Perfections, now in paperback

Posted in books, gothic, horror with tags , , on June 4, 2014 by jason nahrung

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermottKirstyn’s novel, Perfections, is being printed in paperback and digital copies by Twelfth Planet Press, and is being launched this weekend at Continuum (I may wear my top hat). Read all about it here.

Also at Continuum, I’ll be helping Rosaleen Love launch her latest collection, the newest addition to the Twelve Planets series (now 13!), The Secret Lives of Books. It’s very clever, slightly eclectic in style, and altogether wonderful. Yes, damn it, I think a top hat is well in order!

The Babadook: horror out of the pen

Posted in horror, movies, review with tags , , , on June 3, 2014 by jason nahrung


The Babadook is an Australian horror movie. It’s clever without being pompous or overwrought. A suburban working mother is trying to raise her needy son while stricken by grief over her husband’s death. Then a book is found, and it tells of the Babadook, who once it gets in, can never be got out.
There is so much to like about this film: acting, setting, lighting, sound, combined with an insightful script. Deftness, depth and subtlety define this movie — the narrative pulled me along, and the ending wrapped it up beautifully, its metaphors intact and satisfied. Here are some of the credits:

  • The heroine is a working single mother, whose hair is in disarray, who looks shattered from the opening frame.
  • The heroine does not wear makeup, except for the one time she does in company who wear it better. This tells us a lot.
  • When the heroine screams, it is not a screech. it sounds real. The acting is uniformly superb, but lead Amelia (Essie Davis) and son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are particularly brilliant as they carry the emotional journey.
  • There are no aural tricks to make the audience jump. There are no jump cuts to make the audience jump. Possibly, this makes it even creepier, perhaps because tropes are used — opening doors, creaking floors, fleeting shadows, popping lightbulbs. Sound is wonderfully adept at creating mood without intruding or being overtly manipulating.
    badadook movie poster
  • The kid is a weird little guy in his own way, and despite his Home Alone precociousness in the arena of home defence, he is just a kid.

  • The characters act naturally, resulting in increasing isolation and dislocation for the heroine. Mostly through her own decisions. There are no villains, just people trying to deal.
  • The heroine does bad things, but she is not an image of hate or scorn.
  • There is no happy ending, but rather, progress, and ongoing struggle with the hope of some kind of equilibrium.
  • The setting reflects the character’s mental and emotional state.
  • Facts about the characters that inform the story are introduced with subtlety that urge a re-watching to fully appreciate just how well sewn this tapestry is — a few, minor dangling threads notwithstanding.
  • The symbolism is clever and consistent but not pretentious. You want to talk about grief, depression, dysfunction in an engaging and oblique fashion — the personal cost and the impact on family, friends and those around — this is the perfect example of how a horror story can do that.

    I hope writer/director Jennifer Kent, who adapted this feature from her short film, Monster, gets support for her next project. She went to Kickstarter to help this one get across the line, and has rewarded those supporters handsomely.

  • 1984: newspeak is new again

    Posted in rare political comment, review, theatre with tags , , on June 2, 2014 by jason nahrung

    1984 tour poster for shake and stirWe saw the Shake and Stir Theatre Co.’s adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 at Ballarat’s Her Majesty’s theatre today, and what a superb performance it is. The Brisbane company is touring, and has there ever been a better time for it?

    With Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s reprehensible use of the term illegal maritime arrivals burning in my ears — well done, minister, for ‘unpersoning’ the desperate people seeking safety in our country, and hang their right to do so — Orwell’s observations of language control, propaganda and social warfare have never struck closer to home.

    A government that has declared war on its own citizens to propagate the class structure. Demonising of an external other, or traitorous domestic foe, to justify draconian measures. Reducing access to education and awareness. Attempts to enforce conformity of belief and behaviour. Bread and circuses to help keep the proletariat amused and distracted? Even some history tweaking. And of course, adapting language to carry a specific message, and ensuring media carry only that message. Ignorance is strength, indeed.

    Admittedly, we’re not in Room 101 territory just yet, and S&S did not draw any analogies — for instance, their footage of Oceania’s wars was from World War II, as far as I could tell, and they stuck to Orwell’s script — but the Ministry of Truth echoes were powerful just the same. Orwell’s vision is undiminished.

