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Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


Put this picture together a couple of years back in an attempt to visually capture the Christmas card Tom Passmore receives from Kate Hainley in The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore (pages 224 and 263) - the card that sends him helter-skeltering on his quest to find her again.  It didn't turn out exactly as I imagined the original, but it was a fun exercise trying to illustrate something that had only previously existed visually in the world of the imagination - especially for someone who isn't an illustrator.

Anyway, thought I'd drag it out one last time to wish all readers of this blog a very merry Christmas and a happy 2011.  Have a safe, healthy and happy one!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Listening to The National - High Violet

Been listening a lot to The National and their High Violet album recently.  Was given this album as a b'day present and am soundly hooked (excuse the pun).  Very gravelly and mellow - laid back.  Particularly like track six: Bloodbuzz Ohio.  Give 'em a listen and get hooked yourself maybe.

Legendary Authors As They Were!

Legend Press/PaperBooks put out a call recently for their authors to send in old photos showing how we used to look.  They say it's for a competition, but I reckon it's just to give everyone a good laugh!  And why not?  I'm not proud...  Anyway, sent them a couple, which make me look like a stoner from the 70s and one in which I appear to have graduated to the role of drug baron.  If you think it'll really help to have a laugh at my expense, then go on: click over to have a butchers, while I go and hang my head in a dark corner.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Gobsmacked!

Gobsmacked to see The Grease Monkey's Tale selling so well in Britain as a Christmas gift at the moment, with it rising one million places on the Amazon.co.uk ranking across the last week*.

Also, fun to see my friends at The View From Here writing a spoof review of Grease Monkey from Charles Dickens' point of view ... here.

*That's not a million units, by the way; it just means that a delicious number of books have been sold across a few days!

Recent reads: The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys and The Lady with the Little Dog by Anton Chekhov


Much of my reading time at this end of the year is spent reading or re-reading texts that I'll be discussing with students the following year.  It's a process I enjoy, as I get a (limited) choice from an always-interesting list and sometimes it's a matter or discovering new books and new authors, and sometimes it's a matter of revisiting old favourites.  It forces me into reading texts I might otherwise not get round to. 

The Death of Napoleon by Simon Leys (aka Pierre Ryckmans) is one of my favourite novellas.  At 105 pages long (for those who like short texts), it's a wonderful What if story.  Emperor Napoleon escapes St Helena undetected (thanks to a double) and, in the guise of a boat-hand, returns to claim his authority.  Unfortunately, things go awry and the secret network that has organised his escape collapses, leaving him alone and unknown.  After tagging along with a group of English tourists who are visiting the site of Waterloo (and other adventures), he finds himself in Paris living with Widow Truchaut, and utilising his considerable campaign skills to... sell melons

All goes well until... well, you'll have to read the book for yourself.  It's certainly worth it.

I'm a fan of Chekhov's plays (The Cherry Orchard, The Three Sisters, etc) and Raymond Carver's short stories (who has been likened to an American 20th century Chekhov) and so thought this collection of short stories, The Lady with a Little Dog and other Stories, 1896-1904, would be illuminating.  These were written and published in the last 8 years of Chekhov's life and I found myself drawn more towards the final stories than the earlier ones - the stories which more powerfully reflected the concerns evident in his plays: primarily, characters seeking affirmation in a period of great social change and often finding themselves thwarted in this.  Some of the earlier stories from this collection were, I felt, rambling and stodgy - lacked the sharpness evident in his last works - but I'll have to read them another couple of times yet and may well find elements that I missed first time round.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Gary Davison reviews The Grease Monkey's Tale


Friend and fellow PaperBooks' author Gary Davison (Fat Tuesday, Streakers) has just posted a fine review of The Grease Monkey's Tale and, as Gary notes himself, it's sweet-timing for the Christmas stocking-fillers.

Now there's a gift idea.    Cheers, Gary.

Visit Gary's website and the review here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

James Laidler, The View From Here and the Ascent of Mike French


As promised - although I'm a bit tardy on this (sorry) because it's been a darned busy couple of weeks - am announcing that my interview with James Laidler about his recently published verse novel The Taste of Apple has been published in this month's edition of The View From Here.  In it, James offers some wonderful insights and excellent advice about writing.

James' website can be found at www.jameslaidler.net and I recommend dropping by.

