Sunday, February 07, 2016

PERTH WRITERS FESTIVAL, HERE WE COME!

So, here's some good news: thanks to a withdrawal, I'm a late invitee to appear at this year's Perth Writers Festival!

I'll be doing a world-building panel on the schools day on Thursday, before hanging out with AJ Betts, Carole Wilkinson and Andy Griffiths on 'Writing Matters' at 2.45pm on Friday, then arseing about by myself at a solo session in the Tropical Grove at 9am on the Sunday, where my ideas so far begin and end with "maybe I can throw a bucket of tennis balls at the kids", so it's bound to be fun......

I'll be at the event for the entire weekend, so if you see me, come and say hi! 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

AWAY, AWAY, WHERE ONLY MEMORY CAN FIND YOU... AND PHOTOS.... AND GPS... AND WHEREIS... AND, YOU KNOW, PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE KNOWS.

I don't know when you started your year, but for me, this is the first weekend of 2016.

For the first time in six years, I've actually managed to have some proper holidays, and while New Year's resolutions are fine and dandy and wonderfully worthwhile things, I'm damned if I'm going to remember what they are when I'm sitting in a Kripsy Kreme at 10 o'clock at night with a vanilla slice doughnut in one hand and a fuck-off-sized banana malt milkshake in the other.

In other news, we spent a week in Melbourne, and yesterday I recorded a 1.7kg gain at my Weight Watchers weigh-in......

Nominally, the trip happened because the kid's grandparents took them away for a week, but it was really a chance for me to exhibit at my 2nd Lego exhibition, the incredible Brickvention, where something in the region of 26,000 members of the public descended upon the Royal Exhibition Building to view the works of Lego artists from all over the country, for Lyn to catch up with her cousin Sue, and for us both to catch up with our good friend Grant Watson. Plus, you know, Melbourne.

Let's start with the Lego, shall we?

BRICKVENTION

I've been niggling abut getting over to this massive exhibition for a couple of years now. Brickvention 2016 took place at the Royal Exhibition Building, a beautiful old building next to the Victorian Museum. The 2-day exhibition is preceded by an AFOL day: an entire day set aside for seminars, mutual admiration, frenzied discounted-sets buying, fan auctions, lectures, drinking and an enormous game of Dirty Brickster. The day started at 9am. We arrived in Melbourne at 6am. It's fair to say that working a full day, then going straight to the airport to catch a red-eye flight, then dropping your exhausted wife off in the middle of a strange City by herself while you fuck off for 12 hours of self-indulgent Lego activity is not a practice I'll replicate next time I do this event.

I have a very loving wife.

The AFOL day itself was a lot of fun. Registration was accompanied by a goodies bag that would be the envy of most of the professional conventions I've attended-- a backpack stacked with free Lego, including an exhibition-exclusive set designed by Australian AFOL Shannon Sproule; branded high-quality water bottle; exhibitor t-shirt; and a range of vouchers designed to make me feel welcome and pampered. Bloody worked, too. Once I'd picked up my goodies and signed up for some of the ore interesting events, I sahayed into the several-thousand square feet building to admire the astonishing skills of the other builders, and meet my co-exhibitors.

Due to distance, unfamiliarity, and weight restrictions, I was making perhaps the smallest contribution of any exhibitor: a 32x32-stud module towards a Micropolis collaborative build. Micropolis refers to a tiny-scale modular City built collaboratively by any number of contributors: the Brickvention version contained contributions from Queensland, South Australia and Victoria as well as my spaceport-in-a-backpack. I placed my little offering at the edge of the city, met and chinwagged with Cherie and Shaun Patrick, Queenslanders who had made the journey down to be a part of the build, then spent the rest of the day wandering around in my own little world, taking photos, going back again and again to the commercial stalls for just one more custom-printed block or baseplate, and generally geeking out like a geeky little geeker geek.

After meeting Luscious for dinner, we both trooped back to the hall to show Lyn the much-more-impressive-than-her-husband's works on display and to finish the night off with Dirty Brickster, a round-table game that involves unwrapping mystery Lego packages and then madly stealing them off each other while the rest of the crowd hoots and hollers in mock outrage. Having picked up a sweet submarine set at 20% off earlier in the day, I set my eyes on a duplicate that was unwrapped late in the game, and came away with it in a state of high glee, the calls of 'Dirty Brickster' loud in my ears as I casually swiped it from the person who'd swiped it from the person who'd swiped it from the person who unwrapped it. Stolen three times, the set was officially out of the game and under my chair: a great part pack of colourful elements that will find their way into a spaceship MOC very soon.

