Friday, April 30, 2010

Moments from the Universe

You've possibly noticed that after my little burst of multiple blogs a week or so back, I've dropped back into one-post-per-week again. This gives you an indication of the kind of week I've had; crazy.

I'm loving my classes this semester and am having a ball teaching a lot of new material, but by God I'm exhausted. I've been working pretty long days, just to keep on top of things. Generally out of the house before 8.00, not back again until well after 5.30.

Luckily, though, sometimes the universe comes to the party.

On Tuesday night, I was freaking out. I had two lectures to deliver on Wednesday and, despite spending a solid chunk of Monday's public holiday in at the office, still hadn't managed to finish either of them. Both were on topics close to my heart; the importance of editing, and the minefield of issues relating to Indigenous portrayal in children's and young adult literature - and so I wanted to to a good job of both. But, by Tuesday night, neither was close to done. So I worked on them until about 9.30, then packed Toby's daycare bag for the following morning, made his lunch, laid out his clothes and mine and got completely organised so that, come wednesday morning, Toby and I could hit the ground running (he's in daycare at my uni, so when I go to work, he goes to work...) and I could be in the office at the first available moment.

And wednesday morning went like clockwork: up, showered, dressed, baby up, both of us fed, coffee made and consumed, out of the house by 7.40, and first through the door at the daycare, right on the tick of 8.00am. My office is two minutes from daycare. All was looking good.

Except that, for the first time ever, the lovely lady in charge of the toddler's room missed her bus.

Which meant that there was nobody there to look after Toby, yet. Just me and him, and a quiet, empty daycare centre.

So we sat on the couch and read a book. Then we sat on the floor and played with some toys for a bit. Then I tickled him. Then he tried to tickle me. And then, about fifteen minutes later, and apologising profusely, the lady in charge arrived to find us both rolling around on the cushions, giggling.

She really didn't need to apologise. Not at all. It was the best fifteen minutes of my day. And when I got to my office, I was happy and relaxed, cheerful even. I got both lectures knocked over, and even had time to get a coffee before delivering the first of them. And I got a few precious, stolen moments to start my day.

So, to whichever deity or force of nature decided to make that bus run early on wednesday, thanks. I needed it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Desk Envy...

I love my new office. And my new Macbook (I may have mentioned that, already, can't remember for sure) and my new-look desk at work. This is it:

Yes, you can never have enough flatscreens in front of you. And my new computer lets me drag windows from one screen into the others. It's a lot of fun. And makes me feel like I'm a character in Avatar. Or possibly a mission controller at NASA. Or just a geek.

Sadly, though, it's recently been bought to my attention that I'm really punching above my weight. I've been comprehensively outclassed by none other than Terry Pratchett:

I guess that sometimes you just have to admit that you're out of your league...

Monday, April 19, 2010

On The Beach

A couple of hours ago I finished reading Neville Shute's 1957 novel On The Beach and I wanted to post something here now, while it's still fresh in my mind. This is one of those 'modern classics' that I've been meaning to read for years, but until now have never gotten around to it.

I'm still reeling.

It's not often that a book moves me to tears. The last time it happened was about four years ago (Bloody Zusak). It's even rarer that I finish a book and just know - and I mean instantly know - that it's going to change me; the way I write, the way I think about story and narrative and character. There's probably only three or four books in my entire reading history that have managed that.

On The Beach is the latest of them.

I'm not going to review it here - that's not what this blog is for or about. But I'll say a couple of general things about it.

I think it's probably the most awful book I've ever read. But I mean that in a good way; the writing is sublime, the craftsmanship of the narrative close to perfect, but it's all the more awful as a result. It's clearly the product of another time, and another way of thinking, but the passage of time has in no way affected the impact of the characters and their situation upon the reader. It's not a book to read if you're a new parent. I suspect that in some ways that made it even tougher.

Despite the subject matter, it's a gentle book - it has a measured pace and a degree of quiet understatement to it which just makes the story all the more touching. As an example of the power of restraint and subtlety in writing , it's one of the most perfect books I've ever read.

It's going to give me nightmares tonight. I just know it. It's going to make it hard to concentrate at work tomorrow. I'm probably going to talk about it in my lectures on wednesday, whether I want to or not; I won't be able to not do so, I suspect.

