working on this. Found a nice quiet moment that I had written. Who knows if it will end up even in the first draft, but it's here for now:

Neither of us had eaten olives before, except accidentally on pizza. They were salty and fleshy and when I licked at my lips it felt like I'd been swimming in the ocean and, when I said so, J said he felt the same.
  I said, 'If you ever give me a book as a present you have to write in the front of it.'
  'Ok,' he said.
  We guzzled water from the garden hose because it was closer than the house and we were so warm, there on the slope. The pony grazed by us, huffing when a grass seed went up his nose. We smelled all the smells. At least I did, I couldn't speak for J.
  'I reckon spring's around the corner,' he said. 'Smell that?'
  I read a book once about a girl who jumped into a river just because she wanted to see what it felt like.
  I couldn't help jumping.

Then I read some blogs.
I started writing this post.
I made some sodastream with elderflower cordial.
Pulled Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island and The Story Girl out of my bookshelf and just put them on the floor for later.
I put on some washing.
Tried to write some more of this post.
I tried to call my parents - they didn't answer.
I've been writing this post for hours. I just kept getting distracted.

This past weekend I was in Tasmania for the wedding of a great friend. I travelled down with my uni gang. We are a very noisy bunch, loud and sometimes crass, always talking and arguing and gossiping; all of us celebrating almost eleven years of friendship.

On the Sunday night, after the wedding was over and the weekend coming to an end, we walked up the beach at dusk to watch the penguins come in. We sat on a big rock and got colder and colder, but we waited. And when the first lot of penguins rode in on a turquoise wave we became quiet, pointing at first, whispering - over there! and there are some more! - and then watched for an hour in absolute silence as they came out of the water and over the sand and the rocks and up into the scrub to find and feed their babies.

The penguins were spectacular, but the quiet was the best.

May there always be quiet times. May there always be quiet, life-changing books.

Friday, November 23, 2012

there will be books

I heard the term aliterate for the first time this week, over at Madwomen in the attic. It really struck me because I think I'm going through a period of it myself. This quote set some kind of recognition off in me: "I look at the books on my coffee table and they're like bricks to me." (from Love Me, Garrison Keillor)

I look at all the books on my desk, bedside table and bookshelves and they overwhelm me. They beg to be read and I pick them up, flick through their pages and desperately want to read them but I don't feel like I can give them the attention they deserve, and the attention that will allow me to fully appreciate the stories and the writing. I have also been writing madly these last few weeks, which surely impacts on my ability (or non-ability) to concentrate on a book. There are too many voices in my head already.

I'm not worried, I know that it won't be long before I'm one with the books again. It's just frustrating.

In my reading group we're reading Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman out loud, so at least my life isn't totally book-barren. Tonight's group was particularly nice because we also got takeaway from the Moroccan Soup Bar (oh yum, chickpea bake) and I got to bounce a baby on my knee.

Other bookish things:

The Underground New York City Public Library website, which is a "visual library featuring the Reading-Riders of the NYC subways." I have always loved seeing people reading on trains and trams and I nearly always want to talk to them about their books, whether they're enjoying it, if it's the first time they're reading that particular book or if it's a favourite. I especially loved this image, of two young people looking at The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

I was reminded of this video, which is a little old but still makes me happy:

Not only that, but I can't wait for you all to read Melissa Keil's Life in Outer Space, which is the first novel to be published through the Ampersand Project and is the first book that I've watched (and helped!) go the whole way from reading pile to edits, to pages, to printer. Not only even that, but I love it.

I also absolutely love Anna and Gareth's What we have been reading posts over at Able and Game.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

the museum of australian children's literature

This is a good place, with weekend bread* all week long, it's a writers' retreat where I don't have to pay, where there are fresh eggs, sixteen puppies and four dogs.

There's Where the Forest Meets the Sea, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge and Barbro Lindgren's The Wild Baby**.

There's all those Paul Jennings Un- books and The Wayne Manifesto and Penny Pollard's Diary.

There's Killer McKenzie, a whole mess of well-thumbed Margaret Clark books, about fifteen copies of Bridge to Wiseman's Cove, advance reader copies of late-90s Australian YA, there's Margo Lanagan's perfect Touching Earth Lightly.

I haven't lived at "home" since I was seventeen, but that just makes going to visit even better. And it's not just the puppies and the homemade sourdough and the lovely things to read...

*at my house we only buy special sourdough (like Irrewarra or Phillippa's or Zeally Bay) on the weekends, for a treat.
**not Australian. but still the best.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

my family and other animals

I'm not sure how I came to be a grown-up before reading this book. Many, many people have told me about it, how it's their favourite book and how much I would love it. And love it I did!

It opens with a 'Speech for the defence', which is part disclaimer, part explanation, of how Gerald Durrell (aged ten) and his family came to move from England to Corfu. He dedicates the book to his mother: 'As my brother Larry points out, we can be proud of the way we have brought her up; she is a credit to us.'

