June 2007

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MOST BORING TOPIC EVER!

IT'S RAINING

IT'S POURING

THE OLD MAN IS TOTALLY SNORING.

YAY MELBOURNE - GO YOUR HARDEST.

Also, would people please stop sending me links to hilarious Japanese game shows on youtube? There are only so many hours in the day/night/early morning.

Banking cheques

I went to the bank today to deposit a cheque I received for some work I did re-writing some Greek mythological stories into contemporary language for a school.

Me: I'd like to deposit this cheque please.

Guy at Desk: You keep this bit.

Me: Which bit?

Guy: The bit that describes what you're being paid for. Geek mythology.

Me: Greek. That's Greek mythology.

Guy: Oh. Sorry.

Geek Mythology - the study of mythical stories involving nerds. Awe-inspiring stuff.

Sydney Writers' Festival Continued

Crawling through my guided tour of my time at the Sydney Writers' Festival, I feel I must also tell you that it included the following:

- lots of coffee, in order to ensure that sleep does not overcome oneself during the afternoon sessions
- a notebook, which I kept losing, meaning that scribbled notes have been found ever since on tram tickets, bookmarks, programmes, free postcards, and a particularly illegible packet of panadol.
- long sessions in the bookshop justifying the purchase of books.
- views of the harbour.
- mints (see coffees, above)

First session on Day 2 was Eliot Weinberger on the ABC Book Show. I decided he would be interesting because I had read some of his pieces on Iraq. He spoke mostly about birds.

No, honestly. Birds. I checked the programme a few times to see if he was the same guy.

He was the same guy, which is impressive, but not particularly interesting. The only real mention of politics was the bit where he said that he got so depressed writing about the political situation in Iraq that he decided to write about birds. After which point, he discussed birds.

Then there was this, featuring John Boyne and Sophie Gee who write books inspired by historical figures. I was fascinated with the session, which in no way attempted to address the topic, and which did not so much as mention birds. John Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which I purchased immediately and finished reading by close of play that same day. He was a great talker, as was Gee.
Highlights:
Sophie Gee's book came from her thesis topic, which was something to do with rubbish in the eighteenth century and its effect on literature.
John Boyne's ocassional attempts to touch on the topic.
Fascinating descriptions of research undertaken.
Descriptions of writing process.
Lack of discussion relating to birds.

I then went to this, where I discovered the gorgeous Steven Hall, whose book I am itching to read and whose discussion of his book was equally fascinating. Having said that, I had to stalk him throughout the festival in order to hear him speak, on account of him not being able to get a word in during this session. The two women were interesting, too. Rachel Seiffert, whose books I haven't yet read, was very clever and opinionated, but whose approach differed vastly from Gail Jones' very sophisticated, academic perspective.
Highlights:
The three times Steven Hall spoke.
The bits that were read out.
The rather heated moment during a discussion of cliches, where it was revealed that Gail Jones had read Rachel's book (and loved it) but hadn't read Steven's (but intended to), Rachel had read both Steven's (and loved it) and Gail's (which one got the distinct feeling she did not), and Steven wasn't going to own up, but possibly hadn't read anyone's. Indirect references were made to cliches.
Birds were only referred to incidentally.

Then, to the environment. Fascinating discussion of pragmatic approaches to climate change, involving businesses and sponsored by an insurance company.
Highlights:
Insurance company guy defending self interest (very well actually, had me wanting to change insurance companies).
Description of carbon taxes and carbon trading and how they work (always confused me)
Birds hinted at, by way of discussion of nature, but not directly discussed in any way.

Then, possibly the least successful session I attended, not helped by the delerium of being in so many sessions in a row and getting a seriously childish case of the giggles...

This session on digital writing. Highlights:
- The lawyer ran away with this session, completely arguing everyone into a corner. Had everyone supporting copyright laws.
- Getting the giggles and thinking I might require medical assistance.
- Thinking perhaps this session could have used more discussion of birds.

Then, last event of the day, my second favourite (not that I have favourites or anything) was The Big Reading.
There is just nothing like listeining to writers read their own work, or in Richard Ford's case, someone else's much loved work. I have now read Rawi Hage's book (beautiful, imagined the whole thing being read in his accent) and Moshin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is very clever and very funny. He's another writer I followed around and listened to and took notes on tram tickets. I have started Mister Pip, I have started Lionel Shriver's first book, and I have Rachel Seiffert's book on reserve. It was all excellent. Except:

Lowlight, Andrei Makine read in French. The dude on the projector, projecting the translation, had clearly dropped some acid just previously. Nobody (apart from Standing There Captain of Industry Mello Howzie) had any idea what the lovely French voice was saying, because he was (according to the projection) saying it backwards, very quickly, stopping, starting again, and remaining stuck on one page for several minutes. The poor author had no idea this was happening.

Definite low light, because the other books were all beautifully read.

Perhaps there was a bird in the projectionist's booth.

Writers' Festival Wrap

I've been promising (largely to myself) to do a roundup of the Syndey Writers' Festival, but life got away on me a bit over the past week or so.

