Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

The following piece was written for Legend Press' Advent Calendar, where it appeared a couple of weeks ago.

I remember only one sprinkling of Christmas snow during my 32 years of living in Britain, and grey drizzle washed that out in hours.  However, Christmas has always been a pagan festival for me and so every year, even as an adult, I’d hope for a rejuvenating, wintry blanket of the stuff.  It’s not something I’m likely to see these days, living on the south coast of Australia, and although I might feel ambivalent about dressing a Christmas tree during the heat of summer (frosted baubles, icy tinsel, sprigs of holly and mistletoe), I’ve reconciled myself to Christmas lunches beneath the shade of the grapevine, sipping chilled white wine and eating oysters, instead of carving roast turkey by an open fire.  My Australian Christmas is deliciously hedonistic and pagan, and I’m glad we can improvise rituals and ceremonies to suit our environment.  All the same, I still hanker on occasion for a white Christmas.  There’s something magical about such a prospect, and not just for the child I once was either. 

Many years ago, when I was studying at University of Wales in Cardiff and living in Senghenydd, I stretched out on my settee one Sunday afternoon in January and read two children’s books by Paul Theroux: A Christmas Card and London Snow.  These books drew me in and absorbed me so completely that I wanted to re-read them straightaway.  Both were compelling winter’s tales, evoking nostalgia for the romantic things we associate with Christmas as children, even if we rarely experience them, and it seemed hardly surprising when I looked out the window upon finishing A Christmas Card to see snow falling.  Quite magically.  It made me wish I’d read them on Christmas Eve instead and I promised myself I’d do this next Christmas.

Needless to say I forgot, but two years later, when telling a group of Year 8 students about this, they asked if I’d read them to the class, which I did, and sure enough, that evening it snowed.  They were as delighted as I was, and it proved to them, I hope, the enchantment of good literature. 

I’ve read both books many times since, and while they still evoke everything I like and wish from a northern winter, and they’re everything a good winter’s tale should be, they’re unable to bring the snow to me anymore.  Maybe that’s why I wrote a winter’s tale of my own, for adults, and why Christmas and snow became strong motifs in The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore, so I might try and recreate a similar magic for myself and others too.  I hope so.

Merry Christmas to you and a happy new year.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Legend Press Advent Calendar

UK publisher Legend Press is running its annual Advent Calendar, featuring many of its authors.  Here's a link to the piece I put together for this year's calendar.  I'm the 16th December!

Have a browse of the Legend Press site and follow the advent calendar up to Christmas.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Down and Out in Melbourne... at the NGV: Radiance - Neo-Impressionists

By chance, I happened to be in Melbourne ten days ago, just in time for the opening of one of the NGV's summer exhibitions: Radiance - The Neo-Impressionists.  Although I've never been a big fan of the paintings from this particular movement - they always seemed too studied, illustrative, lacking in vitality (although wonderfully vibrant in the depiction of light) - it was tremendous to be able to see a hundred works gathered together and to be able to examine the different approaches of the various artists (Signac, Seurat, Cross, Pissaro, Morren, Luce, etc) and to observe the way each individual developed their approach.

The port of Saint-Tropez (1893) Maximilien Luce

While I've always known this movement as Pointillism (from the use of the dot), I learnt that Signac regarded this as a derogatory term and preferred Divisionism to describe the scientific technique he applied.  I was also intrigued to learn about the connection between these artists and the anarchists of the period (Kropotkin's ilk): communal living, harmonious relationship with nature and the like.

I also caught a couple of small exhibitions while at the NGV: Confounding - Contemporary Photography and Ballet & Fashion.  Both worth a visit too.

During my trip I finished reading George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.  I'd never read this before, but was glad I did.  I found it particularly interesting to read Orwell writing with a less polished, less confident voice than appears in his later work, and yet to see that confidence begin to develop in the second (London) half of the book, and in some ways I preferred the rawness of it.  I think it might be my favourite Orwell book.