    S&S did a superb job of bringing a relatively complex story to the stage. Winston’s monologues are delivered on big screens — clever, in keeping with the monitoring of citizens and delivery of propaganda by Big Brother — and other characters take up some of the duty. The bank of screens formed the back drop for a sparse, evocatively lit stage, with Cold War-style concrete walls evoking the barren homes and factories, and a swinging stage delivering Winston and Julia’s love nest for sexcrime. [Do check out the Eurythmics' 'soundtrack that never was' 1984: For the Love of Big Brother.]

    The screens not only gave Winston his inner voice but also allowed Big Brother to broadcast to the audience, and turned the audience into Big Brother’s observers, seeing off-stage family life and dream sequences as well as tracking the characters’ on-stage movements.

    The love scenes and torture scenes were well handled, provoking the barest of titters and squirms from the predominantly school-student matinee audience. And then there were the rats!

    Well acted, well delivered, topical. Doubleplusgood. Most excellent.

    Bearing up to a weekend in Melbourne

    Posted in things to do in melbourne, travel with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by jason nahrung

    At the weekend we went to Melbourne.

    Feathered polar bear installation You started it ... I finish it, by Paola Pivi, at NGV

    You started it … I finish it, by Paola Pivi, at NGV


    We saw, at the National Gallery of Victoria, a stunning collection of artwork by William Blake. He made his own process for printing words and pictures together. He had to write backwards — maybe that was why, as my wife pointed out, he had i before e after c. We went to Dante’s hell with Blake and it was a free ride. Next door was a video installation, part of which involved jiggled bellies, swaying branches, a tilting table, body parts being covered in dye and washed off. In the foyer, THERE WERE BEARS. Polar bears covered in feathers. No touching. Kirstyn was jumping out of her skin, wanting to hug these life-size, brightly coloured sculptures. The sheer delight these statues brought, not just to children but adults too …

    Untitled, 2003, by Lee Bul

    Untitled, 2003, by Lee Bul

    Also for free at NGV was a whole floor of funky furniture and glassware, a Warhol or two, and an alien hanging in disassembled (or reassembling) pieces. Here and there amongst the art were little placards, part of the self-guided Art As Therapy tour, that directed the viewer to consider the work, perhaps in a different way to what it, at first sight, suggested; at the very least, the placards pointed out symbolism and meaning for the viewer to ponder and appreciate.

    We went to the Willy Lit Fest. It’s a literary festival held annually in Williamstown, on the bay. Kirstyn was on a panel with Lucy Sussex and moderator Dmetri Kakmi talking about the Gothic and horror, and then we had lunch with friends. Or rather, we ordered lunch with friends, who ate theirs and went to the next panel, while we waited for ours, and ate it, and took the ferry back to the city. I love seeing a city from the water. I especially like the cranes, not to be confused with the cormorants, and the low bridges the ferry slips under, vaguely reminiscent of Venice’s waterways, and the high bridges it goes under, which I usually see from the other side.

    Westgate Bridge seen from Williamstown Ferry

    Westgate Bridge

    Cranes seen from Williamstown Ferry

    Cranes

    Bolte Bridge seen from Williamstown Ferry

    Bolte Bridge

    Williamstown Ferry approaching Melbourne

    Williamstown Ferry


    We saw Gary Numan perform his Splinter concert, rocking the Hi-Fi bar for 90 minutes and never a non-lyric word said, but an awesome grin at the encore that said it all really. The Red Paintings were the support, two kimono ladies doing wonderful things to violin and bass while a man called Trash with a sloth on his back sang about a failed revolution, and painters painted, one on canvas, one on a dancer not quite game to go-go in her underwear and carnival bobble head. The sound was far more crisp for them than for Numan, where volume won out, but everyone played their hearts out.

    On the Saturday night, walking up the street, we saw a water feature, a wall with water running down it, and people were making patterns and words from autumn leaves, stuck to the surface. Seasonal art, flowing naturally.

    We ate Japanese one night, at our favourite city Japanese restaurant, Edoya, and it did not disappoint. The next night we picked a Vietnamese restaurant, Pho & Co, at random and ordered up a storm of share dishes. The service was slick and the food was quick to arrive and sensational. We also scored a breakfast table at hole-in-the-wall Aix creperie: awesome way to start the day.

    We watched a movie we hadn’t heard of but the poster looked so very cool: The Babadook. It’s Australian. It’s incredibly good. Someone — I suspect the writer/director, Jennifer Kent — had a good, hard think about horror movies and mental illness, and the resulting metaphors were brilliantly drawn. All the way through to the end. At the panel at the Willy Lit Fest both Kirstyn and Lucy said how horror can be used to approach difficult subjects, how symbolism can help us be touched by something we’d otherwise shy from: this was, Kirstyn said, the perfect example. I agree.

