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We knew it was coming, but it still hit hard: Iain Banks has passed away. According to his wife, he died calmly and without pain.

I said everything I have to say about how important he was to me here, when he first announced he had cancer. But I'll reiterate: he wasn't just influential to me, he was definitional.

My condolences to his family and friends.

Meanwhile, in Australia, another refugee boat has sunk off Christmas Island, and Australian Customs and Border Protection have decided not to retrieve the bodies of up to 60 drowned refugees.

It is distressing, that the bodies have been left to float.

But what makes me angry is that that unseaworthy boat was the best option those refugees had. What makes me angry is that our government's policy that is supposedly meant to stop the boats is actually putting people on them. And what makes me furious is that the refugee policy for both major parties in the upcoming election is effectively "fuck off, we're full."

To quote the late Mr. Banks: "Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying."

The Culture is a utopia, of course; an unreachable ideal. But there is work we can do and wrongs we can fight, and I can think of no finer tribute to Banks and his work than to fight them.

Refuge Action Collective - Victoria
The Greens

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Neck-deep in Continuum. Going well so far. You should all go read N. K. Jemisin's inspiring Guest of Honour speech, calling for a Reconciliation in SFF. It gave me goosebumps.

Last night, A. and I went to the theatre.

The play was On the Bodily Education of Young Girls, part of Melbourne Theatre Company's NEON programme of independent theatre.

It opens with a young ballerina entering a darkened stage, stretching, then playing a sad melody on a piano. The lights come up. Other young ballet students enter, dressed in white, going through their exercises. A new pupil arrives. The other girls surround her, comb her hair, dress her. She starts to copy their exercises. Two teachers watch them, but remain aloof. After a game of tag, the young girls dress up in historical costumes and act out bloody pantomimes of execution, amputation, and mass murder. The pantomimes are packed away. The girls retreat. An old woman who has been watching from the sidelines steps forward and performs a fluid dance as the lights fade away.

All of this performed without dialogue.

The play was dreamlike, cryptic. Stripped of dialogue and plot, the play leaves a vast space for the audience to create their own interpretations.

It was based on the 1908 novella Mine-Haha or On The Bodily Education of Young Girls, by the German playwright Frank Wedekind. The novella is a parable about a hermetic school where the girls study ballet and biology during the day, and at night perform in gory pantomimes for paying audiences.

It's tempting, therefore, to think this play is about looking at young women: about the way they are viewed, and the contortions and roles they are forced to perform to make themselves pleasing to look at.

But there's more to it than that. The silence of the actors and their minimal facial expressions pose the question: who are these young women? What are their thoughts and feelings?

Director Adena Jacobs said in an interview: "I think there is an erotic undercurrent, but it's not one that I'm personally interested in [...] I think the erotic is something we assume about young girls, and it's sort of unfair and deprives them of the depth that they have."

On Twitter, I commented that this play starts out David Hamilton and ends up Marat/Sade.

It was a fairly flippant comment: true, perhaps, but only on the surface level. It's taken some more reading and some thinking overnight for me to appreciate the depths underneath.

(I also commented on Twitter that I really enjoyed the play, but teenaged me would have been obsessed with it: Surrealism. Death. Sad girls in white. And one of the actresses looks like Nastassja Kinski.

I was far too shy and awkward to talk to actual girls at that age, and so my fantasises ended up not unlike my surface reading of this play, where overly pretentious romanticisation substituted for lack of understanding.)

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Continuum 9 starts tonight, Melbourne's speculative fiction and pop-culture convention.

I'm on four panels:
  • Reinventing the Fairytale - Friday 10 pm
  • Heroines of YA - Saturday 2 pm
  • Plot 101 - Sunday 11 am
  • Misappropriation - Monday 12 noon
Plus I'll be doing a reading on Saturday at 3:20 pm.

The full program is up here.

I was going to be so good for this convention. I was going to do all the research, and write it up as pithy yet informative blog posts. I was going to practice my reading and print out notes and just be awesomely prepared.

And it's not that that hasn't happened. It's just half-happened. I have a bunch of scattered notes, and a vague idea of what I'll read. But between work and EWF and life, nothing is quite as organised as it should be.