While I'm scribbling, and it being 28th November, let me wish poet, artist, printer, visionary, William Blake, a happy birthday.  If he'd survived his death, he'd be 255 today!  Happy birthday, Bill.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Returning to the 21st century

The telecommunications hub in nearby Warrnambool, which services all the internet, mobile and landline technology in this area of Victoria, was destroyed in a massive fire last Thursday morning.  Consequently, we've been without internet, phones, access to banking and electronic payment facilities in shops for the last few days, and the population at large has gone into cold turkey over the loss of emails, SMS and Facebook.  This may not only explain why I've been quieter than normal on the blog, but why I've been living off road-kill and shoe-leather stew.  It's all back on now... obviously, which means I've got no excuse not to pay bills or communicate any longer.  I'm not sure whether this is for better or worse, a return to enlightenment or a return to mass ignorance, but I'll embrace it whatever.  Hello again, I bet you didn't know you missed me!

You can read the story here.

PS.  Let me amend that: mobile and internet services are now running, landlines are still down.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Recent reads, Kindle and otherwise

Of late, I've been alternating my reading between real, tactile books and ebooks on a Kindle.  Thought this would be the best way to get a clear sense of what I like or prefer about each.

What I like about having books on a Kindle:
  • the digital wizardry of the process and the product - it's a toy I enjoy;
  • I can search for a book, find it and download the thing in the space of 30 seconds - especially good if I've started reading a book that doesn't belong to me and I want to carry on with it, or if I'm after a book in a hurry;
  • I'm no longer cluttering my shelves with books I'm not particularly attached to (but can still buy hard copies of those I really want);
  • they're cheaper than the hard copy, and environmentally sound;
  • so many books can be downloaded for free;
  • I can take as many books as I'll ever manage to read or need to reference when I'm travelling;
  • they're making books fashionable and appealing for a new generation of reader;
  • more people are writing, more authors are getting published, the conservative stranglehold of (many) publishing houses is being challenged;
  • I can attempt(!) to read books in a foreign language and simply press a word for its definition when I don't understand it.

What I don't like about Kindle books:
  • I miss the colour, the texture and the smell of the hard copy, and the tactile experience of holding it and thumbing through the pages, and hearing them snip-snap when I flick at them, and I miss the personal feel of an old favourite that's become dog-eared and faded - that's a big set of things;
  • digital books don't give me the same sense of where I'm up to in a story - I like to be able to gauge the progress of a story by where I'm up to in the thickness of the thing, and having this listed as a percentage doesn't cut the mustard;
  • I also like to know where I'm up to in terms of a page number (surely that could be managed?) instead of what appears to be a randomly spaced Location number;
  • it's irritating when the Kindle jumps a couple of digital pages, or a hundred, and every page has to be digitally turned to get back to the right position;
  • only one person can access the library of books on a particular Kindle at a time;
  • insufficient quality control of editing - the lack of investment in printing a book might mean that it's too easy and temptingly quick for some publishers and self-publishers to publish digitally;
  • I'm less confident about reading in the bath.
What I've read on Kindle recently:
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes - I've wanted to read this for years, so I was pleased I could download it for free on Kindle, but it bored me silly and I had to stop after 24%;
  • The Obituarist by Patrick O'Duffy;
  • The Brush-Off by Shane Maloney;
  • Underground Nest by Kathleen Maher;
  • Street by Tyler Stevens;
  • Medea by Euripedes - just started;
  • Blue Friday by Mike French - just finishing.

What I've read in hard copy recently:
  • The Boat by Nam Le;
  • The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh;
  • The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chödrön;
  • When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön;
  • The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön (- my fourth novel may well have a Zen Bhuddist thread woven through it!);
  • The Lady With the Little Dog and other stories by Anton Chekov - for the 3rd or 4th time;
  • Black Cow by Magdalena Ball;
  • Beginners by Raymond Carver.
While I'll continue to read books in both hard copy and digital format, via a Kindle or similar, my preference for the time-being is firmly with the former.  However, that said, I'll give a resounding three cheers for Kindle, if only because Snowing and Greening seems to be selling superbly in that format.  Cheers to that!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Anna Platten & Lidia Groblicka in Adelaide

A highlight of my recent visit to Adelaide (the first time in over 10 years) was a trip to the Art Gallery of South Australia.  It's a fine gallery and I would have enjoyed browsing its collection whatever, but the exhibitions of two artists that I'd not come across before made it very worthwhile.  I particularly enjoy coming across artists I'm not familiar with, especially when their work creates an immediate impression, and more so when I find myself thinking about their work (and can feel it influencing the way I think about my writing) long after the event.