    We stayed at the Citiclub Hotel on Queen St. The website we booked through mentioned the competitive price and the comfy room and the convenient location, but skipped the fact the hotel contains a nightclub. I intend never to stay there again.

    Melbourne: so much to do, but be careful where you lay your head.

    The Lascar’s Dagger: sharp, pointed fantasy

    Posted in fantasy, review with tags , , on May 23, 2014 by jason nahrung

    lascars dagger by glenda larkeThe Lascar’s Dagger (Orbit, 2014), the first of The Forsaken Lands trilogy, will not disappoint fans of Glenda Larke‘s previous fantasies. Here you will find the exquisite world building and conflicted characters as well as familiar themes that inform her work.

    The dagger of the title is a magical artefact, one with the ability to shape the actions of those around it, and it can be capricious as it seeks to right a wrong. It harks from the spice islands, now being opened up by an essentially European seafaring civilisation for trade and plunder. The titular lascar, Ardhi, has journeyed to these technologically more advanced Va-cherished lands to retrieve his people’s stolen treasure.

    Here he crosses paths with our primary antagonist, Saker, a spy-priest, who quickly finds himself in a whole world of hurt: he’s fallen in inappropriate love with the wrong woman, there’s a strange disease inflicting the land (and driving up the price of ‘medicinal’ spice), his religion is under threat – and people keep trying to kill him. And on top of that, there’s this dagger that has plans for him.

    The novel highlights Saker’s ignorance of the Va-forsaken Lands and their peoples — not quite the savages they seem, nor even a single tribal group — and pits commercial greed against environmental balance and moral compass. It touches on the danger of judging people by appearance. It objects to gender stereotyping and misogyny. It opposes religious fanaticism and bigotry. Oh yes, this is a Larke book!

    Read an excerpt here

    And it has birds. Larke by name and somewhat by nature, the twitcher author has given birds a special perch of importance here.

    There are a few downdrafts to mildly ruffle the feathers: an unusual, for Larke, if memory serves, surrender to the technique of dropping us into minor characters’ points of view for the expediency of showing details that the prime POV characters cannot relate — a distracting peccadillo, but certainly not fatal to the flow; and another in the apparent failure of the Regal’s desire to keep a certain theft secret, the truth of it not long after common knowledge on the streets. Book 2, due in January, might reveal more on both scores.

    australian women writers challenge logoJust the once I felt Saker was a little dim, but I guess even an experienced spy can be a little slow to realise his network has been compromised. And on odd occasion the creative vernacular felt, again unusually in a Larke book where language is as much part of the world building as the landscape, a little forced in places: ‘Va preserve me from idle-headed dewberries’? In other places, the vernacular shines, adding to the sense that this is a real world of politics, economics, social tension, linguistic diversity; one with history.

    I’m also not a big fan of direct thoughts on the page — I’d rather see stronger interaction and action than be told what a character is thinking — but that’s a taste thing, and the technique is not abused.

    What does soothe these minor ruffles is the combination of aforementioned strengths in world and character, the mysteries still to be solved, the thematic underpinnings. Perhaps not quite as smooth sailing as some of her previous works (The Aware is one of my favourite fantasies), but nonetheless well worth going aboard for. My fingers are crossed for some serious piracy, err, privateering, in the next book!

  • This is the third of my reviews in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.
    Previous reviews:
  • The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, by Ambelin Kwaymullina
  • Peacemaker, by Marianne de Pierres
  • Cruising the Newell Highway

    Posted in travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2014 by jason nahrung

    The Newell Highway, No.39 on your road map, is a dandy way to get from Victoria to Queensland – with some help from its inland highway friends, it connects Melbourne to Rockhampton.

    It’s a route of sheep and cattle country, cotton and grain farms, bushrangers, road trains. Just the ticket for a drive with my old farmer dad, from his home in southeast Queensland to our cold country in Ballarat. Guided by a brochure put out by the Newell Highway Promotions Committee, this is what we got up to:

    Newell Highway, Boggabillia

    First day

    Danish Flower Art complex, Highfields

    Danish Flower Art complex, Highfields

    We doglegged around Brisbane and set a steady pace, with a lunch stop at the stupidly busy Danish Flower Art complex just north of Toowoomba where I was heard to say, ‘oh my gourd!’. Sadly, there was no hallelujah, just a puzzled Dad watching me take pictures of oodles of gourds – there was a whole paddock of the things growing out the back, and at the cafe, brightly coloured ones were mounted like Vlad Tepes enemies on stakes, piled up in crates, hanging from trees. A gourd massacre, but one feels, conducted with love.