Oh well. Too late to do much about that now.

*breaks pencil*

(Yes. That's a BSG reference.)
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A quick reminder that Pub Lunchage is happening this Saturday. I just booked the table, under my name, in the band room.

If you missed the details:
Comedy Festival is over. The Emerging Writers Festival is about to start. In the few spare weekends in between, we'd love to catch up with you all.
Usual deal: rock up if you can make it, no big deal if you can't.
Where: The Wesley Anne, 250 High St, Northcote.
When: 1:00pm-4:00pm, Saturday 18th May, 2013
Why: Because we love you. And we love food. It's like some sordid love triangle. But with dessert.


May. 14th, 2013 08:18 am
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The Grunge Novel got its first rejection letter yesterday. (Well, rejection email.)

That's fine. Rejection is part of the process.

The bit that's depressing me is the reason for the rejection. The book alternates between teenagers starting a band in the early 90s, and the band reuniting in the present. And the editor felt teens wouldn't be interested in reading about old people.

Which is precisely my concern with the book. And I can't help feeling if I send it to any other YA publishers they'll say exactly the same thing. The only way to fix that is to write a completely different book.

Which I'm doing. But, after a breezy start, the new novel has hit a bad patch. I don't know what I'm doing, and I'm questioning whether its worth doing anyway. It's like I've been skipping along a sunny path, and suddenly I'm lost in a dark forest, it's raining, and I realised I forgot to pack toilet paper.

And my back pain flared up again last week, because I was writing in the State Library. I love writing in the State Library. I get more work done there in an hour that I do in two or three at home. But their desks are terrible for my back. So I've had to give up any hope of ever writing there again.

Moan grumble complain.

I know, I know: no one's making me do this. And there are people with much worse problems than these. I'm just venting. Yesterday knocks you down. Today you climb back back up and keep going. The alternative is lying in the mud feeling sorry for yourself.

A friend has offered to give the Grunge Novel to one of the editors at his publishers. That's something. Even if they turn it down, they might be interested in seeing the next thing I write.

Which means I better write it.

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I had my first ever interview about my writing last week, for the TaleTeller podcast. It's up now on their website, and subscribable through iTunes:

Listening to it is a bit weird - do I really sound like that? I also talk too fast, and repeat myself. I was nervous, and concerned that we wouldn't have enough to talk about. But actually, the hour flew past pretty quickly.

We talk about writing horror, zines, the Emerging Writers Festival, the Young Adult field, why I don't drink coffee, and the influence of the Rowden White Library on my work. I think I managed to say some interesting things, in amongst the blather.

So. First ever interview.

TaleTeller are also looking for other writers to interview. If you're interested, I can give you their details.

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From writer and Gaurdian columnist Damien Walter: 7 literary Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels you must read

I've read one of them: The Magus. But I read it as a teenager and don't really remember it. It was one of those weird books I used to find on my parents bookshelves and wonder how it got there, since it seemed so unlike anything they would enjoy.

(Yes. I'm just linking this so I can find it again. Once I get through Project Read All the YA, I really need to do a Project Read All the Literary Fiction.)

Pub Lunch

Apr. 30th, 2013 11:25 am
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Comedy Festival is over. The Emerging Writers Festival is about to start. In the few spare weekends in between, we'd love to catch up with you all.

Usual deal: rock up if you can make it, no big deal if you can't.

Where: The Wesley Anne, 250 High St, Northcote. (menu here)

When: 1:00pm-4:00pm, Saturday 18th May, 2013

Why: Because we love you. And we love food. It's like some sordid love triangle. But with dessert.

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Adrian Edmondson playing folk versions of classic punk and new wave songs.

I was debating whether or not to go see The Bad Shepherds, flipping between "that sounds cool" and "I've spent too much money lately". In the end, some friends said they were going, and that was enough to tip me into buying tickets.

We met up, had dinner upstairs at the Corner, made self-deprecating jokes about all the bald middle-aged punks there. Then we went down to watch the support band.

