We Wish You an Aussie Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone celebrating today. Hope you’re having a wonderful day wherever you are in the world.

Christmas is a bit of a funny time for me. I’m not religious anymore but I still enjoy the feeling of the season, the spirit of goodwill and cheer in the air. For some reason I haven’t really felt it that much this year though. There’s been a distinct lack of atmosphere this year. There have been fewer lights and decorations around and the shopping centres have been all but deserted, even on Christmas eve. I guess it shows how much people are struggling this year… 2010’s been very hard on a lot of people.

I guess to me Christmas is mostly about spending time with family these days and we just had a simple, quiet day. I think I’m starting to value those kind of days more and more as I get older. I know that a lot of people feel lonely and isolated at Christmas, having lost someone or not being able to be with their children, and I found myself thinking about them a lot today, and our troops overseas.

In any case I hope you’re having a wonderful Christmas wherever you are in the world. To celebrate I thought I’d post another of my Aussie Christmas songs. I did an Aussie take on Jingle Bells last year and The Aussie 12 Days of Christmas in 2008, so I guess it’s become something of a Christmas tradition on my blog now!

This year I thought I’d do We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Originally I wanted to do Frosty the Snowman but I couldn’t work out a way to make it sound very Australian – I mean, it’s not like we get much snow! We Wish You a Merry Christmas was a little easier and it’s also one of my favourite songs at this time of year. I’ll try to do Frosty next year if I can.

I hope you enjoy it. And Merry Christmas. 😉

We Wish You an Aussie Christmas

We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

Good luck and good fate to you and your mates
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

Send the gifts through the post
Get the food for the roast
Sleep in on Christmas morning
And get ready to play host!

We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

May your kids make you smile
May your Christmas have style
May they get lots of pressies
To keep them busy for a while!

We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

Grab a sausage or two
Don’t forget the fondue
And we’ll gather in the backyard
To start the barbeque!

We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

Have fun with the rellies
Laugh and sing with full bellies
Take a few family photos
Then watch the cricket on the telly!

We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

Have a beer by the pool
While you try to stay cool
And we’ll sing songs and carols
To celebrate the yule!

We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

Try a slice of the cake
Just like mum used to make
A little dry and spongy
But at least it’s not fake!

We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

May your Christmas be bright
Filled with festive delight
And don’t forget to say g’day to Santa
If you see him tonight!

We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

Good luck and good fate to you and your mates
We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

We wish you an Aussie Christmas and a ripper New Year!

The Sound of Midnight

Image: Midnight Moon ~ Kalilo

Midnight:
A ticking clock
The only sound
Filling the eerie darkness

The night sky sparkles:
The light of a thousand stars,
Shining forever

Lying in silence
Memories long forgotten
Playing on my mind

Another restless night
Counting sheep
Seeing your face:
Sleep will not come

Rain, falling slowly,
Running down my window pane
Like tears from heaven

A ray of moonlight
Falling across my pillow:
Reminds me of you

Tossing and turning
In an empty bed:
Will I always be
Alone?

The sound of silence:
A tap’s steady drip
Slowly driving me
Insane

Thinking about God
In the middle of the night:
I have no answers

Writer’s block
Bane of my very existence:
The blank page
Never lies

Staring at shadows
Flickering on the wall:
My nightmares
Made real

An orange sunrise
Greeted by a sparrow’s song:
A new day begins

Another morning
Life rising with the new sun:
Finally at rest

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence


I’ve been working on this poem for quite a while now. Originally I started it back in September as a different kind of poem, more of a traditional sonnet, but I just couldn’t get it to work. I went back to it about a month ago and turned it into this instead.

I’ve had insomnia for a couple of years now and that’s what originally inspired the poem. Quite often I’m still awake around sunrise or later and one of the things I often think about while I’m awake is how the night seems to have a life of its own. The softest sounds – a ticking clock, a dripping tap, the wind rattling the windows – suddenly sound so loud and the shadows play tricks on your mind. There’s something beautiful about the stillness of the night as well though and that’s what I wanted to try to capture, that feeling of just… listening.

It’s not really meant to be a poem as much as a collection of thoughts and feelings and reading it now I’m quite happy with how it turned out. It’s different to the poem I set out to write but I think it works quite well as haiku in the end… the brevity suits it and I like that it’s a little more open than some of my other poetry as well.

I hope you enjoyed it. I’m through the worst of my writer’s block now as well so I should be starting to post more regularly again. I’ll have a Christmas post up tomorrow. — CJ.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I stumbled across The Magicians by accident a couple of weeks ago. I’d not read any of Lev Grossman’s work before but there was something about The Magicians that grabbed my attention. It was partly the cover, a haunting image of a tree surrounded by fog, its leaves scattered like tears across a small lake, that caught my interest. Likewise, something about the description reminded me of a grown-up version of Narnia, an adult fantasy mixing the beloved worlds of Lewis with the sex, angst and conflict of real, everyday life. With The Magicians Grossman tries to reinvent modern fantasy for adults and it’s a novel unlike any I’ve read.

The Magicians begins with Quentin Coldwater, a teenager who’s just finished high school with his friends James and Julia. Unsure of what he wants to do with his life and pining for Julia, his unrequited love, Quentin lives in a near-constant melancholy; the only relief he finds is in a series of novels from his childhood about the magical world of Fillory. He dreams of living in Fillory and longs for it to be real, believing it would give purpose and meaning to his otherwise unremarkable life.

When Quentin discovers and is admitted to Brakebills, a college in upstate New York that teaches its students how to use and control magic, it seems that his dream is about to come true. But studying magic is nothing like he imagined. It’s tedious, arduous work and his fellow students are competitive and hostile. Suddenly Quentin is no longer the smartest in his class and finds himself struggling to understand his full potential. His depression returns even as he begins to fall in love with Alice, one of his few friends at Brakebills.

