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

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Tillermans

Maybe life was like the sea, and all the people were like boats ... Or maybe each boat was a kind of family. Then, what kind of boat would the Tillermans be? A little one, bobbling about, with the mast fallen off? A grubby, worn-down workboat, with Dicey hanging on to the rudder for dear life.
  Everybody who was born was coast on to the sea. Winds would blow them in all directions. Tides would rise and turn, in their own rhythm. And the boats - they just went along as best they could, trying to find a harbour.
Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt, first published in 1981, is one of those quintessential classic American children's books. Or at least one of those thick-paged, yellowing novels from the 1970s and 80s that have the same feel, the same smell, the same dorky, now-dated cover illustrations. The characters and the worlds they inhabit are small, but the stories are so rich. I don't feel like the authors are trying to impress me with how cool the characters are, but the focus is on creating relationships that ring true, that tell stories of sadness without being shocking or depressing, that capture a little bit of a life so fully.

Dicey and her brothers and sister (James, Sammy and Maybeth) are abandoned by their mother and find themselves alone in a car park in a strange city. When she doesn't come back Dicey decides they will walk to Bridgeport, where they had been headed before their mother left them, to go and stay with a relative there. Within a few pages you know these children so well and your heart fairly breaks for them as they hope to find their Momma waiting for them in Bridgeport.

There's a lot of walking involved, a lot of trudging, lots of stale donuts eaten and every penny they can get their hands on can go five ways. As the children walk, they talk about their Momma - who clearly became a very sad woman unable to care for her family - they sing together and they form an unbreakable unit. When Bridgeport doesn't turn out the way they expected, the Tillermans head off again, in search of an estranged, eccentric grandmother.

This review made me so sad. Of course we're not all going to like the same stories etc etc, and the books have more supporters than critics on Goodreads so I shouldn't complain, but at least try to tell me what made you stop reading.

Homecoming definitely has a wholesome whiff about it, for sure, but in a way that acknowledges and appreciates the dark side of the world and doesn't dismiss it or run away from it. All the children (and most of the grown-ups) learn about right and wrong, about what's important in life - and learn that all these things are difficult and changeable and confusing. The people that the Tillermans encounter on their travels, and the kindness (and cruelty) of strangers, the sea motif and the ideas of home and family all make for the best kind of book, in my opinion.

Homecoming's sequel, Dicey's Song, won the Newbery Medal in 1983.

The Tillerman Cycle: Dicey's Song, A Solitary Blue, The Runner, Sons from Afar, Come a Stranger, Seventeen Against the Dealer.