You can order a print edition of the magazine online or, for the princely sum of U$1.00 (GBP 0.69 pence!), download a digital version.  Go here for that biz.

I'm also delighted to announce that my good friend Mike French, senior editor at The View From Here, has just been signed up by Cauliay Publishing, who will be publishing his novel The Ascent of Isaac Steward in 2011.


Mike has launched a new website (www.mikefrenchuk.com) where, amongst other things, he'll be blogging about his novel (and its journey towards publication), so please click on the link and definitely pay him a visit.

Monday, 13 December 2010

On WikiLeaks

Too many politocrats believe everyone should be accountable except themselves.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Mixing it up and breaking it down - the music

Here's the guest blog I recently posted over at Gary Davison's blog:

As Gary mentioned recently, we've decided to mix up our blogs again and write about our favourite music across the last four decades - or, at least, the songs that have had an impact on us. Easier said than done. As soon as I tried, I realised we'd set ourselves a ridiculously hard task. I love music - all kinds of music - from rock to blues to classical to world roots to... so how could I possibly identify four songs out of the hundreds or thousands that I've raved about and danced to? Impossible. If we'd allowed ourselves 100 tracks per decade then I might've stood a slim chance, but then this post would have had to scroll several metres off your screen, off your desk and across the floor. Anyway, I've had a go, albeit one that focuses on the mainstream for the sake of simplicity. And I've started with the Noughties, because the Seventies - that golden era when music was changing at a phenomenal pace - is too hard a place to begin.

The Noughties: Xavier Rudd, Jack Johnson, Regina Spektor, Charlie Parr, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Emilie Simon, Cat Power... Ye gods, this isn't easy. But the big name - the single musician who has had the biggest impact - well, I'll have to settle for Ben Harper. And as for a single track - well, that's as hard again. I don't think this is the very best of Ben Harper, but it's dynamite for its broad appeal and almost an anthem: Burn One Down.

As for the Nineties, I'll try not think too hard about it and dive straight into Radiohead and, from OK Computer, Exit Music (For a Film). How's that?

Same for the Eighties. This one got banned by the BBC, which is always a good recommendation, and it still makes me want to turn the volume up full bore and start dancing: Frankie Goes to Hollywood playing Relax.

But as for the Seventies. Well, almost every song I listen to from that period is a nostalgia trap and I'm not quite sure how to get past that: 10CC's I'm Not in Love or Life is a Minestrone, The Cream, Yes, Kraftwerk, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground, Joan Armatrading and on and on and on. It might be easier to cheat and give a nod to Whispering Bob Harris (and The Old Grey Whistle Test) or John Peel as 'channellers' of great music. However, no cheating here, and so I'm going to plump for the band and the track that has had such an impact on me I featured the song in my second novel, The Grease Monkey's Tale: Bob Marley & The Wailers performing No Woman, No Cry on the Live! album. Definitely one of my favourites of all time. And to think that I passed up the opportunity to see this band playing in my home town when I was 17 because I hadn't heard of them at the time. A week later I was kicking myself, and have been loving this album - this track - ever since. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Arrived back from a trip to Melbourne and a conference I like to attend whenever I can (although driving for a couple of hours last night through torrential rain and flash floods, I might add, so maybe we're getting the left-overs from NSW's State of Emergency floods).


Anyway, highlights of this year's VATE conference included Lili Wilkinson and Mike Shuttleworth from the Centre for Youth Literature talking about Young Adult fiction.  Given that I spend most of my time immersed in adult fiction, but would like to get back to YA at some point, it was illuminating to hear them talk about some of the genres that YA has slipped into: Dead Girls, Dystopia, Paranormal/Urban Romance and Sexuality.  Thought I should pass on a plug to a couple of websites associated with their work here: the wonderful insideadog.com.au ("a website for young people about books") and a children's picture book exhibition (hard copy and online).


Other highlights included hearing what Thomas Caldwell (here's his Cinema Autopsy blog if you're interested in film too) had to say about Film and the Age of the Spectacle - isn't it great when someone manages to clearly articulate everything you think you've been thinking about something?! - and, having been a fan of her column in The Age (until she was sacked), listening to Catherine Deveny play with words.  While I thought her claim that she doesn't set out to be thought-provoking or controversial a tad hollow, I enjoyed watching her perform and developing a bit of rhetoric, but was stunned by the defensiveness of a couple of audience members and the apparent refusal to actually hear or understand what she was saying.  (Seeing that I'm plugging everything I enjoyed, here's her website.)

