Ballarat by the share plate: three great restaurants

The month-long Ballarat food festival is half over, but it’s a worthy occasion on which to suggest these restaurants at which a share plate is the way to go.


fu man lou restaurant in ballarat
FU MAN LOU
Fu Man Lou is a dumpling palace in Camp St, close to the city centre, and parking’s not usually too bad. We go there a fair bit. It can be pretty busy; a couple of times we’ve landed about 8pm and pulled up a stool at the bar to snack away while we’ve waited for a table. I’m holding out for them to put pork buns on the regular menu, but the fare is wunnerful: a variety of dumplings plus other plates, suitable for fingers or chopsticks, and cider, too. They do takeaway as well. Friendly staff and attentive service.
>> Get the background at The Courier.

CAFE MEIGAS
Cafe Meigas is a cosy Spanish restaurant tucked away in a lane near the Bridge St Mall (so plenty of parking nearby in the shopping centre), and it’s awesome. We’re repeat visitors here. The food is prepared according to family recipes, the staff are friendly and happy to give advice on the dishes; they do a mean sangria, too. Probably pay to book late in the week.
>> Read more at The Courier.

CAFE MERKAMA
Cafe Merkama specialises in Ethiopian. We’ve only been there the once — it’s a little out of the way on Doveton St, opposite a swanky steak place, and it’s another labour of love. The tasting plate we had with selection of curries served with bread was damn tasty, and came with a nice tea, too. Service was very friendly but a little slow and far from pushy, so probably not the spot if you’re in a hurry; easy parking, though, and well worth a visit.
>> Get the skinny at The Courier

2015 Calendar of Australian Literary Events

calendarSure, it’s only October — Halloween, in fact — but with many of the marquee literary festivals having already booked in their dates for next year, it seems worthwhile to put up the 2015 calendar of literary events. Plan ahead, my friends!

It’s quiet in November and December, naturally; why muddy the waters with next year when you have still to run this year’s event? Check out the 2014 calendar for the schmoozing yet to be had.

As always, updates, notifications and corrections are appreciated!


Oculus: quite a frightful sight (in a good way)!

oculus movie Putting my head above the parapet to share some quick reflections on Oculus, director and co-writer Mike Flanagan’s superb horror flick from last year worth looking into.

As the puns suggest, it is about a mirror. A haunted mirror. It is no laughing matter.

Dr Who‘s Karen Gillan and Aussie Brenton Thwaites play Kaylie and Tim, reunited after Tim’s got out of a psych clinic years after a horrific incident of apparent domestic abuse.

The movie cleverly merges that past trauma, with young actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan giving wonderful performances, with the present as the nature of the mirror is revealed.

Illusion, obsession and confusion reign. Horror results.

Do not watch this movie if you’re feeling down.

Unlike this year’s similar and, indeed, similarly superb, Aussie effort Babadook, there’s precious little hope or light to be found here — it is perhaps my only quibble, from a thematic basis. But the narrative plays out truthfully and unapologetically.

I loved the quiet, building dread of this movie (enhanced by its subtle score), and the brilliant editing as timelines meet — no cheap, screaming string section; no gotcha! jump cuts.

The relationship between brother and sister is well drawn, their actions and reactions believable and intelligent. And by the end of the movie, boy, did Kirstyn and I hate that mirror.

Battlestar Galactica‘s Katee Sackhoff is also among the cast, but in this instance, it’s a case of no cigar for her character.

It’s great to see some clever, psychologically astute horror films around. Another recent viewing was this year’s Irish movie The Canal; alas, it didn’t hold together as tightly as the two mentioned above, and was soundly let down by its bob-each-way ending. Worth a look, though — there’s a public toilet that Candyman would be proud of.


Cthulhu: Deep Down Under — it’s coming

cthulhu deep down under

You might have seen some ripples on the interwebs, but now it’s official: Cthulhu: Deep Down Under is rising!

