Friday, November 17, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: SERIAL KILLER SONGS

It's no great secret that I'm fascinated by murder. My bookcases are filled with True Crime books. My DVD collection is riddled with thrillers and biopics about infamous killers. I've written plenty of stories involving nasty people doing nasty things to people nastily.

One little sideline that escapes notice is the number of songs in my playlist that are devoted to murderers. Serial killers in particular. The truth is, serial killers may represent the basest and most disturbed corridors of the human psyche, but there is no denying that they are a fascinating sort of maelstrom for an artist to gaze into.

So here are five of my favourite songs about serial killers from the depths of my playlist.

Enjoy.


Five for Friday: Serial Killer Songs


Jack the Ripper-- Screaming Lord Sutch.

Ah, what to say about Screaming Lord Sutch? True English eccentric. Founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Artist behind the album widely considered the worst album of all time. And the man who turned this obscure Clarence Stacy song into the beginning of his descent into National Treasure status. It's 2 minutes and 50 seconds of horror-psychedelia insanity, as out of tune with the early 1960's England that spawned it as Sutch would remain. But if you love Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, early Genesis, Marilyn Manson...... this is the Big Bang, the dawn of the Universe. It remains delightfully loopy, a schlock-horror masterpiece to be treasured in exactly the way we love 1950s monster movies.






John Wayne Gacy Jr-- Sufjan Stevens

He's the modern-day Donovan for the Bible Belt: a dipsy waif with a voice that trembles somewhere between Tori Amos and Emo Phillips and a catalogue of beautifully orchestrated ballads about the weirdnesses hidden like pearls inside the mundane. And then there's this. Part of Come On, Feel The Illinoise, the second (and final) stop-over in his ill-fated 50 States project-- an ambitious intent to record 50 albums over 50 years, detailing the cultural histories of each American state-- Stevens' gentle delivery and heart-rending intonations almost... almost... do the unthinkable and get you starting to feel...... is that sympathy?...... for this tortured, torturing beast. It is an emotional tour-de-force of bewildering bedevilment.






Night Shift-- Siouxsie and the Banshees

From their insanely good 1981 Juju album, this is the Banshees at their brooding, post-punk best. And at their most confronting-- it's a first-person point of view reference to the Yorkshire Ripper released less than a year after the man himself was finally caught. The music swirls and fractures in time with lyrics that get progressively darker and shattered, all underpinned by one of the most chillingly deadpan refrains in popular music: that robotic repetition of fuck the mothers, kill the others; fuck the others, kill the mothers just gets creepier and creepier every time you listen to it. It's brilliant stuff.






Suffer Little Children-- The Smiths

At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum-- a song from the most emo band of all time, direct from Manchester, expressing the despair and heartbreak left by the crimes that swallowed Manchester, at a time when the killers had yet to fully admit their guilt and provide some release. There's no dancing around the subject here: this is the Smiths directly addressing the Moors Murders. They name names. They remind their audience of the children who were taken. The refuse to dress anything in analogy or innuendo. There's always the risk in a Smiths song that Morrissey's internal drama queen will override the message. Not here. It's direct, it's tragic, and he keeps his vocal performance just the right side of Johnny Ray. Listening now, knowing that the song was released when-- and names-- only 3 of the 5 Moors murder victims were known, gives it that extra tinge of tragedy. It's not for the easily upset.






The Ballad of Charles Whitman-- Kinky Friedman 

Okay, so Whitman was a spree killer, rather than a serial killer. But after all the doom and gloom, I think we need to lighten the mood a wee bit, don't you?

Kinky Friedman is an acquired taste. Think of him as a particularly puckish, bad-taste evil twin of Tom Lehrer, and you're in roughly the right territory. Along with his band, the Texas Jewboys, he's made a career of poking fun at the pomposity and bigotry of the flag-wrapped American Gold Old Boy, usually using his own pompous, flag-wrapped stage persona as the easiest target. And, if you get the joke, he can be fucking hilarious. None so more than here: a darkly black humorous ode to the man who popularised shooting up schools an all-American pastime. The fact that Friedman was a student at the University at the time of the shooting only adds another layer of black to the humour.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY HAS NOTHING TO APOLOGISE FOR



Da da da da da da daaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaahhhh, JOKE!

Sorry. I'm so, so sorry.


0103

"I'm afraid the problem is simple. You're suffering from premature extermination."

