Sunday, January 15, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: ANNA TAMBOUR

Let's make one thing clear: if you've assembled a list of best speculative fiction authors in Australia, and Anna Tambour isn't on it, you've either not read her or you're wrong.

Anna is, quite simply, one of the most original and fascinating speculative voices this country has ever produced. Her novels and collections, such as Monterra's Deliciosa and Other Stories, and Spotted Lily, have garnered fans everywhere they've touched, and awards lie up to throw nominations at her. her 2013 novel Crandolin, for example, was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her most recent publication is her 2015 collection The Finest Ass in the Universe. As with all her works, it's a sublime treat.

Despite all this, (and the fact you can find her online at her website here), Anna remains one of the most humble and self-effacing people I've ever met. When I asked her for a bio, she sent me this:

There are for each of us, according to his turn of mind, certain books that open up horizons hitherto undreamed of and mark an epoch in our mental life. They fling wide the gates of a new world wherein our intellectual powers are henceforth to be employed; they are the spark which lights the fuel on a hearth doomed, without its aid, to remain infinitely bleak and cold. And it is often chance that places in our hands those books which mark the beginning of a new era in the evolution of our ideas. The most casual circumstances, a few lines that happen somehow to come before our eyes, decide our future and plant us in the appointed groove.


            — J.H. Fabre, The Hunting Wasps




This, then, is one of my very favourite people in SF:


Precious Things: Anna Tambour

My greatest literary treasure is the first book I ever read by myself--a collection of stories such as "The Little Red Hen" and "The Brownies' Circus" and poems such as "The Owl and the Pussycat", "Who Has Seen the Wind?", and possibly my greatest influence for making me a committed and possibly committable satirist, A.A. Milne's immortal "The King's Breakfast" whose glorious illustrations are as important as the words (as are the illos for all the other stories and poems here, including "The Little Red Hen"). 





This book taught me the joy of music in language, the heights simple linework illos can reach--as well as making me sad for children of today who are so often barraged by unnecessary intrusions about the creators themselves. I didn't give a fig about not knowing the others or the disgracefully uncredited illustrators. I just read and gazed and thought about and further thought from this launch pad. 

The book itself is irrelevant to anyone else, but still reigns close enough to stare me down when I forgot how irrelevant I am.




Monday, January 09, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS: DONNA MAREE HANSON

Okay, I'm sick at home, and a whole bunch of my creative friends like this Precious Things ideas, and they've sent me their spiels already. Sooooooooooo...... that's enough of an excuse to pop another one up for our reading pleasure, isn't it?




Donna Maree Hanson is a Canberra-based writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and under the pseudonym Dani Kristoff, paranormal romance. Her dark fantasy series (which some reviewers have called ‘grim dark’), Dragon Wine, is published by Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan's digital imprint). In April 2015, she was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction’ for her work in running science fiction conventions, publishing and broader SF community contribution. Donna also writes young adult science fiction, with Rayessa and the Space Pirates and Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures out with Escape Publishing. In 2016, Donna  commenced her PhD candidature researching Feminism in Popular Romance. Her first Indie published book, Argenterra, was publishing in late April 2016. Argenterra is the first in an epic fantasy series (the Silverlands) suitable for adult and young adult readers. You can find out more about Donna at her website, but for now, here is the story of her literary treasure.



Precious Things: Donna Maree Hanson


Lee asked: what is your most precious literary treasure? What is your most precious literary possession? Tell me its story. Tell me why it's so precious to you, and what it means to you.

This is a hard question. I don’t think I have any from my childhood like Lee does. I read but it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I really started to read again. I’ve always loved science fiction, which at that time was television: Star Trek; UFO; Blake’s 7; etc. In film, it was Star Wars that blew me away. So for books, I started with science fiction mainly. Asimov’s Foundation series took my brain apart and reassembled it, but at the time a lot of the content was over my head but it led me to read more SF that the local library had.