Eventually, after five long years, Quentin and Alice graduate from Brakebills. They move in with a few other graduates from Brakebills and Quentin soon falls into a familiar pattern, losing himself in a world of drugs, parties and alcohol. It begins to drive a wedge between them, with Quentin seemingly content to live a life of mediocrity, while Alice continues to learn about magic.

When another graduate of Brakebills reveals that he has found Fillory — a real place connected to a whole nexus of other worlds — Quentin’s listlessness lifts again. This is what he’s been waiting for; what he’s always wanted. Together the magicians journey to Fillory but soon find that everything is different. The real Fillory is nothing like the world they know from the stories, more nightmare than dream. Together they pledge to set things right in Fillory… but as their relationships begin to fall apart around them, they realise their quest will not only reveal the truth about Fillory but about themselves as well.

I’ve been thinking about The Magicians since I finished it last week and I’m still not completely sure how I feel about it. On the one hand there’s no doubt that it’s a brilliant, literate reimagining of modern fantasy. But on the other, there’s nothing about the novel that feels particularly magical or wondrous. That’s because, when you get to the heart of it, The Magicians isn’t a fantasy novel at all, not really, and it’s hard to know how to judge it.

Rather, The Magicians is a novel about fantasy. It’s an examination of the genre; it takes classic themes — like magic, strange creatures, fantastical worlds — and in dissecting them and putting them back together asks the question, what if magic were real? How would we use it? Would we value the gift or take it for granted? It’s a serious, adult novel that uses magic to explore the darker side of human nature and particularly the danger of apathy.

As such, what really stands out about the novel for me is the characters. It’s not a particularly long novel but all of the characters feel detailed and real. They’re real people, complete with hopes, dreams, flaws, jealousies… they’re magicians capable of great feats, yes, but they’re ordinary and imperfect and that’s what makes them compelling. Alice in particular fascinated me; brilliant yet shy, she seemed almost autistic at times, capable of great power but never really understanding it.

Quentin on the other hand is a study in contrasts. He is both a dreamer and a pessimist, a young man who finds himself with a gift he has always wanted, only to squander it when he realises it’s not what he thought it would be. His moods range wildly from joy to despair and he keeps making all of the wrong decisions again and again, so much so that as a reader you just want to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. But Quentin can’t help it. He’s our eyes into this world and represents our own expectations of magic; in a way we are Quentin and it’s hard to imagine that we’d react any differently.

Quentin is the main protagonist but it’s wrong to call him the hero of the story; there are no real heroes in The Magicians, just people. Everything Quentin does is because he longs to escape from his life but each time he just makes things worse and in the end that’s what The Magicians is really about — learning to accept reality, to make the most of what you have. It’s a lesson Quentin just can’t seem to learn and it costs him everything.

If there’s one problem I have with The Magicians, though, it’s that while all of the characters feel well developed, none of them are particularly likeable. With the possible exception of Alice they’re all bitter, competitive, narcissistic brats; Quentin in particular whines through most of the novel and it becomes tiring. None of the characters seem aware of the destruction they cause around them and while that’s the point, it makes it difficult to care what happens to them or to really relate to them.

Likewise, one of the other problems with The Magicians is that while it is a reinvention of modern fantasy, none of the ideas in the novel themselves are particularly original. Of course, they’re not meant to be; the story is meant to be reminiscent of classic fantasy motifs, making us look at them with new, adult eyes. For the most part that works and Grossman’s world succeeds in feeling familiar but different, but the setting still feels a little clichéd at times, particularly with some of the similarities between Narnia and Fillory.

At times I also felt that Grossman went a little too far in trying to make magic seem so ordinary in the story. Some of the scenes, particularly at Brakebills, feel like they’re included for no other reason than to show how hard it is to use magic in Grossman’s world (more like learning a science than a skill). I know that’s the point, to make it more realistic, but sometimes it just seems to take the magic out of, well, magic. On the other hand, some of the other magical scenes are captivating. There’s one scene in particular where Quentin watches the statue of a bird that a student had tried to bring to life; the spell had failed halfway through and the statue, thinking it’s alive, keeps trying to fly. But it’s too heavy and falls, only to get up and try again and again. It was little more than a paragraph but it’s haunting and stayed with me for the rest of the novel.

My only other real gripe with the novel is that while it’s well written, some of the dialogue feels a little stilted and unrealistic. Secondary characters like Eliot, meant to sound arrogant and supercilious, instead sound overly dramatic and some of the interaction between characters doesn’t ring true, particularly when they’re in larger groups. It’s a stark contrast to Grossman’s prose, which for the most part is excellent; there’s a subtle, rhythmic flow to much of his writing and some of his passages and descriptions are breathtaking.

Overall I’m still not really sure how I feel about The Magicians. I enjoyed it a great deal but at the same time I find it a difficult book to judge. As an idea and a reimagining of modern fantasy, it’s fascinating, but as a novel it’s not perfect by any means and is held back (ironically) by some rather mundane flaws.

Perhaps in the end The Magicians is a little too ambitious for its own good but in a market flooded with Lord of the Rings, Twilight and Harry Potter rip-offs, it still feels refreshingly different. It’s a thoughtful, intelligent novel and as a novel that makes you think about the nature of fantasy and reality in our own lives as well, it’s a resounding success.

Fantasy fans and general readers wanting something a little different will love it. Highly recommended.

Score:

August Reading List

I realised something this week: I’m so not a winter person. This has been one of the coldest winters in Sydney for years and I’m sitting here with a tea and four blankets as I’m writing this, trying to nurse a nasty cold. I don’t want to whine but I’m really looking forward to spring next month.