The first of these artists - primarily a print maker - was Polish-born Lidia Groblicka (1933-2012). These two images probably don't do her work justice, but I loved the way she used lines and the social commentary evident in most of her prints.  Like myself, she emigrated from Britain to Adelaide, so I was interested by those elements of the migrant's story she drew on too.

detail: Plantation in Spring by Lidia Groblicka

Happy Landing by Lidia Groblicka

And I was absolutely gob-smacked by the paintings of Adelaide artist, Anna Platten (b.1957).  Can't quite get over these.  I'm not always taken with photo-realism if there's little more than the polished cleverness of that to admire, but what I loved about almost every one of Platten's paintings (and her charcoal drawings for that matter) was that she'd created an imaginary stage set on which to interpret, mythologise and unify, to some extent, her experiences and ideas about the world, and particularly how she's viewed and understood aspects of herself at different points in her life - at least that's the way I've been interpreting her work.  Not only was there a symbolic narrative to each painting, but there was a narrative thread between many.

Flower - dedicated to Mark Conway Walter by Anna Platten

Woman and Man in Embrace by Anna Platten

Journey - Landmark by Anna Platten

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Premiere of Simon Hoy's new work

It's been a while.  I've absented myself from the blog, taking a holiday in South Australia - Adelaide and Kangaroo Island - and catching up with reading and the final, final edits of Number Three.

This weekend sees visitors flood into my little town, Port Fairy, for its Spring Music Festival.  I rarely remember to get tickets, and missed out on a couple of concerts I'd have liked to see this year, but was delighted to be able to attend the premiere performance of a superb contemporary ballet this afternoon.

Choreographed by Simon Hoy and performed by three members of Melbourne Ballet Company, this piece was set to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, which was played by duo-pianists Igor Machlak and Olga Kharitanova (they warmed up the audience for the ballet by playing Rachmaninov's Russian Song Opus 11 No.2).

I don't want to write a review, would much prefer to let the wonderful images dance around in my head a while longer by themselves, but five words do the job: wild, electric, passionate, sexy and fun.

Watching this performance, it also occurred to me why I can't dance like this: my ceiling fans are too low.

Monday, 24 September 2012

What every chicken should know about Cupertino

I'm not a flash typist.  Reasonably fast, but not efficient.  After 25 years of keyboards and a good few years on a typewriter, I've never progressed beyond two fingers, even if I can usually get by without looking at the keys. As someone unkindly pointed out once, my typing style resembles a starved chicken pecking for food more than anything literary.  But, as I less imaginatively (although quite graphically) pointed out in return, it's amazing what can be communicated with two fingers... and so they did.

Sometimes, one of my fingers overtakes the other, or slips along one position on the keyboard to present a whole new sense (or nonsense) to my writing, and it isn't uncommon for me to sign off my emails with:
instead of:

Sometimes, the nonsense my typing creates seems almost inspired, suggesting another (stronger) meaning to the one I intended, and I've redrafted whole paragraphs accordingly.  This is when I thank the gods for the divine cock-up.

And sometimes, I've wondered what it wopidl bne like to leave all my errotd om [plave, as a post-modern respomse tp writing loiterature... and whether thos mught catch om.  Might this be the new CLOCkwprk Oramge?  Hmm, one day I might gibe it a go, but that's probably enough for the moment.

Occasionally, the issue is compounded by AutoCorrect.  (This only happens when I'm not working on my own machine, though, because it's a program I loathe with a passion and so automatically turn it off.)  On such occasions, any word that Microsoft's limited dictionary doesn't recognise - either because of my chicken-pecking clumsiness or because Autospell has the vocabulary of a poorly-read hermit - automatically becomes another word.

The most memorable example of this maladjustment was in an essay I received from a student several years ago, who was describing Lennie, from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  Either her spelling wasn't crash hot or her typing was at a similar level to mine, because instead of writing that Lennie was a gentle giant, she had written Lennie was a gental giant, which AutoCorrect had changed to Lennie was a genital giant

With AutoCorrect, the spellings of surnames are also changed at the drop of a hat, and Burman becomes Barman (not too bad, except the tips are lousy), whereas my mistyped apul becomes appal.  Steinbeck's colloquial helluva becomes a medical heloma, a misspelled resterant becomes reiterant in preference to restaurant, and so on.