One day, though, a young friend gave me Stephen Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane to read. I was 23 years old. I remember saying to him that I couldn’t get into it. He said just keep reading…and I did. Oh my God! I lived and breathed that book and the rest of the series. It changed how I thought about the world. (Now at that time I hadn’t read Lord of the Rings. Get it! I didn’t know that Donaldson had borrowed extensively from Tolkien.) I went around hugging trees, thinking that world was full of life, and I’d gaze at horse thinking back to Thomas Covenant and meeting the mythical horses and how he could feel them with his senses.




Not only did I read this series, I reread it many times. I had a hard-cover edition of the first trilogy, but sadly I loaned it to someone and didn’t get it back before I left New Zealand. If I could get that again, I would. It would be up there with my literary treasures (as physical books). Right now I have to settle for some old paper back versions.

There was a dearth of fantasy at that time but it turned me into a fantasy reader. In 1986 when I came back to Australia there were more and more books and I was so excited. Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles, and like everyone I know I read David Eddings. But this first trilogy from Donaldson holds the place as the first for me. It rocked my world and changed me and stayed with me. It cemented me as a reader and its influences linger on.

A brief recap on the story:Thomas Covenant is a leper, an angry person. His wife had left him and he’d lost two fingers on his left hand (I think). Then he is magically transferred to the land where he is mistaken as a historical figure. The land heals him of his leprosy. Overwhelmed with feelings and lust he rapes a young girl-- Lena-- a deed which shapes his story in the world. He’s an antihero, probably the first I ever encountered. The world is depicted in exquisite detail and with poetic words and evocative descriptions. Characters that lived for me and that I treasured as almost real. At that time in my life I hadn’t even heard some of those words he used or seen them used in that way. There are evil creatures, minions of Lord Foul, and there are giants, lovely giants. Oh my god! Saltheart Foamfollower! I have loved you forever, and cried and cried when we said goodbye.

I went on to read a lot of Donaldson’s books, but it is his two book duology, Mordant’s Need, that now sits in the most reread books pile. I just have a soft spot for Geraden and Teresa…

I would have to say that Donaldson would have be one of my writing influences because of the effect his writing had on me.

In saying the above, there are so many books that I’ve read and loved and that have been special, but you asked for the most precious, even harder to say, but I chose the first awakening for me. Also, I haven’t really told you about the precious books I own and just like looking at….



Coming up: tonnes of cool people, including Anna Tambour, Michael Robotham, and Greg Chapman. 






Sunday, January 08, 2017

PRECIOUS THINGS

This year, I'm starting a new interview series on the blog. I'm asking fellow authors, artists, creators, and just generally cool people I know, one simple question:

What is your most precious literary treasure?

So, this is Precious Things. Some of the coolest people I know, telling the stories behind some of the coolest things they have: the literary artefacts that helped make them the creators they are.

As is my tradition, I'm going to start things off with my own item, partly to give you an idea of how it's all going to look, and partly because I am a hoary old egomaniac who loves the sound of his own self-importance.



This is The Book. If you've known me long enough, you've heard the story. In 1979, when I was 8 years old, my family moved from Narrogin-- a country town in the Wheatbelt of about 3000 people-- to Rockingham, a seaside town of over 25,000, where I would stay for the next 13 years. The cultural disconnect was enormous, not least because, for the first time, I was introduced to the concept of large-scale, sustained bullying. But my horizons also grew: the range of sports on offer was larger (at one stage, I was playing 5 per week); the libraries were larger, and, basically, existed; there were magical, amazing things like cinemas and drive-ins and shopping centres.... my tiny, self-contained consciousness, which had been enfolded in a comfortable cocoon of working-class English insularity and acceptance of mediocrity, was ready for cracking.

Shortly before my 9th birthday, I discovered a record at the back of my parents' record collection. A Goon Show record. Yeah. We all know how that turned out. I still have it: I claimed it when my parents split up and point-blank refused to give it back to either of them. Plus, of course, I now have many more. So many more. My sense of humour was born. And we all know how that turned out. Crack number one. Call it a fissure. Call it a freaking canyon.