And as for Ramona Koval (presenter of The Book Show on ABC Radio National) who gave the keynote address on The Literary Interview - what an engaging and intelligent personality.  I could have sat and listened to her for another hour at least.  I'm still trying to work out how it is that someone who was brought up through the medium of broken English can become so incredibly articulate (her parents were multilingual but, as migrants, they chose to use the language of their adopted country at home) - and wonder if this approach should be adopted by more parents!  Hmm.  (Here's the ABC's profile on Ramona.)

Monday, 6 December 2010

the poetry of e.e. cummings


I've been a fan of e.e.cummings' poetry since I was a teenager.  I wasted a lot of paper back then trying to write like him.  Every now and then, I find myself dipping back into the two anthologies I own - selected poems 1923-1958 and 73 poems - and rediscovering a few more gems, or reading old favourites in new ways.  Was up to that biz recently when I was working with Literature students on e.e.cummings' work and, must admit, I like them more than ever.

A couple of years back, just as the Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore was going to print,  I came across Now i lay(with everywhere around) and thought it would've made a great epigraph if the book needed one, although it was too late to include it anyway.


Friday, 3 December 2010

Two Old Petrol Pumps


Noticed a recurring motif in a couple of pieces of my writing of late: the two old petrol pumps which appear in The Grease Monkey's Tale and which have now made an appearance in Number Three. 
When we were driving through Cape Clear recently, SB said: "There's your petrol pumps." 
I've done this journey numerous times without ever consciously noticing them, but they sure had a passing resemblance, so I took photos of them on the way back - for future reference, like.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Guest blog: Mixing it up with Gary Davison, author of Fat Tuesday and Streakers


Right we're at it again, Paul and I, amusing ourselves on our blogs. This time it's music. 70s, 80s, noughties - I wasn't a huge fan of music, but the 90s - that was a rave time for us, so plenty of memories (or not as the case was back then) for that decade.

70s. When this record came out, I was only nine years old and I was idolising the Sex Pistols and Sham 69. Since its release in 1979, I have listened to it and loved it many times and will in the future. Another Brick in the Wall - Pink Floyd.

80s - the time when I left school and generally had a good time of it. Like A Virgin by Madonna was a favourite, as was, You got to fight for Your right to Party - Beastie boys, Buffalo Stance - Nenah Cherry, but my favourite, in 1989, just before it all went crazy, was Pump up the Jam - technotronic.

90s - This was my biggest decade for music and when the rave scene swept the country. Adamski - killer, EMF - unbelievable, 2 Unlimited - Get Ready For This, Everybody's Free - Rozalla, Shades of Rhythm, the Prodigy - fire starter, where do I end? On the best, and the one that had us all cutting a rug and making shapes the most: What Time Is Love - KLF. Fantastic time was had by all, mostly in farmer's fields, but still.

00s - In the noughties, there are a few artists I particularly like, and a few songs that stand out. Eminem - Lose Yourself, was a cracker, Drop it like it's hot - Snoop Dog, but my star of this decade is Lady Gaga. Anyone that goes to graft with a telephone on their head wearing a dress made of meat is sound by me. And I like her music.

Hope you enjoyed that blast from the past as much as I did. Has fifteen years really passed?



Cheers, Gary. You can visit Gary's blog and website here and find his books on Amazon here.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Bill's Birthday


It's William Blake's 253rd birthday today, which I celebrate every year (here's a previous celebratory blog).  Thought I might do this today with a couple of his darker Songs of Experience... and the ghost image.  Great stuff!
The SICK ROSE
O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,


Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.


The GARDEN of LOVE
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I had never seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,

Where I used to play on the green.


And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door:
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore:


And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys & desires.


Thursday, 25 November 2010

Recent reads: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Re-read Oedipus Rex by Sophocles recently.  One of the good things about my "day job" is that I'm obliged to revisit a variety of texts and look at them afresh each time.  This time I was quite taken by the final speech of the play where, after everything poor old Oedipus has been through, the audience is told that none of us can ever really know whether we've been destined to enjoy a happy or a tragic life until the moment we're facing imminent death.  It's a bleak message to end the drama, but certainly carries a punch.