What I didn't know until recently, however, is that there is a word to describe this effect, named after what was a common error.  Early Microsoft AutoCorrect software did not recognise the word cooperation unless it was hyphenated (co-operation) and replaced this spelling with the closest word it knew: Cupertino (the home of Apple Inc.).  Hence, the Cupertino effect.  This apparently resulted in a number of foreign policy documents stressing the importance of international Cupertino, and also serves to illustrate the importance of roof-weeding.

After I've written my post-modernist CLOCkwprk Oramge, I might rewrite a few classics in Cupertino, beginning with Of Mice and Men.

 This article first appeared in The View From Here (August 2011).

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Grease Monkey's Tale - an approach #1

There’s a number of things I keep in mind when writing, but at the forefront of these is an intent to only stick with those stories I get a kick out of working on, and to only write books I’d really like to read myself.  There's a number of other things I could say about the reasons I need to write, how the stories we tell interpret the world we live in, how we connect our present with our past through the stories we tell, and so on, but none of this counts for much if I’m not fully engaged with the characters I’m working with and the stories they’re revealing.
That being said, the stories I write (and like to read) share some common traits.  I enjoy stories where the order of a character’s world is challenged, particularly if the nature of reality is also challenged, and even more so if the significant relationships in that character’s life are tested as a consequence.  There’s nothing new in this, of course, for these elements have been central to storytelling for hundreds of years – it’s just the way the stories are told that changes.  Our stories are filled with dupes and rogues, villains and heroes, victors and victims; usually against a tale of forbidden love or treacherous love, unrequited love or happy-ever-after-love – elements which bring out the best and worst in people.  Even as children, the stories we most frequently tell deal with a quest for happiness in terms of the ideal partner (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty) or deal with maintaining order and justice in a precarious world (Little Red Riding Hood, The Pied Piper of Hamlin, The Billy Goats Gruff).

For The Grease Monkey’s Tale however, I wanted to throw as much as possible at Nic the mechanic.  He is both innocent dupe and hero, both victor and victim, and experiences almost everything that life (and love) can hurl at someone, particularly in his relationship with Siobhan McConnell.  Rather than have a simple, fairy-tale quest and limited paths to follow, Nic finds himself caught up in life at its messiest.  He experiences how challenging and irrevocable some decisions can be, and how our simplest choices can determine our best or worst fortune.  He has to decide what he will compromise or sacrifice, create or destroy, in order to sustain his relationship with Siobhan.
Through Nic, I wanted to explore different layers of truths, untruths and lies, and how significant stories are in shaping our understanding of the world we live in.  Truth is a fickle creature, but our understanding of it, however limited, arbitrarily shapes the nature of our relationships, the choices we make, the paths we follow, the paths we abandon... the life we live.  The adventure of that story, with all its explosions and pistol shots, romance and mystery, is the adventure I was keen to create and explore in The Grease Monkey’s Tale.

It was while I was redrafting Grease Monkey and asking myself that hardest of questions – What’s this story really about? – that the poem I eventually used as an epigraph worked its way into my head:

What is this Truth?
And where does it steal from?
Who is its mistress today?
And who was its master yesterday?
A fickle beast of ruthless pedigree,
Best lay it to rest with a story.
Give me a good, honest lie any day.

A version of this article first appeared on the Legend Press website in 2010.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Book Trailers, Blue Friday and the like

There was a time not so long ago when book trailers, although a fine idea, seemed more designed to cure potential readers of insomnia than to tantalise them with the promise of an exciting new adventure.  Instead of encouraging me to read, they made me want to take up base jumping or shark wrestling... anything to prove to myself that I was still alive after their minute or so of mind-numbing tedium. *Yawn*

It's good to see how much things have improved, and particularly when this is associated with the work of a friend. Elsewhen Press recently released a trailer for  Mike French's novel Blue Friday, which found its way into the world as an ebook last Saturday, prior to its November release in paperback. There's drama in this 'ere trailer, so enjoy and then order a copy (Mike's website provides a number of e-book links).

All of which makes this an appropriate occasion to flag the great job Jen Persson did of creating a trailer for The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore a couple of years back.  It hasn't gone viral yet, but if you click on it enough times it may do!  Go on, click away on both of them.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Number Three and Dickens

Number Three is all but finished.  Arrived at that magical moment yesterday - that point where you realise the words are in place, the story's been told, and anything else will be too much. 

I'll leave it for a while now, maybe a few weeks, before casting a fresh, critical eye over it, to see what can be pared down or sharpened up.  Will get a couple of reports from critical readers too.  