It's a madcap story, hijink-filled, and so engagingly, laugh-out-loudingly written by Gerald twenty years later. The descriptions of Corfu, and their life there are detailed, original and so very funny when they need to be.
We ate breakfast out in the garden, under the small tangerine-trees. The sky was fresh and shining, not yet the fierce blue of noon, but a clear milky opal. The flowers were half-asleep, roses dew-crumpled, marigolds still tightly shut. Breakfast was, on the whole, a leisurely and silent meal, for no member of the family was very talkative at that hour. By the end of the meal the influence of coffee, toast, and eggs made itself felt, and we started to revive, to tell each other what we intended to do, why we had intended to do it, and then argue earnestly as to whether each had made a wise decision.

Gerry's best friend is his dog, Roger - obviously something quite dear to my heart - and their master and faithful pet relationship is delightful.
In those early days of exploration Roger was my constant companion. Together we ventured farther and farther afield, discovering quiet, remote olive groves which had to be investigated and remembered, working our way through a maze of blackbird haunted myrtles, venturing into narrow valleys where the cypress-trees cast a cloak of mysterious, inky shadow. He was the perfect companion for an adventure, affectionate without exuberance, brave without being belligerent, intelligent and full of good-humoured tolerance for my eccentricities. If I slipped when climbing a dewy shiny bank - Roger appeared suddenly, gave a snort that sounded like suppressed laughter, a quick look over, a rapid lick of commiseration, shook himself, sneezed and gave me a lop-sided grin. If I found something that interested me - an ant's nest, a caterpillar on a leaf, a spider wrapping up a fly in swaddling clothes of silk – Roger sat down and waited until I had finished examining it. If he thought I was taking too long, he shifted nearer, gave a gentle whiny yawn, and then sighed deeply and started to wag his tail. If the matter was of no great importance, we would move on, but if it was something absorbing that had to be pored over, I had only to frown at Roger and he would realize it was going to be a long job. His ears would droop, his tail slow down and stop, and he would slouch off to the nearest bush, fling himself down in the shade, giving me a martyred look as he did so.

The animals, the people. It's wonderful and hilarious. Mother's voluminous bathing costume, Larry's friends who come and go, the bats, turtles, dogs, snakes, lizards, mantids. Gerry's boat, The Bootle-Bumtrinket ('it was not only an unusual name, but an aristocratically hyphenated one as well') and the general anarchy of their house, particularly Gerry's birthday party pandemonium.

Most definitely makes me want to move to Greece.

Monday, October 15, 2012

it's bean awhile...

thanks to girltakesphoto, i've been inspired by the cappuccino sandwich tumblr:

reading the first ampersand project novel

writing in my lunchbreak

things are hurtling along these days. i'm reading a lot*.


the convent, maureen mccarthy (loved it)
a corner of white, jaclyn moriarty (spectacular)
friday brown, vikki wakefield (tense-making)
death comes to pemberley, pd james (undecided)

and there's much watching of community. plus coffee...

*writing a lot less

Thursday, September 27, 2012

the gentler side of mankind's death wish

To be honest, there's a whiff of arrogant yet self-deprecating affectation about Father John Misty. His lyrics are clever, fun and sometimes moving, though I'm not sure how to interpret his attitude to women.

But he has got one hell of a voice. He is also an absolutely charismatic, beguiling performer (with top dance moves) and his album is compulsively listenable. I particularly enjoy this song for its wry little message.

Now I'm Learning to Love the War, Father John Misty

Try not to think so much about
The truly staggering amount
of oil
that it takes to make a record
All the shipping,
the vinyl,
the cellophane lining
The high gloss
The tape and
the gear

Try not to become too consumed
With what's a criminal volume
of oil
that it takes to paint a portrait

The acrylic,
the varnish
Aluminum tubes filled with latex
The solvents and dye

Let's just call this what it is:
The gentler side of mankind's death wish
When it's my time to go
I'm going to leave behind things that won't decompose

Try not to dwell so much upon
How it won't be so very long
from now
that they laugh at us for selling
A bunch of 15-year-olds
made from dinosaur bones
singing "oh yeah"
Right up to the end

I'll just call this what it is:
My vanity gone wild with my crisis
One day this all will repeat
I sure hope they make something useful out of me

A superior sound quality version is found on his album Fear Fun.

Father John Misty lives here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

ffor the love of fforde

I would that you'd excuse me my absence. I'm on something of a reading binge. A re-reading binge. A Ffordian, Thursday Nextish re-reading binge. I began with the latest release, The Woman Who Died A Lot, and then had trouble recalling the rest of the series (I suspect a mindworm) and the rest is the last week of my reading history.

First Among Sequels not pictured, and One of our Thursdays is Missing is missing, but you can read a review here.

