HOW TO BE A NEW TALENT: EXTENDED MIX

Another upcoming appearance for your diaries: March 2nd, I’ll be appearing on stage with a fantastic lineup of childrens’ authors as part of the Children’s Book Council of Australia– WA’s A Night With Our Stars event. Alongside the likes of James Foldy, Kylie Howarth, Norman Jorgensen, Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Meg Caddy, I’ll be talking about Magrit, writing, and all things froody and writerly. Here’s a poster, even, saying exactly that:

 

mar17-talk

 

I’ve been amused to note that promotion for the event has referred to me as a “new talent” (although at least they say ‘talent’). It’s a risk you take when you hop genres: not every reader will come with you, and not everybody in the new field will know your track history. Still, after 16 years, it raises a smile, particularly as I’ve just been interviewed by a fellow speculative fiction author for a paper she’s writing on the subject of writing time.

So, for those of you who may be meeting me for the first time due to Magrit, or came in late, or just have some sort of vague slightly-less-than-indifferent interest in how I came to this place, here’ the potted history I provided to my academic friend: Continue reading “HOW TO BE A NEW TALENT: EXTENDED MIX”

GOT ME A FESTIVAL

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. 


It’s never real until the tag arrives.

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. 


Art. Just standing there, being all arty and stuff,
like it can just be all… arty. (Sigh) I love Brisbane.

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.


Slatter and Jamieson. Comics at large.


Sweet, pretty and talented. It’s a Battersby thing. 



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). 



Getting my work on.


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).


What’s the name of this thing, again?



“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.


Brisbane. Where even the seagulls are front-rowers…

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?


NUMBER THREE, BABY!

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.

Short Fiction Masterclass: Work, you dogs!

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.

When it was sunny, South Bank was a riot of outdoor dance
floors, buskers, and music venues. I took this
picture when it was pissing down: ironically, not one person singing.
So, I miss it. I miss Brisbane. I’d forgotten just how much I loved the City– it’s been several long years since my last visit. And it all came back in such a rush of goodwill and graciousness that I’ve been in an extended funk ever since I returned to Perth and to the day-after-day dreariness of my long-soured day job. So, all I can do is recover my pen, get back to work, and try to make my next visit of the permanent variety.
Tally ho. 

Then there was this 😦

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.
So that was a shitty way to end a blog post.
Have a picture of the curve of the sky to cheer you up. 

KSP GHOST STORY NIGHT

Last week, Luscious, the kids, and I met up with our good friends Kris and Kim, and moseyed on up to the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre for their spooky night of ghost stories. Lyn and I had entered stories in their ghost competition, and had been informed that we had both been shortlisted and would we like to come along and read? Of course we would. The KSP is one of the loveliest and most atmospheric Writers Centres I’ve ever seen, and it’s always a real pleasure to head up there. So we hooked up with Kris and Kim for dinner in Midland, paused to let Master 11 get into costume (prizes for dress-ups!), and toddled off, stories in hand.

Master 11 takes his zombies seriously. 

And, well, we did all right. A prize for Master 11 for his zombification, the announcement of Luscious’ brilliant story Cross Words as the second prize winning story, and then — after clearing the room of under 18s and telling everyone that the organisers had been forced to refine the running order of the evening specifically because of the graphic nature of the winning story– my own tale, The House of Jack’s Girls, a lyrical little thing about men bringing their sons to a haunted brothel specifically to have sex with Jack the Ripper’s victims, was announced as the 1st prize winner.

Lyn silenced the room with her reading of her tragic and powerful story.

A good night for the ego, and a good night for the sense of fun. KSP organiser Tabetha was overwhelmed by the sheer weight of attendees, so here’s hoping it makes a reappearance again next year. You can read all about the night, including judge’s reports, from the KSP perspective here.

Not a bad night’s work……

TWO MONTHS AWAY

Two months since my last post. All of June and July, and not a peep. 

Yeah, there’s a reason for that.
Suffice to say, things did not go well for a while. It’s a little vaguebooky, but I’ll talk more about it in later posts. 
For now, here I am, on the last day of a two week break away from the world, where all I’ve done is lie in bed, watch a lot of Top Gear, get addicted to Pokemon Go, and noodle about with a Powerpoint for my upcoming appearance at the Brisbane Writers Festival in September.
I’ll be playing about in the kids stream with a presentation called Let’s Get Spooky, all about how to write shivering stories for kids. And I’ll be knuckling 20 or so writers under my lash in a short fiction Masterclass as part of the main program, to boot. Head on over to the BWF website to see the full program. 
I’ve also managed to successfully apply for a writing residency in 2017. The organisation has not yet announced it, so I’ll stay schtum on the who, where and when for the moment, but expect some announcements semi-soon.
And I’ll also be crawling out from under my bed in early October to display some of my Lego creations at this year’s Bricktober. Once again, it will be at the Canning Showgrounds, and promises to be an absolutely fantastic day out. I’ll be displaying more of my spaceshippy goodness, as well as coordinating a table dedicated to a Micropolis group build. Once again, more details as we get closer.
So, for the moment, here I am: still swimming (just), still keeping my head above water (just), still getting involved (double just with chips). Luscious and I have had some big ™ conversations recently, and we will be making some enormous life changes over the next 18 months. I’ll be talking about them as they arrive, but for now, this much contact is just enough.

TRUMBO AND THE TRUTH IN BLOGGING: OVER TO YOU, PEEPS

Spent last night watching the dramatised documentary Trumbo, which is based, to a large extent, upon letters written by Dalton Trumbo during the period of his blacklisting. One thing that really shone through was just how literate, wide-ranging and incisive those letters were, and it got me thinking: letters are verging upon being a dead art form, now. They’ve been replaced by emails, and to a certain extent, weblogs. We’ve replaced lyricism with functionality.

As for blogging, it’s a form I’ve never used as a true record of my thoughts: I’ve dabbled with it, been flippant and irregular. As a journal– as a snapshot of my thoughts, attitudes, and experiences– it’s not been up to scratch for a rather long time.

So, here’s a chance to change that. Post a subject below that you’d like to see me discuss, address, or just generally rant about. Once a week, until the subjects run out, I’ll dedicate a blog entry to it. I won’t lie, or prevaricate, or treat it lightly. I’ll give you utter and unalloyed honesty and truth.

What would you like me to talk about?

EXERCISING THE WRITE

Yesterday I headed down to the Mundijong library to give a workshop as part of the 2015 Write Along the Highway calendar. It was a small, but vibrant, group, and plenty of exercises were burned through and words written.

This one was a lot of fun, and people came up with a fantastic range of responses, so I thought I’d pop it up here for anyone else who might get something out of it. It’s called Macbeth’s Porter, because, well, that’s what it is.


MACBETH Act 2, Scene 3
Enter a porter. Knocking within.
Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of Hell Gate, he should have old turning the key. (Knock.) Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hang’d himself on th’ expectation of plenty. Come in time! Have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t. (Knock.) Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator. (Knock.) Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith, here’s an English tailor come hither, for stealing out of a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may roast your goose. (Knock.) Knock, knock! Never at quiet! What are you? But this place is too cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further: I had thought to have let in some of all professions that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire. (Knock.) Anon, anon! [Opens the gate.] I pray you, remember the porter.

Write the scene as if:
  1. He actually is the porter of Hell Gate;
  2. One of the named possibilities actually is knocking; or
  3. The porter is describing what he actually sees, but reality is different. Why, and how?