Support band Merri Creek Pickers were a line of long hair, scraggly beards and mellow folk harmonies. Very pleasant.

I didn't really pay a lot of attention to them, because I was too startled to see cabaret-style tables set up around the edge of band room floor. Thank, Corner. Way to drive home that we're getting old.

It was hot inside the band room. Someone fainted near the side of the stage. It was only after the ambos wheeled him away that the Corner turned on the air-conditioning.

Which was also when the Bad Shepherds came on stage.

I hadn't actually listened to any of their music before the gig. I assumed it would be pretty much straight covers, but done with a mandolin and maybe some fiddle.

They opened with a droning version of 'Anarchy in the UK', Edmondson's mandolin accompanied by fiddle and uillean pipes. The covers were a lot more Celtic and folky than I expected. But they were great. The covers were often a bit quiter than the originals - their version of the Members 'The Sound of the Suburbs' was almost plaintive - and then they would segue into a foot-stomping traditional folk melody. Their cover of PIL's 'Rise" as fantastic, all jangling mandolins and Edmondson shouting into the mic.

The audience were very polite, clapping loudly after each song, then standing quietly for the next one. There was not much dancing, perhaps because it was a Monday night. A few hecklers yelled out for the Hat Song, and a nearby couple didn't seem to understand the difference between a live music venue and their lounge room.

But the music was great. And now I'm late for work.

Damn you, middle-aged punks!

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Just finished watching the Doctor Who episode "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS".

This isn't really a review. It's just some thoughts, about environment and imagination. But be warned:

Spoilers Follow... )

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I was going to save my money and not see any Comedy Festival shows this year.

11 shows is almost the same as none, right?

This is what I saw:

Dave Bloustein - Grand Guignol
Humourous horror stories from this clever stand-up. Sadly, opening night issues meant we saw the potential, rather than the polished show.

Hannah Gadsby - Nakedy Nudes
A lecture on the nude in Western art, and how it shifted from the heroic male nude to perving on naked females. Fun, if not quite up to the standard of Gadsby's stand-up.

La Foulard
Character-based clowning, about a pretentious artist and her characters who rebelled. Some great physical work, if some bits felt a bit too long.

Daniel Kitson - Work in Progress
A late night show where Kitson worked on some new material. Patchy, as to be expected from a work in progress, but Kitson is almost always great.

Josie Long - Romance and Adventure
I love Josie Long dearly. Her originally whimsical act has grown more political recently as she gets angrier and angrier with Britain's Conservative government. But she hasn't quite found the way to turn that anger into humour yet. Always a pleasure to see her, but also a teeny bit disappointing.

Lawrence Leung - Part-Time Detective Agency
Leung's shows all have the same format, but it's a solid format. Inspired by Sherlock, Leung sets out to solve the mystery of who played a prank on him at his 21st birthday party. Nerdy, self-effacing fun.

Splendid Chaps
A live recording of this podcast about Doctor Who. This episode was about comedy in Doctor Who. Special guests were Adam Richards and Josie Long. Fun. But no one mentioned Dougals Adams, or Terry Nation's start in writing comedy, and Josie Long didn't get to speak enough.

(Of course, I think Josie Long should be the next companion. Or even better: the next Doctor. So I may be biased.)

Lisa-Skye - Songs My Parents Taught Me
Lisa-Skye contrasts the romance between two hedonistic twenty-somethings in 1970's Footscray with her own taste for drugs, kinky sex, and glitter.

Darkness and Light
Different guest comedians each night tell true stories about dark times in their lives. Lots of stories about depression and bullying. Telia Neville talked about the loneliness of the Festival performer. Ben McKenzie talked about his estranged father. Honest, moving, one of my festival highlights.

Dave Callan - A Little Less Conversation
A tall bearded Irishman dancing to Beyoncé. Very silly. Absolutely hilarious.

Hannah Gadsby - Happiness is a Beside Table
Gadsby, one of Australia's best stand-ups, talked about her crippling body image issues, and the simple pleasures of owning her own furniture. Always hilarious, usually the best show I see at the Fest, Gadsby's show this year was inspirational. I've never heard a crowd cheer a neck-to-knee bathing suit so hard.