Saturday and Sunday were spent behind our display table, answering questions and chatting to the unending stream of visitors who attended the public exhibition, bar a couple of hours on Saturday when I snuck out to join Luscious at the National Gallery's Hamer Hall to see visiting naturalist Steve Backshall on stage, a pre-paid performance that was a much-anticipated highlight of the trip. And then, after three days of full Lego immersion, it was all over, and I said goodbye to new friends like Damien Saunders and Paulius Stepanius, and old ones like Sue Ann Barber, and headed out into the night for four days in the supposed cultural capital of Australia with Lyn.

Before that, though, we're going to need a gallery:



Brickvention! After 7 hours on a plane, a 45 minute walk from the hotel, and 27 hours since any form of sleep, I make it!



The Royal Exhibition Building is a modest, understated little thing...



Modest. Understated.



It's hard to decide what the design brief for the lights were, but 'giant, fuck-off' seems to have been mentioned... 



40 feet above our heads, someone has folk-arted flowers on the ceiling. Which begs the question: who even decides to haul a Nanna that high, and how do they do it?



My modest little contribution joins the table.



The full Micropolis display, with my module on the right side. 7 contributors from WA, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, including Sue Ann Barber, Cherie and Shaun Patrick, and Tim Burdon.



Every exhibitor received a brick-built badge consisting of 1x6 bricks with their name and the exhibition year engraved upon them. Here, AFOL Tim Matheson models a multi-year badge that might just have taken the whole concept over the edge......



Scottish builder and author Warren Elsmore takes us through his work.



Dirty brickster.... dirty brickster......



So many displays, even a dedicated NoLSO (Non-Lego Significant Other) like Luscious can find one she wants to be seen with.



A mildly popular event......


And what of the displays themselves? Here is a small (and I mean small) selection of what was on display. Where I know the name of the artist I've denoted it, but nonetheless, mad skills abound. 



Even in brick form, the Lancaster is a thing of beauty.



Ryan McNaught's Titanic. An absolute behemoth about 6 feet high and eight long, with unbelievable detail and narrative moment in every inch. 



He also contributed this. I'm sure he processes tax forms or something equally boring in his spare time...




As if that wasn't enough, Ryan also undertook a live 'mystery build' with patrons over the two days, creating these life-size, wearable and sittable, versions of the classic 886 space set. Talented sod.



Audrey, by Tim Burdon.



A classic space diorama by Donna Mee and family, from Tasmania, that had me drooling in nostalgia lust.

 







SHIP is an acronym that stands for Seriously Heavy Investment in Parts. Any questions?



God, I love spacecraft. 



Classic Space SHIP. I actually heard my inner ten year old squee.






More airborne beauty.



M-Tron. A space series that arrived after I had moved on from my childhood collecting. That colour scheme is insane.



Greebling: the addition of small detail designed to give texture and visual interest. Got it?



 And what of Melbourne itself? Well, that will need a part two, tomorrow.








Thursday, January 28, 2016

LAUNCH IN T-MINUS...... (COUNTS FINGERS)......

 
My fabulous book-pimp Stefen has confirmed the details, so I'm overjoyed to announce that we’ll be officially launching Magrit at (drum roll):
 
8 Shafto Lane, Perth
11am-12.30pm
Saturday 27 February.
 

 
 
We’ll be having a reading, some Q&A, and copies of the book to buy and get signed, of course, as well as some spooky fun things I still have to decide upon and/or fund. Then we'll be crossing the lane to hang out with us at The Generous Squire for lunch and beverages, which is the only reason I’m going…….
 
Come on down for fun, frolics, some other things beginning with 'f' that I haven't worked out yet, and the unforgettable sight of me pretending to be a ten year old girl in front of children!
 
 


 
 
 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

OFF INTO THE WILD BLUE... THEN GREY... THEN SNOWING... THEN BLUE AGAIN.... THEN HURRICANES.... WTF, MELBOURNE? YONDER

So, here we are, sitting in the airport, waiting to board. The mail's been put on hold, the out-of-office message is programmed into the email account, Blakey-boy has taken up his house-sitting position with our fridge and our remote controls and the pin for the adult channel....

Off to Melbourne for a week. I'll be lurking about Brickvention for the weekend (many, many pictures to follow) while Luscious rests her foot and catches up with family and clothes shopping, then we'll be swanning around for the rest of the week spending egregious amounts of holiday cash on restaurants and theatre shows-- the Midsumma Gay and Lesbian Festival Leopold and Loeb bio musical tickets have already been booked-- and generally being windswept and interested.

See you when I get back.

OH, YOU PRETTY THING

So, a few muddled, incomprehensible words, because I still can't quite comprehend the event itself.