    We carved south through Toowoomba and pulled up for another coffee stop at a nursery at Inglewood, chosen mostly because it was the first place we got to and it had heaps of parking. It’s a charming town – in fact, the thing that constantly strikes me on drives through the interior is the pride these country towns show. It’s a rare one that isn’t tidy and welcoming.

    Dingo fence, Yelarbon

    Dingo fence, Yelarbon

    Then we turned westerly and, a little further down the track, we stretched our legs at Yelarbon to check out the dingo fence monument, recording that this protective measure was once the longest fence in the world. I guess we can now call it post modern history.

    And finally we connected with the Newell at Goondiwindi. This is roo and emu country; combined with straying stock, they make night-time driving a bit of a worry, so we were happy to pull in before dark. Dinner was Chinese at a nearby restaurant, recommended by the friendly staff at our motel, the comfortable and tidy Comfort Inn.

    The pleasure of the Newell, other than that slowly changing rural landscape, is that the road is fairly empty, especially compared to Highway 1 that tracks the coast. Surprisingly, the petrol wasn’t priced sky high (up to about $1.56 a litre), either, and the most we paid for a night’s accommodation was about $135 in Moama (not on the Newell), and $130 in Dubbo.

    Second day

    We don’t do early. We figure there’s a reason for a 10am check-out and we might as well see what it is – I suspect just to allow the other travellers to clear out early. This morning, due to my general shopping laziness, we had a hot motel brekkie and it was damn yummy, better than the cereal I inflicted on us for the rest of the trip. (I always pack my own coffee and sugar, just in case of some truly godawful instant; a box of cereal and a bowl saves a bunch and gives us the option of a quick getaway.)

    We pootled down to Dubbo, through familiar-sounding towns Narrabri and Coonabarabran and Gilgandra. Gunnedah, off the highway, was a detour too far.

    Australian Telescope Compact Array

    Australian Telescope Compact Array

    At Narrabri, we pulled in to check out the CSIRO’s Australia Telescope Compact Array. Six dishes, on a railway track, that combine to be greater than the sum of their parts. We were lucky: there was an astronomer on deck to give information, and the centre made for an intriguing stop thanks to excellent info boards. It’s free, too.

    It was in this stretch that we passed the enticing shape of the Warrumbungles National Park, rearing from the flat earthen sea of farmland, browned stubble and dusty gum trees. But Dad’s not into bushwalking so much these days, and those peaks had to be left for another day.

    We did, however, hit Dubbo’s Hog’s Breath restaurant, which Dad is most definitely into. It did not disappoint – and yay for the ramp that made it easier to steer ourselves out.

    Third day

    We left the highway go west to Narromine, timing our arrival for what we thought would be a polite half hour after opening time for the aviation museum there. Wrong. No one was home, and the answering service merely confirmed that they should’ve been open. We and another car of travellers were left to whistle dixie.

    Alpacas at Andonbel alpaca farm and cafe, Narromine

    Alpacas at Narromine

    No matter: we followed some intriguing signs to the edge of town to Andonbel Alpaca Farm and Coffee Shop, where they served coffee and light meals from a barely renovated train carriage sporting alpaca products and a couple of tables. Brilliant! We sat outside, and I eyed off the nachos being served to another table on the lawn under the shady trees, but it was too soon for a mid-morning snack. I was a little surprised the owners have had to shunt the stock – they have 250 of the cuties, and are about to start slaughtering for meat as well as selling stock and wool – away from the cafe because customers complained about the smell. But they’re so cute!

    Lunch was slated for the cafe at the Parkes Radio Telescope. It’s a mighty dish, free to wander through the visitors centre, and the tucker at the cafe was pretty darn good – the birds certainly gave it the beak up.

    Elvis Presley car at Henry Parkes Centre museum

    The King’s wheels, Parkes

    We popped in to the tourist info centre, the Henry Parkes Centre, at Parkes (named after him) – I’d left my aforementioned brochure, containing our map and my pen marks on cool stuff – at the motel, and lo, there was Elvis, or at least, a load of his gear. And a bunch of old cars. And even more old stuff – sheds and yards of machinery! The info centre is home to four museums, including the former Yellow Wiggle Greg Page’s Elvis memorabilia collection superbly set up as a day in the life of the King, including a car, clothing, a bit of concert. I’m not a big Elvis fan, not since primary school when I bought my first and last Elvis tape, but even I could appreciate this was darn cool, thank you very much.