In On Writing, Stephen King talks about the importance of reading for the serious writer, about the value of it for helping learn and hone your craft; "If you don't have the time to read, then you don't have the time to write."

All too rare discoveries like this one are exactly what he's talking about.

I'm so glad I read it. Even though I still feel horribly disturbed by it. THIS is what writing is all about, I think.

'night everyone. I'm off to try and get some sleep.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One for the Book Crowd...

Two blog posts in one day? Unheard of, I know, but I have to share this with you all.

We just got back from the Lifeline bookfair. I don't know if they have them anywhere else in the world (they sure didn't when I lived in Perth) but here in Canberra they roll around every six months. And they're awesome.


Imagine an enormous exhibition hall at the showgrounds (actually, it's the same exhibition hall that gets used for the National Tally Room on election nights, which should give you some idea of the size...) filled, and I mean quite literally filled, with tables of books. Every genre. Every format. Every subject. From magazines from the 60's all the way through to complete sets of Encyclopedia. THe first time we went there, Imogen picked up an entire set of legal journals on Australian Building and construction law. They'll almost certainly come in handy one day...

It's just the best fun - wandering up and down the long lines of tables, finding hidden treasures everywhere. And best of all, if you want to stock up your shelves, fill in the holes in your catalogue or, in our case, find a few great additions for your baby's shelves, it's a really affordable way to do it, and for a good cause, too (all the books are donated, all the workers volunteers, and all the profits go to Lifeline)

Just in case you're wondering, here's what our $35 got us:

Seventy eight books. A lot of them hardbacks. Several books which both Min and I loved as kids, including a veritable plethora of classic Australian YA - Kelleher, Thiele, Rubenstein, Southall, plus a few of the more contemporary voices; Zusak, Lawrinson and others. I filled in a lot of gaps in my work collection, including a few books which I'd read to death in years past.

All in all, it's not a bad way to spend a lovely Canberra afternoon...

Sunday Morning, Tulips

An autumn Sunday morning in Canberra, a quiet house, the view from my kitchen window...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Looking for Something to do this weekend?

How about trying this, then?

I'm kinda interested in gliding. One of these days, family commitments and time and all that sort of stuff permitting, I'm going to take it up seriously. In the meantime, I can only dream...

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Used to Write Poems...

This week one of my colleagues did my Introduction to Creative Writing lecture for me. It was - broadly speaking - on poetry, and the use of poetic techniques and language in writing more generally. He's a poet - writes it, teaches it, thinks about it and, of course, publishes it. Wins prizes for it. Talks about it with an incredible depth of knowledge and thought.

He's definitely a poet.

I'm not. So I asked him to do the lecture on poetic writing instead of me. And he did a great job.

While he was talking, he got me to thinking about the fact that I don't really write poetry, anymore. I used to - once upon a time. I used to scribble away poetry about anything and everything. I used to fill notebooks with the stuff. I don't know what's become of them - they're probably buried in an attic somewhere, or else just chucked away at some point.

It's probably a good thing. I can't recall my poems being much good. I can recall what one of my creative writing teachers (a poet!) said about them when I was an undergraduate. I won't repeat it here, but she was right.

But, listening to Paul's lecture the other day, I realised that I don't write poems any more. I told my class yesterday afternoon that I still do write poetry, just not for public consumption, but when I actually stopped and actively thought about the last time I wrote a poem, it occurred to me that I haven't done it in years. Somehow prose has gotten in the way, taken over my thinking, so that I've disregarded the sort of stuff I used to fiddle with - good or otherwise.

And I think I might have done myself a big disservice. I think - to steal from Stephen King's analogy - that I've neglected one of the key tools in my writer's toolbox.

Don't get me wrong - I've got no pretensions about being thought of as 'a poet'. I suspect that, just like in the old days, my poetry is probably still given to overblown images, unsubtle metaphor, and hackneyed subject matter.

All that's beside the point, anyway.

The point is in the writing. In the playing and messing around. In having to really think about every individual word, and every connotation and denotation and moment and idea and meaning and linkage of images.

That's what writing is all about. That's how you keep the tools in your writer's toolbox sharp. Poetry is a whetstone for the craft, if you want to put it in wanky terms.