Friday, November 10, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: 47 NOT OUT















I turn 47 tomorrow. There's no hiding it: I am well and truly middle-aged, and looking down the barrel of being old.



I'm worried about my future. I feel like I've not achieved the things I want to achieve in life, and with a mortgage, a family, and all the responsibilities that come with being a fat, middle-class, hairy man, many of those things are now, realistically, beyond me: I will never fly a fighter jet; I will never be a practicing paleontologist; there's a very real chance I will never join G-Force.




G-Force
"Is he... dressed... as a flamingo?"


I'm also worried that my achievements are all in the past. As I've aged, and responsibilities have multiplied, I've lost space and time for the selfishness that seems to be a requirement of the single-minded pursuit of excellence. It's not like I come from a family of high achievers, either: I can't think of single thing of lasting importance that the generations of my family before me have contributed to the world-- and my Father's side of the family has been traced back over 500 years, so you know, I'm not exactly riding the crest of a wave here.




Henry

Seriously, this is about as good as it gets.


So, with this uncertainty accounted for, and with a determination to rail against the fortunes of wilting capacity, it's time to take stock and consider five things I've done that set me apart from centuries of familial mediocrity. And, given it's my birthday, to lay out a set of markers to keep me moving forward into my onrushing dotage.






Five for Friday: 47 Not Out






Five for the Highlight Reel



1. A Degree of Separation. 

I come from working class stock. Both strings of my family are good, old-fashioned working-class folk. Higher learning, as I was informed in, literally, these words, "is not for people like us". When my father left us in my early teens, he consigned us to genuine hardship. Even with 'free' education, I had to scratch and fight just to finish High School. To then spend three years studying an arts degree with no guaranteed job advantage at the end of it was, depending upon your point of view, an act of extreme self-interest or my first great statement of independence: I was not, no matter what, going to end up breaking my body and mind on the same shop floor as my father.



I spend my professional lives (I have two. Sue me: I'm greedy) surrounded by Masters and Doctors. A mere Graduate Diploma is nothing to these people. But in the context of what I escaped, and what I had to do to get out, this was my first real achievement in life.






2. Don't Applaud, Throw Money

I spent three years, in my early 20s, working as a stand up comedian. I wasn't a great one: indeed, after developing a bad case of the yips in my final 6 months, I wasn't even a good one. But, for a short while, I was a professional performer, pitting my words and talent against a room full of strangers for the right to choose what I ate that week. The lessons I learned-- about brevity, about construction, about pacing and timing and how to work a crowd-- have been invaluable in my professional career. I speak well in public. My writing carries the same voice I was developing on stage. I can use a microphone, a stage, my voice, my presence. I can ad-lib. I can adapt. And I've been a practicing artist ever since: 25 years and counting since I first took to the stage.






3. Let Me Show You My Doodle

For a long time, it was a toss of the coin as to whether I was going to pursue writing or cartooning as my creative career. In my early days, I set out to do both, before my natural economic cowardice took over and I opted to settle into a day job and accept food instead of risk. My drawing skills weren't brilliant in those pre-internet days, where the ability to create and foster your own ongoing webpage was not an option, and selling to magazines required a combination of drafting, writing, and drawing skills that could compete on the open market. But I was working on it, and I was improving: I sold a few, here and there, and it was definitely something I could have pursued.



I was partway through the first semester of a Design diploma when I met the woman who would become my first wife. And I faced a choice: I couldn't manage a day job, a relationship, and two art careers. My writing was slightly more advanced: I dropped the cartooning. But, for a while, I was selling cartoons, and following in the footsteps of some of my artistic heroes. Readers of my Thumbnail Thursday series will know that I still have my sketches, and still value them. And with my upcoming change of circumstance, and the greater freedom to build an audience on the artist's own merits that the internet affords, a return to developing my skills may just be on the cards.


HMVKill
I had my moments. 


4. Take a Town and Change It

I've lived in Rockingham, on and off, since I was 8 years old. There's something about this place: I've never lived anywhere that offers the same combination of beaches, cosmopolitan living, country lifestyle, accessibility to major conurbations (You can reach Perth, Fremantle, Bunbury, and the Darling Ranges all in under an hour), services, and recreation. It's perfectly placed. The Rockingham foreshore is the only North-facing beach south of Way Up North (tm). Rates are reasonable. The City boundaries are 25 kilometres apart, North-South, and something like 15 kilometres West-East.