Also took the opportunity to revisit one of my favourite mash-ups of Oedipus Rex, where the story is acted out by fruit and veg.  (I've probably drawn attention to it before, but it's worth it.)  Watch out for that sexy tomato!  And as for those potato peelers...

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Attended launch of The Taste of Apple


I attended the Warrnambool launch of the fabulous The Taste of Apple today.  My daughter got to the Melbourne launch on Wednesday and raved about James Laidler's performance and, sure enough, his delivery of a selection of poems from this verse novel was stunning.  Quite wonderful.  Don Stewart, who collaborated with James on composing and producing the music for the work, also played at the launch with one of his bands - Aniar.  (That's Don on the right.)

I'm putting together an interview with James about his writing which will appear in the print and digital version of The View From Here  before long.  I'll let you know when.

By the by, if you're interested in horror writing, check out the following article by Amanda Atwell at The View From Here.  Amanda interviews the president of the Australian Horror Writers Association.

 James Laidler reciting from The Taste of Apple.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bendigo Art Gallery, white rabbits and A Midsummer Night's Dream

Did the 4 hour journey up to Bendigo recently to catch up with friends and, while there, spent some time at the art gallery.  Bendigo has a wonderful gallery and we always try and spin round it if we can.  Apart from some of the old favourites, it had put together an exhibition called Looking For Faeries - The Victorian Tradition, featuring a wide range of work from Arthur Rackham to Frederick McCubbin and Artur Loreirou, and part of its focus was the darker side of that tradition, which I particularly enjoyed.


I never realised that the white rabbits in Edwin Landseer's Scene from a Midsummer Night's Dream, Titania and Bottom (1848-51) is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll's white rabbit in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


One I particularly enjoyed, for returning a darker note to the over-Disneyised story of Snow White, was John Dickson Batten's Snowdrop and the Seven Little Men (1897).  They look a tad more sinister in Batten's world.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Romance Isn't Dead

It's a good news day when a story like this makes the front page of The Age and also finds a spot in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Australian, The Brisbane Times...

Steve Tucker, a Canberra public servant, has risked being sacked in order to try and find Olivia, who he met briefly at a party.  She was introduced, it seems, by another public servant whose name he doesn't know, and though he was so smitten with Olivia, he lost sight of her before he could find out anymore about her.

Despite Government policy that its employees shouldn't misuse its email network or send inappropriate emails, Steve used the distribution list of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to send his plea to almost 7000 colleagues:

"There is a person who works here at DIAC, who has a housemate by the name of 'Olivia'.  This message is for you.  Briefly, I met Olivia on the Saturday night just passed.  She left a strong and positive impression on me.  Unfortunately, people got in the way after we met and I didn't get to finish our meeting how I wanted to.  This has been bugging me ever since.  If you can kindly let Olivia know that I would like to get in contact with her or alternatively get in touch with myself, I will be very appreciative.  Disclaimer: I understand this is not the most appropriate channel.  It is not my intent to misuse this email address.  I have struggled to write and send this message.  It has taken all of my willpower to do so."
(source: The Age and www.nzherald.co.nz)

What I like about this story are the amazing range of What Ifs that follow.  These are the key ingredients.  Of course, there's an element of Cinderella's Prince Charming here, except Mr Tucker's got an email distribution list instead of a glass slipper - and the story is being told from his perspective - but there's so many other directions it could go.

What if Olivia shouldn't have been at the party - should have been somewhere else - and he's just blown her cover/alibi/excuse?  What if they meet up and it's the beginning of a terrifying, insanely destructive relationship... or the best thing that ever happened to them both?  What if Steve gets sacked and can't afford to feed his goldfish any longer, but meets someone else at the pet shop that he's trying to sell it back to?  Maybe he prefers the pet shop girl to Olivia and realises that this is where Fate was directing him all along?  What if everyone at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship down their pens in support of sacked Steve and begin a Public Service Love-In?  What if his email begins a radical movement that destabilises governments around the world?

Okay, this is getting silly, so I'll stop.

Word on the web, unfortunately, is that Olivia has been found and can't remember Steve... but that might just be a malicious rumour.  Don't let it get in the way of a romance, let alone an interesting story.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Recent reads: In The Winter Dark by Tim Winton


I'm a sucker for Tim Winton's writing.  He has a prose style - a narrative voice - that I thoroughly enjoy.  Recently read one of his older titles that had otherwise passed me by (and I think I've read most of his books): In The Winter Dark.