    After we’d stumbled around the old engines and tractors in the yard for a bit, we got in our own buggy and headed further south.

    McFeeters Motor Museum

    McFeeters Motor Museum

    We got to Forbes – I know the name from ‘The Streets of Forbes’, a folk tune about bushranger Ben Hall’s body being paraded through its streets, and indeed Hall is buried here. But not for us an encounter with that long dead scallywag, but rather McFeeters Motor Museum – yes, more old cars! And what an impressive set up this private collection turned out to be – again, we were lucky, with the owner himself on hand to show a handful of we visitors around. The history of Australian motoring was on display here, from the Model T Ford onwards. A Japanese funeral car was a highlight – apparently, funerals were often held at noon, because it was bad luck to be touched by the shadow of a funeral car. What a splendid hearse, with a little temple on the back of the vehicle, with a decorative ceiling – too bad the deceased had no chance of seeing it, what with the coffin (presumably) being closed and all.

    Kudos to the McFeeters: the power lift chair that let my dad get up and down the stairs to the mezzanine was much appreciated.

    Sadly, the neighbouring honey shop was shut when our tour had ended. Happily, the cellar was open, and we departed with a tasty bottle of port from Banderra Estate and Sandhills Vineyard.

    That left us just enough time to make West Wyalong, to find a bed for the night. How fortunate that the Colonial Motor Inn had a superb steakhouse attached!

    Fourth day

    Sabre and Spitfire, Temora Aviation Museum

    Sabre and Spitfire, Temora Aviation Museum

    It was time to leave the Newell for a bit, striking east to Temora and the superb aviation museum there, tracing the history of Australian military aviation. Sadly, it wasn’t a flying weekend – that’s the first and third Saturday of the month, mostly, and they can attract hundreds to the former military training ground. This private collection has put back into service a Spitfire (two!), Tiger Moth, Wirraway, Sabre, Vampire and more, and has them laid out in hangars with lots of information. You can also see the workshop where restoration and maintenance is undertaken.

    From Temora, we kept going bush, passing through Coolamon before rejoining the Newell at Grong Grong to continue our southern journey.

    It was as Jerilderie that we finally parted ways with the erstwhile highway, striking west to overnight at Moama, just the other side of the Murray from Echucha, and indulged in a respectable takeaway box of fish and chips for dinner.

    Fifth day

    Hubcap, National Holden Museum, Echucha

    National Holden Museum, Echucha

    In Echucha, we had coffee at the bakery – always dependable – and I got another gargoyle garden ornament from my supplier, er, the garden ornament shop The Hard Yardz, and we indulged Dad’s love of Holdens with a visit to the National Holden Motor Museum, where all things Holden are on display. Goodness, I learnt to drive in one of those column-shift EHs … way to feel one’s age, although in fairness, the cars do extend to the modern era. I guess with Holden ceasing manufacturing, the range will be easier to keep up with in future.

    Railway station, Maryborough, Vic

    Railway station, Maryborough, Vic

    Our family farm was outside Maryborough, Qld, so it was only fitting that we should journey through Maryborough, Vic, on the way home. It was my dad’s second visit to the namesake town, and he was once again struck by how similar the town’s main street is to its northern counterpart: I think it’s the shop fronts and signs hanging from the awnings. There’s a lot more bustle in the Vic ’borough, and it’s train station is truly magnificent. Why yes, this is gold country, how can you tell? Victorian towns wear their heritage in stone and the width of their streets, and we passed signs bearing ‘leads’ and ‘reefs’ and ‘rests’ as we made our way to Ballaratia, our highway journey done.

    But I still have the brochure: there’s a bunch of towns we whistled through, and a lot of natural attractions we bypassed. I’m looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the Newell.

    See more pictures

     

    Dracula, the book that …

    Posted in books, gothic, horror, writing with tags , , , , on April 24, 2014 by jason nahrung

    dracula by bram stoker, 1916 coverThe lovely folks at The Writers Bloc — great name for a collective! — asked me to tell them about ‘the book that …’ and of course I had to wax lyrical about Dracula. You’re about 16, there’s a storm outside your bedroom window, and the vampire is creeping down the castle wall … You can read more here, and see what these creative folks are up to in furthering the writers’ cause.

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