There's 37 kilometres of coastline, numerous islands and bays and beaches to suit everything from paddling toddlers to diving to sailing to hard-core surfing. Plenty of bushland for horse riding and motor-cross. There are market gardens and art galleries, thrombolites and little penguins. I love this City. It's part of my psyche, and part of my blood. I've moved away three or four times over the years-- and I'm about to do so again-- but I always come back.



And I may be about to leave a job that has soured on me, but I'll do so knowing that, having been responsible for the installation of several pieces of public art among all the things I've done in the last 8 years, I have changed the physical nature of the City in a very real way. Public statuary comes with an expected lifespan-- there are pieces I've placed in front of buildings that have been in constant use since I was a child that have lifespans that ensure they will outlive me.



Here's one example. This is Safety Bay Library. It's been a library since 1972, seven years before I arrived. But that sculpture in front of it has only been there for three years.








I visited this library when I was a child. There are children visiting it now who will never know it without the sculpture I've placed there. They'll also never know I existed, but for the rest of their lives, when they picture the library, they'll see the sculpture. I've changed the physical nature of that building for generations. It's a small, secret egotism, but I love this city, and there are parts of it that will be forever changed because I was able to do this. That means something to me that I can't yet articulate. But there it is.






5. The Writing of the Words Down on the Paper

Yeah, so it's a bit obvious: let's be honest, it's the reason why most of us are here, reading all this self-indulgent nonsense. But the writing industry has done so much more for me than enable me to put out bits of paper with my name on them.



I met my beloved Luscious because of writing.



It's taken me to two continents as well as Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, the ACT and (oddly) Parramatta; made me innumerable friends (and critics and people who hate me: *waves*); been my ticket to festivals and conventions in four states. I've been gifted original art works (and a jar of pickles). Been drunk while dressed in nothing more than a "Padme's handmaiden" costume. Danced to a lone bagpiper in an underground LA carpark at 7 in the morning. Lost a shoe to the La Brea tar pits. Practiced forging the signature of a long-dead artist on a footpath with a twice-World Fantasy Award-winner. Launched the works of people I admire. Ridden a Dalek through the foyer of a museum. Experienced camaraderie and collegiate friendship in a way I've never done anywhere else.

Watched friends soar.



Writing has given me a world.







Future Five from the World of Tomorrow

Well, that's the past taken care of. But I plan to be a long time dead (I don't want to have to go through all this again) so here's five things I want to do before the ghosts of future past claim me.


1. Learn to play a musical instrument

When I was a teenager, I scratched together enough money for a cheap guitar and some lessons. I'd managed a few simple songs (I remember one of them was Love Me Tender, but not what the others were). Then, one day I came home from school, and: no guitar! Turned out, my brother had overreached himself, and finally stolen something too big for me not to notice. My loss was his drug money. Kind of kicked the stuffing out of me, to be honest, and I never had the heart to pick the hobby back up.



I've always regretted that loss of heart, particularly as Master 12 has occasionally flirted with taking seriously the guitar he picked up at a garage sale some time back. It's possible that the 18 Month Plan might have to accommodate some Father-Son finger picking.



blackandredcape

This is me. This is who I am, now. 





2. Travel through Europe

There's nothing terribly deep about this. I left England when I was five. I've never been back. I want to see Europe before I die. All those museums. All those famous landmarks. All that history.






3. Exhibit in an art exhibition

As mentioned above, I was just beginning to develop my visual art skills when Real Life (tm) took me in a different direction. I've been playing with Lego (see what I did there?) as an art material for the last couple of years, and have exhibited at a couple of community Lego displays. I'm keen to see if I can marry my various visual interests together and exhibit in a general exhibition.






4. Work for myself

I've long been obsessed with determining my own destiny: a by-product, I think, of striving so hard to raise myself above a family history of willing servitude, as well as certain amount of leave-me-alone-ishness in my character. I have frequent bouts of desperate desire to get off the grid-- to raise my own vegetables, herd wild solar panels, and knit my own yoghurt. With a decade of arts administration behind me, a couple of years away from the traditional work place, and the time and space to set up my own arts consultancy, this might be the put-up-or-shut-up moment I've been looking for.






5. Support a living wage through arts practice

And, ultimately, this is what it's all about. Of all the things I've ever wanted to be-- pilot, paleontologist, football player-- being a full-time artist is the one that has burned most brightly, and for longest.



Writing, consulting, visual art, cartooning, my upcoming Patreon account...... it all adds up to one thing: to create, to contribute to the financial well-being of my family via my creations; to change the sum total of the Universe.