Like many of my friends, peers, and contemporaries, I've spent the last 4 days wandering around in somewhat of a daze, trying to come to terms with news of the sudden death of David Bowie at the age of 69.

Much like Robin Williams last year, I've experienced a form of genuine grief, borne of the fact that Bowie has been an ever-present flavour of wallpaper in my life. I've never been without a Bowie song somewhere in my consciousness-- on the radio, in my Walkman/disc player/iTunes playlist. When I checked, shortly after I heard the news, I had 98 Bowie songs on my iPod. Whenever I'm interviewed, and discuss my influences, he's the first name listed. Actor, artist, musician, fashion icon, Bowie was exactly the kind of polymath artist that fascinates and inspires me, and to which I aspire.

My first exposure came relatively late in his first great period-- the video for Ashes to Ashes, at age 9, on Countdown (where else?). There was nothing else like it in the world. I was simultaneously awestruck, intimidated, and scared-- it was clearly dealing with subjects and emotions I was unaware of, and using a suite of imagery I wasn't able to process. I was only just discovering music in any meaningful way. My world was still dominated by my parents' 50s and 60s MOR sensibilities. My mother hated the Beatles for turning into hippies, for fuck's sake: what chance did I have? The man, the song, and the video stuck with me, and stuck hard, but at the more threatening, deeper end of my experiential awareness. It is, of course, exactly where he would want to be, and where he deserved to be.


Ashes to Ashes. The first Bowie video I recall seeing.

While I grew into a Bowie fan, I grew into a 'classic' Bowie fan. I loved the songs, but they were the same suite of songs that the entire Western world seemed to love: those genuine classics that dominated the 1970s and early 80s. Apart from the radio standards, his currency dropped off my radar by the time I was in Uni in the very late 80s, sometime between Tonight and regular sex. A brief flurry of interest around the time of  The Saint movie in the mid-90s, when his song You Little Wonder made the soundtrack and a couple of rotations on JJJ, almost as a curiosity notwithstanding, it was his acting that I was drawn to. Sure, there was his performance in Labyrinth (Oh, the hair, oh the codpiece, oh the second-rate Muppets), but discovering The Man Who Fell to Earth and (of all things) The Linguini Incident opened up a new appreciation for the man's ability to switch roles and faces. And, of course, he could act. Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence was a revelation, a high watermark he did not surpass until a perfectly-pitched turn as Nikola Tesla in the otherwise teeth-itchingly irritating The Prestige.


The Man Who Fell to Earth.



But there he was, always there. Always Ziggy, and The Thin White Duke, and Aladdin Sane, thanks to radio and my burgeoning music collection and the sheer weight of his presence within popular culture. He had become an ornament, pressed in amber.

Then, a few years ago, a chance comment to my good friend Grant Watson opened a discussion of Grant's Bowie fandom, which was gathering strength just as mine was receding. In the process, I was exposed to the music I'd missed, all those synth and electronica-heavy experiments from the 90s, and (what we thought) were the final, atmosphere-heavy mood pieces from (what we thought) his final works, Heathen and Reality. And I fell in love all over again. My favourite songs come from this period, particularly his jungle-and-synth-infused trio Outside, Earthling and Hours. Indeed, apart from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Earthling is the only album I have in its entirety on my iPod. And, in the last few days, Blackstar, as I listen to it over and over, trying to unpick the last messages to the world of a dying man. But that, of course, is a different thing. And, of course, that's what the man could do. Disappear from public view for ten years, and stop the world with his return. The greatest prodigal son 20th Century art ever had. Even his absence was an event.

So, here I am, with that final statement, like everyone else, not so much listening to the songs as trying to assemble the narrative behind them, the one that speaks of an artist using his last remaining moments not to enfold himself with family but with his art, to shout one last time from the edge of the cliff in the hope that this time, this final time, the world will get it. He's not the first, of course: he's not even the first in my playlist. The stories behind Queen's Made in Heaven, and Freddie Mercury's long solo sessions in the studio, laying down vocal tracks for the rest of the band to orchestrate after his death, have become musical legend, as has Warren Zevon's unbelievable last album The Wind. And they're both legends, and I miss them both and the impact they had on my life.

But this is Bowie. And, in some ways, those four words sum up the man's impact, not just on my life but on popular culture as a whole over the last 40 years. No matter your argument, over legacy or influence or cultural impact or precedent; no matter who you nominate as greater, or better, or whatever; no matter how I try to rationalise that what I got from him is no more or less than what he gave to the rest of the world-- 27 albums, a bunch of movies, some art, some characters; no matter how much I try to rationalise and place him in the context of every other distant, unknowable public figure I've only ever experienced as a man-made object. The answer is the same.