So, The Sydney Writers' Festival Wrap Up will probably come in dribs and drabs from now on:

The first event I went to was called Crossing Over, which I was interested in because it was about writing fiction for kids, which is read by adults. As with many sessions at the festival, the topic proved to be a very loose description of what actually happened. Highlights:

- Matthew Reilly's story about his most graphically violent book being banned in a school in Victoria on account of an intimate scene between two teenage characters that lasted for two lines. Apparently severed heads = okay. Cuddles = bad.
- Margo Lanagan's description of her books' more "intimate" scenes, which are "usually quite explicit but which involve fairies and elves, so it's okay"
- A couple of the things Reilly said. When he started out, I thought he was brash and arrogant. By the end of the session, he was my stand-out favourite. Self-published his first book and now he's a bajillionaire (no, this is not an actual figure - I am basing this on a combination of book sales and the fact that he drives a sports car. Shuttup, please).

I then missed this session, which I may one day forgive myself for (Shane Koyczan, whose book and CD I have forced almost everybody to submit to over the past few weeks).

Then we went to the Sydney Opera House with Standing There Productions Captain of Industry Ms M Howlett, who has (criminally) never seen Withnail and I. I feel implicit in this tort, given how as her old housemate of several years, I apparently did not force Withnail and I upon her, Clockwork Orange Style, in order to better equip her for, you know, life. Anyhoo. We saw this, which was slightly strange due to the intimate discussion being held in the enormous venue. Highlights:

- Richard E Grant apparently auditioned for Withnail and I when he was at the end of his (cold, poor, wet) tether. He walked through the rain in a second-hand trenchcoat to the audition, saw Kenneth Branaugh emerge from the audition - followed by Bill Nigh - and entered the audition in a pissed off, wet, tired, fed-up mood, ready to not get the part. If you haven't seen Withnail and I, add "drunk" to that list and that's a very good description of Withnail.
- His description of his father's funeral, where a local man thought he had healing powers and jumped into his father's coffin and attempted to bring him back to life.
- He talked about what it's like to work on a truly crap film in Hollywood. Description of big famous names banding together to escape theatres before the lights come up again - hilarious.
- He is a big old name-dropping gossip. Yay.

So that's Day One of the festival. Good on me. Day One. This is why I could never keep a diary.

Enjoy the rain, Melbournians!

Melbourne International Film Festival

We got our film festival tickets today (last day to get the early bird tickets, so hurry up kids)...

Last year, I saw about four films a day.

This year, I intend to beat my previous record. How I am going to afford this, given it will require me to take time off my already infrequent day job, is one of those "play-it-by-ear" kind of scenarios.

I realise this means that most of my year has so far been taken up with festivals. April and May were the comedy festival, June was the Sydney Writers' Festival, and July and August are the Melbourne Film Festival. How on earth I get anything else done is beyond me. Probably because getting anything done is also beyond me. I can feel The Guilt creeping sneakily back into the cracks between my debt and my lack of time to do anything productive on account of my debt.

The circle, the circle of life, as The Lion King would say.

Speaking of wasting time you don' t have enough of, here is an exciting opportunity in this excellent area of study:

Looks like our friend Dave Eggers is writing about films for The New Yorker. With Anthony Lane! Oh to be a fly on that wall. Read this.

I know I am.

Matters arising relating to Paris

Several matters I have been remiss in mentioning, and thanks to everyone who has been keeping me updated on Paris Hilton's decision recently to stop pretending she's dumb. And no, I don't think she did see our show in the comedy festival, although obviously her talent agency has.

Second item on the agenda is not unrelated to the above. In the High Court of Australia at the moment, one of my favourite judges (from a nerdier time, when I followed such things) is hearing a (potentially very important) case about whether or not it is discriminatory that people in jail are not allowed to vote (especially with a view to the percentage of indigenous people incarcerated in our jails). So, with that possibly very inaccurate and wildly generalised description of the case, let's hear what it has to do with Paris Hilton:

KIRBY J: I thought recently there was a case in the Australian Capital Territory where somebody was convicted of a statutory offence of treason, but anyway, it is not very common in this country.

MR MERKEL: That may be right - if that was, I understand it might be the first time if it falls into that definition, but that is our response to that subsection. I was going to say under section 93(8AA) the amending legislation defines "sentence of imprisonment". That is at page 7. This was also a significant amendment because prior to this amendment there was a question about whether home detention or parole would be caught by the disqualification. So this amendment made it clear that you had to be in detention on a full-time basis. So that is in the extrinsic materials. So there was no question if someone on parole or on home detention would not be caught by the disqualification and that comes out as a result of that definition.

Can I take your Honours next to Part VIII of the Act starting at page 122 dealing with - - -

KIRBY J: So Paris Hilton would now be disqualified, but last week for a short time she would have been entitled to vote?

MR MERKEL: Yes, your Honour, and she would have been entitled if she were in Australia and an Australian citizen to be standing here unburdened by the five-year point at least.

KIRBY J: I just wanted you to know that I follow these things.

... Justice Kirby, keeping up with the peeps on the streets...

