Every conversation I’ve had since the book was released has included note of what a beautiful book it is, and how special a package it is, so in my view, it is a warmly-deserved win.
The Asian Festival of Children’s Content approacheth, and here’s my itinerary for what Luscious continues to mockingly call my ‘Singapore holiday’.
16 May, 7pm – 9pm
Opening Ceremony and Award Presentation
17 May, 4.45pm – 6pm
First Pages: Writing Critique
Lee Battersby, Susan Long, Cynthea Liu, Kathleen Ahrens
17 May, 7pm – 9pm
Celebrating Our Stars
18 May, 9am – 10am
Not So Happily Ever After: Strange and Spooky Tales
Lee Battersby, Heidi Shamsuddin, Marc Checkley
18 May, 3.15pm – 4.15pm
Authors Debate: Who Writes Better Books– Introverts or Extroverts?
Cynthea Liu, Don Bosco, Lee Battersby, Angela Cerrito, Nury Vittachi
18 May, 6.30pm – 7.30pm
Children’s Literature Lecture: Books from the Island of Story Tellers
19 May, 7pm – 9pm
20 May, 10am – 6pm
MASTERCLASS: Writing the Weird with Lee Battersby
Magrit is beautifully written, succinct, tender and, at times, desperate and disturbing. It manages to combine the dream logic of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman with the otherworldliness of The Twilight Zone. Constantly inventive and suspenseful, Magrit is a book that stays with the reader long after it has been finished.
Fresh of the back of not winning the Aurealis and CBCA Book of the Year Awards for Magrit comes news of one more Award shortlisting, and this time it’s a beauty: the little book that almost could has been shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature as part of the 2017 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
The Prize, which attracts an award for (wait for it) THIRTY THOUSAND FREAKING DOLLARS, will be announced on 22 May, when I’ll be lying in bed exhausted after running myself to death for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, so, you know, it might be pretty flipping good weekend, as weekends go……
For the full skinny, including the list of all shortlisted works across 11 categories, you can head over to the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards page.
Good news, today, with the release of the 2016 Aurealis Awards finalists. Magrit has been shortlisted in the Best Children’s Fiction category: a new category for me, and my 7th nomination since 2004. With six previous nominations and one win, it’s time to see if my bridesmaid dress still fits……
It’s always nice to be nominated, and it’s always great to see the names of friends like James Foley, Kaaron Warren, Juliet Marillier, Deborah Biancotti, Claire McKenna, Kirstyn McDermott and Alan Baxter make the list. But it’s always a special joy to see names new and unfamiliar listed: the field of speculative fiction constantly renews, and it’s a challenge for those of us with older heads and harder veins to adapt to the new ways of thinking and expression that fresher, lighter word-dancers bring.
So congratulations to all the nominees, and here’s to a damn good knees-up on the night.
And on the subject of damn good knees-up (See what I did there? I am available to segue at children’s parties), you can now reserve a place to watch me eat at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writer’s Centre Christmas in July literary dinner! I’ll be performing for my supper, with readings, book signings, possible kitten juggling and even a special guest appearance by a tap-dancing Satan on roller blades*
There are plenty of other dining options throughout the year, so come along for some good food, great company, and the chance to hear some fine literary treats. Or come to mine, it’s all good.
(*May not actually happen. Sats is a busy guy, and to be honest, we don’t talk much these days. It’s complicated, but he met this girl, she doesn’t like any of his old housemates… you know how it goes…)
Last weekend was that most wonderful reminder of why I got into this writing gig: the guest appearance at a Writers Festival. In this instance, I was flown across the country and put up in a hotel in my favourite City of them all, the beautiful city of Brisbane.