Then, for my 9th birthday, I received The Book. It's official title is Science Fiction Stories for Boys. It's one of those wonderful anthologies you used to see a lot of in my youth: a quickie rightsploitation effort from Octopus Books, sold on the cheap racks at Coles and K-Mart, filled to the brim with stories whose rights expired the day before the junior acquisitions guy got the directive from his Manager. There's not even an editor by-line.



BUT: Wells. Asimov. Bradbury. Kornbluth. Leinster. Fredric Brown. Mack Reynolds. Harry Harrison. Ward Moore. Eric Frank Russell. John Christopher. Harry Harrison...... it's a work of beauty. Some of the stories are genuinely stunning: Aldiss' To Serve a Man is, in my opinion, just about his best short. And Russell's Allamagoosa is a comic classic. If you've never read Brown's Knock, well......

And then there was this story. It Could be You, by Frank Roberts. I've talked about this story before, and the indelible, life-altering impact it had upon me. This is where I found it. This is where it all began.



Something inside me went clunk, and fell out of its slot. And it's never fitted back in. And for the next 13 years, it didn't matter how much I was bullied, and beaten, and ostracised (hint: a lot). It didn't matter how dramatic and painful my life became (hint: a lot). There was somewhere to retreat to: a place where I saw the horizon in a way nobody else could, where I could determine the colours in the spectrum, or the species of my companions, or the fate of worlds. I had found the home of my mind and soul. Everything I have created, aspired towards, and dreamed of, began with that LP, and even more so, this book.

My family aside, my art aside, this tatty book is my most precious possession. It marks the point where I ceased to be my parents' heritage, and began the long, painful, and difficult fight to becoming me.


So there you have it: the first Precious Thing. Stay tuned.






Friday, January 06, 2017

PSST: WANNA GET SOME MENTORING UP YA?

So, here's my first Writer-Guy announcement for 2017: I'm a manuscript mentor for the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, along with the likes of Stephen Dedman, Satima Flavell, Laurie Steed, and Amanda Curtin.

If you'd like an exclusive one-on-one session, with targeted advice and specific plans of action, check out the details below and get your application in.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

AND ON TO THE NEW YEAR

So here we are, at the start of a new year. My too-short holiday is over. I'm back at work tomorrow. And, unless I dig in and force some changes in my life, it's going to be just another year like so many I've had recently-- aimless, drifting, trapped in a path that's slowly making me more miserable and insular, without any opportunity for change.

Normally, this is the time to make resolutions for the coming year. But, as I managed to meet exactly zero of the resolutions I set for 2016 (despite other, excellent, occurrences happening), I'm not going to be so prescriptive this year. I've set some goals, and I'll be keeping track of them. But I'll also be keeping a record of those achievements I reach that are not on the list. The greatest change I have to make is to remain positive-- I slip into depression too easily, and allow that depression to derail everything too easily as well.

So, what goals am I aiming for in 2017?

Finish Ghost Tracks. This is self-explanatory. It's the work-in-progress. It's the work I've been telling everyone I'm working on. It's the work my publisher is waiting to see. It's 15,000 words done. Time to get it done and get it into the world.

Finish Anthony the Ammonite. My little picture book, inspired by my ammonite-obsessed grandson. I'm having fun with it, it's a big change of pace, and it would be nice to see it illustrated and in the hands of my grandchildren.

Get under 100kg and stay there. My weight has been a constant battle, and appear on every annual list I make. I started 2016 at 112kg, and briefly made it as far as 99, before finishing the year as 106kg. Eating better is a big goal, and getting regular exercise. I want to be healthier, and stay in shape. Losing weight and keeping it off I the biggest part of that.