Yeah. But this is Bowie.

I still keep waiting for the new that it was all a mistake, that he's alive and well and there's a new album coming. I still keep waiting to get it.





Can I pick a favourite Bowie song? Can I even pick a dozen? No. Here's one that, maybe,
you've not heard. Because it seems there's always more to discover, even amongst those
who've had him a our constant travelling companion our whole lives.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

MAGRIT IMAGE PORN!

Because that's not a creepy weird title, given the book's about a ten year old girl.....

Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss'anywaaaaaaayyyyy...... the publisher has sent me some groovy hi-res images of bits of the book!

Wanna see them?

Course you do.






Monday, December 28, 2015

2015: THE YEAR THAT WHATEVER WHATEVER WITH SOME GOOD BITS AND STEAMING GYPSIES THROWN IN FOR GOOD MEASURE.

What an odd year it's been. 

2015 started out positively, with a major life change that boded well for our financial stability and lifestyle-- a change that played out happily. But it's also been a year of creative moribundity (Is that even a word? See what I mean? SEE?) and professional dissatisfaction that has soured my day job almost beyond salvation. 

As always, it seems that my life consists of my wife and family, creative career, professional career, health and well-being concerns, financial concerns, and the need to take time out to draw breath. And, as always, it seems I can't get them all to balance. 

So, here goes. 2015 in review:


1. What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?

 Visited Bali. Made a concerted effort to lose weight. Threatened to sue a school. Exhibited at an art show-- the fabulous Bricktober.

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

Honestly, I didn't really have any goals for 2015, and the year rather reflected that. I spent most of the year drifting, to the point where my writing career, in particular, has suffered greatly and has almost disappeared. 

In 2016 I want to achieve a couple of things, to whit:
  • Continue my weight loss. I peaked at 111 kilograms this year, which is rather a lot for a bloke who tickles 5 ft 10 in his stockinged booties. I've managed to get down to a smidgeteenth over 102, but I won't be happy until I'm at 90, looking towards 80. I'm trying to develop some muscle mass as well, and enough flexibility and conditioning that I can do something I've never before attempted: step into a boxing ring and go a couple of round with someone. I've never been muscular, I've never been able to fight. There's nothing about it that wouldn't be a challenge. Which is why I want to have a go.
  • Rediscover my writing mojo. I dried up this year, almost completely. 2 short stories published, neither of them above 3000 words, 2 further short stories completed, neither above 2000. Father Muerte and the Divine is so bad nobody wants to touch it with a hazmat suit on. I've scrapped it, and next year, I'm starting my whole career again, getting out of Dodge and finding a new place to hang my shingle, metaphorically speaking. Don't know if it'll be crime fiction, kids fiction, realism, humour or whatever, and I don't really care. I just know I don't want to hang around here anymore.
  • Change my work situation. I've been at my current job for almost six years, and I've grown tired of devoting so many weekends and evenings to a job that returns only slights and complaints. Either my situation changes or my place of employment will. 
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No, I got a year off.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Luscious' cousin Andrew died of a DVT aged 51. Andrew was one of the good ones: always friendly, open to new experiences, a real teddy bear of a guy. He'd just come back from a trek to Nepal to explore a burgeoning Buddhist faith. It was a real loss. 

5. What countries did you visit?

After how many years I finally get to fill this one in! We spent five days in Indonesia, in the Seminyak region of Bali.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

A sense of purpose.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 

10 January, the day we moved out of our expensive, crumbling, dead weight white elephant of a house in Mandurah and moved into a smaller, far more affordable house closer to work.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I really don't feel as if I achieved anything worth noting this year. I've lost some weight, which is good, but every kilogram I take off is burdened by the knowledge that I should never have put it on in the first place. Returning to a healthy normality shouldn't be viewed as some sort of grand victory.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Slipping into despond over my writing and not being able to find a way out.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I did all right, although Luscious managed to snap two ligaments in her ankle slipping off an aerobics step, and has been hobbled for the better part of three months. 

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Our new house. By moving into it we improved our financial situation, moved closer to a good school for our daughter, and streamlined our lifestyle. With the extra money we had from not servicing a crippling mortgage we were able to book two holidays, one overseas; fund Lyn's Weight Watchers membership, which resulted in her getting a job with the organisation and me joining; join Master 11 up to Scouts; and generally just enjoy a standard of living we haven't been able to give the family for over half a decade.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

My darling wife, who came to the cusp of graduating her degree, lost 15 kilograms or so in (as I recall) about three days, coped with an horrendous campaign of bullying at school that brought Master 11 back to home-schooling, started a new job, wrote, left her old faith behind and sought out a new spirituality, and still found time to discover a love of, of all things, American college football (Go Huskers!). She's an absolute inspiration to me, and she does it all while still thinking of herself of somehow not worthy of celebrating, Go figure. 