One of the things I like about winter, though, is that it’s perfect reading weather. It’s absolutely freezing at the moment but there’s nothing better than curling up in bed with a good book on a cold day and letting the story carry you somewhere far, far away. I think I’ve read more in the last two months than during the rest of the year combined.

Lately I’ve been working my way through the nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards. The awards are being held in Melbourne this year, which means I was able to vote for the first time. It’s a good list this year too. I voted for Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock in the end; I loved how fun and inventive it was but any of the nominees could win really. Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl was the only one I couldn’t get to before the deadline; I’ll be reading that next.

I’m reading Nam Le’s The Boat at the moment and these are some of the other books I plan to read soon as well. The one I’m looking forward to the most is The Girl Who Played With Fire. I loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and I finally managed to get the first sequel the other day. Can’t wait to get stuck into it. It seems like everyone’s reading Larsson’s trilogy at the moment; it’s like The Da Vinci Code all over again. Except Larsson’s books are well written. And, you know, good.

I’ll post some reviews once I’ve finished them. I’ve been wanting to try out my new camera as well, so who knows, I might even do a couple of video reviews.

So what are you reading at the moment?

The Windup Girl
Paolo Bacigalupi

First Impressions: Bacigalupi’s short fiction has taken the SF world by storm in recent years. This is his first novel, about genetic engineering and a post-oil future where global corporations vie for the world’s remaining resources. Looks very promising.

The Girl Who Played with Fire
Stieg Larsson

First Impressions: Lisbeth Salander finds herself accused of murder and goes on the run while Mikael Blomkvist tries to clear her of the crime. Dragon Tattoo was the best thriller I’ve read in years; if this one’s even half as good as the first, I’ll be very happy.

The Forgotten Garden
Kate Morton

First Impressions: A young woman’s journey to find the truth about her grandmother’s life. It seems a little too reminiscent of The Secret Garden at times for me, at least in tone. I loved Morton’s The Shifting Fog, though, so maybe it’ll surprise me.

The Book of Illusions
Paul Auster

First Impressions: I’m not that familiar with Paul Auster, although he seems to really divide readers. Illusions is about a man who investigates the life of a silent movie star who disappeared in the 1920s, only to find similarities with his own life. Sounds interesting.

The Art of Travel
Alain de Botton

First Impressions: I’ve not read de Botton before but a friend recommended this to me recently. de Botton explores the nature of travel (why we travel, what we get out of it, etc.) through philosophy, art and other musings. Sounds like just my cup of tea.

The Copper Bracelet
Jeffrey Deaver (et al)

First Impressions: A sequel to The Chopin Manuscript, this is a collaborative audionovel written by 16 writers including Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Scottoline and Lee Child. The Chopin Manuscript didn’t quite work but I like the idea of a collaborative novel. Hopefully this is more successful.

5 Things (redux)

So this is my first post in a little while. Actually in a long while when I think about it… I’ve barely updated this blog all year really. I’m sorry for that. I still see blogging as a major part of my writing life and I keep meaning to update more often. I’ve just had other things on my mind, particularly for the last few weeks.

I haven’t been feeling that well recently. I’ve hardly slept and I’ve had an awful migraine for the last few weeks. I blame the weather; everything seems worse when it’s cold and it’s been bitterly cold in Sydney this past month. It’s the coldest winter we’ve had in a long time.

We’ve also been gearing up for a national election and it’s been kind of surreal. Just a few weeks ago Kevin Rudd was our Prime Minister; now Rudd’s gone, we have our first female PM in Julia Gillard (long overdue) and we’re rushing to the polls on August 21. It’s all happened so quickly that it’s almost draining.

Usually I quite enjoy elections but after the brutal way Rudd was brought down and how both parties have gone so negative already, it’s just ugly. Neither party seems to stand for anything and it’s more a battle of personalities than policy. The way both parties are treating asylum seekers is frankly appalling to me. I may have to flip a coin at this rate.

I’ve actually had some good news about my writing, though, during all of this which I’m very excited about. I was contacted by a scouting agency last week who sound interested in looking at some of my work. I’m thrilled… it’s just what I need at this stage. I’ve had some minor interest before as well, so I guess that shows I’m on the right track.

I haven’t worked out what I’m going to send yet. I’ve only just started working on my first novel so I haven’t really finished enough to show to anyone yet. I’ve been thinking about putting together a collection of short stories, so that might be an option instead.

Either way, it’s encouraging. I feel like I’m finally starting to get somewhere, so I think I’m going to focus more on writing my novel for the next few months. I feel like I’ve come far enough to seriously think about publication now and if I can have a draft finished by mid-September then at least I’ll have an idea of if it’s good enough to send away.

I’ll probably have to put some of my other projects aside while I work on the novel but I’ll be continuing with Sleepless at the same time. I may change a few things about how I’m writing the story (I’ll probably hold onto a few updates rather than posting them all live, so I’ll have something to post when I’m busy with the novel) but I’m still really excited about it and some of the ideas actually complement the novel, so it shouldn’t be a distraction.

If you’re following Sleepless, by the way, you’ve probably noticed I haven’t updated it for a few weeks. I took a break from writing to plan out the rest of the story but I’ll be getting back to it later tonight. With everything planned out now, there shouldn’t be any more delays. Thanks again to everyone who’s followed the story so far. I really appreciate it and all your feedback.

Anyway, as it’s been a while since my last post I thought I’d do a fun post to get back into the swing of things. So how about a meme? About two years ago I did the 5 Things About Me meme and as it was one of my favourite posts, I thought it’d be fun to do a follow-up now and see how my answers have changed… kind of like digging up a time capsule.