It was first published in 1988 and he's written more sophisticated novels since, but it still worked very well for me.
People drift to the valley called the Sink out of loneliness, hardship or an affinity with the land. It is an isolated place, with a swamp and an old white bridge and the forest encroaching from all sides. The solitude is tangible. But when a mysterious creature is suddenly on the loose, killing livestock and preying on everyone’s deepest fears, four inhabitants find themselves unexpectedly in one another’s company – with chilling results.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Joan Armatrading: Love and Affection


Music is so bloody evocative.  A certain track or a certain album can take us back to a particular place and a moment in time, years upon years ago.  A song can evoke the light and shadows of the moment, the friends we were with at the time - even the mood of the moment.

I remember hearing Joan Armatrading's song Love and Affection drifting from an open window in Clayhill  - Kingston Poly's Hall of Residence - one sunny day in late 1976, and that moment has stayed with me ever since.  Her self-titled album was, it seemed, being played everywhere at the time, and I bought it some time later, but that's the moment which the music locked onto.

Can't hear her wonderful voice without thinking of that song.  Can't hear that song without revisiting that moment.

Ah.  Inhale the nostalgia!


Joan Armatrading's website.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The View From Here - November edition now out

 
The November print and digital edition of The View From Here is now on sale.  The digital download is available for a whopping US$1.00 or  £0.69 pence and the print copy will be posted to you for US$7.35 (USA and Canada) or £4.99 (UK).  Not bad, eh?

Plenty of goodies inside as always, including a review I wrote of James Laidler's soon-to-be-released verse novel The Taste of Apple.

To order your copy of The View From Here, click here.


Friday, 5 November 2010

European Masters at National Gallery of Victoria


Last time I was in Melbourne - just passing through really - I stopped off at the National Gallery of Victoria to have a squiz at the European Masters exhibition. This was showcasing the collection of 19th and 20th century paintings from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany.  Excellent.

Not sure why, but looking at paintings infects me with an urgency to write, so I almost always come away from exhibitions feeling enervated, inspired, raring to scribble the words down.  Almost as if I've snorted something I shouldn't have and just can't slow the brain down.

Would have loved to see the Kandinsky paintings that the Städel own, but they weren't on show.  However, there was enough to delight.  Wouldn't have minded bringing home Courbet's Village Road in Winter (the colours are lost in this photo), or several others, but I think it might have been missed.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Joke

It's a lame joke, but I enjoyed this when it was sent to me last week:
A man is stopped by the police at midnight and asked where he’s going.
“I’m on the way to listen to a lecture about the effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the human body.”
 The policeman asks, “Really? And who’s going to give a lecture at this time of night?”
“My wife,” comes the reply.
Cheers!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Snowing and Greening in Santa Marta (along with Grease Monkey's Tale)


Recently heard that a copy each of The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore and The Grease Monkey's Tale have found their way to Santa Marta in Colombia.

Friends from Port Fairy are travelling around South America at the moment.  They took copies with them to read and to drop off en route.  Can imagine them lazing in a hammock, reading, with the soft crash of the Caribbean a short stretch away.  Very pleasant.

The books have probably been picked up by someone else now, ready to be left somewhere else - in Bolivia or Argentina or somewhere.  That's an interesting thought.

Found plenty of decent pictures of Santa Marta, but this one stood out -  a plane having a drink of water.  (No one was seriously injured.)


Saturday, 30 October 2010

Led Zeppelin IV - Black Dog... the perfect cure

Relearned a lesson from my past recently: loud, head-banging music is a great cure for frustration (particularly when a bank introduces new fees for services never rendered).

Directions: Take one Led Zeppelin album (or similar), crank up the volume and sing and dance like crazy.  Repeat as required.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Recent reads: the odd dud


Every now and then, you come across a real dud of a book.  Even when I know I'm not going to follow a book like that through to its bitter end, I like to stick with it for a while so  I know what it is that doesn't work for me. This one (and no, I won't name it, because that's not important) was one of those books that had been heavily promoted because it won a BIG literary prize - heaps of publicity, glowing words, big cheque... you know the deal.  Suffice to say, almost every writers' dream.