Master 11, who set a goal of returning to the schooling system two years after illness forced him to leave, and who had the maturity to stand up to a concerted campaign of bullying and a weak and insipid school administration who refused to do anything to combat it, and make the decision that he was happier, more fulfilled, and better cared for by being home-schooled. And then knocked year five out of the fucking park.

And if 2014 was the year of Ms 13, what with the dux and the Head Girl and the Junior Council and the plaudits and the whatnot, then this year saw her adjust to a new school, and a new area, with quiet aplomb. So, you know, not bad all round, really. 

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

The disgust I feel at the behaviour of our ruling parties, and that cancerous boil Tony Abbott in particular, s barely expressable. People are dying because of their corrupt brutality. May they all die slowly, in pain.

The administration of Master 11's school, who allowed bullies to run rampant and make his life a misery, and when victim-blaming didn't work, proceeded to throw up their hands and claim it was all too hard, that the system didn't allow them to make any real impact or changes, and couldn't Master 11 just make an effort to stay out of the bullies' way? A gutless, spineless, quivering jelly of a principal, weakening and deflating the entire school administration underneath him.

14. Where did most of your money go?

For a pleasant change, it went on advancing the lifestyle of my family, rather than servicing a crippling mortgage. A family holiday to Bali was taken, and Luscious and I are visiting Melbourne in early 2016. Master 11 joined Scouts. Luscious, and then I, joined Weight Watchers: a move that has brought us extra motivation, extra energy, and towards the end of the year, extra income as Lyn took on the role of coach.

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

Once I was there, the trip to Bali. I didn't really want to go: everything I'd hard about the place indicated that it was a cargo-cult toilet of over-beered commercialisation, where cashed up topless bogans went to drink themselves stupid while wearing $2 beer advert singlets. And there's no denying that that side of the island can be easily located. It's Kuta. But we were fortunate to be domiciled away from it, in a beautiful semi-rural area, where we could take the time to absorb the underlying culture and expose ourselves to the history and people of the region. And the more we did so, the more excited I became. By the time I found myself at the base of a 40 foot waterfall in a deep gorge halfway up a mountain, watching my little boy stare around at the surrounding forest, with not an AFL banner or cheap DVD stall within two hours' travelling time, I had found a side of Bali that was easy to love. I can't wait to return.

And, in the same way, I'm excited about returning to Melbourne in January, after 14 years. This time I won't be alone. Lyn will be with me, and we're looking forward to wandering throughout the City wherever the will takes us.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

Delilah, by Florence and the Machine. Not for any real thematic reason, as much as it was the stand-out in a series of strong female voices that coloured my listening throughout the year.




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

I’ve struggled with depression this year, especially as my writing career pretty much withered and died due to my day job. I struggled under a demanding and unrealistic boss, and my weight and pain became an increasingly difficult burden. Surprisingly, the last 3 months of the year have seen a turnaround in everything but my writing, and so I find myself happier, thinner and richer than at the same time last year. 

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

Writing. My career pretty much died from dehydration this year.

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

Torpidity. It's been very hard to get going for much of the year. The passion for many of the things that have sustained me for the last 5 years-- my day job and writing, in particular-- dried up, and it was hard to motivate myself to correct it. I feel very much at a crossroads, and I'm not sure where things go from here. 

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Luscious really embraced Christmas for the first time since leaving her previous religion, so we had trees and home-made baubles and crackers and stocking stuffers and tinsel and the whole gaudy, fun, production. We laid out pillowcases for the kids filled with little bits and bobs, then had a big breakfast and shared our presents, before the kids went off to their grandparents' for big-timey Christmas spoiling and Luscious and I settled back with a big-ass platter and I had my first beers for months, and we spent the rest of the day watching movies with the airconditioner on.

Perhaps my favourite part of Christmas this year were a pair of new traditions: firstly, this was the year when our adult children hosted the family get-together for the first time, meaning we took ourselves off to Aiden and Rachel's place the weekend before the big day for a slap-up meal, present exchange, and general love. Which was just utterly lovely. And second, there was the Secret Santa book exchange:

Way back when I was a student and skint, my best friend Sean and I would buy each other a second hand book for Christmas. The rule was that the book had to be *perfect*-- exactly the kind of book the other would have bought for themself, if only they'd seen it first. When Lyn and I started doing Christmas together, we took on the tradition, with a small addenda-- the book had to be the kind of book the other wouldn't have bought for themself at first sight, but having received it, it must elicit an "Of course!" response.