I’ve answered the questions differently where I can and I’ve added a few new ones as well to show what’s changed in the last few years. Just looking back at the original post now, it’s amazing how much has changed since then… we’ve changed Presidents and Prime Ministers, gone through the GFC, watched Haiti suffer, Michael Jackson become a memory… I’ve made new friends and lost others, watched from overseas as my grandmother nearly died… you don’t really realise just how much can happen in two years until you look back.

I hope you enjoy the meme. Has much changed for you in the last two years?

5 things found in your bag
I’ll use my messenger bag again

  • Camera
  • Glasses (mainly for reading these days)
  • iPhone
  • Sunscreen
  • Notepad and pen

5 favourite things in your room

TV Corner

  • Favourite pen
    I have a number of pens but my favourite is a custom-made Amboyna Sapwood pen that I’ve had for a couple of years. I tend to prefer wooden pens to metal ones; I write by hand and they’re just more comfortable when you’re using them for a long time. I use it mostly for writing letters and editing and I always use it for the first page of a new story.
  • Writing area
    My computer died earlier this year, so I took the opportunity to get a new desk as well. I loved my old writing desk but it was too small for the monitor, so I’m saving it for when I have more room. I’ve got a nice area set up now. Now I just need to get on with writing!

Computer & Desk (side on)Computer & DeskComputer, Desk & Chair

  • Memory box
    Everyone probably has a memory box somewhere. Mine’s mostly filled with simple things – photos, trinkets, my school prefect badge, a copy of my favourite book from when I was a child (The Velveteen Rabbit). It also has my first acceptance letter from when I was published and my first email from a reader.
  • Statues and figures
    I mentioned that I collect these in the original post as well but I’ve added a few more since then. The Egyptian figures are made by Veronese from cold cast resin; most of the pewter ones are by the Tudor Mint. The Le Morte d’Arthur piece (right) is my favourite.

Egyptian CollectionPewter Figures

Pewter Fellowship sculptArthurian Collection

  • Wall plaque
    I got this for a bargain $2 on eBay a couple of years ago. I love Asian-themed art and it’s one of my favourite pieces. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out much about it, though; I only know it came from Melbourne and has a “Partos” sticker on the back.

Asian Wall Art

5 things that have changed in the last two years

  • My writing
    My writing’s come a long way in the last two years; I’m much better at editing in particular now and finally feel confident enough to try a full-length novel. Also, I’ve really taken to poetry, which has been a surprise. I’ve never really thought of myself as much of a poet.
  • My philosophy
    I’ve been an atheist for about two years now. It was a gradual thing; I lost my faith after 9/11 and Bali and considered myself an agnostic for several years, before I started to drift towards atheism. Atheism isn’t what a lot of people think it is; it’s a philosophy based on the absence of personal belief, not the worship of science. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I feel more content now. Most people seem to respect that.
  • My family tree
    I’ve always had an interest in genealogy and I started researching our family tree last year. So far I’ve found several distant cousins and an entire side of our family we knew nothing about. I’ve also learnt a lot about Isaac, my great-great grandfather.
  • My taste in music
    I’ve never been that into modern music but I’ve found myself drifting more and more towards indie and alternative artists and music from the 60s and 70s over the last few years…. I can’t even remember the last pop song I bought. I’ll take Sarah Blasko over Katy Perry any day.
  • My hair
    I guess it’s just a part of getting older but I’ve started to lose a little of my hair over the last year or so. It’s not that bad but still, I wasn’t expecting it just yet! And the icing on the cake? I found my first grey hair the other day as well…

5 things you want to do in the next year

  • Finish my novel
    I feel happy with where I am with my writing at the moment, so I finally started work on my novel a few weeks ago. I’ve been developing the idea for almost a year; it’s a modern fable exploring racism, terrorism and religious extremism. I won’t know if it’s good enough to publish until it’s finished but I think it could be excellent if it all comes together… something quite different to what’s around at the moment.
  • Study
    I’ve been thinking about this for a while and at some stage during the next year I want to get back to studying. Now that I’m finally working on a novel I want to have something to fall back on as well and I think now’s a good time to think about studying again. I’m looking at library studies atm; I could do a Masters later as well, which would allow me to teach, something I’ve always wanted to do.
  • Meet someone
    I don’t talk about my love life that often. I don’t date that much but the last time I had something close to a relationship was about two years ago, when I met someone I became very close to… I’m not sure if it was “love” but it was certainly the most intense connection I’ve ever had with someone. It ended quite suddenly; I don’t know why exactly, though I suspect it was because I became an atheist as she was quite religious. I haven’t really been looking to meet anyone since then, but I’d love to meet someone during the next year, someone I could be myself with. I don’t know if it’ll happen but it’d be nice if it did.
  • See the Australian Open
    I love tennis and I’ve been wanting to go to the Australian Open in Melbourne for years. Hopefully 2011 will be the year! It’ll probably come down to whether I can afford it closer to the date but it’s something I’d love to do to start off the new year. I’d love to see a cricket match at the MCG if there’s one on as well.
  • Get a good night’s sleep
    I’ve had insomnia for about three years now. I only get a few hours sleep a night and frankly it drives me nuts. I mean, what are you supposed to do at 4 in the morning? Just once in the next year I’d love to get a good night’s sleep. That’s not too much to ask, is it? 😕

