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.