Editors Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira and Bryce Stevens have assembled 24 writers with accompanying artists to provide Lovecraftian tales with an Australian flavour.

They’ve also got UK horror doyen Ramsey Campbell to provide an introduction, and of musical note among the contributors is a prose poem from Steve Kilbey, of The Church fame.

My story ‘An Incident at Portsea, 1967′ is reprinted in the anthology, with artwork from Paul Mason.

The project is now assembled, with stories in, artwork provided. All that remains is the crowdfunding to pay for printing. The program launches at Armageddon in Melbourne on October 18-19 — a bunch or writers and artists will be on hand to talk all things Cthulhu and hand out signed promo material.

You can join the crowdfunding program here to help take this project out of the ether and into physical manifestation for your reading and viewing pleasure, and find out more about the details at Horror Australis.

Getting published … a blog series

the darkness withinNicole Murphy (also writing as Elizabeth Dunk) is running a series of posts at her blog about how writers were first published. It’s yet another reminder of how diverse the routes to getting that first book out are, and how varied are the reasons that people want to get published.

One of the bumps in the road my first novel, The Darkness Within, suffered was a switch of editors between the structural and the copy edit. I enjoyed working with Dmetri, found his advice and feedback highly useful, and would’ve liked to have seen the project through with him. I’m chuffed to be working with him again on my next novel, The Big Smoke, coming out mid next year. It’s also worth noting Dmetri is running a workshop on horror writing later this month for Writers Victoria, encompassing general techniques as well as the peculiarities of the genre.

You can read more about The Darkness Within‘s detours, as Nicole so nicely puts it, at her blog.

Bell Shakespeare’s Henry V: all class

bell shakespeare henry vBell Shakespeare played Ballarat’s Her Majesty’s last night with Henry V, and it’s one of the best adaptations I’ve seen. A play within a play, both ring true: it’s an absolute triumph for the creative team, headed by director Damien Ryan, with an ingenious set built by Malthouse Theatre.

The stage is set in a London classroom during the Blitz, 525 years to the day after the battle of Agincourt, where a teacher distracts those sheltering from an air raid with an improvised performance of Henry V. But first, there’s a quick grounding in the history leading up to the English king’s ascension with some help from the blackboard and others of Shakespeare’s tales: clever.

The set — three bookshelves, a ladder and assorted odds and sods, such as cricket bats, a mop, and crowns and dresses made of newspaper, and smart use of the play itself in book form — proves versatile and evocative, backlit with bomb flashes seen through shattered windows.

The play within a play is a superb device, as the actors portray the makeshift cast — primarily students — putting on Henry V, yet being pulled out of the play by events in their world: the mirroring, the splicing, are brilliantly handled. Ghosts and a downed German pilot, his parachute become part of the set, are just some of the echoes that enrich the drama.

Lighting is superb, and the sound is also well crafted, balancing Churchill’s ‘finest hour’ against Henry’s ‘we few’, putting the actors to work on percussion and choir, and signalling the transitions between Blitz and Shakespeare with bombs, planes and sirens.
bell shakespeare henry v
The actors do a great job of handling this meta performance, with all bar Henry (Michael Sheasby) handling multiple Shakespearean roles as well as their 1940 characters.

As Kirstyn noted afterwards, it also allowed the performance to skip scenes, with the understanding that they have been played as the crew while away their terrible night, finding comfort and distraction in the Bard.

And the ending, with only ghosts remaining … a song and that feeling of futility evoke memories of that final ‘God Bless America’ of the Deer Hunter.

In much the same way as 1984, played at the same venue earlier this year, struck a chord with the dangerous, hypocritical idiocy the Abbott government is inflicting on this country, so Henry V has provided a counterpoint to any jingoistic overtones of the 100th anniversary of World War I. None of which is to question or belittle the valour of those on the ground, but rather, the original impetus for the conflicts: the reason for the rattling sabres to be drawn, and the consequences that last long after they are cleaned and sheathed.

The play is touring until 15 November: catch it if you can.