Fantastic news: Lanagan, McGahan and double the Alison!

Firstly, Margo Lanagan is being feted at Adelaide Writers Week. A thoroughly deserved recognition of a very fine author.

Secondly, the Wheeler Centre is back in the swing, and has posted a video of Alison Goodman and Alison Croggon discussing their approach to fantasy: something both write extremely well (cf The Two Pearls of Wisdom/Eon and The Gift, respectively).

And thirdly, I’ve reviewed The Coming of the Whirlpool, the first book of Andrew McGahan’s YA fantasy series, over at ASiF. An enjoyable, intriguing read for anyone who’s had an eye(patch) on swashbuckling.

AWWNYRC Review #1: Frantic, by Katherine Howell

I joined up with the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge and have started on my list of 10 books by, you guessed it, Australian women writers to read this year, the national year of reading. Here’s the first review:

Frantic

Katherine Howell
Pan Macmillan, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 4050 3797 6

frantic by katherine howell


FRANTIC by name, frantic by nature. And intriguing, too.

This is the debut novel from Katherine Howell, who drew on her experience as a paramedic in telling the story of heroine Sophie, a Sydney paramedic. Sophie’s husband, Chris, is shot at the door of their house and their baby, Lachlan, is kidnapped. Every parent’s nightmare, right?

Add in a vicious bunch of bank robbers who might be coppers and a relationship going through a rough patch, and you’ve got a compelling thriller anchored in the world of the emergency services.

Also starring is police detective Ella Marconi, whose career has stalled due to her run-in with a boss.

It’s not hard to see why the novel has brought Howell kudos, a series and a following. The medical and police procedural rings true, without the bells and whistles of a Hollywood performance. The law is not so much an ass as a mule that we trust to plod its way across the legal terrain, getting there in the end. But of course, Lachlan doesn’t have time for plodding: Sophie is prepared to do anything to get him back. Howell’s portrayal of the mother’s anxiety is spot-on. Frantic, indeed.

australian women writers challenge 2012The story puts the reader in an interesting seat. Certain medical emergencies attended by Sophie have varying degrees of import with the core storyline, and the reader must decide which are relevant, and how. The event that triggers the story — the shooting of Sophie’s policeman husband Chris — is clearly not what the police, a little mysteriously, seem to believe it is. Why isn’t Chris dead? Why is Lachlan missing? Why the note? It just doesn’t add up.

And then Chris gets his own point of view, so his role, while murky, is largely understood. And then, perhaps halfway through the book, the villain is revealed, and the reader is no longer left in the position of a whodunit but, rather, the position of an observer watching the web being woven, and why, and wondering who will be ultimately trapped.

It’s a methodical tale, competently told, with attention to detail — leaves in drains, the smell of food — and no grandstanding. Marconi is neither Sherlock Holmes nor Dirty Harry. Sophie is not an action hero. Chris is not Chuck Norris. No one gets out unscathed or unaffected, not even Marconi.

That down-to-earth approach is perhaps the novel’s most endearing feature. The resolution leaves the questions satisfactorily answered. It’s no surprise that Marconi is still going strong, five books later.

Brisbane Writers Festival dates announced

The calendar of literary events has been updated, including the dates for Brisbane Writers Festival (Sep 5-9), the Sunshine Coast’s Reality Bites in June (recently seeking submissions for attendees) and the Aurealis Awards ceremony in Sydney in May. Additions and corrections to the calendar are welcome.

Aurealis Awards tickets on sale, Chronos nominations open

aurealis awards logoJust in case you hadn’t noticed, tickets for this year’s Aurealis Awards ceremony are now on sale. The ceremony will be held at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney on Saturday May 12. Last year’s awards, organised by the same organisation, SpecFaction NSW, and held in the same venue, were enormous fun. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends from across the country, rub shoulders with some damn fine writers, maybe meet some editors, agents and publishers … The staff at the nearby Rydges, which became the default ‘con hotel’, were wonderfully accommodating when it came to the post-awards ceremony. They might have a few more bar staff rostered on this year. Heh.

WHILE we’re on awards, the Chronos Awards are calling for nominations. The awards recognise excellence in speculative fiction arising from Victorian residents. A fairly comprehensive list of eligible works is available, and welcomes additions. I take my hat off to the person/s who assembled this list! (I note that Paul Haines’s The Last Days of Kali Yuga and his short story from that collection, ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’, is absent, and I’ve let the organisers know that my listed story ‘Mending the Fences’ isn’t in fact eligible — it’s publication has been delayed till next month.) Nominations are due by March 18 and will be voted on by members of Continuum 8, the national science fiction convention being held in Melbourne in June.