5 things you have always wanted to do

  • Perform a poetry reading
    I’ve always enjoyed poetry readings and I’ve often thought about sharing some of my own work in public. I’ve always been worried about embarrassing myself as I’ve not taken my poetry that seriously before but I still love the idea. I’ll have to do it one of these days.
  • Learn to play the piano
    I’ve never been that talented as far as music goes; I’m completely tone-deaf and the only instrument I used to be able to play was the little plastic recorder they made us play in school (I still wasn’t very good!). But I love music and if I have the time and money one day, I’d love to learn to play the piano. I’d have to get soundproofing for the neighbours first, though.
  • Travel to Egypt and Japan
    There are a lot countries I’d love to visit one day – India, Canada, New Zealand, the US – but if I had to choose two, I’d really love to see Egypt and Japan. I’ve always loved the idea of trying to find my way in a completely foreign city, of seeing the Pyramids, the Asakusa temples in Tokyo. Hopefully I’ll make it to both one day.
  • Be an extra in a movie
    I’m a big movie buff and I’d love to be part of a movie as an extra one day and see how they’re made. Maybe I could be a red shirt in the next Star Trek film and die a horrible death. What do you think?
  • Ride an elephant
    I’ve always loved elephants. Some treks in India and Africa actually allow you to ride on the back of an elephant and I’ve always thought that would be an amazing experience. I’d only want to do it if it was safe and the elephant was comfortable with it, of course, but it’s something I’d love to do… a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.

5 things you are currently into

  • She & Him
    I’m a big fan of M. Ward’s and one of his side projects is a folk duo with Zooey Deschanel called She & Him. Deschanel reminds me a little of Julia Stone (who I love as well) and they’re kind of a throwback to 60s music with a modern twist and sound refreshingly different to anything else out there right now. Their latest album’s one of the best I’ve heard in years.

  • Scrabble
    I have a kind of ritual I go through before I start writing; I do a word game or a crossword to start thinking about different words. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Scrabble and I’m hooked. I got my highest score the other day (425) and still lost! I’m still not quite sure how.
  • The West Wing
    I’ve been working my way through all the DVDs of The West Wing over the last few months and it’s become one of my favourite shows. The writing and acting are incredible and it’s interesting, seeing the parallels to both Bush and Clinton administrations. It’s brilliant. I can’t believe I missed it on TV.
  • Catherynne Valente
    I hadn’t heard of Catherynne Valente until recently but she’s quickly become one of my favourite authors. The best way I can describe her is that she writes modern fairy tales, with some of the most beautiful, haunting prose I’ve read in a long time. If you like Margaret Atwood or Kelly Link, you’ll love her books. I can’t wait to read Palimpsest next.
  • Natalie Portman
    Because she’s Natalie Portman. What? Some things never change. 😉

5 people you want to tag

I won’t tag anyone as I did it in the first post. But if you’d like to do the meme yourself or do it again, feel free to use it… I’d love to see your answers.

Sleepless: A Micronovel

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“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
– Toni Morrison.

I’ve always loved that quote. It’s so typical of Toni Morrison; so simple, and yet it captures the process perfectly. Every time I read it, it reminds me of why I wanted to write in the first place.

I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about the first story I wrote. It was a thriller called School Terror and I was fourteen when I wrote it. Actually, it wasn’t quite my first story; I’d written a few other things when I was younger, including my very first story when I was seven. But School Terror was the first time I really tried to write something original, and I was quite proud of it.

Basically the story was about a prestigious school which was overrun by terrorists trying to take the students hostage; a girl, Mara, and her teacher escape and take on the terrorists one by one. If you think of 24 mixed with teenage angst, you’ll probably get an idea of what it was supposed to be like. The story was probably fuelled by my frustrations about school at the time but I thought it was kind of a cool idea just the same. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about a sassy sixteen year old and her curmudgeonly history teacher, taking on a band of vicious terrorists?

To be honest, looking back, it was pretty bad. My spelling and grammar were atrocious and it was 1998; I was fourteen – I knew nothing about writing, let alone terrorism! But I’m still quite fond of that story. I think writing it was the moment I knew I really wanted to be a writer. It was the first time I’d tried to tell my own story, something original and uniquely my own, and it was the kind of story I’d want to read myself. Even now, twelve years later, that’s still why I write: to tell stories I’d want to read. I think if you ever start writing for any other reason, it’s time to put down your pen.

I haven’t posted an update on my writing in a while but it’s been going well over the last couple of months. I’ve got a lot further with my novel; most of the storyline is plotted now and I’m starting to flesh out the back-story before I start on a first draft. In the meantime I’m writing a couple of short stories which should be finished in the next month or so (but don’t hold me to it!). One of them is a modern fable about beauty and ageing, a slightly different take on an old theme.

I’m also starting a new project tomorrow which I’m very excited about. I’m announcing it now but it’s actually been something of an open secret for the last few weeks, so you might already know about it if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

So what is the project? Basically I want to try something a little different. From tomorrow I’m going to be publishing a micronovel via Twitter and Facebook. It’s called Sleepless, a story I’ve been developing for a couple of years now and it’s really an experiment as much as a novel.

The idea is that I want to try to write a story specifically for social media like Twitter and Facebook. A lot of writers have published works on Twitter and Facebook before so the idea is nothing new, but personally I think they’ve been going about it the wrong way. Twitter and Facebook are excellent tools for writers but they weren’t meant to be used like that; publishing a short story – let alone a full novel – takes thousands of updates. It’s just not practical and it becomes confusing and hard to follow.

The idea of building a community is also something that is essential to social media but many writers seem to misuse it. They don’t engage their community; they have a one-way dialogue with their readers, rather than an ongoing conversation. But the feedback and interaction that a social community provides is one of its biggest strengths and I think that should be embraced.

What I’m getting at is that I think social media should be treated as a new format entirely, with different rules. Writers shouldn’t be treating Twitter and Facebook as another publishing platform; rather they should be writing stories for Twitter and Facebook and posting them live, so readers can follow and share in the experience of creating a work.