Then, earlier this year, that meme started floating around Facebook. You know, the one about Iceland, and Christmas Eve, with the books, and the hot chocolate, and the eighteen foot snowbanks outside the front door. And the kids discovered Secret Santa....

Upshot: we ended up Elizabeth's Bookstore two days before Christmas, one by one, with a $20 limit and our Secret Santa victim written out on a gift tag. The result was us all unwrapping our mystery books together on Christmas Eve, and spending the morning reading with the cool drink, and the 40 degrees celsius outside the front door.



It was brill.

21. Who did you meet for the first time?

Nobody. It was an insular year. The Bogan Sloblord next door, who has since moved on to boganny pastures new, was a particular delight, and probably enough for one year. 

22. Did you fall in love in 2015?

Really, I should get rid of this question. 

23. What was your favourite TV program?

It was a good year for television. We don't have terrestrial television, so apart from missing out on the dubious pleasures of the unending stream of reality TV humiliate-the-ordinary-folk shithouses of the Fattest Block Factor Kitchen variety, it means we have to source our viewing in other ways. A combination of Pay TV, DVDs, and downloads gave us a parade of exceptionally strong fiction, of which the first seasons of True Detective and The Blacklist knocked our socks off, and of the myriad of true crime shows we watched, Murder Book was the most compelling. A short, brutal and charismatic reality show called SAS: Who Dares Wins tied in with our fitness focus in an inspiring way.

But it was two family shows, in the end, that really capped our year. Firstly, the return to form of Doctor Who after years of frustrating mediocrity was an utter joy. Peter Capaldi gave us a mature Doctor in control of his environment that harked back to the very best of Troughton and McCoy, and the scripts and direction (usual pile of shite from Mark Gatiss not withstanding) made for the best single season since the heights of the Tom Baker era.

But it was The Flash that brought us together, as a family, in a frenzied need to know what next what next? week after week. Engaging characters, warm and personable performances, a real sense of danger, and just good family-oriented fun made this the standout show for me for 2015.

Special mention, of course, to the worst show of the year. The Memorial Steaming Pile of Gatiss this year goes to Season 2 of Broadchurch. Flaccid where the first season was taut, unlikeable where the first was damaged, and simply unpleasant where the first was flawed, season 2 took characters that struggled with demons and secrets in it first iteration and made them simply arseholes. I lasted two episodes before giving up and choosing life.

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

No. I'll try to do better next year. 

25. What was the best book you read?

How ironic that I spent so much money on books this year, and yet the best book I read was recovered from a 'free to a good home' box at a community Centre.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale is a true crime classic on par with my absolute favourite of the genre, The Maul and the Pear Tree by TA Critchley and PD James. Its examination of the murder at Road House, its dissection of the criminal justice and policing systems of the 19th century and the formation of Scotland Yard, and its exhumation of the life and character of its star turn, the feted detective John 'Jack' Whicher make it a gripping, un-put-downable classic. 

Two books made my DNF pile this year: A Perfect Spy by John Le Carre is a flatulant, self-indulgent pile of blancmange by a true master of the thriller genre, and all the worst for its author's provenance. And The Bloody White Baron by James Palmer is an biography of an immensely compelling figure, delivered in such a gossippy and incoherent manner as to make it unreadable.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

An awful lot of dance music came back into my life this year, in particular the fantastic banger Freaks, by Timmy Trumpet with Savage, that was never played at anything less that fuckmethat'sloud!



But even more prevalent than that was a trio of strong female voices that really shaped the musical soundscape of my year.

Adele first came to my attention with her theme for the generally awful movie Skyfall. Her theme is an anthemic classic that went on to high rotation, as did her widely-known single In Too Deep.



My fancrush on Courtney Barnett started last year, when I discovered Pickles In the Jar through the Hottest 100. I followed that up with the even better Elevator Operator, and haven't been able to get it out of my head since.



But, like pretty much everyone else on the planet, Florence and the Machine was my big breakout this year. Starting with Ship to Wreck, then the utterly sublime Delilah, and ending with Queen of Peace, her incredible voice and theatrical arrangements really were the sound of my year. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.