I’ve always loved Brisbane, especially the South Bank, where the Festival was located. It’s superbly picturesque, and a thousand blessings to the person who had the imagination and foresight to place so many cultural and artistic nodes within such proximity to each other. The Gallery of Modern Art, State Library, Museum, State Theatre, Griffith Music Observatory, performance bowl and others stand shoulder to shoulder along the sculpted lawns, so that every morning I walked an 800 metre corridor of art between the hotel and the Festival. No surprise that I arrived each day in an uplifted, happy mood, ready to work.
Mind you, the fun had started almost from the moment my heels hit dirt. Checking into the hotel was going swimmingly, until the man serving the couple next to me looked at his screen and went “Oh.” See, the screen had changed colour, without him touching it, and it should’na oughta done that. He pressed a key. It did the same thing. The woman serving me said, “Oh.” The man came over. They looked at her screen. Then they looked at his. I smiled at the nice couple. They smiled at me. The hotel staff pressed buttons. They came back to my screen. The man looked at me, then at the couple, then at me.
“Um,” he said. “You’re not married, are you…..?”
See, when you’re talking literary Battersbys in this country, there’s me, and then there’s the stupendously lovely and talented Katherine Battersby. And we’d never met. Until that moment. And then we discovered that we share the signing tactic of offering kids a choice of coloured pen to sign with. And then I managed to sneak a graffiti note into her pencil case that she didn’t notice for a day and a half, and well, frankly, meeting her would have been reason alone to love the Festival, if I hadn’t also caught up, and had such joyous and happy responses to my lurking presence, with a series of old friends, each of whom treated me like some sort of lost prodigal: meeting Trent Jamieson, Angela Slatter and Kim Wilkins again was like an extended gathering of the clan, and getting to see Kate Eltham– someone Luscious and I genuinely hold very close to our hearts– was like catching up with family.
To have that, and to meet new friends like Katherine and Yassmin Abdel-Magied; and work with delightful and warm-hearted peers like David Burton, Amie Kaufman and Jaclyn Moriarty, was a visceral and wondrous reminder that my community is a lot wider than I think of it, and that my horizon is a lot broader. But the Festival was about more than just hanging out being a writah-dahling (although I can do that like a fiend). It was about work.
And work I did. 5 presentations, a panel and a Masterclass across 4 days — which is exactly what I love to do at these events: I’m not one for propping up the bar when I could be geeking. And the volunteers, particularly Green Room co-ordinator Kristy, were some of the loveliest people I’ve ever worked with (to give you an idea, one of them– the entirely-too-sweet Olivia– realised one of my signings was going so long it was beginning to impact upon my arrival time at my next presentation, so ran up to the Green Room and filled a box with lunch so I’d get something to eat).
And the kids I worked with were incredible. Kids are usually pretty damn fearless when it comes to art, much more so than adults, but even so, I was blown away by how many had actually read the book, and how many had taken the time to formulate intelligent and critical questions about the text. Every session began with an introduction speech given by a student, and taking the time to chat to them helped me realise just how much some of these kids were prepared to work just to get there. In my very first session, I was chatting to Michaela, my MC, who came from a school called ‘Chinchilla’. (No spoiling it for the others, those who know where that is).
“Cool school name,” I said. “Where is that?”
“Four hours away,” she replied.
Four hours. To attend a 9.45am session. Turns out, thee kids had boarded a bus at 5am, just to get to Brisbane in time for my session. They were seeing me, and one other 45-minute session, then trooping back on the bus for another 4 hour journey home.
Yeah. I’d come from Perth and it had only taken me 90 minutes longer. Faced with that, how can you do anything but work yourself into the ground to try and give these kid something worthwhile for their dedication? It seemed to work: by Friday morning, the Festival’s stock of Magrit had sold out, I was the 3rd highest-selling author for the day, and I’d resorted to signing school hats, casts, programmes and water bottles– frankly, anything the kids pushed across the table at me. What else can you do?
After spending so much time entertaining kids, I finished the festival with a 3-hour Masterclass on the subject of short fiction, in which I managed to pack about 4 hours of theory-based ranting and half a dozen writing exercises, and a panel on YA Survivalist fiction for which I was eminently under-qualified, but managed to survive through a combination of smart-arsery and monkey-boy dancing– which, incidentally, is pretty much how I intend to survive the actual apocalypse.