To be an artist would be a fine thing indeed.




Cutey Boy Apr06

This is me. This is who I am, now. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY TURNS IT UP TO 11



It took me a few moments to work out what was going on in this one. That's a giant speaker on the right: the guy in front has played a chord, and it's blown his skin right off his skeleton. A perfect example of something that would have looked great when it was fully drawn, if I had the skill, but the thumbnail shows I wouldn't have had the skill to do it.

Stick to writing. Stick to writing.


0017


"We'll take it."

Monday, November 06, 2017

QUARTER OF A CENTURY

I've just realised, as I was writing an upcoming Five for Friday post: I took the stage for my first stand-up comedy performance in 1992.

A few fevered, and not particularly serious, attempts at publication in my University years aside, that performance was the start of my continuous arts practice: after that night, via cartooning, theatre, and writing, I have been a practicing artist in one form or another for 25 years.

Bloody helllllll.......

Friday, November 03, 2017

Review: Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper

Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper by Michael Bilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Forensically detailed and exhaustive study into the reasons why the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper went so spectacularly wrong, with first-hand accounts from many who were involved in the search, and a compassionate stance towards the victims of his crime. Bilton chooses not to focus on the Ripper himself, in an effort not to afford Sutcliffe any more notoriety than he already has. Instead, he shows us the other side of the mirror-- something closer to the truth of life during that period, without the dark glamour that tends to accumulate around the cult of serial killers.

If there is a flaw with the book, it is that her is, perhaps, too lenient on the senior officers who mangled the case so badly, and gives too great an allowance to the pressure and scrutiny they were under as reasons for their errors. But the sheer weight of research and verisimilitude that comes from the page gives the reader the opportunity to believe that this allowance is genuine: it all feels incredibly real, and makes for compulsive reading.

View all my reviews

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: SINGLE PANEL CARTOONISTS

Unless you're terminally non-observant, or have just ended up here because you accidentally googled "Billie Piper's nipples", (It's true, and no, I don't know why), you'll be aware that one of the careers I came very close to following was drawing single-panel cartoons. (Go on, admit it. You've only just come back after googling "Billie Piper's nipples" to see whether it works, haven't you?). I mean, I've only dedicated about a million Thursdays to posting thumbnails I've scratched out over the years.
Put simply, there came I time where I had to concentrate on either writing or cartooning if I wanted to make a career in the arts, and writing won.

Still, cartooning remains very close to my heart, and if the 18 Month Plan sticks, who knows? I might find the time to invest some real energy into resurrecting that particular dream in the interests of my ongoing artistic diversification. Weirder things have happened.

In the meantime, for those of you who've enjoyed catching up with my half-realised ambitions, here's a list of 5 single panel cartoonists who have influenced not just my cartooning, but my approach to all my artistic material over the years.


Five for Friday: Single Panel Cartoonists


Charles Addams

Creator of the immortal Addams Family, but that doesn't begin to cover the full spectrum of Addams' dark, ghoulish and gleefully devilish sense of humour. My first glimpse of an Addams cartoon was love at first sight. A prized possession is a pair of CDs containing every panel he drew for The New Yorker, attached to a giant hardcover celebrating that magazine's 75th anniversary. Amongst all my creative heroes, he sits at the very top table. It's not just the darkness that makes me love him, it's the delight.




"Death ray, fiddlesticks! Why, it doesn't even slow them up."



Gahan Wilson

Another dark angel with an imagination built for shadows. Where Wilson gives me the giggles is not just the content of his work, but the style: where Addams based his work in a realistic tableau to give his ideas weight, Wilson unfetters the anchors of reality. His grotesqueries are grotesque, delightfully so. To enter his world is to commit to the back side of the mirror. Wilson is Puck de-bowdlerised, full of mischievous glee and murderous jollity.





Gary Larson

Larson broke into the mainstream consciousness just as I was beginning my artistic journey. For many years he was the Lord of Surreality, the latest avatar of a viewpoint that went back through Dali to Gilbert & Sullivan, to Yeats, to Blake and all those who saw beyond the veil to the true absurdity of the shared consensus. And he's still bloody funny. The Far Side was required reading for my friends and I, and his work still straddles that line of familiar insanity I reach for. Plus: the Thagomizer. Now that's immortality.


"You're sick, Jessy!... Sick, sick, sick!"