Likewise the way writers approach stories should be different. Many people access Twitter and Facebook on their phones and they’re only online for a few minutes at a time. Expecting them to sit and read through large chunks of text is unrealistic. Instead I think writers need to find a new way of telling stories for that format by condensing their work.

That’s what I want to do with the micronovel. The idea of a micronovel is to tell the same story as an ordinary novel but in a condensed fashion. It doesn’t mean turning a novel into a short story or losing the structure of a novel. Rather it’s an exercise in brevity, where you find new ways to tell the story and explore the characters in fewer words. The finished product is about the length of a novella but in the end should still feel like you’ve read a whole novel.

Micronovels are something that more and more writers are experimenting with, particularly as Twitter and internet-capable phones have grown in popularity. They’re designed to be easy to read on mobiles and in many ways they’re inspired by Japanese mobile novels (keitai shousetsu), which are incredibly popular in Japan. Some people think it’s the future of storytelling, particularly for a generation used to so many distractions.

Personally I see micronovels and microfiction as more of an interesting experiment, something which could help to push the boundaries of fiction, particularly online. Certain kinds of stories could suit the format well, particularly minimalist fiction and stream of consciousness, and that’s kind of what I want to do with Sleepless.

I’ve talked about the story itself a little before. It’s about Jake Morgan, a man who wakes from a coma after almost twelve years. But the world he finds himself in is very different, a post-9/11 world, and his wife Rachel has remarried – and he has a son. As he begins to adapt to his new environment, Jake begins to form a relationship with his son. But he keeps wondering if he’s still the same man he was before.

At its heart the story is about the relationship between Jake and his son but it’s also a sad love story as Jake remembers his relationship with Rachel in flashbacks. It’s also a way of looking at how much the world has changed in the last ten years by seeing it through Jake’s eyes.

I’d always planned to write Sleepless as a short novel and I still do, but I think this is a good way of telling a version of the story now while it’s still fresh in my mind. The story should lend itself quite well to the format, particularly as a lot of it is told in flashbacks.

I’ll be starting it tomorrow and I’ll try to update it when I have a free moment; when I’m out on my phone or at home, etc. I imagine some errors will get through and it’ll probably go in new directions I hadn’t planned (as all stories do), but it should feel very organic and I think it’s a great opportunity for readers to see how a story evolves as its written.

If you’d like to read the story you can follow it on Facebook and on Twitter. I’ll also post it on my blog once it’s finished. What I’d like is to build up a small community as that interaction is part of the experiment as well, to see how it helps to shape the novel. So I hope you can follow along. And if you know anyone else who might be interested, it’d be great if you could let them know as well.

But to be honest, it’s an experiment and I have no idea how it’s going to go. If it works then it could be great… or it could just all fall apart! Either way it should be interesting. And I think that’s kind of the attraction for me as well, the idea of trying something new and different… it’s exciting.

It reminds me again of Toni Morrison’s quote and when I was writing my first story. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I had a story I wanted to tell, and so I found my way. It was exciting; it made me want to write every spare moment I had, and that’s how I feel about this story too.

As a writer that’s what it’s all about for me… that feeling is the reason I write. So I think that’s a good sign. Anything else that comes from it is just a bonus.

I’ll be starting Sleepless tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it. Wish me luck. 😉

Lest We Forget

ANZAC Cove and New Zealand Point by Frank Hurley

“When You Go Home,
Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow,
We Gave Our Today.”
Epitaph at Kohima memorial cemetery

Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, commemorating the Gallipoli landing on April 25, 1915. Of the more than 44,000 Allied deaths at Gallipoli almost 11,000 were ANZACs; over 130,000 soldiers died on both sides.

This year was the 95th anniversary of the campaign and Gallipoli is still seen as a defining moment in Australian, New Zealand and Turkish history. The operation was a strategic and military failure but it was the moment both Australia and New Zealand started to emerge and forge our own identities, separate from Britain, in the wider world, and it also laid the groundwork for the formation of the Turkish Republic eight years later under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a commander at Gallipoli who became Turkey’s first president.

There is a dawn service held at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli each year to commemorate the fallen and ANZAC Day has expanded over the years to remember all  those who have died and served Australia and New Zealand; from World War I and II, to Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. Usually there are services and veterans’ marches in every capital city.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Gallipoli campaign but I must admit I have slightly mixed feelings about ANZAC Day. As a day of remembrance and reflection it’s something I value greatly, particularly knowing how lucky I am to live in a free country and the sacrifices many Australians have made in her name. What I don’t like about ANZAC Day, however, is the  way we often overlook New Zealand and Turkey in the commemorations, and particularly the nationalistic fervour that sometimes overwhelms it.

In recent years ANZAC Day has become more like a day of national pride in Australia. That’s not necessarily a bad thing except sometimes it’s seen more as a national holiday than a day of remembrance and some Australians think if you don’t wrap yourself in the Australian flag and wear green and gold, you’re being unpatriotic. Personally I try to commemorate ANZAC Day in my own way, looking at old photographs from Gallipoli and reflecting quietly on the losses on both sides and what it means to be Australian, but that attitude has begun to intrude on ANZAC Day more and more. It’s got to the point where the role of New Zealand is often overlooked in Australian commemorations and some Australians almost consider ANZAC Cove to be Australian soil, even though Gallipoli is still Turkish territory. I often wonder if we’re starting to lose what ANZAC Day is really about: remembering the cost of war.