Angry Robot opens its doors again, and other writerly news

Hot on the heels of Penguin’s new open door program, British press Angry Robot is again appealing to unagented authors — they signed three debut novelists from last year’s program — but this time are being quite specific about what they want: classic fantasy and YA SF and fantasy. The submission period is April 16-30 using a website uploader. Details are here.

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts is sharing the love — a combined book launch with Margo Lanagan for those lucky enough to have easy access to Hobart (Lanagan has riffed her Sea Hearts novella from X6 into a novel, how tasty!) — and a reprint that shows even a story written for a specific universe can have legs outside it (and indeed, TRR’s yarn breaks more boundaries than that little piffle).
  • Alan Baxter has shared his love, too: the forthcoming ‘paranoirmal’ anthology Damnation and Dames from Ticonderoga with its whoop arse cover and two collaborations in its TOC. I look at the bare scraping of confused and contradictory notes on my hard drive and lament; there are two more upcoming titles I doubt I’ll be able to submit to, but they’re worth a look: issue 7 of Midnight Echo, closing this month, and another paranormal anthology, Bloodstones, open February–May.
  • And here’s pause for thought in the aftermath of Australia Day, in which Lit-icism considers the call for renewed focus on Australian literature. The part that especially struck a chord with me was this, from Italian academic Tim Parkes:

    Parkes laments what is essentially a globalisation of literature in which novels provide no authentic sense of place at all, but are instead tailored to a global market by dealing with ‘universal’ – read: more widely marketable and international prizewinning – themes.

    This is partly why I took up the pen with a view to being published — to see my country, my culture, reflected in the types of stories that I like to read. It’s heartening to see authors such as Trent Jamieson able to set their fiction in Brisbane — Brisbane! — and still find not only a wider audience, but an overseas publisher willing to run with it. It’s pleasing to see someone send some Aussie sensibility across the water, rather than regurgitating a trope-laden backdrop of New York or London.

    It’s not just eucalyptus trees (hey, they have plenty in California, anyway) — it’s viewpoint. It’s attitude. It’s how we see the world. Sharing these things is how we help us all to understand each other — not just the different priorities or approaches we might take, but also the similarities: parents what a better world for their children, for instance. Language plays an incredibly powerful part in informing culture, and where else to find its evolution than in literature?

    Parkes is talking about more than setting: he’s talking about themes and those, he suggests, can be culturally specific and deserve attention. Sure, though I’m not convinced that domestic themes don’t have wider resonance.

    Australia doesn’t have the history of European countries in dealing with certain social ills, for instance — no civil war, no religious schisms — but the social history of those events can still impact on us; we can see movements here, we can relate to the humanity of the issue, we can learn a lesson.

    And I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss universal themes. Harking back to Australia Day, is the Australian experience of colonialism, from invader or invaded viewpoint, any different to that of Canada or South Africa? How? What does it do to us? Perhaps a culture’s, or a subculture’s, response to those universal themes is equally important as those purely domestic discussions (assuming they exist).

  • Penguin opens the door to unsolicited manuscripts, and oh yeah, Disney sux

    The good news: Penguin has joined the open call of Allen & Unwin and Pan Macmillan with its Monthly Catch. You can email an MS and synopsis during the first week of each month. It’s almost like the good old days when you could send your creature to the slush pile most any time of the year, but this is likely to get a reply a lot faster. Poetry, text books and scripts/plays not eligible.

    The ugly: Disney, you suck. Corporate wankers corrupting Joy Division’s iconic Unknown Pleasures cover art with your pathetic mouse. Sod off back to screwing over fairtytales, you gits. And no, I’m not linking to it.

    Aussies on long list for the Stoker Awards

    An awesome showing of Australian talent on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards, recognising excellence in horror publishing. Fingers crossed they progress to become nominees!

    Kaaron Warren for her short story ‘All You Do Is Breathe’ in Blood and Other Cravings.

    Jack Dann as editor (with Nick Gevers) for Ghosts by Gaslight.

    Paul Haines for his collection, The Last Days of Kali Yuga.

    Rocky Wood for his non-fiction Stephen King: A Literary Companion.

    Kyla Ward for her poetry collection, The Land of Bad Dreams.

    Apologies for anyone I’ve missed!

    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier … Subtle. And so very superb.

    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is an astounding movie. From the sets, to the camerawork, to the dialogue, to the acting and wardrobe — simply astounding.

    This superb adaptation — the scriptwriters deserve a gong — of the John le Carre Cold War spy classic is directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In — the beautifully filmed Swedish original) and the Swede has excelled again. The movie has a period feel — there’s film grain on the screen and a certain gloomy tint that gives the hint of age — and framing and depth of field emphasise the paranoia and claustrophobia of the era.