And the final item on the agenda is that I saw a young man today walking down the street reading a book and carrying a case containing an instrument, possibly a saxaphone, and walking a dog. My previous boastings about being able to simply read while walking down the street have now been cast into a rather humiliating shadow.

Book Addictions

I am reading my third Sydney Writers' Festival book. It's called The Reluctant Fundamentalist and I've been reading it while walking.

This is a habit I developed when I was in primary school. Years later, people's parents used to stop me at the Greensborough shops and marvel at how it was that I was still in posession of all of my limbs. Apparently, I could walk anywhere - weaving through people on a basketball court, cutting across muddied building works - and manage not to fall over or lose my place on the page I was reading.

Now, I don't know about where you're from, but in Greensborough I realised fairly early on that a reputation such as this was not necessarily going to be considered more adorable and less eccentric with the passing of time, but that in fact it might be an idea to take up sport and restrict my reading addiction to the more private corners of my life.

However, I find myself once again taking up this habit - manouvering (still very skillfully I might say) through the stop-starting clusters of people on Brunswick Street with my head in a book, silently thanking the person who invented the clicking noises at light crossings for blind people, and managing to read nearly an entire book in an otherwise busy day.

The book is written as a monologue - musical, sparse, tantalising, and it doesn't hurt that sections of it were read by the author at the festival in the accent and (I supposed) the musical lilt of its protagonist. Who knows what I'll do when I finish this one. Possibly I will get on with my writing, my planning, my scheming, my creating, my future.

Or, possibly, I will go to Brunswick Street Books and buy Mohsin Hamid's first book.

Who knows.

I'm off to my production meeting, book in hand.

Reading With Everyone

It's bizarre to think that reading, once a completely solitary experience, is now a shared, communal activity that connects people, places, events, history...

I realise this is a very high minded thought to be having on a Tuesday after a long weekend, but I just finished reading De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage, who read beautifully from it at the Sydney Writers' Festival. It's about the war in Lebanon, which in some form or other continues today (see here, here and here). It is discussed here and reviewed by ordinary punters here.

What the hell did readers do when they finished reading a book in ye olden days before the internet? Just thought about it a bit, I guess.

Sydney v Melbourne

In the sport of Sydney v Melbourne, which is very popular down in the bottom right hand corner of this country, I have usually abstained.

Well, that's not entirely true. I have usually said that Sydney people are interested in money and Melbourne people are interested in culture. I've said that Sydney is expensive and Melbourne is cheap. I've said the food is better, the art is better, the bands are better, the pubs are better, the boys are better, the girls are better, and the people, well, they're just better in Melbourne. Melbourne's better. That's basically been the idea behind my otherwise very neutral position of abstinence from the debate.

HOWEVER.

Not only did I recently have a very lovely time in Sydney with several engaging and hilarious Sydneysiders, where I enjoyed the benefits of a culturally diverse, intellectually challenging, absurdly cheap writers' festival, but today I picked up the newspaper in Melbourne and I read an article comparing the Melbourne Writers' Festival to the Sydney Writers' Festival.

When I finished reading the article, I put the newspaper down and I attempted to regulate my breathing. I attempted not to pass out from shock. I attempted to come to grips with this thought going through my head:

Wow. Maybe Sydney IS better than Melbourne.

The article is here.

Basically, the Melbourne Writers' Festival people say (and I HOPE you were misquoted):

1. We want the Melbourne festival to be as successful as the Sydney one
2. We want the funding to enable that
3. The reason the Sydney festival works is that most of the events are free
4. We wouldn't make the Melbourne festival free

.... which begs the question: huh?...

No, the Melbourne folk are saying they want the money to make the festival bigger, but they don't want the events to be free because that "devalues" the festival and it means the same small group of wankers who go every year because they can afford it might be overcrowded by the masses of other dudes who might go along because... well... because the EVENTS ARE FREE.

Anyway.

I'm moving to Sydney. Honestly. Who thinks like that.

Devalues?

I tell you what. I flew to Sydney this year AND last year to go to the Sydney Writers' Festival because the flights are cheap and the events are free. When it's not free, it's ten bucks, or fifteen. The most I paid was $35 to see Richard E Grant in the Opera House and he wasn't even close to the best thing I saw. The best thing I saw was ten bucks.

I know Sydney has more money for funding, but COME ON, Melbourne. Lift your game. I've been to Sydney two years in a row and the Melbourne Writers' Festival only once. It was too expensive and it was full of people who used to teach me English at university.

So, after reading that tiny article in the paper, Sydney v Melbourne is actually looking like a contest for the first time in living memory. If it weren't for the pokies in the pubs, I might just pack up and go.

Although, there's no Morrocan Soup Bar in Sydney. Is there?

My new love...

I will update you on the Sydney Writers' Festival soon, once I have finished watching this guy on youtube over and over and over again.

Check. It. Out.

He was at the Sydney Writers' Festival. He no longer is. Neither am I. This is a tragedy whose sharp, pointy, bitey edges are currently being sanded down by youtube, two cds, and a beautiful book.

Go here for more of him.