B. Kliban

Without Kliban, there is no Larson. Cartooning's great surrealist, he set many of the rules and references that cartoonists are still plumbing today. He was the first to make me realise that it was not so necessary to make sense as it was to hint at a greater, unknowable sense beyond what was seen. He was the first cartoonist I read who really explored the unavoidable schism between the drawn image and the tag line: in many cases, the only thing that connects them is the ability of the reader to make a connection. He disturbs and amuses in equal measure, and in many cases, without the viewer necessarily knowing why. He's hypnotic.




Larry

I have loved the cartoons from Punch magazine since I was a kid. Collections are a purchase-on-sight item, and I have uncounted numbers in my bookshelves. And at the centre of my love is Larry: nowhere near as dark as the others on this list, there's a quintessential English whimsy to his work that delights; a sense of ordinary frustrations and bamboozlement at the absurdity of the every day world around him. His 'Rodin' series is legendary, and hilarious. I've loved his elevation of the mundane for over 40 years.


Thursday, November 02, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY IS SADLY PSYCHIC

Change the sign from 'poker' to 'porn' and I'm pretty much Yuri Geller......


Friday, October 27, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: CLOSING LINES

One of the better exercises I run during my workshops is also one of the simplest: I give participants a list of final lines from stories already published. Participants pick one and use it as the opening line of a new work. Once the story is completed, simply delete the (un-original) opening line and voila, complete story!

It often prompts participants to ask which of my own closing lines I would use, or which is my favourite. So here's a list of five of my favourite closing lines. do the exercise yourself. See what you come up with. Then show me: I'd love to see where it takes you.


Five for Friday: Closing Lines.


Leaving the sounds of the living world behind, Marius the King descended into his Kingdom.
Marching Dead, Angry Robot Books.


I began crying when the first bombs fell.
Silk, All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories


We entered without looking, and closed off the past.
Father Muerte and the Joy of Warfare, Aurealis 37


We marched out, and he led us, singing, back home through the ashes of our dead.
Europe After the Rain, After The Rain


They laughed, until the only sound in the entire world was the pounding of waves in his ears.
Disciple of the Torrent, Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land

Thursday, October 26, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY IS A SELFISH, CANDY-DEMANDING LITTLE BASTARD



My one and only ever thumbnail about Halloween. I just find it hard to joke about sweeties.... (sob)...... sigh...... I need a licorice all sort......


Halloween 001



"Excuse me? Do I come to your house on your special day and demand candy from you?"

Friday, October 20, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: SOUNDTRACK ALBUMS

I love a good soundtrack album. A good soundtrack album highlights the narrative of a movie, and provides a beat-by-beat visceral reminder of that movie's significant moments, while simultaneously bringing a contributing artists out of their self-enclosed zone and forcing them to create something to service a wider narrative, or at least to define a visual moment within their own, unique sound.
At their best, soundtrack albums can transcend the movie itself and provide a listening journey all their own, akin to a concept album of the highest water. The very best, for me, become an entity in their own right: you don;t have to watch the movie at all to appreciate the nuances, the narrative, and the emotional impact of the music within.

Here, then, are five of my favourites.


Five for Friday: Soundtrack Albums.


1. The Crow

A thunderous slice of industrial darkness to accompany one of the best comic book movies ever released. The movie is a shadow-drenched revenger's tragedy filled with gallows humour and an overwhelming sense of despair highlighted by one, small, story of light and hope, with brilliant visuals from a director who has never been better. The soundtrack, curated with loving care by Emo poster God Trent Reznor, is a superb combination of covers, re-recordings and originals by bands that were close to the creative process of the original comic book. The Cure song Burn was the lead from the album, and the one most remembered, but I'm going to highlight the song that opened up a whole new fandom for me: the mad-as-fuck industrial After The Flesh, by the mad-as-fuck My Life With the Trill Kill Kult.






2. Purple Rain

Not only one of the best soundtrack albums ever recorded, but I doubt I'd get thrown out of any room for suggesting this is one of the best pop albums ever recorded, period. This is Prince at the height of his pop-funk fusion power: sexually intense, soulful, lyrically ambitious, and with a band so tight and perfectly attuned that every song on the album is a perfect slice of pop brilliance. The movie itself isn't bad, but without this album it would be lost in a sea of mid-80s boy-meets-girl-in-an-electro-synth-teen-haze movies. The album will outlive memories of the film. It really is an utterly brilliant work from an artist at the height of his powers. When Doves Cry, the stand-out track, sat at number one on the charts for something like 486 years. I could highlight any of the other songs off the album, (Darling Nikki is a favourite) but fuck it: it's too brilliant not to share.