I think, once again, I'd say Hannah Gadsby's was the best show I saw this year, just based on the mix of depth and humour. She really is incredibly funny.

But I'd also say Darkness and Light was the most interesting show I saw. Partly that's because I thought Ben's story about his father was fantastic: honest and moving and very well told. I've seen Ben do a lot of less serious shows, and it was great to see a really different side to his work.

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First book off the ranks in Project READ ALL THE YA. I actually finished this book a week ago, I've just been too busy to blog.

All I Ever Wanted

Mim Dodds is 16 years old and determined not to grow up like her mother. Which is understandable, given her mother is an overweight drug-dealer who lives in the crime-and-poverty ridden neighbourhood of Tudor Court. Mim has a set of rules - no alcohol, no swearing, stay in school - that she hopes will keep her on the path out. But the rules are tested when her brothers are arrested, and Mim has to collect a package of drugs for her mum from their supplier.

This is YA as gritty realism. Mim is surrounded by drugs, teen sex, alcoholism and domestic violence. Mim's rules protect her from the worst of the bad stuff, but her friends and family members suffer. And Mim's adherence to the rules breaks down once the package is stolen by the boy she has a crush on, Jordan Mullen. Mim tries to get the package back by befriending his younger sister, Kate, and enters some morally grey areas.

(Not too grey, though -- Mim is hardly an innocent, but I did notice that all the really gritty stuff like drug taking and teeange sex happens to her friends, one step removed from our protagonist. Oddly, it made me think of Katniss in The Hunger Games, who only kills the "evil" contestants in the arena. Where are the boundaries in YA, I wonder? Do we still need our heroines to be morally pure?)

I loved reading this book. The prose is conversational but tight. For a slim book it has a large cast of characters, but each one is deftly and distinctively drawn. And there are some striking images, like Mim's secret hiding place in an abandoned railway tower, where she has written her rules out on each of the steps she climbs to reach the top of the tower.

My only real disappointment was minor spoilers about the ending... )

A minor quibble with what is a great read.

It's an exciting book, and it got me excited about the possibilities of YA. I'm looking forward to reading Vikki Wakefield's second novel, Friday Brown, once I've worked through the Project list.


Some quick notes for analytical purposes: Female protagonist. First person, present tense. Contemporary setting. Australian author. Brooding bad-boy crush, but no romantic triangle.


Next book in the Project is Alison Croggon's Black Spring, a retelling of Wuthering Heights with witches and wizards. I'm about 100 pages in at the moment, and so far it's craggy and gothic and wonderful.

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I wasn't really paying attention to the news on the weekend, so I'm only just reading up on this.

Labor has announced a $2.8 billion cut to tertiary education in order to pay for the Gonksi report recommendations for primary and secondary education.

The cuts are:
  • $1.2 billion - students will have to repay Student Start up Scholarships
  • $900 million - 2% efficiency dividend
  • $500 million - capping self-education tax deductions at $2000
  • $230 million - abolishing the 10% discount for paying HECs up front
Total savings: $2.8 billion

So what is the Gonski report?

The report's aim was to decrease the growing performance gap between our best and our worst schools. Which in effect means the gap between independent and government schools.

It's recommendation was to introduce a Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) made up of a base amount of funding per student for primary and secondary student, and then adding a loading on top of that based on special needs.

The Government has a website explaining it here:

Unsurprisingly, Catholic and independent schools aren't happy. They'll still get funding, but their SRS will be reduced depending on how much the parents can afford to pay.

There's a good article on The Conversation on why this is necessary if the gap in education results is to be tackled.

My initial thoughts are:
  1. The aims of the Gonski reports are laudable
  2. The money has to come from somewhere, but
  3. But it seems counterproductive to improve secondary education at the cost of tertiary education
But maybe I'm wrong on that point. Maybe reducing the performance gap in secondary schools would mean more, or at least a wider range of, students would have access to tertiary education.

Or maybe it's a false dichotomy to play tertiary education off against secondary education, and there are other ways to fund the Gonski recommendations.