And then it was over. Like a cheesy Hollywood movie– think of me as a fat, hairy Renee Zellweger– my last act was to walk alone through a deserted library, nod goodbye to a single, uninterested security guard, and step out into the failing light and pouring rain of an evening thunderstorm. Seriously, even I could hear the rising strings. I did not, however, break out into song, Brisbane did not need that. Nobody needs that.
AN ASIDE ON THE SUBJECT OF LIONEL SHRIVER
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a Festival invites a famous author to deliver the keynote speech. The author represents the Festival. There words are the distillation of everything the Festival stands for; every prism through which the public, the media, and the other authors will view each other. Even if that author has a personality so large, so iconic and even inconoclastic, that their personality is a large part of their delivery– still, even then– they will take the audience on a journey of discovery that will leave all present examining their own points of view through the filter of the Festival and the artistic aims for which it stands. Picture Lenny Bruce’s “Nigger, Nigger, Spic” routine. Picture Graham Chapman’s carrot-clad non-speech to the graduation class at Cambridge.
Picture me at the back of Lionel Shriver’s Festival keynote speech, watching Yassmin Abdel-Magied leave in tears, seeing Alexei Sayle’s face turn a peculiar shade of thunder, waiting for this speech of derision, and contempt, and utter entitlement to turn, to twist, to get to Bruce’s self-turned finger and single word, “Yid”.
Picture me walking out, between the doffing of the sombrero and the Q&A, not able to be in the same room anymore, feeling diminished by the act of witnessing a speech that was not only the antithesis of the artistic creed of enlightenment and community, but was a sweeping dismissal of any notion of those concepts.
The internet has since lit up with argument and counter-argument. Yassmin was the first, her blog post subsequently picked up by the Guardian and other markets (Don’t read the comments. Never read the comments). Since then it’s gone viral, with both sides throwing mud, shit, sputum and ancestry at each other in the hope that something will stain.
I am not so affected as others. I can get up any day, any place, and write whatever I like, comforted by the fact that I’m white, male, prosperous, politically unhindered, sexually validated, and my fucking voice doesn’t have to fight anybody because it’ already won. So, this:
There’s appropriation, and then there’s exchange. There’s riding in like Vasquez, and then there’s approaching a culture with respect. Shriver not only claimed that it was not necessary to approach another culture with respect, she claimed it was our right as artists to strip-mine anything we set out eyes on, and if we did a bad job, well, too bad so sad, because at least we had a go. It was unapologetically imperialist thinking at its worst.
Lionel Shriver betrayed the BWF, who asked her to speak on a specific topic, by agreeing to do so, then wilfully and gleefully going off-topic from her first word and leaving the organisation looking complicit with her views.
She betrayed her fellow artists by using a high-profile moment to throw us under the bus by portraying any who didn’t conform to her extreme views as ignorant weaklings.
And most disgustingly of all, she betrayed those that we artists should be standing beside– the weak, the disenfranchised and the voiceless– by openly telling them that their status was deserved and that their only value was as narrative grist for those better placed.
It was a loathsome piece of punching down by someone intelligent enough to be better. We should all be better.
Maybe it’s the English-Boy upbringing, but there are some images and icons that stand above others as some sort of acknowledgment of hasn’t-he-done-well?-ishness.
Running out onto Wembley for the FA Cup final.
Playing the London Palladium.
Doing Hamlet at the Globe.
Appearing in The Times.
The Freaking TIMES.
You know, say, like this:
The Times Children’s Book of the Week: Magrit, by Lee Battersby.
The Times, people! The freaking TIMES!
Okay, the majority of the review is hidden by a paywall, but I think the bit you can read gives a fairly decent accounting of what they think of the book.
Did I mention the freaking TIMES? LIKES MY BOOK!