SB splashed out thirty-odd bucks on this book, but couldn't stand it, so flicked it over to me.  I thought it looked okay, but after a few pages was ready to dump it too.  Stayed with it to try and find out what the judges saw in it and why I didn't like it - to try and avoid ever doing the same thing.  It came down to style, I think.  It was so over-stylised (like a badly-written eighties cop show, from SB's and my point of view) that it was painful to read and the characters seemed stillborn.  I just couldn't give a stuff about them. As for the story... well, it hadn't engaged me by page 79 so I gave it the flick too.

Win some, lose some.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Reviewing The Taste of Apple by James Laidler


I've recently been working on a review of a verse novel, The Taste of Apple by James Laidler.  Published by Interactive Press, it comes as a written text, with a soundtrack, or as an ebook with enhanced multimedia, and will be released on 15th November 2010.  The review should be appearing in the print and digital edition of The View From Here before very long.  Will let you know when it's available.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Recent reads: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson


Although I'm not one to jump at buying door-stop bestsellers just because they're bestsellers, I couldn't resist buying this when I was on my hols in Tasmania.  I'd heard nothing but very good things about Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy and, besides, was really drawn by book one's title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The shop assistant in Hobart's Angus & Robertson raved about it too and promised me that I'd quickly get caught up in the lives of some very interesting characters and that I wouldn't be disappointed.  Prophetic words, because I did and I haven't been.  It's a fast-paced book and a lovely read, and I was glad of the lazy holidays so that I could spend more hours hooked into it than might otherwise have been possible.

Also like the fact - I read somewhere - that because it's considered hard by marketing departments (!) to sell books if the author has a foreign-sounding name (!!), Quercus decided to get word-of-mouth recommendations happening by handing out a phenomenal number of freebies.  It's an approach that seems to have worked.  Over 26 million copies have been sold around the world.


Only heard good things about the films too, but am going to resist seeing them until I've read books two and three.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Listening to: The Roots of The White Stripes



This album was bought for me a while back  - it was my birthday or something and I quite like The White Stripes.  Even though The White Stripes don't play a single track on the album, it features the songs they've covered and which have helped shape their own music: "The country, folk and blues compendium that inspired them."

My favourite though, by a long chalk, is Son House singing what I guess is a piece of Gospel Blues: John the Revelator.  The only instrument is his voice.  Powerful.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Recent reads: Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut



When asked which is my all-time favourite novel - a tricky question - I often end up pointing to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.  It's a powerful piece of writing which experiments with the novel form and, apart from being very entertaining, highlights the stupidity of war.  I won't rave on too much here, because I probably have in the past and, besides, whatever I say wouldn't do justice to it.


Anyway, having recently re-read it, I thought it was high time I picked up something else by Vonnegut and so plumped for Cat's Cradle.  It's a quick and enjoyable read.  Doesn't knock Slaughterhouse-Five from its lofty position, but certainly shares some of its wonderful quirkiness.  And will bounce me towards reading another Vonnegut.  Any suggestions?


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Time out in Tassie


Took a week's R & R in Tasmania recently.  4 nights in Hobart, the state's capital, and 3 nights in the Freycinet National Park, overlooking Oyster Bay and Moulting Lagoon.  Time to be lazy: reading, walking, dining, drinking, sleeping. (Loved the restaurant at The Edge of the Bay in particular.)


It was our first time in Tassie and we found it to be a spectacularly beautiful island.  Apparently, it's roughly the same size as West Virginia or Scotland, but only has a population of 500,000 (compared to West Virginia's 1,800,000 and Scotland's 5,168,500).  There's a lot of unspoiled countryside there and beaches that seriously compete with those in my neck of the woods.


However, the road signs suggested that their kangaroos were forces to be reckoned with and I'm glad I didn't go head-to-head with one in our little hire car. In Victoria, our roos will stand at six foot and can do serious damage if a person or a dog is silly enough to corner them, but apparently a Tasmanian roo will not only stop a car in its tracks, but will lift it up too!


The wallabies weren't too scarey though.  While on the Freycinet peninsula, we were visited by a couple. (Shortly after taking the above photo, a pod of several dolphins swam across the bay, leaping through the water, so it all got very Disney-esque for a minute or two... but no Bambi.)


And just to prove how friendly the beaches are, the second pic is of yours truly enjoying the aptly named Friendly Beach.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Back in business

The hard drive is dead!  Long live the hard drive!