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Today is A. and my 12th anniversary. To celebrate, I drew a sloth on her morning cup of coffee.

David drew me an anniversary card on my coffee cup

That's right, isn't it? Twelfth anniversary is sloths?

Meanwhile, in writing news:

Passed the 5000 word mark on my new novel this morning. It's another fantasy YA, about a bullied teenager who finds a wizard's tower hiding in the back streets of Box Hill. Think Narnia meets Summer Heights High.

My previous novel, the grunge thing, is currently sitting in big submission pile at Hardie Grant Egmont's Ampersand Project. If you think I've started a new novel to distract me from thinking too hard about the previous one then congratulations, you're exactly right, have a drawing of a sloth.

The Emerging Writers Festival, my favourite festival in the world, is coming up. I've booked my ticket. I've also proposed another collaborative writing project for EWFdigital. But that's been spun off into a standalone festival this year, so I've yet to hear back about that one.

And finally, I've volunteered for a whole slew of panels at Melbourne's spec fic convention Continuum in June. My panels are: Reinventing the Fairy Tale; Plot 101; The heroines of YA; Marvellous Melbourne; and Misappropriations. Expect some blogging on those topics while I straighten out my thoughts.

I... I better go do some research.

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I was wrong. I admit it. I should have had more faith.

Un Lun Dun is a young adult novel from China Miéville. It's the story of two young girls: blonde and popular Zanna, and her friend Deeba. After some strange encounters with respectful foxes and portentous graffiti and a bus conductor who calls Zanna Schwazzy, the two girls find a doorway that leads to a dreamlike version of London called Un Lun Dun.

This dream city is full of bizarre and marvellous creatures: feral piles of rubbish, ghost children, tailors with needles instead of hair. But Un Lun Dun is in danger. It is being threaten by an intelligent cloud of pollution called the Smog. A book of prophecy foretells that a chosen one, the Schwazzy, will come to save them. The denizens of Un Lun Dun turn to Zanna for help...

And that's the point where I posted something vitriolic to Twitter.

I hate stories about chosen ones. From Luke Skywalker to Neo to Buffy to Harry Potter, the whole "you-are-secretly-special-and-only-you-can-save-us" trope isn't merely lazy and boring, it's actively offensive. In the real world, chosen ones are more likely to be Gina Rinehart or George W. Bush than saviours. In the real world, saving the world is hard work.

So I ranted about this on Twitter.

And then a couple of chapters later Miéville twisted everything and made me look a right dolt.

Because of course Miéville subverts the chosen one trope. He's a socialist. He wrote a critique of Tolkien. He's hardly going trot out some lazy plot device that depends on genetic determinism.

Trope happily smashed, the book sets off on a rollercoaster adventure through Miéville's fecund imagination. Seriously. This book packs in so many ideas per page I'm amazed it hasn't undergone nuclear fission. It brims with surreal landscapes and weird monsters. And wordplay - dear God does Miéville love his wordplay.

The book is also illustrated by Miéville. This review in the Guardian praises the crispness of his line work, but politely suggests he's better at drawing inanimate objects than people. His drawings have a rough, slightly amateur quality to them that reminds me of the old 2nd edition D&D Monster Manual illustrations.

It's impossible not to compare this book with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Both feature heroic quests across fantasy versions of London. Both feature locations that play on place names (Night's Bridge, Webminster Abbey). Gaiman's London Below feels more coherent than Un Lun Dun, perhaps because it began life as a TV series and budgets limited how far Gaiman's imagination could roam. In a novel, Miéville is free to do as he wants. If he wants to include flying double-decker buses or rubbish bins that are secretly ninjas or an explorer with a bird-cage for a head, he can.

So Un Lun Dun feels less coherent then, as an exercise in world-building. It's a small criticism. Perhaps it's even deliberate: just as modern London is built from many different cultures, so Un Lun Dun is a melting pot of ideas.

It's a fun ride, not least because of the glee Miéville takes in subverting the genre.

Guardian Interview by a 12 year old fan
Could They Beat Up China Miéville?
Macintosh Accent Codes

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I have a YA novel in submission to a publisher, and I'm currently writing another one. And I've volunteered to be on some YA panels at Continuum.