Worse, though, is when people seem to have no respect for the ANZAC legacy at all. A war memorial in Sydney was vandalised on Saturday night, with a flag pole broken and garbage strewn around the Cenotaph. Why? What kind of person would do that? There was also a furore recently over the suggestion that because ANZAC Day fell on a Sunday this year, there shouldn’t be a public holiday in lieu on the Monday as it would be disrespectful (something I agreed with). But there was a public outcry against the idea and so the holiday stood. Likewise Kmart and other retailers recently applied to be able to trade on ANZAC Day morning, which RSLs were outraged by. Both cases show that people are beginning to associate ANZAC Day as more of a holiday than a day of reflection, which is troubling.

 

I’ve come across that kind of thing myself. I caught the bus home from Bondi on Saturday and a couple stood next to me, about my age or perhaps slightly older. Their language was vulgar, so much so that I won’t repeat most of it, and they spent most of the trip talking about an all-day party they were having on Sunday, planning to get so wasted they’d need Monday and Tuesday to recover and to “fuck like bunnies” all night. I have no idea if they even knew Sunday was ANZAC Day or not. Worse, though, they were standing in the way of the door and when an elderly woman stumbled into them as she was getting off, one of them called after her, “Fucking bitch. I should hit you so fucking hard for that. I hope you drop dead.”

They really got under my skin. First, I don’t see why such abysmal language is necessary in public. There was a little girl in front of me who heard all of it – and believe me, most of it she definitely wouldn’t have heard before. But much worse was the way they treated the woman. She was old enough to have been a nurse or war bride in World War II; is this the way we talk to our elders? To abuse them the night before ANZAC Day? Who knows what she has seen or done in her life. And what about the party? Getting that wasted on ANZAC Day of all days? Don’t you have any respect?

Maybe I’m off the mark but I think the ANZAC legacy deserves more respect than that. I know the original ANZACs wanted ANZAC Day to be as much a day of celebration as commemoration but I think the very least you can do is to spare a few minutes to think about how lucky we are for all we have on this one day of the year – and perhaps to abstain from getting so drunk that you won’t be able to remember any of it in the morning.

But perhaps it’s ignorance that is the real problem. After all, how can you really respect something if you don’t know the true story behind it? I wonder how many Australians actually know the true story of Gallipoli? Not the legend that has arisen since but what really happened? Somehow I doubt many do. There’s a famous quote by Alan Bond after winning the America’s Cup; his crew had been behind at one stage and he commented afterwards “it was just like Gallipoli, and we won that one”. That is simply wrong (not to mention insensitive). The Gallipoli campaign was a complete disaster from the beginning, ending when the Allies pulled out in January 1916 – yet it’s a misconception I hear again and again. Likewise many young people believe the first ANZACs gave their lives to protect Australia from invasion. Again that’s not true. The Allies were the invaders; the purpose of the campaign was to capture Istanbul (then Constantinople) and provide sea access to Russia, a campaign in a war we joined because of our ties to Great Britain. Also, Gallipoli is often referred to as the birth of our national consciousness, but the Western Front was just as important. Some Australians don’t even seem to know that New Zealand was part of the ANZAC Corps as well: at least one student at Queensland University was “shocked” recently when a New Zealand professor told them what ANZAC really stood for.

I can’t say any of it surprises me. I’m convinced the majority of Australians (and perhaps it’s true for other countries as well) don’t know their own history well enough. If we did there would be more sympathy for Indigenous Australians in particular and figures like Ned Kelly and Jimmy Governor wouldn’t be so notorious. I guess I can understand why; history is often dull and legends tend to take on lives of their own. But I don’t believe you can know who you are unless you know where you truly come from. That’s why I’ve always been interested in learning about the colonies, and Gallipoli, and why I began to research my family tree as well. I think most Australians would be surprised by how different much of our history really is. I doubt many people even know the extent of our deployments outside of Gallipoli, or just how close we came to being occupied by Japan in World War II.

I guess I’m just afraid that we’re slowly losing what is really important about ANZAC Day: remembering the fallen and our troops around the world, and the true cost and horror of war. Instead some people barely seem aware of it; for others it’s becoming more a day of national pride and while there is room for that as well, it shouldn’t be the focus. Each year ANZAC Day is being commemorated by more young people, at their schools and with their families, so that is a good sign at least. It shows they want to remember, to hear the stories and know what happened. If we can pass on the true history of Gallipoli to them, then the real Anzac spirit should never be forgotten.

In any case, I wanted to do a post to commemorate the 95th anniversary but I thought I’d post this on the 26th instead as I didn’t want my views to seem disrespectful. I thought I’d do something special as well, so I’ve put together another photo post, to show what the world and war was really like at that time.

The photos are from the Australian War Memorial, the State Library of NSW, the National Library of New Zealand and the National Media Museum on Flickr. They are all from World War I and II. Lest we forget.

And to all of our troops around the world, stay safe. We’re thinking of you, always.

Click here to see the photos

Oscar Haiku

I love the Oscars. I’m a big movie buff so watching the Oscars is one of my favourite things each year. It always brings back a lot of memories, particularly of certain films and where I was at that time in my life. I can still remember when Roberto Benigni won; he was so happy and infectious, it made me look for Life is Beautiful, which is now one of my favourite films.

I’ve been looking forward to the Oscars this year. One reason is because I like Steve Martin but it’s also because we’re getting the telecast live this year, which is a bonus. In the past it hasn’t been shown live in Australia, so I’ve usually had to dodge the news and phone calls all day until finally watching a delayed telecast in the evening. This time I’ll be able to watch the whole thing live.

I tend to see most of the nominated films on DVD, so the only one I’ve seen so far is Avatar, and I’ve read the book of Precious (Push). I liked Avatar but to be honest I’m hoping (on reputation) that The Hurt Locker or Up in the Air win. Avatar was fun and it’s a brilliant technical achievement but the script was clichéd and some of the dialogue was terrible. It deserves to win most of the technical awards but I’d rather see The Hurt Locker win Best Picture. And Kathryn Bigelow Best Director. It’s about time a woman won. Finally.