27. What was your favourite film of this year?

2015 was a fantastic year for films. Right from Predestination in January to Suffragette last night, we saw a procession of stunning, wonderful, entertaining or just downright brill movies that makes for a list that's just too damn long to provide a rundown for each. So, in no particular order (and keeping in mind that the year of production may not be 2015. This is just the year in which we first saw them), movie highlights for the year were:

  • Julius Caesar (1953)
  • Big Hero 6
  • Inside Out
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  • Predestination
  • Ant-Man
  • Stardust
  • Suffragette
  • Interstellar
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
But the absolute best, the most surprising an enjoyable, movie was, for me the low-budget New Zealand vampire comedy What We Do in the Dark. It was funny, touching, absolutely on point in every moment, and brought back nostalgic memories of the days when I took me to the sadly-defunct Lumiere cinema to see arthouse treasures like Man Bite Dog and Cube, movies that fit no particular template but barrelled along through sheer bravado and a damning of the torpedoes. All things considered, and particularly when placed alongside the bloated, epic clusterfucks I'm about to mention, it was the movie I most enjoyed this year, and gets my pick.

Of course, there's also the requirement to honour the misbegotten, the damned, and the just no damned good. So, my list of contenders for the Adam Sandler Career Death Blow in the Shape of Kevin James Award, are:

  • Jurassic World: a 2 hour Chris Pratt audition tape for the role of Indiana Jones that hang together about as well as a marionette made by a chimp and is a giant-rampaging-CGI-dinosaur movie that managed to simultaneously bore and traumatise children, with added sexism and plot holes you could fit a T-Rex through. A massive snore.
  • Blitz: (1). A Jason Statham movie. (2). A Jason Statham movie that someone, somehow, persuaded Paddy Considine to be a part of. (3). A movie I forgot so hard I had to IMDB it to remind myself when I saw the title when I checked my movie list for the year. Yes, I keep a list. Shut up. 
  • The Hobbit- Battle of the Five Armies: Holy. Shit.
But even wore than those, even more pointless and bloated and whiny-fanboy-you-raped-my-childhood-whiny-fanboy-ranty, even more the death knell of a franchise that should have died with dignity thirty years ago, was Terminator: Genisys. If you ever wanted to watch a bunch of utter no-names pretending to be characters made famous by utter no-names you didn't realise were actually as good as they were thirty years ago and now owe a silent apology to, watch that whatever her name is who isn't Linda Hamilton, or that block of wood with neck muscles not being Michael Biehn, or Matt Smith just... actually, you know what? Don't. You can buy the original Terminator for less than the ticket to see this giant monument of shit at the cinema cost. Do that instead. Do anything instead, 

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

45, and I spent the day at work. They can’t all be winners.

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

Any feeling of success in any field of endeavour whatsoever.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

Fat man hiding. With Lego motif.

31. What kept you sane?

Distraction. 

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

The ongoing criminal behaviour of our finally-ex-PM. Tony Abbott is a human rights criminal, as are those members of his Cabinet who were complicit in the detention and torture of innocent refugees. I look forward to the day when they are made to account for their crimes. 

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

My work will not thank me for my victories, but it will remember to count my failures.

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

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way
Kicking round on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then, one day, you find, ten years have got behind you.
No-one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun.
                        -- Time, Pink Floyd.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

ENTER, STAGE RIGHT

Forty years ago today, I landed in Australia: a tiny, pale, extremely English boy of only-just 5.

I've never been back. Never been able to afford to. I've spent 89% of my life in one corner of South Western Australia-- 2 years in Kambalda, 2 years in Narrogin, the rest in a conurbation roughly 160 kilometres long with Mandurah in the South and Clarkson in the North. I currently live 12 kilometres from the house we lived in from the time we moved to Rockingham until my parents divorced.

To paraphrase an old comedian pal of mine, Vic Demised: I set out to explore the world, and got as far as Baldivis.

So, despite what Luscious says when she wants to wind me up after I've called them 'sweeties' once too often, or pronounced it DARby instead of DUHby, I'm not only not English (I was naturalised on my 11th birthday, so neither philosophically nor legally), I'm not even a decently cosmopolitan Australian. I'm just a Rockingham boy with tickets on himself.

Fuck.

SOMEDAY SOMEBODY ELSE BESIDES ME WILL CALL ME BY MY STAGE NAME


A week or so ago, I turned 45. I’ve outlived Billie Holliday, F Scott Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Jackson Pollock…… of course, they achieved something, so, you know, I‘d better keep plugging away. My family celebrated by sending me out to see They Might Be Giants in concert-- one of my very favourite bands, and as always, they utterly kicked it: their seven-minute, foot-stomping, pogo-inducing, stadium rock version of their 90 second children's song Robot Parade will live long in the memory, as will bumping into a whole passel of colleagues and friends who were out getting their geekrock on. It was a weird moment-- for reasons too long to go into, the last time I'd seen TMBG was on the night of my eldest daughter's birth, when I was a very different person, with a wholly different life, and yet, some of the people I bumped into were the same people I had bumped into that night, as well, when I had only just dipped my toes into the world of authordom and SF fandom, and seeing their faces in the crowd was proof that I might, just maybe, have found my village. 14 years later, and it felt like seeing them again was an indicator of something I'd lost along the way-- nice to see them, but an unspoken realisation that, outside of thee sorts of occasions, I'm rarely, if ever, going to do so.
 