And so, as a result of all this, I've written a poem. I've been working on it - on and off - since Wednesday afternoon, actually. I jotted the first line down in my notes towards the end of Paul's lecture. It's a line I once cut out of one of my books - can't even remember which one now, I think it might have been Fireshadow - But which stayed in my head afterward, so I started with that.

Like I say - I'm no poet. There's a reason I need a 100,000 words to get my stories out. But I've had a lot of fun playing with this. And, because if you're silly enough to check and read this blog, then I suspect you're silly enough to read anything (This is a joke, I really love and respect you all...) I'm going to draw a deep breath, and do exactly what I told my class I never do under any circumstances - I'm going to put it out there. Read on at your own risk.

It's probably just one big cliche, so make what you will of it. It's not very cheerful. It's about tension in relationships (and no, before you even wonder it, everything is just fine at home. I have no idea why I found myself thinking about this particular subject matter - it's just the nature of thinking in poetry, I guess.) I'd say more about it, but I seem to remember someone telling me once that if you need to explain your metaphor, then it's a pretty crappy metaphor, so I won't. You should also ignore the fairly blatant and only slightly reworked theft of a Crowded House album title towards the end.

So... okay... here is a poem that I wrote...

Tidal Break
A domestic moment, played out, perhaps
on a thousand simple stages.
Their long-drawn shadows falling -
in and out as ripples of lust, of loathing
drawing tides apart

As ocean from beach
as sea from air

And each, rooted, treelike, waves
in the same wind;
the same moment.

Actors, without lines.
under an aching sky.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Of Macs and Men

I'm typing this post up while sitting on the couch, on the lovely, tactile, backlit keyboard of my new Macbook pro. If you follow me on twitter (though I'm not sure why you'd bother) you may have noticed me tweeting about this new machine. Perhaps. I've been rather subtle about it.

Now, a bit of backstory -

I've resisted getting a mac since, well, forever. It's been something of a point of pride. Everyone I know, everyone I'm related to, everyone in my life (or so it feels) are absolute Mac fanatics. You know the type - smug, slightly superior, knowing. People secure in the knowledge that their computers:

a) start quickly.
b) won't shut down for no apparent reason
c) won't get viruses
d) don't need 300 anti virus programs running in the background
e) don't have anything to do with windows vista
f) are nice to look at / touch / and just generally be around.

My wife has always used Macs. My brother in law is a mac genius. My parents are mac converts. My sister refuses to use anything else. I could go on, but I won't. You get the idea.

Now, the thing is, I'm a stubborn sort of bloke. On principle. And so the more people around me tried to convince me that macs were basically God's explanation for the meaning of life, the more stubbornly I stuck with my desktop PC. The POS acer we purchased from JB Hi Fi a couple of years ago when the nice people at 'Computer World' took our $1200 and then promptly went bankrupt, leaving us in the lurch in a big way. This particular Acer was one of those dinky desktop jobs - you know, the tiny little box with everything crammed inside so there's absolutely no chance of ever upgrading any aspect of it and which, for a bonus, came pre-loaded with Vista, so that within the first eight minutes of running, it slowed to glacial operating speed, had the computer equivalent of a total breakdown, and stayed there pretty much ever since. Often, at around 3.30am, the hard drive starts chattering for no reason at all, and makes enough noise to wake me up from my bed in the room next door, and send me down the hall with my maglight torch, all ready to knock a burglar on the head.

Then, last year, I got this job at the Uni of Canberra. It comes with a computer. You can probably see where this is heading...

So now I have my new Macbook Pro. It's lovely. And awesome. 8gig of memory. A 2.8 gig solid state hard drive, a 17" monitor, and lots of other really happy-making stuff. At the moment I have nine active windows open, am running seven different applications, and the computer isn't even hesitating. Not even a slight delay in switching between windows. My acer would have melted through the desk by now, set the carpet on fire, and then exploded in a nasty smelling cloud of acrid smoke.

Yes. I've gone over to the dark side.

And I love it here.

The funny thing is that I never particularly enjoyed writing on the Acer. In fact, for the most part, I didn't. I avoided it as much as possible. For the last couple of years I've done all my writing on my old work PC or on my wife's mac powerbook. But now I'm actively keen to start writing on this computer. I can't wait to start punching away at these perfectly spaced keys and pouring my stories out into this polished aluminum work of art. That, in and of itself, makes this purchase worthwhile.