Finish my diploma. I started a Diploma of Project Management at the insistence of work, and quickly fell massively behind as I have very little interest in it. But it's been 1992 since I completed a qualification, so even for the sake of updating my CV, I should get through it.

Display at Bricktober. Okay, this is probably my soda. I'm working on a (for me) massive project for this year's Bricktober exhibition: a SHiP, and the surrounding diorama. SHiP is an acronym for 'Super Huge Investment in Parts: it's a spaceship of at least 100 studs in length. That's roughly 1 1/2 times as long as anything I've built before, even before I start working on the landing pad, support vehicles, and so on that will complete the scene. If you're going to be mad, you may as well be excellently mad.

So there are my goals. There's a lot more that I'll achieve throughout the year, but these are my markers, my milestones.

Strap in.


Friday, December 23, 2016

SEE YOU IN 2017, FOLKS

Well, my darlings, that's me for the year. I'm outta here, to spend the next 10 days in a drunken stupor relaxing with my family, my hobbies, my air-conditioning, and my platter of Christmas nibblies.

What do I plan in 2017? A return to writing, with a vengeance. 2016 was a lost year in too many ways, and the loss of my writing was amongst the most painful difficulties I went through. No more, I say.

The battle with my weight will continue. I lost-- and kept off-- several kilograms this year, but not as many as I'd hoped for, and after getting under 100kgs I slipped and have ended the year at about 105. A little bit of dedication is in order.

A little bit of dedication is in order in most things: one of the reasons 2016 became such a slippery slope of depression and difficulty was my own lack of internal fortitude. 2017 will be a return to my more manned-up self: there was a time I was a model of focus and determination. Time to get back to those days, methinks.

But, there's some positives, too: if you're of a mind, you'll be able to see me taking advantage of two wonderful opportunities throughout the year, on the back of the continued respect that Magrit is according me in my little corner of the industry.

In May, I'll be speaking, and running an all-day Masterclass, at the 2017 Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore. It's my first visit to the island nation, so I'll be combining my official duties with running round like some sort of insane, gaping tourist child, which means I'll be available for shenanigans and japery as well as dispensing my usual brand of hard-won wisdom, blasphemy and outright effrontery.

And closer to home, I've been recently announced as the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre's 2017 Established Writer in Residence. I'll be staying at the Centre for 2 weeks in July, working on a new project as well as mentoring, attending groups, and generally being available to be cool and wise and elder-statesmanly and the like. I'm yet to receive confirmation on the requirement for nakedness and loin cloths....

So here's to 2017: let it be the year we ride dragons and vanquish virgins! Wait.......


EVERYTHING GOES BETTER WITH BOOKS

Back in the long-distant past, my best friend Seanie and I bought each other a second-hand book for Christmas each year, because we were skint and it was a fun way to do it. The idea was to find a book that the other party would never buy for himself, but open opening the gift would say "Oh, yes. perfect!"

When Luscious rejoined Christmas a couple of years back, we revived the tradition. It was a nice way to do something individual, and thoughtful, and bought into our mutual bibliophilia. Last year, we included Ms 15 and Master 12, and made it a Secret Santa.

And this year, we expanded, drawing in our adult children and their partners, and organising things so that each couple contributed something for our two grandchildren, so that they ended up with the biggest swag of all. I assigned a name to each family member. We stuck to a $20 limit. Every book had to be second hand, and conform to the gift-giving "perfect!" philosophy that Seanie and I set 25 years ago. 

Last night, we gathered at our house. I make a bucket of eggnog, Luscious made a bucket of macaroni cheese, everyone added to a bucket of chips and dip and nibblies and chocolate. And we settled in to receive our books. 

So here we are: three generations of Triffbatts, with our Secret Santa books. This is how traditions start.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

2016 ADDENDUM: THE YEAR I GOT INK

After delays, cancellations, and general faffing about, I finally received my birthday present yesterday.

I think it looks rather natty myself.