In the meantime, and before I start grappling with Number Four, there's a short story or ten, I'd like to write, and I have to finish redesigning the website.  Maybe a bit of painting can be fitted in as well.  Ooh, so much to do.

By the by, I didn't realise it was the bicentenary of Charles Dickens' birth this year.  Apparently there's a global program of events under the banner Dickens 2012.  I was lucky enough to hear a lecture by Adrian Wootton (chief executive of Film London), at Melbourne's Wheeler Centre last week on the Life of Dickens.

While I'm not a huge fan of Dickens' novels - have read quite a few, but have grown weary of the style - I must say that Adrian Wootton's presentation reinvigorated my interest, and I may well return to reading one or two more before long.  Maybe I'll revisit Great Expectations, which was always my favourite.  The last one I read was The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which, as I discovered at the end, was a mystery because Dickens inconveniently died before he finished writing the thing.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Siân Burman exhibition opening

Siân's exhibition opened in style with about 55 people attending and 4 paintings sold on the night - good company and great fun.

Here's a couple of compilation photos, showing some of the 28 recent works that comprised the exhibition Light, Life.

The exhibition remains open until 2nd September.  Further details here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A shout-out for Kathleen Maher and 'Underground Nest', currently available free on Kindle

I'm delighted to announce that American author Kathleen Maher, who I've worked with at The View From Here, has not only had her novella, Underground Nest, published as an ebook this month (Beekman Press), but that it's currently free from Kindle.  I've just downloaded it myself, and here's the blurb:
Underground Nest is a brisk and comic tale of deceit and comeuppance, about a philandering Scoutmaster who meets his match in a powerful woman. Zachary Severins lives by the Boy Scout Code, except when cheating on his wife and clawing his way up the career ladder at Columbia University. Upon meeting Vida Korbett, whose calculating ambition equals his, Zach’s sure-footedness begins to slip.
Here's The Link to the free download, and here's Kathleen's online profile.

Having tried out the Kindle for about three months now, I'll be writing about that experience (and some of the books I've downloaded) before too long.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Siân Burman exhibition - Light, Life

My partner, Siân Burman, will be launching an exhibition of her recent work next Saturday (4th August, 2012) at 6.00pm at Blarney Books & Art, Port Fairy.  Helen and Des from Customs House Gallery are running the exhibition in conjunction with Jo and Dean from Blarney Books & Art, and Jo Grant (Regional Arts Development Officer) will be opening it. 

Light, Life will feature 28 works and will run for 4 weeks, until 2nd September (Thursday - Sundays, 11:00 - 4:00).  Mostly oil on canvas, but there are a couple of acrylics and a couple of mixed medium pieces thrown in for good measure.

This is the painting used for the invitation:
Skyscape 6: On the Road (oil on canvas, 2011)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A bit more cultcha

Another reason I went to Melbourne recently (see previous post) was to catch the Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre of the National Gallery of Victoria.  This retrospective provided a tremendous opportunity to see somewhere in excess of one hundred works - I didn't count, but there was a lot - and to achieve a much greater sense of what Williams was trying to depict in his work.  

Burnt landscape, Fred Williams, 1968, oil on canvas

I love that borderland where the figurative slips into the abstract, which is precisely where he takes us through his exploration of the Australian landscape.

 Lightning storm, Waratah Bay, Fred Williams, 1971-72, oil on canvas

In fiction, too, I'm fascinated by that borderland: where the real becomes the surreal, if not the magical; where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary; where the prosaic becomes the lyrical.

Wild Dog Creek, Fred Williams, 1977, oil on canvas

You can see more Fred Williams at NGA.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A bit of cultcha

Just got back from a few days in Melbourne.  It was time to catch up with a couple of exhibitions before they closed, enjoy good food, get tickets to a performance of something or other.  A bit of culture to drive away the winter blues.

Didn't do too well with the performance.  Couldn't find anything particularly inspirational at the ballet, theatre, concert hall or cinema.  However, even though I'm no fan of musicals, did catch a performance of Annie on Friday night.  Thought at first it would be an expensive snooze, but have to say I got into the spirit of it after the intermission, and enjoyed the accompanying sense of theatre (and pantomime).  Certainly worth it, and always good to hear Hard Knock Life.
Ben Quilty - Captain S after Afghanistan

Saturday was all about a trip up the Yarra valley to TarraWarra Museum of Art where paintings from the 2012 Archibald Prize were on display.  While the terms of the prize invites artists to submit 'portraits painted from life of men or women "distinguished in Arts Letters Science or Politics"', I'm always surprised how liberally the judges interpret that and how pretentious/wanky some of the artist's statements are.  Nonetheless, most of the art submitted is superb and well worth travelling to see each year. 