3. Tank Girl

I make no bones about it: I love this glorious, B-grade failure of a movie. I love the original Tank Girl comics. I love Jamie Hewlett's visuals. I have a crush a mile-wide on Lori Petty (this movie is the reason why I watched Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and went, "Meh".) Hiring Courtney Love to put together the soundtrack was simply the most Tank Girl thing anybody could have done. And truth is, it bangs. Songs by Bjork, Devo, L7, Portishead, and more give it an absolute shitload of indie cred, and the great centrepiece of the album, as indeed the movie, is a cynical, fuck-you reworking of Cole Porter's Let's Fall in Love by my lifelong-time rock crush Joan Jett,and Paul Westerberg. It's wonderfully, psychotically loopy, just like the movie and the album producer who spawned it.




4. Rocky Horror Picture Show

It may not be the greatest movie of all time. But for those of us who have raced up and down the corridors of a midnight screening, covering our heads with newspaper and firing water pistols at each other; who have hurled buckets of confetti at the screen and time-warped out into a deserted car park at 3 in the morning dressed in fishnets and sou-westers, it will be remembered as one of the greatest movie experiences of all time. It's the movie that defines cult, and the soundtrack-- filled with perverse show-tune brilliance-- is eternal. Think about this movie. Think about what goes on in it-- the cannibalism, the gay sex, the transvetitism, the braniwashing. And then think that almost every wedding since the mid-70s has featured the guests doing the Time Warp. That's when we started to win the culture war, my freaky friends.




5. Blues Brothers


Full confession: I think the movie is overrated. But the soundtrack. Oh, the soundtrack. Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, all blasting out career-defining songs (for many of us, this was our first taste), and all backed by a genuinely brilliant blues band, made up of the spine of Booker T & the MGs with some very choice additions, including the vastly underrated blues voices of Belushi and Aykroyd. There's nothing fancy or tricky about this album. It's just top-notch performers doing what they do best, on brilliantly penned numbers, with an unrestrained love and joy. And it swings. Hard.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY FIND YOUR FANTASY JIMINY CRICKET IN THE SKY FUNNY



God's a psycho. The Bible is the greatest fictional work ever to feature an unreliable narrator. And Jesus is a member of the cartooning Death Panda fraternity: always funny. Always.



0057


Experiment 1. Experiment 2: 2016-2049. Experiment 3: Late 3100s?
"Dad, can I borrow...... what the hell?"

Friday, October 13, 2017

FIVE FOR FRIDAY: EARLY GODS WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG


Way back when I first started out to be a writer-- no, not back in 2001. Before that. Nope, before that. before that-- yep, back in the late 80s, when I began University and first set out to myself the idea that I might do this writing lark for actual monies, I was a simple boy from a working class background with a very mainstream and staid set of cultural influences.


Except in two regards: one was music, because I had my own boombox and could absorb the late night programs on the FM channels that were still fighting for ascendancy with my parents' easy listening AM mainstays, and using progressive programming and an aggressively contemporary-- still mainstream and radio friendly, but at least up-to-date-- playlist aimed at attracting a younger audience.


The other was reading. My mother was a keen reader, and although we didn't have many books in the house, she was an avid user of the local libraries, and our house had pretty much an 'if you can reach it, you can read it' system in place. Consequently, I was exposed to a wide range of what passed for literature in Rockingham libraries in the 80s (lots of Zane Grey and Jackie Collins, maybe not quite so much Don De Lillo and Jorge Luis Borges...) So I read Lord of the Rings at ten, was openly reading Erica Jong before I finished primary school, became a lifelong fan of Dick Francis and Robert Ludlum at a time when my peers were still reading Roald Dahl and John Marsden, and generally had the run of the local libraries. At a time when you could get a maximum of 2 books out if you were under 15, and 4 if you were over, I had a "how many this week?" relationship with the staff at the little library in Safety Bay that worked wonders for both my imagination and my biceps.


And then there was science fiction. SF was the genre that gave me the hunger, the one that opened my mind to not only what was being done in literature, but just what could be done. When I first started to write, seriously, with intent, in those early years of University, when all my horizons were limitless and my ambitions stretched light years beyond my abilities, I wrote science fiction. And when it came to influences, these were the gods I carried in my back pocket, whose words shaped the style of writer I wanted to be. Earlier on, I discussed 5 writers whose work I love and who influence my current ambitions. Now it's time to look backwards, and talk about those who influenced my early steps.