So it's probably about time I got up to speed on actually reading YA.

I've read bits here and there - some Margot Lanagan, some Leanne Hall, a fair chunk of Scott Westerfeld. But I don't pretend to have a solid grasp of the field.

So I'm initiating Project READ ALL THE YA

Or as it should more accurately be titled: An Introduction to YA. YA is a vast field, and there's no way I can read everything. My goal is to get a grounding in the history of the genre, and what people are doing in it now. Then I can start slowly working my way through something like this of 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels.

(Why yes - I am just linking to that article so I can find it again in the future.)

I've drawn up a list of ten book that I think I should read. They're a mix of classic and contemporary. They also lean more towards fantasy YA, since that's the area I'm interested in.

Reading lists can turn a pleasure into a chore. So I don't plan to read them in a set order. I'll read whatever one appeals to me next, and I'll probably break it up with other genres as well.

But here's my lists:

  • Isobelle Carmody - Obernewtyn
  • Judy Blume - Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.
  • Robert Cormier - The Chocolate War
  • Ruth Park - Playing Beatie Bow
  • S. E. Hinton - The Outsiders

  • Alison Croggon - Black Spring
  • John Green - The Fault in Our Stars
  • Patrick Ness - The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • Stephen Chbosky - The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Vikki Wakefield - All I Ever Wanted

Anything you think I've missed?

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Iain Banks has cancer.

Late stage gall bladder cancer. To quote his statement: "I’m expected to live for ‘several months’ and it’s extremely unlikely I’ll live beyond a year."

I drifted away from reading Banks's work the last few years. But that news was a punch in the guts.

He's one of the authors who, along with Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon, helped me decide what I want to do as a writer. He's not just an influence; he's definitional.

I always hoped to meet him one day.

I have this really clear memory of how I discovered his work: I was in my first year at uni, in the Rowden White Library reading a book about cult films. One of the films had this amazing title: The Wasp Factory. The description was even weirder: a teenage boy blowing up rabbits while waiting for his psychopathic brother to come home. The book mentioned the film was based on a novel by Iain Banks. I looked it up in the library catalogue. The Wasp Factory was out on loan, but they had this other book by him: The Player of Games. I read it, and that was that. I was hooked.

Except that memory can't be true.

There was never a film version of The Wasp Factory. My memory must have mixed up a book on cult novels with a different book on cult films. Somehow it seems appropriate that my first memory of Iain Banks is a lie.

Anyway. Enough about me.

Thank you, Mr Banks.

Thanks for Use of Weapons and The Crow Road. Thanks for knife missiles and GSV names. Thanks for Espedair Street, which I read and reread as I was finishing my own rock and roll novel. Thanks for jumping merrily over the line between literary and genre fiction. Thanks for sarcastic drones. Thanks for the lefty politics. Thanks for being so joyously Scottish in your writing, which has inspired me to be joyously Melbournian in mine. Thanks for being the common bond shared between friends. Thanks for the jokes, and the wild imagination. Thanks for building megastructures in space, and then gleefully blowing them up. Thanks for phonetic Glaswegian accents. Thanks for championing science and rationality. Thanks for laughing at how stupid and insignificant humanity can be, and at the same time reminding us how wonderful we can be too. Thanks for the black humour. Thanks for the joy.

Above all, thanks for The Bridge.

Enjoy the time you have left.

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I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time last year.

Last Tuesday, I went to the inaugural Melbourne Literary Salon, where I met Adele Walsh from the Centre for Youth Literature. She told me about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries - Pride and Prejudice retold as a series of YouTube videos. Several other people agreed that they were excellent. I said I'd give it a try when I got home.

I churned through 20 episodes that night before I had to go bed.

The format is simple. Elizabeth Bennet has been reimagined as a sarcastic video blogger who starts making video diaries as part of her graduate degree. Jane works in fashion. Lydia is a hyperactive Facebook brat. Bingley is now Bing Lee, a rich and handsome med student. Darcy owns Pemberly Digital, a web video company. The team behind it includes Hank Green, of Vlogbrothers fame.

