Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cheerful Reading

I've just recently (thanks largely to having a few chunks of unexpected downtime last week) finished reading Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, which he wrapped up with the hugely satisfying Monsters of Men. I'm now about to launch into the second book of Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy, having chewed through the first book in a single day on the weekend.*

I'm not going to post my reviews of them here. That's what Goodreads is for, but I am struck by something which I think I'll probably do a little thinking about in months to come:

During the 1980's and into the early 1990's in the late to-immediate-post cold war era, there was an explosion (for want of a better term) of Australian post-apocalyptic YA fiction, much of it speculative. I'm sure you can think of more than a few titles which threw their YA protagonists into 'end-of-the-world' type scenarios. Victor Kelleher's Taronga was one of my favourites.

Now I'm wondering if we're seeing the beginnings of a similar thing happening, but on a more global scale. The post-apocalyptic being very much used in YA as a social response to wider issues. But now the focus has moved, slightly; Patrick Ness' books deal with power, government and control. I'm only a little way into Suzanne Collin's trilogy, but can see similar concerns there which touch on ideas like the social contract and totalitarianism. A few weeks ago, at an artist's talk here at UC, I spoke about how the global political climate during the years following on from 9/11 had an enormous impact upon my Darklands books, and particularly Skyfall.

It's interesting, I think, to consider the possible forces that shape our written culture, and particularly to look at the sort of material our adolescent readers are engaging with, and in this terror-aware world in which we now live, I suspect there's some pretty strong influences just starting to reveal themselves.

Dunno. This is a little off-the-top-of-my-head, rather garbled and definately in need of some further consideration.

What about you? Do you have any suggestions for contemporary YA spec-fic that might be wrestling with some of this stuff?

*which is a good effort, but not as good as Imogen, who managed to get through the entire trilogy in a single day.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What? It's Friday Already? (or, the week my tonsils went psycho)

(With apologies to Allie at Hyperbole and a Half)

I'll be completely honest with you - to a certain extent, everything is still a little bit hazy.

That's probably the lingering effects of the codeine.

I'm also a bit light-headed still, but a week without food (or coffee!) will do that to you, I'm told.

Still, at least I'm here. That's something.

It's not been a good week.

It started well. Sunday saw Imogen's cousins return to Australia to live here in Canberra after 17 years in Hong Kong. We met them at the airport, took them back to their temporary accomodation, cooked up a lovely BBQ lunch*, then took them to their new Canberra house for a walk around and to make plans for what to do before they move in. It was lovely. A nice family afternoon.

Little did I know that, while we were having such a nice time, this was happening in my mouth**:

By the time we got home from Min's cousins' house, I was feeling decidedly unwell. Headache. Niggling sore throat, and just utterly, utterly wiped out and exhausted. Toby went to bed at 6.30. I went to bed at 6.40.

By 6.00 am the following day, the situation had deteriorated significantly:

I called in work and cancelled. Min called up our local doctor and made an appointment. She took me in. The doctor looked down my throat for about two seconds and then made the following diagnosis:


That's about the last thing I can remember, to be honest. From that point on, I've been on heavy painkillers, and anti-biotics. For a while there on monday and tuesday my throat was so swollen that the only thing I could swallow was water, and even that hurt.

Wednesday I perked up a little bit as the antibiotics took effect. I think I only slept about 14 hours that day.

Yesterday I was a lot better, and today well enough to come into work for a little bit.

So that was my week. In the meantime, I've missed Toby's second birthday***, a valuable week of marking time, plus my writing student's annual 'Get Real' exhibition, which I'm quite upset about, plus god knows how many other things.

Still, it could be worse. And my mum and Dad are here for the weekend, which always helps when a boy is sick.

Have a good weekend all. Don't upset your tonsils...

* which, on reflection, I should have eaten a lot more of...
** Musings from an outer spiral arm proudly presents, for the first time anywhere on the interwebz: Loltonsils!
*** Technically I didn't miss it - I was there for it, just not entirely awake the whole time.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I love music. Hell, thanks to Penni Russon, I just spent my entire week's coffee money buying the new Paul Kelly app for my iPad* I grew up playing music: piano, organ** and then later guitar.

Min is also musical: she plays violin, and sings like an angel. For our wedding present, a number of our immediate family clubbed together and bought us the piano which now sits in pride of place in the lounge room.

I love listening to music. When I write, I'll often have something playing softly in the background or through my headphones, if I'm at work. Usually classical. My faves are all the ones you'd expect: Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bach. At home, I can't do anything houseworky without something on the stereo: Paul Kelly, the Oils, Crowded House, Missy Elliot and numerous others.

So I guess it's natural that Toby seems to like music, too. He's in a house full of it, surrounded by instruments and encouraged to sing and dance at every opportunity. We recently got him his first guitar - $15.00 from Paddy's Markets in Sydney, and worth at least twice that for the enjoyment it's giving both of us***

He's also showing the odd sign of becoming a Jazz musician when he's older, too...

And then, of course, there's the piano...

It's a good way to grow up, I think.

*Incidentally, Penni, you're right: awesome. Just frikking awesome. Everything in life should be that awesome.
** Don't bother making jokes about it. Trust me, I've heard 'em all.
*** We do an awesome duet of 'From Saint Kilda to King's Cross'.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On Meeting Writers

I won't bother apologising for the long break between updates. It's marking season at Uni, and you can imagine the fun of that for yourself.

I'll tell you a couple of bits and pieces though...

Yesterday, I met David Malouf. He came to UC to work with some of our students, and deliver a couple of lectures (neither of which I was able to get to, owing to teaching and other commitments, worse luck.) I did get to meet him and chat for a couple of minutes though.