I've taken a bruising the last couple of weeks in terms of time spent trying to recover files from my backup drive and reinstall them, to say nothing of the dollars spent on a new hard drive and the like, but I think I'm just about there now.  Have lost a few documents, but not too much.  On the scale of things, it's not that important, but it is good to be able to put the time back into the things that matter.

Across the next couple of blogs, I'll try and catch up on some of the more interesting things that have been happening.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Jane Austen does it again!



I love the way language is always changing - morphing, developing, growing.  Sometimes the way it changes turns the meaning of a word or phrase on its head.

Having noted this from Jane Austen's Mansfied Park a few months back:
"If Fanny would be more regular in her exercise, she would not be knocked up so soon."
I was childishly delighted to come across the following from Emma (p.52) recently:
"where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity..."
No further comment needed.  My apologies to Ms Austen.
And, yep, I like toilet humour too.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Magdalena Ball reviews The Grease Monkey's Tale

Magdalena Ball (author of Repulsion Thrust, Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup and other titles) has published a tremendous review of The Grease Monkey's Tale on Blogcritics, The Compulsive Reader, Goodreads and Amazon.com.  Magdalena also hosts a regular spot on BlogTalkRadio and has her own blog, where there's always plenty happening.

Thanks for such an insightful and finely written review, Maggie.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The Grease Monkey's Tale involved with The Reading Agency


I was excited to learn that The Grease Monkey's Tale is one of five Legend Press/PaperBooks titles that will be distributed as part of The Reading Partners initiative.  The Legend Press website describes the initiative:
Legend Press has agreed to give away up to 1,000 copies of five novels to library reading groups signed up by The Reading Agency.

The aim of the campaign is to demonstrate the power of word-of-mouth and highlight the high level of new fiction available in the UK ... The power of word-of-mouth on book sales is undisputable, the growth of reading groups phenomenal, and the value of libraries vital to the creative industries. Therefore, to bring all together into a single campaign is hugely exciting. All in publishing are, or should be aware, of the difficulty of finding room for independently published fiction on the high-street, meaning that books that would have been a huge sales success are missed. This campaign presents a very interesting new route to getting the books to the people that matter the most – the reader.

Sandeep Mahal at The Reading Agency says: “Our aim is always to work collaboratively and flexibly, whilst being committed to creativity and innovation. We’re delighted to be using our connections with libraries to promote Legend Press and to spread the pleasure reading can bring to our lives to more readers.”

The Reading Agency is an independent charity working to inspire more people to read more. It is funded by the Arts Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. (www.readingagency.org.uk)

Friday, 1 October 2010

Jane Turley interviews and reviews


Have been across the Bass Strait in Tasmania recently, but am back now and trying to catch up on all that's been happening.  The process has been hindered somewhat by Trend Micro's Titanium 2011 anti-virus software.  My current subscription was running out and so I purchased the new program... and it immediately killed my PC's hard drive! More effectively than any virus could.  I spent 8 hours unsuccessfully trying to boot up and even Trend Micro's technicians couldn't help.  They blamed Microsoft, but Microsoft weren't interested in  the slightest - and I'm not sure that I blame them because it was working fine before I installed the Trend Micro software.  Anyway, I've politely suggested they might like to keep their program and refund my money, and this preamble is by way of providing a Buyer Beware!

It's not all bad though.  That's a minor hiccough and there's excellent stuff happening too.  What I really want to draw attention to here is the wondeful interview that Jane Turley put together on her blog The Witty Ways of a Wayward Wife.  Jane interviewed me a couple of weeks back and has been kind enough to not only give this a big splash on her blog, but to also write a glowing review of The Grease Monkey's Tale for The View From Here literary zine.  An interview and a review on one day.  That's very generous, Mrs T.  Thanks. 

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Listening to Charlie Parr



I've mentioned Charlie Parr before, with his album 1922.  I do like the way he plays the Blues in particular. Recently I've been listening to Roustabout a fair whack.  His arrangement and performance (with Emily Parr on vocals) of Walk Around My Bedside is haunting - track 3.  Couldn't find an embeddable version of it though, so here's the twelfth track from the album instead: a version of Blind Willie Johnson's God Moves On the Water.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Friday night at the movies

Every now and then, Gary Davison (Fat Tuesday, Streakers, A Tale of Two Halves) and myself write guest posts for one another's blogs.  Three weeks ago we both wrote about films.  Here's what I posted on Gary's site:

Right then, Gary’s challenge this week is for us to identify our favourite film for each decade from the 1970s on.  He’s done a little private baiting, I’ll have you know, reckoning that Jaws would be on my list for the 80s, but I’ve got news for him: I’ve never seen a single one of the Jaws series.  Nup.  I have to confess to the bloody-minded truth that I do everything I can to resist the sort of hype that surrounds films like Jaws and Titanic.  Sometimes I get sucked in and sometimes, when I do, I don’t regret it.  For instance, I was well on the way to boycotting Avatar because the film’s Publicity Department were in hyper-drive, but when I finally succumbed and travelled to Melbourne to see it in 3D, I loved it.  It’s got a classic storyline that works superbly – a new interpretation of a traditional line – and the special effects were just stunning.  Trippy indeed.
 
Had to do the 300k trip to Melbourne because we were without a cinema in these here parts for a year, on account of the place burning down somewhat.  Damn those critics!  It opened up a couple of weeks ago and I trundled along to watch Inception which, again, I thought was fantastic, but it was a pretty safe bet that I’d be a fan of a film that explored layers of reality because I’m a sucker for such renderings in Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Donny Darko, Vanilla Sky, The Truman Show, Run Lola Run, Memento and so forth.  Love those movies.

Anyway, I digress.  Well, let’s just call that an introduction, shall we?

I started doing some serious movie-watching in the 70s, because the cinema was a good place to take a girlfriend when you still lived at home and there weren’t any parties to crash (and you’d got tired of sipping warm beer in the local pubs).  I reckon it was a good decade too with some edgy pieces like Straw Dogs, Apocalypse Now, The Night Porter, etc.  However, while I’ve got fond memories of Woody Allen’s whimsical Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Daren’t Ask (mainly because it told me a fair bit about sex that I daren’t ask), my trophy for the film of the 70s has to go to Last Tango in Paris.  Not just because it told me everything I’d never imagined doing with butter (and never thought to ask) but because the images from the film stayed with me for years afterwards and because when I watched it again, about five years ago, I thought it was still a stunning film.

The 80s are a different matter entirely.  There were some decent films released, but they were swamped by so much Hollywood dross.  To keep the choice simple and the length of this piece shorter than it might otherwise be, I’ll plump for the movie I’ve seen the most from that period and which still works as a wonderful retelling of Stephen King’s story The Body: Stand By Me.

Things improved in the 90s with the likes of American Beauty, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Pulp Fiction and, on the lighter side, Pleasantville, Austin Powers and a film I have been known to watch on a continuous loop: Groundhog Day.  It’s certainly a harder choice, but Fight Club gets it – what a knockout movie.


As for the noughties, choosing gets harder and harder.  Having mentioned that whole raft of alternative reality movies above, I could go for any of them quite comfortably.  Or select from some of the films that have me creased up like Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Black Sheep.  Or something a little Art House like Amelie, Perfume or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  However, I’ll have to bypass all these and more for one of my all-time favourites: the two volumes of Kill Bill.  Quentin Tarentino is a wonderfully innovative storyteller and film-maker and not only does he unashamedly draw on a whole range of old (retro) tricks for this movie but he invents a few new tricks too.


So there you go, four decades in 700 words... and not a monster shark or piranha in sight.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Wilderness Downtown

Here's a link to a fascinating piece of interactive media.  Type in your home address (or any address) and the program downloads a number of Google map images and turns them into a dynamic, multi-window film with a cool soundtrack (We Used to Wait).  Flocks of birds crossing from one screen to another, a wonderful wilderness at the end - very much a greening.


 The film has been made by Chris Milk with help from Google and states a preference for Google Chrome, but worked well for me without it.  It sent up a message or two suggesting it didn't have enough images to make the film, but I selected the TRY ANYWAY option and it ran superbly.  While it will create a number of pop-up windows for the different film displays, these all disappear at the end of the film.  Here's the link to www.thewildernessdowntown.com .

I enjoyed it.  I hope you do too.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Listening to Washington



At the same time as receiving Laura Marling's excellent I Speak Because I Can (see earlier post) I was lucky enough to be given Washington's I Believe You Liar.  Megan Washington is currently based in Melbourne, so has been claimed as a 'local gal', and I'd already enjoyed a couple of tracks I'd bumped into on Triple J radio before I unwrapped this wonderful gift.