    It’s a male tale, as the super spies of British intelligence are caught up in a hunt for a mole, real or imagined, amongst their number. Tasked with flushing out the bad apple is the outcast George Smiley, played brilliantly by Gary Oldman, heading a cast (including Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Rome‘s screen-chewing Ciaran Hinds) who rise to the challenge. Such restrained performances. How refreshing to see a script that uses such minimal dialogue and telling subtext, to see a film that allows the actors to convey so much through body language and expression, that trusts the audience and its own ability to reach them. For instance: a scene in the rain, one man with an umbrella, one without. Nothing needs to be said: their expressions and interaction within that frame tell us all we need to know.

    I loved the Carre spy books when I was a teenager, and enjoyed the BBC TV mini-series they spawned in the 1970s with the perfectly cast Alec Guinness in the Smiley role. This movie has reminded me why: the gloom, the amorality and the understanding of it, the feeling of this being a believable glimpse of the spy game amid the fun and thunder of Adam Hall and Ian Fleming, the use of intelligence and observation rather than muscle and firepower, the damaged characters who know that not all is well that ends well.

    There’s a clever piece of graffiti in the movie, too; while the Circus largely runs on the secretarial power of women officers, and one analyst gets some screen time and there’s one female agent who has a role to play, this is very much a boys club film, as the context dictates. But there, more than once on that wall, is a painted slogan, The future is female.

    Nice, and about as overt as this film gets.

    Smiley’s wife, the sexual relationships of the men, the volume of the silence and stillness, the absence of car chases and biffo: so much cleverness without it being obvious, without it breaking the narrative or the mood.

    The pace is, as with the books, not so much slow as inexorable, and the two hours were over before I knew it. No surprise it has garnered 11 BAFTA nominations. It might only be January, but I can’t help but feel this has to be one of the best movies of 2012.

    It’s a shame Amazon.UK has ended its free shipping deal to Australia (boo!) or I’d be sorely tempted to snaffle the pre-order for the DVD — it’s due for release at the end of the month!


    Hurrah for Golden Globes winner Homeland … and Luther!

    Homeland has been the compelling viewing at our place, so it’s grand to see Claire Danes pick up a Golden Globe for best actress and the show score one for best drama.

    Based on an Israeli series — imagine the extra emotional baggage this storyline would have over there — it tells the story of a CIA analyst (Danes) tipped off about a US POW turned by Al-Qaeda. There follows a game of superb cat and mouse as the returned POW is feted as a hero while Carrie, fighting some nasty demons of her own, tries to unravel the alleged plot. Such murky waters, flowing superbly, with plenty of eddies and rapids as the camera reveals several sides of the unfolding story — inside the CIA, the soldier’s eight years of imprisonment, his family’s reaction to suddenly having him return after having been declared dead.

    Homeland is not a Stars n Stripes show, but rather shares a more British sensibility in its approach to national moral issues and the way to conclude a spy drama. Gripping stuff, superbly acted across the board, and a big tick mark for its representation of the soldier’s wife — played by Firefly and V remake star Morena Baccarin, Jessica is far from window dressing.

    A second season has been approved.

    Stars of two other shows that have occupied our spare time were also acknowledged at the Globes (commentated entertainingly at ABC online): Jessica Lange for American Horror Story, which I’ve praised before, and Idris Elba for Luther. Luther is a superb British crime show with Elba playing the eponymous cop right on the edge — he’s starred in superb vampire UK series Ultraviolet and brilliant US crime series The Wire, amongst many other things; a chameleon of accents and wielder of a striking screen presence.

    New series of both are in the works.


    Dymocks still fumbling the D Publishing ball, and other writerly news

    It has been a case of third time unlucky for Dymocks, which has presented three versions of its author contract for those wanting to publishing under its imprint — and been criticised each time for imposing unpalatable terms on the author. Crikey’s Lit-icism blog provides a nice overview of the continuing reservations about the service. Perhaps check for version four and, as with any contract, check the fine print, decide if the service is worth the price, be aware of what it might mean down the track…

    Also on the nose, but in a rather more fetching manner, is Kim Wilkins, polishing off another manuscript in her ‘fetid nightie‘.

    And now for the fresh air:

    Last week, I had the pleasure — I guess that should be the joy, really — of umming and ahing my way through a wonderful episode of Scifi and Squeam with Joy94.9 host Sonja and fellow guest Rob Radcliffe. We gushed over Gothic movies and paid special mention to the late Ken Russsell, in particular his Gothic and Lair of the White Worm.

    Also: Jay Kristoff reports there was a kerfuffle over at Goodreads, once again delivering the message about being ever so careful when replying to or commenting on unfavourable reviews; Louise Cusack shares the sharp covers of the new e-versions of her fantasy trilogy; and Sean the Bookonaut speaks up for the Stellas in an argument I’m still catching up with…