Sunday, 25 November 2007

GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING: This Post Almost Becomes Political

Img_2476_2 There are days in the summer, during January and February, when the thermometer sizzles past 43, 44 degrees Celsius, and there's little that can be done except wilt and wait. These are days to shut the windows and blinds, to prevent as much heat from breaking into the house as possible, to attempt anchoring shade cloth around the garden or watch hopelessly as tree fruit and vine fruit is scorched to useless. These are days when the clamour of the fire siren makes everyone draw a deep breath and peer towards the horizon for that tell-tale belt of smoke.

Whether at work or home, there's little that can be done except dream about paddling along the beach and splashing through the surf, and maybe swimming or snorkelling for an hour or two ... once the northerly has dropped, once the fierceness of the heat no longer prickles your skin and makes you feel you might spontaneously combust if you stay out too long. There's little that can be done except sit still and drink iced water and wait.

We wait for the doctor. We wait for the change. And we learn to listen for it, to know when it's arrived.

Some people call it 'the doctor', some people call it 'the change', but we're lucky here, along our stretch of coast, that we can almost rely on this most delicious respite at the end of such days. Invariably, with late afternoon or early evening, the hot desert winds from the north will abruptly pause, turn and meekly surrender to a fresher, cooling breeze that skips across the Southern Ocean from the south-west. And people start calling out: "The change has arrived," or "The doctor's here," and strangers smile at one another again. It's time to open the blinds and the windows, to grab a chair and sit outside with a cold beer or white wine (or vodka and ice with a twist of lemon), and chat and breathe again. Later, couples and families might be seen wandering along the beach in the dark, splashing through the surf, playing ...

I am not a party-political creature, but this is the way I felt last night when the federal election result was announced.
A federal election affects the national psyche, creates a state of tension, anticipation, anxiety. But the change has arrived---it's over---and everyone can get on with their lives again. Phew! Relief!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Following the Pied Piper

Although these posts pop up at casual, weekly intervals, there's a been a fair bit happening in Blogdom recently. It might seem quiet and relaxed here, but it ain't quiet out there. Busy, busy, busy. And that's not a whinge, because it's all good stuff. Good, busy stuff. The net is working overtime at networking.

Following the Grand Opening of my website (see last post), I was delighted by the number of links made to it and sing THANKS to everyone who created a connection. I must say a particular "Thank you" to Mike French, who very generously not only posted a comment about it on Go! Smell the flowers, which attracts a phenomenal 15,000 hits a month, but also (having received a good deal of recognition and a number of awards for his own blog The View From Here) gave this PaperBooks blog a Be The Blog award. Thank you, merci beaucoup, gracias & diolch yn fawr.

None of this, however, leads me into what I'd originally intended posting about this week. But, in acknowledging that, I'm lead (through an interesting obversion) into what I'd intended posting about this week: The Pied Piper of Hamelin and Black Juice.

The Pied Piper
was one of my favourite stories when I was a kid, and I recall having 'rewritten' it on a couple of occasions (in what might have been a juvenile recognition that there are few new stories, only new ways of telling old ones). The notion of someone playing a music so powerful that every living thing might follow, coupled with the idea of good triumphing over bad, were concepts I found appealing. Along with the touch of magic, and innocence masking wisdom, arrogance masking greed ... all that and more. In some versions the piper returned the children to Hamelin once he'd received payment for ridding the town of its rats, and in some versions he didn't: his revenge was absolute. These are the ingredients of folk tales and sometimes appear in stories I enjoy reading as an adult.

This perhaps is the reason I enjoy Margo Lanagan's short stories. I posted a comment a few weeks back about her Red Spikes anthology, and have followed Black_juice_and_pied_piper_rats this up by reading the superbly titled Black Juice. This time, though, I thought I should try and articulate a little more fully what it is about her writing that appeals. (Maybe, through recognising what we like in someone else's writing, it's possible to begin recognising what shapes our own writing.)

For sure, there are elements in some of her stories that might ordinarily turn me off, and it's probably because of this that I'm keen to identify what it is that makes me carry on reading. They can, at times, appear abstract to the point of making me feel obtuse, but, in part, it's the slightly disjointed feel that she creates when she positions the cosily familiar into these abstract scenarios that engenders their enchanting dream-like or nightmarish quality. Thus, in Singing My Sister Down, we have many of the trappings of a family picnic and a holiday outing set within the macabre situation of the narrator's sister being gently sung to her death as she sinks into a tar-pit---the punishment she meekly accepts for a crime she's committed. Because I often think visually, Lanagan's stories put me in mind of Chagall's paintings (where lovers are depicted floating through the air and houses may have eyes), or those of Hieronymus Bosch.

One of the interesting elements in both anthologies of stories is the sense that the reader's expectations are being challenged in every respect, from use of language to conventions of genre. Whilst it's easy to pull out labels like 'fantasy' or 'speculative fiction', this would be unwise with many of these pieces, for the author seems to delight in leading you towards one place and then letting you discover you're somewhere else, less comfortable, altogether ... like being in the middle of a tar-pit. And I love that about her work. However, like the best poetry, it's the way she uses and plays with language that really hooks my attention and leads me along. The thread which holds all these stories together and unfies them in their respective anthologies is the delight that Margo Lanagan obviously takes in naming things: objects, emotions, places, people, experiences. We discover accordions known as the House of the Three and the House of the Many, monsters by the name of yowlinins, an elephant called Booroondoonhooroboom. And even here, her etymology straddles the familiar and the unexpected, so we're left, as readers, feeling haunted at times by some of her word choices, sometimes guessing what the words suggest, but definitely taking notice of the music of the sounds and definitely being lead on by the tune of each story. Like good poetry, this writing makes me feel that, whilst I might not always be absolutely sure where I've ended up, the journey is always interesting.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

GRAND OPENING: www.paulburman.net


"So there I was, having scrambled over a couple of razor-capped fences to get into the ftp site, standing next to cgi bin (whatever that is) with a folder of html under my arm and my pockets spilling jpeg and gif images all over the place, when I felt this megabyte hit into my software ..."

Didn't think it was going to happen. It very nearly didn't. But it has.
The website is finished and uploaded: http://www.paulburman.net/

Talk about blood, sweat and tears, it took more than a megabyte of sanity, that's for sure. But it's there.