It's my first tattoo, at the age of 46, and as I can't afford a sports car, and I have no intention of having an affair with my secretary, this is about as mid-life crisisish as I'm likely to get. Of course, if you're going to permanently scar yourself, the image should have some meaning, and this is no different.

I've always been a huge fan of The Prisoner, the TV show from which the image and quote are taken. The show is a meditation in individuality, personal choice, and the right to privacy in a world where the compromises you make in order to survive threaten the very notion of your right to exist as a discrete being. After most of an adult life spent trying to balance some sort of artistic career with the soul-destroying conformity of various Governmental jobs, the quote speaks for itself: it's a reminder to me of the need to constantly assert my individuality in the face of overwhelming conformity. It's cost me a great deal over the years: happiness, job satisfaction, advancement, and stress. But it's the message that I cling to, because I'm more than another faceless bureaucrat, and my worth to the Universe is greater.

The penny farthing is, to me, a bumblebee: the least efficient, most nonsensical design for achieving its primary goal, but one that works outside of all logic and reason. It's the physical manifestation of a wonderful Doctor Who line, spoken many years ago by the Third Doctor-- A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.

So, there we have it: thanks to my darling Luscious, the kids, and our good friends Kris and Kim, I'm a marked man. My physical nature is changed forever. And I'm rather pleased.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

2016: WTFTYTW

Can anyone explain what the hell just happened? I mean, I know we had a year, and all, but what the actual fuck? Who gave 2016 red cordial and fizzy lifesavers the moment it woke up?

Anyway, if I can dodge the rain of dropping celebrities long enough, here's a quick attempt to sum up my year in a slightly longer form than just shouting "dumpster fire!" while pouring liquid lava up my orifices.



1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?

Had a children's book published. It's called Magrit, and if you've not heard me mention it before, it's doing quite well. I accepted an invitation to present at the 2017 Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore, the first time this writing gig has sent me overseas as the educator, rather than the student. And, though it hasn't been announced, I've been offered a 2-week residency in 2017-- again, the first time I've received one as a pro rather than emerging writer. Exhibited at the interstate Lego show Brickvention. Attended the Brisbane Writers Festival, and what's more, did it as an invited guest presenter. (Oh, and also sold out a Writers Festival. Baby.)

See what I mean? None of these were frigging goals. None. And yet, when you say them like that......

2. Did you achieve your goals for the year, and will you make more for next year?

 I didn't achieve a single one, but the shape of my year changed so prodigiously that they became irrelevant around about May and simply didn't appear on the radar after that. For 2017, we'll be setting some goals as a family and any personal goals I set will be in service to them.

Other than writing. Man, I have to get back to writing. 


3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My first-cousin-once-removed-in-law (she let's me call her Jessie) had her second. 


4. Did anyone close to you die?

My cousin Amanda took her own life in July. I've never been overly close to my cousins, but Amanda and I had reconnected over Facebook over the last 3 years or so, and had chatted happily enough. I didn't know it was coming, but then, isn't that the nature of such things?

And, of course, every single celebrity in the Western world died, including several who played important roles in my cultural upbringing, not least among them David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali and Leonard Cohen. It was that kind of year.  


5. What countries did you visit?

Melbourne. Which, admittedly, is just a different part of Australia, but may as well be a different country. A different country filled with hipsters and deconstructed vegan air-fried health cafes on stilts. And late-night bookstores. And cool things. 

Also Brisbane, which is also not another country, but seems to be where I keep an awful lot of my friends, so it's nicer to call it that than a friendcloset. 


6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Adequate meds. 


7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 

27 February. The day Magrit was launched upon an unsuspecting, and somewhat distracted, world.
25 November. The last day of Lyn's degree. She's fought so hard, and overcome so much, for so long.


8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Honestly? Despite all the good things that happened, it might just be surviving the damn thing. 