 Monika Behrens - The artist's practice

One of my favourite pieces was the life painting by Ben Quilty (who won the 2011 prize) - Captain S after Afghanistan - although, in terms of meeting the aims of the prize, I'd have probably chosen Monika Behrens' The artist's practice or Jenny Sages' After Jack. I particularly liked the use of light and shadows in Behrens' piece, and the theatre of the pose.

Jenny Sages - After Jack

The prize was won this year by Tim Storrier for The histrionic wayfarer (after Bosch).

 Tim Storrier - The histrionic wayfarer (after Bosch).

Excellent  eats were to be found at:

Sunday, 1 July 2012

I'd love to hear from you

I'd love to hear from you.  Really, I would.
Although my current website hasn't been up for 2 years, it's time to replace it.
Unfortunate, that, because it took me the best part of a year to design the thing, learn to use Flash and build it.
However, it seems more and more people are accessing websites via their mobiles, and quite a few mobiles don't support Flash, so not only are all those buttons with barking dogs, disappearing birds and the like redundant, but many people can't even get to the first page.  Hurumph!
It's time to redesign another, then.  But I'd appreciate your feedback.
Perhaps you'd let me know what works for you.  Or what doesn't work for you.  What elements should be included and what left out?  It's an Author website, so what do you expect to find that isn't there at the moment?
Drop me a line via my website email (above), or post a comment below.
Please do.
I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Molière comes to Warrnambool

Bell Shakespeare began their tour of Molière's The School for Wives at Warrnambool's Lighthouse Theatre last night, and it was brilliant.

Translated from the French by Justin Fleming, I initially thought I'd tire of rhyming dialogue if it extended beyond the first scene, but the script was excellent and the actors' delivery so well-timed that it proved to be an essential comedic element throughout.

Originally written in 1662, this adaptation was set in the 1920s.  It tells the story of Arnolde, a wealthy middle-aged man who, years previously, bought a four-year-old girl, with the intention of having her raised in a convent to become his grateful, adoring, guileless wife.  Unfortunately - or fortunately - as the prospect of their marriage draws closer, he unwittingly assists a young rival (Horace) to compete for the affections of Agnes, who is far less stupid than Arnolde would prefer.

John Adam (Arnolde) barely left the stage for 2½ hours and gave an outstanding performance - he must have been exhausted by the end of it - but was supported by a superb cast*.  The stage design (Marg Horwell) was imaginative, ingenious and entertaining in its own right, and the direction by Lee Lewis was faultless.  I loved the visual jokes, the use of music, and particularly the bawdy humour.

One of the most memorable lines came from Georgette, Arnolde's maid, who outdoes herself in proving to her master her ability to insult:
"May your ears turn to arseholes and shit on your shoulders."
I'll keep that for a suitable occasion.

A standing ovation to Molière, Justin Fleming, Lee Lewis and the cast of The School for Wives.

* Agnes - Harriet Dyer; Horace - Meyne Wyatt; Alan - Andrew Johnston; Georgette - Alexandra Aldrich; Chris - Damien Richardson; Henri/Notary - Jonathan Elsom; Laurence/Musician - Mark Jones.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin a.k.a. Molière - portrait by Pierre Mignard

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Winter Solstice

Walking the beach in the early-morning half-light of winter; the shortest day of the year.  After a night of light rain, the air is moist, but the sea is calm and the sand has been licked smooth by a receding tide.  From a house beyond the dunes, drifts a breakfast of wood-smoke.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Funny things, titles

Number Three is almost wrapped up.  The end is in sight!
There's two scenes to finish and a couple of edits to work through, but then it'll be done.
Was hoping to have got there last November, but I'll settle for this July instead.
Although its working title was The Palace at 4am, after Alberto Giacometti's sculpture, I knew I had to ditch this a while ago, when the members of a Book Group assumed it must be about the royal family, which it most certainly ain't.  I was a bit disappointed because that title had been kicking around in my head for a long, long while, and the sculpture encapsulates, for me, the abstract, other-worldliness of the time of night when nothing seems quite real anymore and when, sometimes, we do strange things... which is a bit more pertinent to what it's about.
Never mind.
I just couldn't find a suitable alternative for a few months and didn't much like working without a title during that period, because it helps shape the focus of a story for me.  But then a new title arrived, slowly, in two halves, and I found the focus again. 