I’d like to see Jeff Bridges win an Oscar at last but apart from that, I’m not really bothered about the other main awards. The one category I’d like to see an upset in is the musical score. I just don’t get Giacchino’s work; it all sounds like blaring horns to me. I think Alexandre Desplat deserves to win but it won’t happen.

Anyway, to get into the Oscar spirit I’ve written several haiku of my favourite films. I’ve tried to capture the spirit of each film and it was a lot of fun – although reducing Gone with the Wind to 17 syllables was very difficult!

There are fifteen haiku and each film was nominated for Best Picture. Only 10 of them actually won the Oscar, though. Can you tell me which ones didn’t win? 😉

Hope you enjoy them. Have you seen many of the Oscar nominated films this year?

The Ring of Power:
A burden none can carry
Except one so small

(The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)

Torn between
Love and virtue
Rick sends his love away
While Sam plays on

(Casablanca)

Dorothy dreams
Of witches and Oz
Of the Yellow Brick Road
And home

(The Wizard of Oz)

Mrs. Robinson
Seduces a younger man:
He loves her daughter

(The Graduate)

A love unrequited
Burns like the
Southern sun
And Scarlett’s spirit

(Gone with the Wind)

If life’s like
A box of chocolates
Why does love have
A bitter taste?

(Forrest Gump)

Young woman
Teaches children to sing
And finds love
As Nazis descend

(The Sound of Music)

Boy who walks the sky
Meets pirates and a princess:
The Force is with him

(Star Wars)

The underdog
Finally given his chance
To fly
Finds love instead

(Rocky)

A broken soldier
Finds solace among the Sioux
Before war returns

(Dances With Wolves)

The life of one
Reclusive man
Described in a single word:
Rosebud

(Citizen Kane)

Normandy
Blood on the water
Death in the air:
He still remembers

(Saving Private Ryan)

The life of a Don
Brutal and vicious:
Your son becomes you

(The Godfather)

Former boxer
Finds his voice against
The mob
To become a hero

(On the Waterfront)

Doomed voyage
Ends in icy waters
But their love will last
Forever

(Titanic)

Image Credit: Past Projections ~ Dan Duggan

Update: The Oscars finished about an hour ago. I found it disappointing after all that. Steve Martin & Alec Baldwin did quite well but it was too old-fashioned at times. The main problem was it had no momentum. By getting rid of the performances, it just dragged on and on.

Also, did I miss it or was Farrah Fawcett left off the In Memoriam tribute? Very strange. Quite underwhelming overall. But at least Jeff Bridges and Kathryn Bigelow won. About time too.

Historic Sydney

This is my first post in a while. I haven’t been feeling well and to make things worse I’ve been having computer problems as well. I can barely use my computer at the moment; it makes a constant grinding noise and just crashes without warning. I even lost some of my work yesterday when it crashed. No backups. Ouch. I’ve been putting it off but I’ll have to get it looked at later this week. Hopefully it won’t be too expensive to fix.

I’ve got a pile of emails and comments in my inbox I haven’t been able to get to yet (sorry!) but one good thing is it’s given me more time to write. I’ve finally been able to develop a few ideas further and I also started an early draft of a new story which is going well so far.

One of the stories I’ve been working on is based on an older idea, about a man who wakes from a coma only to find that the world he knew is gone. I haven’t had much time to work on it previously but I’ve always liked the idea and wanted to develop it further. At its heart it’s about exploring our world through the eyes of a stranger and it’s still only in the early stages but already it feels quite different to anything I’ve written before. I could see it being a novel one day.

I’ve been doing some research for the story (when my computer’s been working anyway), looking at how different trends change over time, and The Commons on Flickr has been an excellent resource. If you don’t use Flickr, The Commons is a photographic archive from different institutions around the world and it’s been fascinating looking at the collections, seeing how things like architecture, fashion and hairstyles have evolved over time.

The Powerhouse Museum and the NSW State Library are both part of The Commons and some of the images of Sydney are incredible; they date back to the beginning of the 20th century, some to even earlier when the colony was still forming. Most of the buildings don’t exist anymore and it’s an incredible insight into what life was really like back then.

The photo above is one of my favourites. It dates back to around 1920 and is of Marie-Celeste de Villentroy, the daughter of a photographer in Sydney at the time. It’s a beautiful portrait, hand-coloured. It’s also one of the few times I’ve seen the Red Ensign flag used so noticeably.

I spent Australia Day looking through The Commons last week and as I haven’t posted in a while, I thought it’d be fun to post some of my favourites photos. To share a little history. Most are of common landmarks in Sydney and should be familiar to people overseas.

There are quite a few photos, so I’ve posted more after the break. Enjoy.

This photo is of Market Street in the CBD, around 1875. The buildings were made of weatherboard and sanitation was a notorious problem in the area. You can see how the plague spread so rapidly a few years later. Rent was 21 shillings.

A view of Sydney from the old General Post Office in Martin Place (1900), in the central CBD. Many of these buildings were knocked down for development during the 1900s. The GPO was privatised in 1996 and now houses shops and cafes.

Martin Place, circa 1900. Martin Place was originally Moore Street and has changed a lot in 100 years but much of it is still recognisable. It was closed to traffic in 1971 and is now a pedestrian mall.

Queen Victoria Markets (1900), now the Queen Victoria Building. The QVB is one of my favourite buildings in Sydney; it’s mostly untouched and the inside has been carefully restored with many of its original features.

More photos after the break