It got me looking back at some of my earlier birthday notes, and in particular, some of the things I was contemplating when I turned 40, half a decade ago. Back in 2010, as I was contemplating my fifth decade stretching out before me, I confidently aimed my thoughts towards becoming a full time writer by, well, today. It was never likely to happen, I happily acknowledged, but it felt like something to aspire to. It felt like a goal that, knowing I could not attain, I could at least track progress towards. I might not be a full-time writer, I reasoned, but I’d at least be writing.
 
It was a positive thought, but then, I was pretty positive all round. Five years later, and I think it’s fair to say it’s not that I’ve strayed off the path, as that somehow I got turned around, and the trees are too thick to remember where the path was.
 
I’d just started my job, and it still looked like the kind of job that I’d lain awake at nights begging for. It’s not turned out that way. It’s soured in the intervening years, and I’m far more miserable there than it ever makes me happy. I have managed to sell three novels, and I’ve got no complaints there. But slowly, inevitably, the day job has chipped and chipped and chipped away at my creativity, and my time, so that I would be lucky to have written 10,000 words this year. Three short stories, one of them a commission, none of them over 4000 words. That’s been my lot. I haven’t drawn a thing in two years. More and more, if I have free time, I’ve spent it flaked out in front of the television or tucked away in the garage, beavering away at the Lego hobby I’ve used to fill in the gaps where writing used to make me happy. Artistically, it’s hard not to feel like my time has come: it happens to most of us, sometime or other. Sometimes life ends our creativity before death gets the chance.
 
So it goes.
 
Thankfully, what happiness I do have comes from my family. I’m now older than my parents were when they split up, and my children are exactly the same age as my brother and I were. It’s an odd little confluence of numbers, but it has gnawed away at me since I realised. In my own, personal, time-stream, the next 5 years weren’t good ones. I lost my home, experienced genuine poverty, was abandoned by friends and teachers, viciously bullied, was closeted in close quarters with an embittered, spiteful mother whose anger was quick to surface and always aimed as verbal barbs at the people who couldn’t escape them—my brother and I. I clawed my way through high school by sheer dint of refusal to capitulate. It wasn’t until I found my way to University, and the first genuine freedom I’d known in years, that I was able to draw breath, sort through my emotions and aspirations, and try to become something of consequence. The track was a narrow one, and I nearly fell off it completely—my brother did, and as a consequence, we haven’t spoken in several years. I didn't, but it was a close run thing. I look back at the person I was before my first wife died, and genuinely believe none of you would have like him. I don't, and I'm pretty certain I didn't back then, either.
 
So, maybe, at 45, that’s my victory, and my task. I give my family a good home. My children are happy, contented, aspirational, safe, and comfortably middle class where both their Mum and I were scraping along the underside of the poverty line. My wife is talented, caring, constantly bettering herself and passing that betterment on to the rest of us for our own enrichment. We have money— if not in the bank, then at least in our pockets. Our food is fresh, or clothes new, our haircuts from a shop.
 
I’ve been an author, a stand-up comedian, a poet, a cartoonist, a tennis coach, a film student, a reviewer, a jewellery salesman, an artist. I thought that would last forever. I certainly thought so five years ago. Now, contemplating the next five years, I can’t help but think that side of things is over. I’ve shrunk, until I’m just another husband and father with a hateful job and too much TV. I just have to be a good one.

Monday, November 02, 2015

FREE LEE!

Here's a little treat to start your month off: my story The Smell of Wet Grass, over at SQ Mag, in full, for free.

Go. Read. Enjoy.

The read the rest of the magazine, and enjoy that, as well!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

MAGRIT: A FIRST GLIMPSE

Earlier this week, I had the great pleasure of finally meeting my lovely editor, Sue, who was in town for many reasons, one of which was to meet me and hand over the first ARC (Advance Reader Copy-- the version of the book given to reviewers, booksellers and various ne'er-do-wells in the hope of generating buzz before the official launch) of Magrit.

Magrit will be officially released in March next year, as a fully-illustrated hardcover. But I can, now, finally give you an indication of what it will look like. So, as a little Halloween treat, with a cover and interior illustrations by the wonderfully talented Amy Daoud, here's a little advance glimpse of Magrit.




















Tuesday, October 27, 2015

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?