It's funny and clever and more-ish as a packet of Tim-Tams. Each video is only three to five minutes long, and they usually end with twist. It's very easy to start watching and click on the next one, and the next one, and then just one more.

The episode where I realised I was hooked was episode 5. Nothing dramatic happens. Lizzie and Jane have a conversation where they play-act as each other, then the play-acting falls apart and their true feelings come through even as they try to maintain their roles. It's the sort of scene we've seen before. Except we've only known these characters for roughly fifteen minutes, and yet there is no confusion as what is going on. The writing and the acting and the grasp of characters are so sharp, you don't even notice how clever that scene is.

There are other clevernesses in the updating of the story to the modern age, too. Lizzie's mother may share the Regency obsession with getting her daughters married off, but the Bennet sisters are as concerned with their friendships and education and careers as they are with their romances. Wistful jokes about Empire-line dresses aside, the Bennet girls are happy to live in a feminist world. It's a diverse world, too: the Bingleys and Lizzie's friend Charlotte have been recast as Asian-Americans, and Fitzwilliams is now a gay black guy named Fitz Williams.

The creators do occasionally have to stretch believability to maintain the video diary format: people constantly interrupt Lizzie's recordings at exactly the time she was talking about them, everyone seems bizarrely happy to have their intimate conversations uploaded to YouTube, and despite being unemployed and her family on the edge of financial ruin, Lizzie still manages a different outfit for every video.

These are minor flaws. They're forgivable, because everything else is so good.

The best part of the series, though, isn't even in the main series.

There are several offshoot video series that branch away from the main storyline to follow the adventures of minor characters. One of these series follows Lydia, the bratty younger sister.

And those side videos transform the Lizzie Bennet Diaries from fun and clever fluff into something really special.

In Austen, Lydia is a giggling and foolish idiot whose life is ruined because she cannot follow the rules of propriety. In Lizzie's diaries, she's the annoying younger sister, a ditzy party girl. But then her sisters leave town, Lydia starts making her own videos, and a whole different side emerges. We see how vulnerable she is, how alone and unloved and unlovable she feels.

And then she meets George Wickham.

He charms her, woos her, offers her the love that she so desperately craves. And then he betrays her in a way that's sickeningly familiar in this age of creepshots and revenge porn.

It's raw and uncomfortable to watch. But it's also utterly compelling. Lydia's character arc is a triumph of storytelling. The creators have taken a minor comic character in Austen, and through compassion and empathy have created some fantastic drama.

Lydia's diaries cut off after the Wickham incident, and we return to the main storyline, and something closer to Austen's work. There's the family turmoil, the unexpected rescue by Darcy, the kiss, the happy ending. The series wraps up on the 100th video. Refreshingly, Darcy doesn't feature in that one at all. It's Lizzie, talking about her hopes for the future, and her friends, and her reasons for stopping the diaries so she can move on to the next phase of her life.

I chewed through the entire series on Friday night, staying up until 2am to finish them while A. glowered at me because I was hogging the computer.

It's not the way most fans would have experienced the series. Part of the pleasure of serial fiction is building a relationship with the characters over time. But even in binge mode, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries are addictive viewing.

The first episode is here. It's only three minutes long. Go on. One episode won't hurt, will it?

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We know this story like the stations of the cross.

The Sex Pistols play Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall. Inspired, four local lads start a band. The band changes name. The band are accused of being Nazis. The singer has epileptic fits. The band sign to Factory Records. Martin Hannett produces their album. Peter Saville designs their sleeves. The singer's fits get worse. A tour of America is planned. The day before the tour, the singer hangs himself in his kitchen.

We know this story because Ian Curtis has been beatified since his death, another Tortured Geniuses Who Died Too Soon. His icon is nailed  to the church wall between Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious*.

Unknown Pleasures is Peter Hook's autobiography of his days as bass player for Joy Division. And in many ways, it's an attempt to deflate the myth of Ian Curtis and replace it with a portrait of the man he actually knew. He repeatedly stresses that to his band mates, Curtis wasn't some fey and brilliant poet. He was one of the lads, who liked to drink and start fights, chase girls, and indulge in the occasional scatalogical prank.