This series is just delightfful. And so clever. The idea is that Thursday Next is a Literary Detective with SpecOps. They police things like counterfeit Shakespeare plays, bootleg copies of Dickens and stolen manuscripts. But it's when Thursday realises that she has the ability to actually enter books and interact with the characters within that it really gets interesting. The world Fforde has built is bonkers: it's an alternative world where the Crimean War is still ongoing, Wales is a socialist republic, people travel by airship or these ace Gravitubes (UK to Australia in about 45 minutes or so), cheese is a rare commodity - sometimes smuggled illegally across borders - and, best of all, people prize books and literature above most things.

Wouldn't you love a tv series based on these books? I know I would. Kind of Doctor Who meets Lost in Austen with a dash of Life on Mars via your local bookshop.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

shelfspy #1

The girl formerly known as The Intern - the real actual Hilary - posted a picture of her bookshelf today. She stopped herself from editing the shelf for her audience, showed it in its real state. It's a funny thing to be intrigued by, in some ways, but it's really fascinating to have a peek at someone's books, how they're arranged, which books look familiar, which ones don't. She said she would like to see other people's bookshelves...

So here, my little nosey parkers, are mine. I photographed them exactly as they were when I got home this evening, I swear. There are many embarrassing books in here, as well as some ace ones. I haven't read them all.

let the wild rumpus start!

once i won trophies for being good at sport. har har.

includes a 'to do' list. and a 'saving-up-for-paris' tin.

the shelves a 21st present from the grandwrinklies,
made from floorboards of a gold rush era pub.

Compared to Hilary's spartan shelves I feel like a mad crazy subject from the tv show Hoarders. I've been living in my current house for five and a half years, which is the longest I've lived anywhere since I left my childhood home in 2001. For five of those years I worked in a bookshop. This is my excuse.

Also, I am something of a hoarder...

Show us your shelves!

Monday, August 20, 2012

c'est le temps de l'amour, le temps des copains et de l'aventure

Wes Anderson's latest film Moonrise Kingdom is just adorable. I've talked before about how the Tenenbaums remind me of Salinger's Glass family and I also think there's something Mitfordish about his films and the families within. There'll be them that just don't like Wes, and that's fine by me, but his films really tickle my fancy.*

Moonrise Kingdom is about Sam and Suzy, a pair of twelve year olds who are in love and run away - Sam from scout camp, Suzy from her home - to be together. It's set in the 1960s, has a brilliant soundtrack and all the trademarks of a Wes film: the obligatory slow motion shot, long tracking shot that shows a bunch of different rooms, Bill Murray, wonderful colours and costumes.

It felt like a really wonderful middle grade novel. The kind that makes your heart swell and pushes your nostalgia buttons, one that's about innocence and creeping towards the end of childhood. The kind of book that would win the Newbery Medal. For in these books it is always the time of love, the time of friends and of adventure!

In the film, Suzy lives in a most spectacular house called Summer's End, which reminded me of a book I read recently...

In Monica Dickens' The House at World's End, Tom, Carrie, Em and Michael have to stay with their rather unwelcoming uncle and aunt, because their mother is in hospital after a beam from their house (as it burned down in the middle of one night) fell on her and broke her back, and their father is sailing round the world in a boat he made himself. However, they soon con their uncle into allowing them to strike out on their own in a tumbledown house in the countryside (at World's End), a house that becomes the most wonderful lawless refuge for the children - and a menagerie of stray animals.

Michael, who was the youngest, came in like a bishop in a long towel bathrobe meant for a man. They had lost everything when their house caught fire, and although their aunt and uncle had bought clothes for them, Valentina's patience had run out before she finished outfitting Michael.
  'Excuse me.' He stirred the dog Charlie with a towelled toe. 'She says you must go down to the cellar.' Charlie thumped his tail without opening his eyes. He was a part poodle, part golden retriever, part hearthrug, who liked people better than dogs. 'It is your duty,' Michael told him. That was one of Valentina's favourite sayings.
  'It's worst for him,' Carrie said. 'She kicks him under the table.'
  'I kick her back,' said Michael. 'That my duty.'
  'When we're at school,' Carrie said. 'I think She ties him up, and the cats laugh at him.'
  'I don't blame them.' Em always sided with the cats. 'They think he bit through that old electric wire and burned down our house.'
  'After the fire...' Carrie said, looking through the wall at nothing. 'Do you remember? There was just the spine of the chimney and bits of burned framework, like ribs, and our rubbish heap. I did a picture at school of the black broken ribs and the tin cans. Miss Peake called it morbid. I called it "After the Fire".

The slightly anarchic family dynamics, the rueful independence, the gloriousness of these childrens' lives - I love it. The same way I love Glenda Millard's perfect and quietly heartwrenching Kingdom of Silk books, Hilary McKay's mad Cassel family (see Michelle Cooper's recent post). Or the Conroy sisters from McKay's The Exiles (I LOVE!), who just love books, but when they're forced to spend a summer at Big Grandma's house they discover the joys of gardening, badger spotting and fishing in a bucket:
All by herself Phoebe had acquired a new hobby. It was her own invention, nobody had helped her, nobody but Phoebe would even have thought of it. You filled a bucket with water, tied a bit of string on the end of a stick, held the stick over the water, and there you were. Fishing in a bucket...The fisher in a bucket can take liberties that conventional fishermen can only dream of. He can stir the water vigorously with his rod and produce no ill effects. He can carry the water to any more convenient site...It is a good hobby, and cheap, and if more people did it more often...