I'll be honest with you and admit that I thought I was over being impressed by meeting authors. Until I became one (whatever that means) I used to hold writers in pretty high regard. One of my fond memories of childhood is Roald Dahl sending a casette tape to accept the WA Young Readers Book Award, right back in the 1980's when I was about 12 years old : I remember being so thrilled to hear his actual voice, and he apologised for not being able to get there to accept the award personally. It was a pivotal moment of my childhood. Seriously.

When I first got published, one of the best parts of the whole thing was suddenly finding myself thrust into this world full of people whose names I'd been intimately acquainted with - often for years - as the authors of books I loved. One of the most memorable moments of my first time at the Somerset Festival of Literature in Queensland was finding myself swimming in the hotel pool beside Isobelle Carmody.*

Of course, you soon work out that authors are just like you - people who write.** And it wasn't long before I managed to get my obsessive author-fanboy geek out of my system.

Until yesterday.

Did I mention that I met David Malouf?

I stood there, trying desperately to make conversation, all the while wrestling with the fact that this friendly, unassuming bloke wrote some of what I consider to be the most important and beautiful Australian novels of the last century. He wrote Remembering Babylon, for goodness sake*** He writes gorgeous poetry. Geoffry Smart did a portrait of him. Other people write long and often utterly misguided literary critiques of his words.

And when we were introduced, I shook his hand and do you know what I said to him?

"Uhm. It's a pleasure to meet you." (pause, awkwardly, then: ) "I'm a huge admirer of your work."

Yep. I became a cliche. A tonguetied one, at that.


Still, it's nice to know, in a way, that the mystique is still there for me, especially in this open-access, ultra connected age that we live in. It's nice to know that that the little kid who sat in the WA state library and just marvelled at hearing his favourite author speak is still tucked away inside there somewhere.

*I almost drowned, then and there...
** bear in mind that this was before web 2.0, so there was none of this instant blog and twitter access that we have nowdays. Authors had a lot more, I dunno... mystique, I guess.
*** I used to teach Remembering Babylon to year 12's as part of English Lit. It was a book that opened a lot of minds, including my own.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Back from the Dead...

Right, a proper post today. Sort of.

So the last couple of weeks have been utterly brutal, in a lot of ways. I've never had so little time to do anything other than the essentials. Each morning when I get out of bed, every minute of the day ahead is already accounted for. This explains the lack of blogging, and the general silence of me in the twitterverse and everything. And this looks set to continue for at least the next couple of weeks.

There have, however, been a few high points.

The most recent, as of just a couple of hours ago, was the announcement of the winners of the Prime Minister's Literary Awards for this year. As I talked about earlier in the year, this is the first time that YA and children's writing have had their own categories, and with prize money equal to that of the 'grown ups', too. I'm absolutely thrilled to see Bill Condon take the inagural prize for his Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God. Bill is - I've thought this for a number of years now - one of the most under-rated writers in Australia at the moment. A few years ago I did a reader's report on his novel No Worries and it struck me at the time as one of the most interesting and profound pieces of YA fiction I'd read in years. He's also one of the nicest, most quietly spoken and humble people you could hope to meet. I can't think of a better recipient for this important prize. (Though I'd have been equally as pleased to see any of the shortlisted writers pick up the gong - it was a brilliant shortlist, I thought).

I'm also particularly pleased because Confessions... is another Woolshed Press book, just like Into White Silence, and my longtime friend and editor Leonie Tyle was the one who commissioned and worked on it - it's a fantastic feather in her cap, and an honour that's been a long time coming.

So well done both of them.

In other news - I mentioned in my last post that I'm currently in love with Scrivener 2.0. This is quite simply the most useful writing tool that I've come across in years. A few people have commented here and on Twitter about their own love for it, and I fully understand where they're coming from. For $50 ish dollars, this is worth every cent. I particularly like the corkboard function, which enables me to do my planning and structuring, but also to jump quickly and simply between various points in my MSS. It also has brilliant research functionality which enables you to dump in anything - images, pdf's, whatever, and to associate them with whichever part of your document you intend to use them.

At this point, I'm using it for both fiction and academic writing, and finding it soooo useful for both.

And finally, on the subject of academic writing, you might remember that a few weeks ago now I posted about the impending release of my first two actual research papers. Well, the first of them is now out and about and, because it's in a free online journal, you can even read it!*

It's actually very strange, seeing it up there live and for real. It reminds me of the giddy anticipation I felt when my first book hit the shelves - kind of like standing at the start of some new and exciting avenue in your life.

Anyway, it's stopped raining outside, and so I'm going to take the opportunity to go and get Toby from daycare without getting wet. Or struck by lightning.

See you all later. It's good to be back...

*If you can't get to sleep tonight, I'd recommend it. Particularly the first half...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Status: Alive, but Brain Dead. (ie: A Zombie)

Yeah, I know, it's been two weeks. Argh.

In truth, this is a bit of a place filler, because I'm about to walk out the door to pick up the kidlet from daycare, and that's the best bit of my day at the moment.

The last couple of weeks haven't so much slipped by as screamed past at several times the legal limit, while leaning out the window and blowing Vuvuzula. I've been buried, utterly, utterly buried in myriad teaching, marking, endless seminars, trying desperately to get some writing done, getting prepped for the big end-of-semester influx coming up in a couple of weeks, visiting with my brother and sister in law during a flying visit to Sydney, and just generally being dad to an energetic 2 year old.

And, by the time I get home of an evening, I've been feeling utterly brain-dead. Staring at screens all day'll do that to you, so I'm afraid I've neglected you all. And will probably continue to do so until next week.

But don't let it get you down, I'll be back, and have lots of interesting things to write about. My new love affair with Scrivener,* for one thing...

In the meantime, though, it's time to go home to bed.

Back soon.


*seriously, if you write , you NEED this on your machine. I don't know how I lived without it...


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