Keen-eyed readers will notice I've said nothing about my day job. Keen-eyed readers would be right. While my writing world has had a lot of momentary ups (although no real, actual writing)-- and my family continue to be my strength, my support, and my happiness-- my professional life has been the kind of dumpster fire other dumpster fires dream of being when they grow up. The smoke is slowly clearing at the moment, but from October last year until a few weeks ago it was a spiralling descent into despair and depression that I genuinely saw no way to escape. It coloured every aspect of my life, killed my creativity, and came very close to derailing me permanently. 

Thankfully, some things have changed, some people have moved on, and I'm slowly clearing away the accretions, but 2016 will still be the year I look back on as the one where it all came crashing down and I had to claw my way back out of the rubble.


9. What was your biggest failure?

Not recognising the signs and looking for the exit sign.


10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

A vicious and hard-fought 12 round split decision victory over depression. 


11. What was the best thing you bought?

Our super-comfy bendy relaxation zone. Other people call it a recliner couch. I call it a horizontal puffy heavenpod.


12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

As always, my family amaze and inspire me.

Ms 15 glided her way to a report card that I might be able to equal if I cut up all of the report cards I ever received and glued the best bits back together again.

Luscious finished her University degree with a grade point average that resulted in her being invited to study (it seemed) every post-graduate course her University has ever offered, and saw her awarded a paid internship for the graduate diploma she'll be completing next year.

Master 12 fought and scratched and pushed his way past illness, extreme bullying, and an incompetent and weak school administration to make his way back into the school system and graduate primary school surrounded by school friends, teachers who backed him, and a school that understood his situation.

My bonus daughter Cassie stayed strong like a mother bear in the face of a toxic and dangerous partner, and managed to extricate herself and her children in such a way that her kids remained safe and protected the whole way through. The war continues, but she wins battle after battle, and her strength is amazing to watch.

And my nephew, who came out at age 15 with grace, dignity and maturity, secure in the knowledge that his identity is strong. He's a hell of a kid, and I'm proud of him. 

Honestly, as far as this family goes, I really am just the fat one who follows at the back and hope the cool kids let him hang out with them. 


13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Holy Jeebus, where do we start? 

The filth that make up the Government of this country. America: I mean, just all of them. If you don't know why, come back from space and pick up an internet. Vladimir Putin and the warmongering, evil, fascists who prop him up. The troglodyte State Government we suffer under, and their mindless slashing of arts finances and illegal acts on the Roe Highway extensions. Lionel Shriver, who came to Brisbane and betrayed the organisation she represented by spouting a tirade of such ignorance and racism that it still makes me angry and ashamed to be part of the same industry.

Also, a puppy shat on my lawn at some stage and never came back to pick it up. 


14. Where did most of your money go?

Credit card debt, mortgage refinancing, and as I made the mistake of letting Luscious come with me, Christmas decorations.


15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

2017.


16. What song will always remind you of 2016?





17. Compared to this time last year, are you: i. happier or sadder? ii. thinner or fatter? iii. richer or poorer?

Definitely happier, all things considered, and more content. I'm thinner, just-- at one stage I did dip below 100kg, but I've wavered back up to 104kg at the moment, which is still better than the 112kg I was at my heaviest, so I'm calling it a small win. And, thanks to various refinancing efforts and redistribution of debt, the decision to move to smaller, lower-mortgage house is finally beginning to pay real dividends. which means that we may not be richer, but we're far more comfortable on a pay-to-pay basis.

Overall, it feels like we're in a good space, and ready to add the final pieces to make sure 2017 works its arse off for us.


18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Writing. Happiness.Making the most of my time away from the workplace.


19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Stress, depression, fear, worry. Fighting for the right of my family members to simply be. 


20. How will you spend Christmas?

Tradition is for us to wake up with the kids and do presents at breakfast, before the grandparents take them for the rest of the day to do big-family-gathering things, and Lyn and I settle in with a platter, some wine, and a few good movies. I see no reason to change this arrangement. 