(I've been on a bit of a middle grade kick of late.)

Watch the Moonrise Kingdom trailer:

*The evil sister and I have been trying to list them in order of our favourites, and we have boiled it down to The Darjeeling Limited right up the top, as well as The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, then Fantastic Mr Fox and The Life Aquatic a little bit below. My sister didn't love Moonrise Kingdom, and she felt that because the film revolved around children that she wasn't able to invest emotionally enough in the story. I think she has an interesting point, though I think she is also wrong.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In defence of YA

You might have listened into the Radio National Books and Arts Daily program a couple of weeks ago when Andrew McDonald, Bec Kavanagh and I were there to champion our Kill Your Darlings YA Championship choices. Such a great chance to promote the championship and, though it was a very terrifying experience, it was great and scary and fun to be on the radio. I was very brave the other day and listened back to some of the program. Michael Cathcart asked us a question that I really wish I had heard properly, and responded better to, on the day. So here goes:

"Young adult fiction is sometimes seen as the poor cousin to adult fiction. Some authors I know get really frustrated when their publishers market them as young adult writers. What's it stand for?"

The idea that a YA novel is somehow inherently less worthy than a novel for adults is a really terrible and annoying belief, and one that has always driven me absolutely bananas. Worse, it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the question does highlight what is unfortunately a quite common misconception about young adult literature and hopefully the Kill Your Darlings championship will go some way to enlightening the wider literary world. Let's call this open for discussion.

What does a young adult book stand for? As I said on the show, a YA book is about the teenage experience. The best YA books strive for - and achieve - a strong and accurate reflection of the experience of young adults. A common trait of a YA novel is a conclusion that gives the reader a sense of hope about the future, or at least a clue about how to best tackle life after childhood, after the teenage years. An adult book does the same thing, it's just that the protagonists are older.

Literary young adult novels are sophisticated, clever, philosophical. Their prose is complex, Carver-esque simple, florid, fast-paced, slow and sexy. Some YA is delightful and trashy. Some of it is awful. YA is not a genre, so all young adults novels aren't equal or comparable. A YA novel - and here I'm speaking generally - maybe doesn’t spend quite as long navel-gazing as some adult novels. Maybe. But the navel-gazing is definitely still there, picking at the fluff and feeling sorry for itself. A YA novel will probably have a strong focus on characterisation, because if you don’t get the character right a teenager is going to see right through you. Because a YA reader is discerning and intelligent.

Isn't it a remarkable talent to be able to tap into the unknowable, the complicated, the contradictory mind of a teenager? To understand them, and to create stories about them? And for them? Offer some kind of blueprint for life - without being patronising or didactic? All the best YA books do this, and they do it beautifully. I hate to think people feel frustrated by this label, because
writing for young adults requires something pretty special.

So let's have some celebrations and cake for the amazing YA writers, whose characters might not have yet turned twenty! Here's to more beautifully written YA books! Let's see more reviews of YA books in our newspapers! Let's have three cheers for the vibrant international YA community!

My ideas and theories and perspectives on young adult fiction are not all my own. I've been taught and inspired by a brilliant bunch of YA enthusiasts over the years. If you're reading this and thinking it sounds familiar, you can be pretty sure I've been listening to you, and I think you are the bees knees. You might be a YA specialist like Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, Lili Wilkinson, or Cordelia Rice, who are never afraid to say what they think, and who think some pretty amazing things. You might be John motherfuckin' Green, who has a win of Nerdfighters from all over the world never forgetting to be awesome, and who writes books about kids smarter than I'll ever be. Or my mama bear: YA lover and specialist herself, who gave me the best things to read when I was a teen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

a parisian original

A couple of years ago I read Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre. I enjoyed how he talked about adventure.

I've been scribbling away at a story for the past (long) while that I plan to expand into a novel at some point (not yet) and because it's about nostalgia, connections, memory, relationships and la France I like to read French novels and all stories about these things.

I was searching recently for some Very Important Notes I remembered writing in a little black notebook ... and I can't remember if I found them, but I did come across some hilarious pensées I recorded during my time with JPS and Nausea.

* * *


Been reading JPS's Nausea. Just one dude sitting about in cafes + museums and on trams wondering not just who he is or what he is. I'm getting through it now, not sure if I totally get it though... He seems to be talking about how he exists because he thinks about existing (but I know this from Descartes) But that his hand is the same as a table, that a root is nothing at all, that is is ... a crab? Must read on. He has some lovely phrases but is a bit of a wanker...


I've read more and Anny is trying to explain to Antoine about perfect moments + privileged situations (p210-214) and it is like someone - damn you JPS - has reached into my brain and yanked out my stupid desire for all situations to go a certain way, gone back in time and written it down. How depressing to realise you're not original! Every emotion has already been felt by someone else.