Five for Friday: Earliest Influences

1. Isaac Asimov

For readers of my vintage, it seems that Isaac Asimov was a nearly ubiquitous gateway drug. It's hardly surprising: he wrote umpty billion books, and his straightforward prose, liner plotting and classic structuring make his short stories particularly easy to assimilate for a reader still learning the dictates of the genre. By the time I reached University I was an avid collector-- the second-hand bookstores were thick with well-thumbed, cheap copies of his work. I soon moved on to more sophisticated exponents, but for a while his industry, work ethic, and ability to mine seams of thought were a template for what I wanted to achieve.



2. Ray Bradbury


I first read Bradbury in primary school. The Golden Apples of the Sun was the book that captured me, A Sound of Thunder and The Golden Apples of the Sun the stories that sank their hooks into me and refused to let go. Bradbury was SF's first great poet, with a style and lyrical simplicity that has rarely been equalled. No other writer of my youth could entrance, frighten, seduce and horrify me simultaneously the way he did. Even now, very few writers can. There was something special about him, something I could not define but that I wanted to capture. Several of my published stories (Murderworld-- about a man trapped in a murderous reality show who chooses instead to walk naked amongst the heavily-armed combatants and persuade them to help him plant a garden-- is the one that springs most immediately to mind) have tried.



3. Harry Harrison


I've blogged before about the SF collection I received for my 8th birthday, and which changed my life. One of the stories in that collection was an excerpt from The Stainless Steel Rat. Once I understood what an excerpt was, I sought out the book. And the next. And the next. Because, dammit, while they were simply told stories, and never pretended they were nothing more than good old-fashioned pulp fun, they were fun. Those stories were the first time I understood the power of voice, of having a distinct and understandable style that could provide a context greater than the simple progression of words on the page. I've dabbled in humour all my life. This was one of the earliest of my influences in that direction.



4. Roger Zelazny

I read Eye of Cat when I was thirteen, and I was never the same again. Zelazny was one of those rare writers whose works never seemed to duplicate what came before. Isle of the Dead and Lord of Light are masterpieces. His collaboration with Philip K Dick, Deus Irae, is delightfully insane. And his short stories, particularly A Rose for Ecclesiastes and The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth blew the lid of my mind. To my unformed reader's mind he was a fucking wizard, and he remains a seminal influence-- looking back, my Father Muerte stories, in particular, owe a lot to his ability to meld different influences into a narrative. When my story, The Glow of His Eyes, the Depths of his Gaze was published, a friend sent me a text that simply said "Zelazny wannabe :)". It was the nicest compliment I received that day......



5. Brian Aldiss

Very early in my University days, I discovered the extensive collection of New Wave SF works in the Uni's library. I fell in love with the works of Harlan Ellison, in particular, as well as Spinrad, Lafferty, Rucker, and Sladek, amongst others. But it was Brian Aldiss who inspired me as a writer: Ellison's looping, hyperactive anger was such a singular voice that I could never hope to recreate it. The others had shades of what I was looking for (particularly Sladek, who could easily have made this list). Aldiss-- more reserved, more analytical-- produced works as equally outrageous, but there was meat on the bones that I could study. Hothouse and Barefoot in the Head were particular favourites-- I still, in fact, occasionally use the latter title as a way of describing someone I think a bit off-kilter. His peak is shorter and less flamboyant than Ellison's, less intensely personal than Sladek's, less outright loopy than Lafferty's. But for giving me a framework in which to start critiquing myself, and tying outrageous flights of imagination to a clear narrative structure, I have Aldiss to thank.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

THUMBNAIL THURSDAY SAYS SCREW YOU, PERSPECTIVE!



Not a straight line in the whole thing, not an angle that matches any other, but I have an overwhelming fondness for this cartoon. It's one of the first truly good ideas I ever had, and one that requires more than an appreciation of nob gags to get. I've been writing these sort of righteously-deluded characters ever since.



0093



Time was quantum, as Professor Smedley well knew. It didn't matter if he got dressed now or later, he would still be dressed...

Friday, October 06, 2017

THEY CALL ME...... THE WHITE RAVEN!

The International Youth Library is the world’s largest library for international children’s and youth literature. Founded in 1949 by Jella Lepman, it has grown to become the internationally recognized centre for children’s and youth literature.