21. Who did you meet for the first time?

About one hundred million billion jillion gazillion Queensland schoolkids. Several very cool writers including Carole Wilkinson, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, and the super-lovely Katherine Battersby, who I met when we checked into the Brisbane hotel at the same time and completely messed up the programming of the poor staff trying to check us in simultaneously.

Also, a whole bunch of very cool Lego people (IT'S A THING!), including the incomparable Shannon Sproule, Damien Saunders, and Paulius Stepanas, the last of whom helped me laugh my arse off through the most ridiculous game of Dirty Brickster I've ever witnessed


22. Did you fall in love in 2016?

Stayed in love. Guess with who. Go on. Guess.

Hint: she's graceful, and dignified, and looks like this:




23. What was your favourite TV program?

Longmire was excellent, right up to the point where it wasn't. That might say more about me than the show-- I have a low tolerance for serial TV, and get bored once I perceive the characters turning into templates of themselves or the plots beginning to waver away from a strong central theme. The Flash had a great first season and a slightly-less great second season. True Detective Season 2 was an odd come-down from the brilliant first season: not bad per se, but just.... less good, relying on some fantastic performances to keep it going, instead of fantastic performances over a scintillating plot.

Stranger Things was delightfully wonderful, packed tight with fantastic performances from a collection of young actors who absolutely nailed every aspect of every moment they were given. The plot was pure fantasy brilliance: by turn delightful, creepy, outright terrifying and emotionally gripping. It was a tour-de-force on every level.

But just pipping it, for me, was Netflix's let's-fuck-up-the-superhero-template-and-see-how-they-like-it Jessica Jones. Incredibly bleak, powerful, fraught, and unmissable. I was hooked from the beginning and had to carefully ration it lest I run out of season before I ran out of messed-up feels.


24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

I have a deep and dark dislike and mistrust of a work colleague who proved herself untrustworthy, malicious, and altogether the kind of person I would happily emigrate to avoid. Not outright hatred, but I'll be glad to tell her exactly what I think of her, in  minute detail, on the day I leave.

Outright hatred? Let's mention my daughter Cassie's former partner Ashley: an abusive coward who threatened the safety and welfare of her and their two children under the age of five. Room 101 is too good for him-- he should be expunged.


25. What was the best book you read?

I gave 5-star ratings to a couple of old masters this year: I revisited Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange for the first time in 20 years, and was blown away by it all over again; and Elmore Leonard's Fire in the Hole was more of his typical brutal brilliance.

I didn't read anything that was truly atrocious this year, largely because I stuck mainly to graphic novels. But Brian Michael Bendis' run on Guardians of the Galaxy was the last word in blandification, turning Dan Abnett's wonderfully screwy and charming collection of lunatics into just another pale B-Grade Avengers clone. 


26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

It was a good year for music. A whole bunch of songs found their way down the tube to the iTunes account. Leonard Cohen's You Want it Darker and Nevermind were stunning, as was Montaigne's Clip My Wings. Bowie's final album produced three songs I keep coming back to: Blackstar, Lazarus and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. Say My Name by Peking Duk. Jen Cloher's cover of The Slits' Typical Girls. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's wonderfully odd People Vultures.

But my number 1 pick, when Hottest 100 time comes around, is Illy's joyful Catch 22. I'm not the hugest hip-hop fan, but this balances all the right components perfectly. It's tuneful, catchy, with a great turn of phrase, and compulsively singable. It is, quite simply,  my favourite song of the year.




27. What was your favourite film of this year?

It was a wonderful year for movies, or maybe I just didn't have the money to fling on too many outrageous dogs.

Honestly, three weeks ago, when I watched Doctor Strange twice within 24 hours, I'd have said it was the most enjoyable film of the year by the length of the straight, At the time of writing, having watched Arrival last night, for the second time in just over a week, I'd say toss a coin. Either or. Or, to quote Chris Hemsworth's hilarious Kevin from first runner-up and Fuck-You-Whiny-Fanboy delight, Ghostbusters: Potato, tomato.