I'm picturing a scene with Eliza and Marc. She explains in great detail this thing she has, trying to make every small moment a MOMENT. After the explanation, Marc asks innocently: "Like in Nausea?" and Eliza rages and stomps about because she's sick of being unoriginal

Err, so two pages later there's Anny (p215) getting annoyed that she's not original. How do I manage to plagiarise something I've never read before?

* * *

So I'm trying to get comfortable with the fact that every story has been told before, and that nothing is original - even though I got very cross at Woody Allen when his lovely* film Midnight in Paris came out.

So I'm pretty chuffed that the frisky francophile folk over at The Rag and Bone Man Press have published the short version of my story, which is called When You Were In Paris and it has love and books in it, as well as some ghosts ... or are they?

*But clearly derivative of my work in some ways...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

the colour of trouble

Gerry Bobsien has a creative and useful daughter who has made her an ace booktrailer for her latest novel The Colour of Trouble.

​Maddy can’t stop making things: art, fashion, and most of all, TROUBLE. A new art project could give her the notoriety she desires, but that’s not all she’s dealing with. Her bestie, Darcy, is acting weird and starts dating a girl he’s never mentioned before. Her mum is living and working hundreds of kilometres away, and a new mystery boy keeps popping up at the most inconvenient times ... Will the fallout from her latest project push away all the people she loves? Does Maddy really want to be this NOTORIOUS?

There's art and theft and being a public nuisance, a stylish grandmother and homemade sweets. A best friend, a new friend, a twin brother and two girl friends ready to help you stir up trouble. There's a yellow skirt, a yellow kitchen, a streak of red, and a new blue to inspire you. Almost makes you think being fifteen might just be okay. (Almost).

This book's for lovers of Simmone Howell's Notes from the Teenage Underground, Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon, Jaclyn Moriarty's books and Brigid Lowry's Guitar Highway Rose.

Visit Gerry's website.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

KYD YA Championship

Kill Your Darlings have asked a whole lot of book-reading, YA-loving, story-defending people to passionately put forward the case for a particular Australian young adult book from the past 30 years. The posts will go up between July 30 and August 17 on their blog.

Then, it's over to everyone else. That's you. Once you've calmly and rationally read all the persuasive posts and weighed the choices and considered it properly and seriously, you can vote for my chosen book to win. How fun!

Actually, you can vote for whichever title you would like, and there will be a top three. You'll also be in the running to win a whole bunch of books from Penguin, Allen & Unwin and Hardie Grant Egmont*.

The book I'm championing is one of these ones. It also appears here ... though perhaps not one of the ones pictured *hint hint*.

But what was really hard is that there are so many amazing, brilliant, canonical, damn-tootin' excellent and fab Australian YA books from the past thirty years (which is almost my whole lifetime) that I wished I could have campaigned heartily for more. But I could only stand behind one, so I've gathered my lackies and we're getting behind my title with - err - croquet mallets (?) in hand.

Visit the Killings blog here.

*Disclaimer, or whatever: I work for HGE. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

so apparently it is july

it's cold where i am,

not actually taken this winter, but in january 2006 at a famous castle in france. this is how cold i feel though

but we built a tent in the lounge room.

this is actually my house. we are real grown ups

it's super hot where the rejectionist is

here are some texts from jane eyre

lala over at the joy of mediocrity saw take this waltz and had the same reaction as me. it was so beautifully filmed, a brilliant soundtrack, great cast ... but just a little over-wrought and seemed to take itself quite seriously. the beautiful michelle williams' character margo was really quite unlikable, the handsome stranger kind of dull. there were elongated silences that were supposed to be Poignant but could have used banter. and early on margo gives a little speech that basically baldly states the entire subtext of her character and this was a moment we could have used a Poignant Silence.

i have sonya hartnett's latest book to read, as well as sarah waters' fingersmith and courtney summers' this is not a test, but i spend most of my time on suri's burn book and when in melbourne.

but last night i saw simone felice and josh ritter play and sing and read at readings carlton. it was very nice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

thinking about writing, and vice versa

I've always been something of a thinker.
From The Paris Review's The Art of Fiction interview series comes this excerpt:

In Zen in the Art of Writing, you wrote that early on in your career you made lists of nouns as a way to generate story ideas: the Jar, the Cistern, the Lake, the Skeleton. Do you still do this? 
Not as much, because I just automatically generate ideas now. But in the old days I knew I had to dredge my subconscious, and the nouns did this. I learned this early on. Three things are in your head: First, everything you have experienced from the day of your birth until right now. Every single second, every single hour, every single day. Then, how you reacted to those events in the minute of their happening, whether they were disastrous or joyful. Those are two things you have in your mind to give you material. Then, separate from the living experiences are all the art experiences you’ve had, the things you’ve learned from other writers, artists, poets, film directors, and composers. So all of this is in your mind as a fabulous mulch and you have to bring it out. How do you do that? I did it by making lists of nouns and then asking, What does each noun mean? You can go and make up your own list right now and it would be different than mine. The night. The crickets. The train whistle. The basement. The attic. The tennis shoes. The fireworks. All these things are very personal. Then, when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer. You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are. 
After you’ve made your list of nouns, where do you go from there? 
I begin to write little pensées about the nouns. It’s prose poetry. It’s evocative. It tries to be metaphorical. Saint-John Perse published several huge volumes of this type of poetry on beautiful paper with lovely type. His books of poetry had titles like Rains, Snows, Winds, Seamarks. I could never afford to buy his books because they must have cost twenty or thirty dollars—and this was about fifty years ago. But he influenced me because I read him in the bookstore and I started to write short, descriptive paragraphs, two hundred words each, and in them I began to examine my nouns. Then I’d bring some characters on to talk about that noun and that place, and all of a sudden I had a story going. I used to do the same thing with photographs that I’d rip out of glossy magazines. I’d take the photographs and I’d write little prose poems about them. Certain pictures evoke in me things from my past. When I look at the paintings of Edward Hopper, it does this. He did those wonderful townscapes of empty cafes, empty theaters at midnight with maybe one person there. The sense of isolation and loneliness is fantastic. I’d look at those landscapes and I’d fill them with my imagination. I still have all those pensées. This was the beginning of bringing out what was me.  

Writing advice is helpful, but the kind of bringing out that this writing exercise encourages is a little frightening. I hadn't quite realised to what extent writing requires the writer to bare their soul. I mean, I knew this, I did ... but my soul? To dredge the innermost workings of my brain? My personal histories? My reactions? Ye gads. But Ray Bradbury is (was) wise and I see, I see how this will work, to "write the way you see things". For when all of the stories have been told, then unpicked and written again, it's our unique experiences, and the slightly skewed way each writer sees things, that makes each story a new one.

I shall penser on it some more.

Monday, June 25, 2012



watsonia, d'affinois, pickled green tomatoes

the calm before large, noisy dinner

silhouetted by the sunset

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Discussing post-war US literature...

On my to-read bedside table pile
First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which had lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world — a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring — this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.
Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else — but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.

It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.

~ The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Carson McCullers (1953)

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) was the very best book we studied in my undergrad literature subject American Liberals and Moderns - and it was in exalted company of Faulkners and Fitzgeralds and Hemingways and Steinbecks - because Carson McCullers writes simply, beautifully and about such curious people: the outsiders, the misfits, the weirdos. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe tells of what happens to Miss Amelia Evans when her hunchbacked cousin comes to town. This short story is enthralling and unnerving, with such an excellent turn of phrase to place the reader right into this Southern, small-town setting. Pitch-perfect dialogue, the way she writes the characters' mannerisms and the almost confessional feel she's given the narrative. She is a wonderful writer.

I found this one at Barwon Booksellers in Queenscliff, along with McCullers' Member of the Wedding and Monica Dickens' The House at World's End. The Messinger Bird by Rosanna Hawkes I got at The Hill of Content (Melbourne), Town Life in Australia (about colonial life in Australia and published in 1883) by Richard Twopeny snatched up at Red Wheelbarrow Books in Brunswick and Louisa May Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl at the Mill Markets, Geelong.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

90s YA classics

Come, gather round, ye young adults of the 1990s! What were the the stories you leafed through during your painful adolescences? These were some of the significant titles of mine:

People Might Hear You (Robin Klein) Frances' aunt and guardian has married a man who belongs to a religious cult and soon Frances is literally locked inside a big house and forced to live - and frightened into living - by their restrictive rules. This is one that's as powerful on my 32nd reading as it was on the first. The powerlessness that she feels, the same feeling that Professer Umbridge evokes in The Order of the Phoenix ... shudder.

Steven Herrick's Love, ghosts and nose hair. Probably the first verse novel I read and still one of my favourites. And its sequel A Place Like This. Guitar Highway Rose, which I've blathered on about in the past. Not to mention After January, by Nick Earls: the best in-between-school-and-the-real-world novel, and which you can read about here and here.

Cried my way through Peeling the Onion, about karate champion Anna and the trauma she goes through following a terrible car accident. Wendy Orr's book is wonderfully written - the descriptions of Anna's pain and the ways she shows how Anna's accident affects the rest of the family, and her friendships. Caused me anguish, but gives us all hope!

And Isobelle Carmody's terrifying The Gathering, which our grade 6 teacher Mrs Chappell read to us and we sneaked in during lunch to read ahead ... and we read ahead to chapter 26 when the terrible, awful, sickening thing happens. The stench of Cheshunt, the frightening Kraken and the group of mysterious misfits that Nathanial meets - it's a story of good and evil, light and dark. It's that brilliant mix of real world and paranormal that grabs you and draws you in, almost against your will.

Before David Levithan and Rachel Cohn paired up to write their dual-narrative books, Gary Crew and Libby Hathorn wrote Dear Venny, Dear Saffron, which tells the story of bogan Vinny and New York City artist Saffy, who begin exchanging letters and we follow their stories over a couple of years and all the amazing highs and devastating lows of their lives.

