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 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.