Each year, the Library awards the White Ravens – an annual book catalogue of book recommendations in the field of international children’s and youth literature. This year’s White Ravens catalogue contains 200 titles in 38 languages from 56 countries.

The print catalogue will be launched at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair, and all 200 White Ravens books will be on display at the International Youth Library’s stand at the 2018 Bologna Children’s Book Fair.


FIVE FOR FRIDAY: PROJECTS AMONGST THE SAVAGES


So, if you read my post earlier in the week, you'll know that big changes are afoot in the New Year. You'll also know why my writing world has been so moribund lately, and how my career has slowly diminished to the point that its sliding off the rails looked pretty much exactly like the train set fight in Ant-Man, with about as much impact on the surrounding landscape.


This is also a partial explanation as to why Five for Friday posts have been on hiatus for the last 3 months: Real Life (tm) has pretty much eaten everything away.


Still, here we are. With the revelation that, all being well, I'll be full-time Batthaim admin staff come February next year, it seems only fitting that the first Five for Friday post since that particular discussion be on the subject of just what I'll be aiming to achieve in my two-year tour of duty amongst the housebound of outback Western Australia.


Five for Friday: Full Time Writing Projects




1. More Children's Books


A bit of a no-brainer, this one. With Magrit doing well, and Ghost Tracks on the way to being submitted by the end of this year (all the issues I've had in the last 18 months having dented, but not destroyed, progress on this project), it makes sense to dust off some ideas I've had kicking around since my first post-Magrit-sale flush of enthusiasm and see them through to completion. In particular, I'm looking towards the following two:


The Boy From G.O.B.L.I.N.-- a runaway and perpetual troublemaker is forcibly inducted into the Guild Of Beings the Lurk In the Night, a society of monsters tasked with ensuring the supernatural and the ordinary remain separate; and


Antimony Lavage: All Antimony wants to do is drive the train that clatters past the back of her house every day; the one that takes the newly dead and their grieving families from the Necropolis to the magnificent garden cemetery at the edge of the City. But the job is hereditary, and the family who owns it isn't sharing.




2. Bear Hunts


A crime novel. Edward 'Bear' Burrage got out of the game when his mother fell ill. He moved them away from the city, settled in a nice, harmless, seaside town, and dedicated himself to keeping his nose clean and looking after her as the dementia slowly claimed her. When he loses his licence after foolishly celebrating a lottery win, he's blackmailed into helping with a heist on a local Council. And when it goes wrong, and the pieces of his carefully constructed safety start shattering, Bear starts hunting down those responsible.




3. Tales of Nireym


Many years ago, I sold a fantasy story about a young scribe in a strongly patriarchal society, who stumbles across the story of a girl called Nireym, and how she escaped her role and started an underground movement of resistance among the women she met. It's an okay story, and it makes a few points along the way, but I always felt there was more to it than the 4 or 5000 words I committed: the world-building had greater depth than the narrative, and I always felt it deserved more-- there are stories and themes to be explored, cultures to be compared, a deeper and wider narrative to be unearthed. It would take a novel, and now it might just be time to write it.




4. The Canals of Anguilar


Similarly a story I wrote a couple of years ago for the Review of Australian Fiction, featuring a city entirely inhabited by cowards, which could only be reached when all other bolt holes had been dug out. Part dark fantasy; part crime story; part examination what exactly counts as cowardice and bravery, and how the two can be confused, the original story ran a shade over 8000 words, but never really explored the themes and setting to my satisfaction. Like Tales of Nireym before it, I came away feeling that I could have done so much more, given a longer framework. The difference is, I made a start on this one, before everything when splooey-- there are nearly 12,000 words waiting for me to return to them.




5. The Claws of Native Ghosts and Other Stories


I've been chipping away at this one for a few years now: a linked collection of short stories, connecting events throughout the history of Western Australia by revealing a hidden, supernatural  history running alongside, and affecting, European occupation. To date, 3 stories have seen print in magazine format: the titular tale, which concerns itself with the Pinjarra Massacre; Comfort Ghost, which intersects the current Fremantle Arts centre with its past as an asylum; and Disciple of the Torrent, about the Batavia Mutiny. A further story, centred on CY O'Connor's suicide, is in the editing stage. Two years of uninterrupted research and writing should be enough to put together the 8 other events I have listed to work with, as well as any others my research might lead me towards.