There were others: Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get A Life (Maureen McCarthy), and Margaret Clark's ridonkulous backlist, Joanne Horniman's Loving Athena, Libby Hathorn's Thunderwith. Letters from the Inside and Tomorrow, When the War Began (all of John Marsden's, actually), Touching Earth Lightly by Margo Lanagan, Phillip Gwynne's Deadly, Unna?, Borrowed Light by Anna Fienberg. I think this is a list to be continued. Watch this space.

When I read books now I try to think of what my teenage self would think. It's harder than it seems. I'm more of a cynic now, and I don't read YA in order to experience things (which i think is one of the greatest strengths of YA). Perhaps there's a sense of nostalgia. How lucky was I to have a bookseller for a Mama Bear?

Memory Lane, The Basics*

*oh Gotye. I'm still "looking over my shoulder" for you to come back to The Basics. *UPDATE* The Basics show at the Empress on 22nd July was the best thing - thank you Wally, for obviously reading this blog and putting the show on for me. Or the Empress's 25th bday, whatever.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ira in my life

When I listen to This American Life podcasts I usually spend most of the hour looking like this:

Beth "cry-baby" March
But it is totally worth it for the surprising, entertaining, shocking, hilarious and and nearly always moving stories that it collects and presents.* Like the episode Neighbourhood Watch, in which an older woman searches for people who might volunteer to be friends with her middle-aged Autistic son, so that when she dies he won't be left all alone. In which we hear about how regular everyday postmen save lives, stop fraud and get to know the people they deliver mail to daily. In which a man takes his baby daughter for a walk around the block for the first time and it's the most terrifying walk he's ever taken - because he's blind.

Also, I have a rather large crush on the nerdy host, Ira Glass. 

Ira "HandsomeInGlasses" Glass
When he came to town earlier this year I discovered I was not alone in my affection. Dagnammit. Many fellow admirers packed out the Athenaeum Theatre**. That time he wandered the stage, controlling music and audio clips from the iPad cradled in his arm and talked about what made a great story, and how great a medium radio is for telling these stories.

But now! Now you can go to the Cinema Nova and you can watch a two-hour long live This American Life show - with bonus visuals! Great animations, a short film, dance, music - the works! A cast of impeccable storytellers, and dishy Ira. It's absolutely brilliant, and includes David Sedaris. Wouldn't it be great to bottle these real life stories and then take them apart to figure out how to recreate it in fiction? Are they so amazing because they're spoken out loud, usually by the people to whom the story actually happened?

The very visual story about the discovery of Vivian Maier's photographs was the highlight for me, I think (oh, it was all so good). Check out her amazing photographs from the 50s and 60s here.

photo by Vivian Maier
Get tickets here. Last shows this weekend.

Visit the This American Life website.

* Totally worth the ugly, chin-wobbling sobfest. I just don't listen on the tram anymore. 
**Threatening via twitter to throw their undies.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

PM's Literary Awards

The Prime Minister's Literary Awards were announced yesterday. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors!
The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards celebrate the contribution of Australian literature to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life. The Awards recognise the importance of literature to our national identity, community and economy.
Particularly in light of this description of the awards, but mostly just personally, I am so sad that Kate Constable's Crow Country is not shortlisted, because it was one of the very best titles released last year and one which perfectly captured the essence of our country and weaved it into a fully enthralling story. It's one of those books that is brilliantly written, thought provoking and engaging for its target audience. It does, however, hover around that line between middle grade fiction and young YA, which may have worked against it. But! Let us now dwell on what isn't, because that will get us nowhere.

Let us celebrate what is! Below are the judges' comments on the five shortlisted titles for the Young Adult category. The judging panel was made up of Judith White, Mary-Ruth Mendel and Bob Sessions:

A Straight Line to my Heart, Bill Condon
Condon writes about teenagers with great empathy. His first-person narrator Tiff is at a crossroads, burning to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist but slow to realise that her greatest story lies in her unconventional family. Skilfully drawn characters, ranging from her adopted grandfather to a gruff reporter colleague, help the reader to become aware that words sometimes conceal more than they reveal.

Alaska, Sue Saliba
Saliba creates a haunting picture of an Australian girl’s struggle with loneliness and uncertainty, set on the edge of the remote Alaskan wilderness. Evocative imagery of forest, snow and wildlife strengthen the fabric of a superbly told story, in which the central character finds a way out of self-absorption and illusion to embrace the complexity of human experience and take responsibility for what she has left behind.

Being Here, Barry Jonsberg
This is a profoundly beautiful story, a memoir of youth retold in old age to a schoolgirl, forging a link between generations. A booklover’s tale, it recalls a girl who escaped from the isolation of country life and family tragedy through both the written page and an unusual friendship with a boy stranger. Jonsberg unravels her memories to give us a compelling affirmation of enduring love.