According to Hook, the band didn't even read Curtis's lyrics until after his death. I never paid too much attention to the lyrics at the time, Hook writes. I kind of knew they were good, and that there was something special about them, but mainly I just appreciated that they sounded good, and that Ian singing them sounded great and looked great.

There's an easy, conversational tone to this book. It feels very much like sitting down with a beer while Hooky spins some yarns from old days.** There are lots of anecdotes about the pranks the band played: showering the Buzzcocks in maggots, trashing hostel rooms while Ian Curtis peed in the ashtray. And there's a lot of muso talk about gear used and effects applied.

The conversational tone works best when Hook talks about the Sex Pistols, and how inspired he was by seeing them play. And there are plenty of anecdotes about how Joy Division developed their distinctive sound, from Ian Curtis rummaging through a plastic bag full of lyrics, to Hook's high, riffing bass style evolving because his cheap speaker sounded terrible if he played low notes.

Hook may not be the most reliable of narrators. His feud with the other members of Joy Division/New Order is legendary, and he drops more than few sly digs at Bernard Sumner. But he also gives credit where it's due, acknowledging the genius of Sumner's playing.

There may be a bit of public relations going on here, an attempt to paint Hook in positive light.

Or the ulterior motive here may be much simpler, to simply confess mea culpa. Hook still clearly feels guilty about how hard the band pushed Curtis, even as his marriage deteriorated and his fits grew worse. We should have let him rest, Hook says over and over, but we didn't. I should have called the book that, he writes. He Said He Was All Right So We Carried On.

Hook's anecdotes are balanced out by potted biographies of the people involved, a comprehensive timeline of every gig played (many with setlists), and a track-by-track walkthrough of the two albums.

If you're a Joy Division fan, it's well worth a read. At the end of the day, I have a very simple metric for any book about music: how much does it make me want to play my guitars?

A lot, is the answer here. Unknown Pleasures made me want to play my guitar a lot.

* I know, I know: Vicious died before Curtis. I'm making a metaphorical point here, Curtis halfway between poet and punk.

** Except, of course, Hook doesn't drink these days.

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We spent the weekend up in Ballarat, at my sister's house. One the train back, I was down to the last few pages of The Harp in the South when we started to approach Southern Cross Station, and I had to decided whether to race through to the end or wait until I could savour them.

I choose to savour. Because I loved this book. Absolutely loved it.

It's the story the Murphys, an Irish-Australian family living in the post-War slums of Surrey Hills. (I assume it's post-War: the book was published in 1948, but the war is never mentioned.)

It's a setup that is practically cliché these days: the poor Irish family, drinking and fighting and making up. But Park is too clever for that. Scenes twist in unexpected ways. Her characters are full of vanities and flaws. The book is dark and funny, savage and kind.

Here. This is why I loved this book:
There was a strange deep satisfaction in watching a funeral; it made them feel almost smug that they were still alive; that someone else had fallen before the Reaper, while they still stood, not only alive and kicking, but with a good chance of winning the double on Saturday.
Scenes stick with me: father Hughie fighting with Grandma about who makes the best Christmas pudding, eldest daughter Roie buying herself a brooch and pretending it's a preset so her family don't think less of her Jewish boyfriend, the lonely organ-grinder happily suffering abuse while he courts their lodger.

If the book has a weak point, it comes towards the end when daughter Roie falls properly in love. Perhaps Park wanted to make up for all the miseries she put the characters through, but Roie's happiness and dedication to her fiancé lack the sharp insight and specificity of the earlier character sketches. Roie becomes blander and more generic the happier she grows.  Or perhaps that was Park's point: happy families are all alike, etc. etc.

It's a minor flaw. Overall, this a wonderful book. Highly recommended.

I really want to read Playing Beatie Bow now, too. I remember seeing the movie on TV sometime in the 80s, and I remember vaguely that it had to do with ghosts and time travel. But mostly all I remember is the massive teenage crush I had on Imogen Annesley.

I'm sure Ruth Park would have something clever to say about that.


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February 2019

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