Funny things, titles. They create all sorts of expectations.  Which is why I remain a little coy about them until they're actually printed on a dust jacket.

Went to see The Avengers at the cinema a few weeks back.  Everyone was raving about it and, being a fan of the 1960s TV series, I couldn't wait to see how it had been remade.  Thought I'd be in for a trip down Memory Lane.  Was a bit surprised, then, when the opening scenes introduced a batch of Marvel Comic characters - the Incredible Hulk, Fury, Iron Man, Captain America, et al -  and no sign of John Steed and Emma Peel.  Different avengers!  Oh well, it was still a fun movie.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Port Fairy Winter Weekend, Exhibitions and a Secret Forest

This weekend sees the the beginning of Port Fairy's annual winter weekend celebrations.  It's pretty damned cool and wintry-looking out, and good to have as many excuses as possible to dive indoors, look at paintings, listen to music, drink a glass or two of wine... well, here's the program.

The Biblio-Art Exhibition at Blarney Books & Art will be launched and judged by painter-sculptor-printmaker David Frazer.  (Painting provides an occasional diversion from writing for me and Up, Into the Singing Mountain is my contribution to this exhibition.)

Karen Richards, who took away the Biblio-Art honours last year, recently made this short Secret Forest movie using some of her machine-embroidered lace creations.  Pleasantly spooky.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Blogs worth bookmarking

On my way here, I noticed that page views for this blog are about to hit 20,000 - well, sometime in the next couple of weeks.  Can't be bad.  So, by way of spreading a little of the love - or is that 'lurve'? - thought I'd recommend a couple of blogs I haven't recommended before, but wherein I guarantee you'll discover some pretty damned fine writing.  

I've been a regular visitor to one since the beginning of the year, when a young friend confessed she was blogging.  Since then, her blog has accompanied her travels around Europe, while many of us have tagged along with her words.  It's witty, astute, well-crafted writing, and can be found at: http://palindromeiam.wordpress.com/

I was pointed in the direction of the other site only yesterday (thanks, Rhianna), but liked it so much that I hung about to read every short story, vignette, article and snippet that Howard McKenzie-Murray had posted there.  I particularly enjoyed the Foreign Correspondent pieces, but even the By-line and Biography are deftly written and worth lingering over.  You'll find yourself over In My Little Country of Long Summers very smartly if you click here.

Have fun.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Out And About

I was delighted to hear recently that Mike French, senior editor of The View From Here and author of the tremendous The Ascent of Isaac Steward, has a second novel in the offing.  Blue Friday will be published by British independent Elsewhen Press as an ebook in September and in paperback at the end of the year.  Good stuff.

Other good stuff: Patrick O'Duffy, who I've also mentioned on this site before, has released his novella The Obituarist, which can be purchased from Amazon's Kindle store and Smashwords for $2.99 a pop.  Not bad, eh.

What's more, Alan Baxter (who I've also also mentioned...) also has a novella just out.  The Darkest Shade of Grey has been serialised at The Red Penny Papers (for FREE!) and can be bought as an ebook from Amazon's Kindle store and Smashwords for $1.99.

Phew!  So much good stuff, so many links.  Double-phew!!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Recent reads: 'Cult Fiction' and 'Religion for Atheists'

It's a couple of weeks since I finished reading them, but here's a couple of books I'd recommend:

Cult Fiction by Ardie Collins (Knightstone Publishing).
Ardie Collins has created one of the most self-conscious narrators of all time, who happily reminds the reader on almost every page that he's narrating the story of Stephen Moore, who, as a result of his house burning down, inadvertently creates a new religious cult.  However, rather than being intrusive, this intrusion adds to the story, and creates a humour which, at times - coupled with events - put me in mind of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  It's a story about an ordinary bloke who becomes a messiah - sort of - about life in the burbs, about relationships, manipulation, religion, the nature of existence... and it's a story about a story.  Entertaining and a good read.  Nice job.