Pan's Whisper, Sue Lawson
Lawson allows us inside the skin of Pan, a damaged, untrusting foster child in an account that reveals how her own courage, and the caring attention of friends, can unlock the memories that plague her. Told with great sensitivity, Pan’s story shows the hurt that hides behind teenage aggression and how that hurt can be transcended to arrive at a measure of fulfilment.

When We Were Two, Robert Newton
Faultlessly constructed and told with brilliantly understated, tragi-comic dialogue, this is the deeply moving story of two brothers journeying from the bush to the coast on the eve of war. Enhanced by a Chaucerian cast of characters encountered along the way, it tells essentially of a love of family that can survive separation and death itself. This is historical fiction of rare accomplishment.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Rag & Bone Man Press

Come one, come all, to the Official Rag and Bone Man Press Launch!

Immerse yourself in a swanky labyrinth of writers, publishers, spinsters & governesses, and raise a martini to an era of quality prose in the staggeringly glamorous surrounds of The Butterfly Club.

Featuring live readings from Rag and Bone Man Press authors.

Get in your wheelbarrows and barrow on down. We'll see you there!
 TONIGHT! Friday 25 May at 7.30pm

Who are these larrikins, you ask?

Lovers of writing exciting and fresh, welcome to The Rag and Bone Man Press. We are a specialty publishing house, promoting and editing fiction and non-fiction by undiscovered and up-and-coming writers. Our aim is to track down, gather and publish unique writing on our website and as print-on-demand and e-books.

Rag & Bone encourages creative collaborations, holding Salon meetings where writers come together on a regular basis, to keep the energy and ideas for their writing and projects alive. Rag & Bone enables these writers, and communities whose resources and opportunities are limited, to have their voices heard. If you have any ideas for a project – everything from stories derived from world issues like the environment, human rights, or personal accounts, to YA fiction, short stories, poetry or collections of folk tales – please contact us to discuss.

Rag & Bone was founded by Dan Christie, Keira Dickinson and Hannah Cartmel, all of whom work in publishing and creative enterprises across Melbourne. 

I'm going to read my story about this guy:

Tom Hanks on WhoSay

And there will be more readings and music and cocktails - what else could you ask for on a Friday night?

I'm looking forward to it so much that I don't even care that I have to wander southside to attend.

Writers: Rag & Bone want your stories! Send them in! Send them all in!

Visit their website at:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Moon Over Manifest

The conductor came into the car. "Manifest, next stop."
  The seven-forty-five evening train was going to be right on time. Conductors only gave a few minutes' notice, so I had to hurry. I shoved the compass into a side pocket of the satchel, then made my way to the back of the last car. Being a paying customer this time, with a full-fledged ticket, I didn't have to jump off, and I knew that the preacher would be waiting for me. But as anyone worth his salt knows, it's best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you. I'd worn my overalls just for the occasion. Besides, it wouldn't be dark for another hour, so I'd have time to find my way around.
  At the last car, I waited, listening the way I'd been taught - wait till the clack of the train wheels slows to the rhythm of your heartbeat. The trouble is my heart speeds up when I'm looking at the ground rushing by. Finally I saw a grassy spot and jumped. The ground came quick and hard, but I landed and rolled as the train lumbered on without a thank-you or goodbye.

- Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Abilene Tucker's spending the summer in Manifest while her father, Gideon, works his railroad job. The Preacher Howard, called Shady, has taken her in - as he has taken in many a soul who needs shelter. Shady may live in an old broken-down Baptist church, but he's also an old bootlegger from way back. It isn't long before Abilene is working for the gypsy diviner Miss Sadie and even less time before she uncovers a mystery that goes right back to 1918, a spy, a swindle, a murder and two young boys called Ned and Jinx.

It's Kansas in 1936. I like to think that Abilene is what might have happened if John Steinbeck and Harper Lee made a baby, or rather, Moon Over Manifest is what might have happened if they made a book together. Like the Tillermans, Abilene wonders about where home is and where she belongs. As she listens to Miss Sadie's story about Ned and Jinx, she weaves a thread between the past and present, between the people of Manifest ... while just possibly tying herself into the tale as well.

Moon Over Manifest won the Newbery Medal in 2011

Visit Clare's website

Sunday, May 13, 2012

on writing, for something different

This is John Steinbeck's second tip of his six tips on writing, and one of the things I am coming to terms with this weekend:
Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
So here I go, writing with the view to produce a Very Bad First Draft, just so that the First Draft bloody well gets written. Watch me bash out tired old metaphors and smoosh together cliches and BEHOLD ALL MY ADJECTIVES! Moreover, see how my characters are so boring and their dialogue so stilted? That is just for now.

And of course, when writing, it is important to just keep writing and not spend most of the afternoon reading writing advice.
Or drinking tea and eating chocolate buttons...

Monday, May 7, 2012

a visit to the peninsula*

nespresso machine coffee
not so bad! (not as good as real espresso)
also, puppies:

*bellarine, not mornington