Doctor Strange. Arrival. Go watch Ghostbusters, too.  Whichever one, I don't care. You'll thank me.

And this year, I'm adding a new award to my filmic list. The Those Who Can Do-y Award, which I'm awarding to the much-maligned Suicide Squad. It might be because I've been a fan of the Squad since I was knee high to something that isn't quite knee high, but damn it, I bloody well enjoyed this movie, despite every critic in Christendom parping on about what a despicable piece of shite it was. Well I enjoyed it, and I pre-ordered it on Blu-Ray, and I enjoyed the extended cut even more than the theatrical cut, and I'm giving it an award, so fuck you, headless ghost of Roger Ebert!

I may be working through a few issues at the moment.

The Shut Up And Die Already Will Ferrell Award for 2016? I can't remember if I saw the terminally tedious and overblown snoozefest The Martian this year or last: either way, I'd rather get the 19 hours I spent watching the damned thing back than talk about it, so I'm giving a great big bear trap to the filmic gonads of Batman versus Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not even naming this film's mother Martha would have made me like it. And if you get that gag, you know.

You. Just. Know.


28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

46, and I worked. Yay. But Lyn did make me my favourite meal, and I was showered in money for a most unusual present-- my very first tattoo, which I'll be having inked next week-- by friends and family, so it was pretty symptomatic of my year: not the way I expected it to go down, but pretty bloody good nonetheless.


29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Financial independence.


30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Indifferent.


31. What kept you sane?

Lyn. Always Lyn.


32. What political issue stirred you the most?

Heh. Heheheheheheheheheh....... Whadda ya got?

American elections. Australian elections. The rise of fascism (Fuck you with your 'alt-right'. If it marches like a Nazi, and salutes like a Nazi...) in my own country and across the Western world. The Henna Nazi's return to the Australian senate like some zombie boil that refuses to be lanced. The destruction of arts funding in Australia. The rise and rise of Donnie Drumpf. Having to listen to that freaky little piss-stain Malcolm Roberts talk. Ever. The climate of fear, bigotry and outright terror that friends, peers, and people I admire are living through simply because they do not conform to the outdated and ignorant world view of people who wear suits on Sunday or tie a flag around their shoulders like a cape when they get pissed on National Nationalism Day of Your Choice.

Take your goddamn pick.


33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Change is inevitable. The rate of change should be in my hands, and nobody else's.


34. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

They're lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn't know I had permission to murder and to maim.


      -- You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A SERIES OF UNSOLICITED BRICK PICS

It's almost upon us again: Saturday 8 and 9 October marks the third annual -- and my second appearance at -- Bricktober, Perth's premier Lego display and exhibition.


The Blue Meanie. One of the ships I'll be displaying.


Who doesn't love the Classics?


This year, I'll be part of two displays-- my own, individual display is a six-foot long depiction of a spaceship race, with nine large ships racing across a rocky moon surface; and I've organised a group exhibit in the building style known as Micropolis, where everything is at a scale of one stud per three feet: in short, everything is teeeeeeensy tiny. 


The baseplates for my spaceship display,
set against the bloated corpse of a beach whale
for comparison.

Micropolis. Where trees are trees, and
fire trucks are adoooorable.


Roooaaarrrr. I is tewwifying!


Bricktober takes place at the Canning Showgrounds from 9am-4.30pm, 8 and 9 October. Apart from 2 halls of displays by 40 exhibitors, there are Build-In-The Bag, Rapid MOC and Speed Build competitions; a brick pit for free play; stop-motion brick films; Lego vehicles to drive; costumed characters; and a host of other activities.


The Silas Greenback.


The Toadstool.


You can pre-book tickets for timed entry slots online. Tickets are $8.30 each, or $26.20 for a family of four: a plate of Chinese and a drink would cost more. Full details can be found on the Bricktober website, or visit the Facebook page.


Comin' at ya this October.


















Monday, September 19, 2016

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.