"Welcome to Chapter 2.  I think you will find it most accommodating, which, ironically, is the opposite state of the chapter's main topic of discussion, Stephen's home ... 
Just to remind you, we left Stephen looking at the stars with a dog in his arms.  His expression was not quite one of despair but it was definitely getting there.  To break up all this near-despair, he took a moment to thank God very much indeed for his survival.  He was struggling slightly with why this had happened to him and why he wasn't able to still be asleep in bed. He longed for the very recent past.  There were moments when the bizarre nature of the situation assured him that this must be a dream but the mere fact that he was able to think that assured him that it almost certainly wasn't.
His head was bulging with questions.  Metaphorically speaking, of course.  His head was not physically bulging with questions.  If it were then my advice to him would be to stop asking questions because they're making his head bulge.  But now was not the time for head-bulging, it was time to do something about the current situation.  He ran next door for some good, old-fashioned Christian charity."                                     (Cult Fiction by Ardie Collins)

Coincidentally, I followed this with Religion for Atheists by Alain De Botton (Hamish Hamilton). His Consolations of Philosophy made a big impression on me several years ago, mainly because, unlike too many academics who feel the need to puff up their ideas (and sense of self-importance, perhaps) by making their writing as convoluted as possible, Alain De Botton recognises the value of making his ideas clear, articulate, accessible. He's a tremendous communicator and, to my mind, an intelligent and sensible thinker.  I wasn't disappointed at all with Religion for Atheists, and found myself recommending it to friends and family so heartily that my copy was snaffled up pretty damn quickly. (I want it back though, so everyone else will have to buy their own copy... and so they should because writers need their meagre royalties.) Undoubtedly, I enjoyed it largely because I agreed with much of what he said, and because his examples and contextualisation resonated with me.  However, I also liked it because I could recognise, as I was reading it, that it was clarifying other ideas for me, which may in turn percolate into my own writing, and this is always a pleasant sensation.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A couple of jokes

I've always liked Knock-knock jokes, Doctor, Doctor jokes, Mummy, Mummy jokes - basic humour - and absurd humour too.  They're the shortest of stories.
Absurd jokes like:
Q: Why did the plane crash?
A: Because the pilot was a loaf of bread.
Was told one the other day that blended two together, and it cacked me up. Ho-hum, so easily amused.
X: Why did Sally fall off the swing?
Y: Because she had no arms.
X: Knock-knock.
Y: Who's there?
X: Not Sally.

Oh, and while I'm at it, you should have a look at www.conjunctivitis.com - it's a site for sore eyes.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Go the Fuck to Sleep

I haven't bought a children's picture book in a while.  Pity that, because I've always liked the things, and continued to buy them for a while after my own kids had grown up.  However, I suspect I'm about to buy again.

Apparently, while I was camping on the moon, planet Earth was raving about Adam Mansbach's children's book Go the Fuck to Sleep.  I've only just caught on to the fact, but will try and make up for it now by spreading the word to anyone who happened to be on Jupiter or Pluto at the same time.

I cacked myself laughing when I watched these two videos, not least because I could relate all too well to the sentiment: one of my kids refused to sleep... not only through childhood, but through most of adolescence too, bless her cotton socks.

The first clip has Noni Hazlehurst, ex-Playschool, reading the book, and the second clip has Samuel L. Jackson singing it.  Great stuff.  Well done, Mr Mansbach.  (Buy it here.)

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Painting The Lost Garden (3): Up, Into the Singing Mountain

Excuse me very much, but, yep, I know I might've seemed a little absent of late.
I haven't been absent though.  Remote maybe, but that's because I've been totally absorbed with Number Three, helping it streak/limp/crash towards its conclusion.  Oh, and, amongst other stuff, finishing a couple of paintings.

This time last year, I finished a painting called The Lost Garden (1), by way of a creating a different focus to writing, etc (see that post here).  Well, the other day I finished The Lost Garden (3): Up, Into the Singing Mountain.  

The second part of the title is taken from Richard Llewellyn's novel, which I read yonks ago, but which more recently put me in mind of a stunning image I photographed from a hotel room in Los Angeles airport in 2009: the distorted reflections of buildings in the J M Eagle building opposite, with aeroplanes taking off and landing a short distance behind.  I loved the way the borrowed colours and patterns of the urban landscape seemed to sing and dance up the tiers of glass, and how the tinted glass enhanced the tonal variations in the reflected sky.

Makes a change to chasing words round a page.

910 x 610 mm
acrylic on canvas