So while I do feel a *little* guilty about turning away from the world of the PC, I have to admit that I'm not at all uncomfortable cosying up to my new Mac. Last night it slept beside my bed.

I really can't believe nobody told me how good these things are sometime before this...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Missed the List, and the fun of Honkers...

Okay, so last week, while I was no doubt stuffing my face in some fantastic little Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, I missed the announcement of the shortlist and Notables lists for the CBCA Book of the Year.

So huge, and somewhat belated congratulations to the various listees - it's a really great array of books and authors up there this year. I was really thrilled to see a lot of new faces, including some I got to meet recently at Somerset, up there. I hesitate to name names, because I don't want to miss anyone out, but there were a few little highlights for me:

I was stoked to see Dust by Christine Bongers up on the notables list, also Mama's Song by Ben Beaton - an old friend of mine from Uni days, Penni Russon's Little Bird, Penny Tangey's Loving Richard Feynman, Lili Wilkinson's Angel Fish, Kate Constable's Cicada Summer, and John and Stella Dinalis' Schumann the Shoeman.

There are a lot of others, too. Far too many for me to list here. Congraulations to everyone who made the lists, (and commiserations to those who deserved to but didn't - it's awful being a 'notable exception') Going over the list this afternoon has been one of the highlights of my day. It's also highlighted the amount of reading I have to catch up on in the next couple of months... sigh...

So now I'm back at work, have moved into my new office (which is smaller than my old one, but in which I can actually open the window - joy!), I have the month from hell pretty much behind me, and will probably get to do some more regular blog posts. Or not. I should have learned by now that it's dangerous to make promises along those lines.

Last week in Hong Kong was fantastic. It was my first visit there, and I'm so glad I went. Even if our flight home took us through far too many Australian capital cities (Canberra via Melbourne via Adelaide), we at least got a lot of practice entertaining an overtired 15 month old in a confined space. It's quite amazing the games you can play with an airline saftey card and a packet of pretzels. (Actually, Toby was a little trooper for the most part. He even slept for 7 of the 8 hours on the way from Hong Kong to Adelaide, which was *lovely*)

And Hong Kong itself was just an incredible experience. Toby was very popular everywhere we went, and at several restaurants people kept bringing out little treats for him to eat such as smoked eggs and marinated tofu. I'll be honest and admit that his parents did pretty well out of these situations, too.

What I found most intriguing about the trip was the incredible population density - I've been to some big cities before - Bankok, New York, London, Paris etc..., but this was the first time I've been to a city that size trapped on an island roughly half the size of the ACT. As a result, the way people live in Hong Kong is like nothing I've ever seen - from the freeways you look down through the layers of the city, into deep valleys formed by skyscrapers, with humanity evident at every window, flouro-lit by a million advertisements, and filled with the smells and sounds of people from every walk of life. So much of it reminded me of the physical environment of Blade Runner. (Including the air - we've all come back with nasty chest coughs)

We did all the usual things - the major tourist destinations like 'The Peak' and the various markets, but also took any opportunity to get off the tourist track - eating in small restaurants where we were the only europeans, catching the trams from point A to B, and just walking around the various districts, taking in the sights. The photo below (which those of you who follow me on Twitter might have already seen) is of the central city skyline at night, taken from the Kowloon ferry - one of the most incredible skylines I've ever seen. The photo, sadly, doesn't capture the movement or general 'twinkliness' of the reality. (For that, you have to watch the most recent Batman film, which featured quite prominantly the tall building just right of centre)

And just as good as all this, I came up with a few very exciting story ideas, which is one of the best aspects of travel. It also means I can go back there on a tax deductible research trip, if I decide to follow up with any of them :) (Actually, in all seriousness, I suspect this trip is going to have a huge impact on my Orion novel, research trip or not...)

But, for now, it's back to reality for me. We're into the second half of the semester, which promises to be interesting, then I have the Sydney Writer's Festival in May, followed by my first ever academic conference (at least, as an actual academic) in Woolongong in June. I'm delivering a paper. I'm already absolutely crapping myself. More on that later...

Oh, and blogging. Lots more regular blogging.



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