Amanda Palmer does Australia Day in Sydney, 2011

Amanda Fucking Palmer just keeps getting better.

AFP, of Dresden Dolls fame and now carving out a solo career, held court at a packed Sydney Opera House on Wednesday night. It was a precursor to her Down Under tour. But this was special.

For starters, there was an Aussie touch on stage: a Hills hoist and a barbie and an Esky of VB: the booze was rightfully derided as being piss poor, but the cartons did make a fetching backdrop, used as they were to spell out a mighty AFP.

There was a striking voice and piano courtesy of the Melbourne duo The Jane Austen Argument (playing support on AFP’s tour), and rollicking Gypsy-ish fun with Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. The latter provided backing for AFP on a bunch of numbers during the night, showing a high degree of charm, humour and flexibility — one member played piano accordion, sax, organ and electric guitar. And there was a big-screen appearance from Meow Meow and, in the flesh, Kim Boekbinder (also touring with AFP, and author of the gorgeous New Orleans themed tune Big Easy).

And then there was Neil Gaiman, who read a yarn he penned to accompany Amanda’s Who Killed… book, the project that brought them together, and then a poem he’d penned in Hyde Park for Australia Day about our lost megafauna, and then a poem for Amanda.

And then of course there was AFP herself, cavorting with the crowd in her Union Jack corset like a charming and chaotic ringmaster, set list forsaken, band slightly shaken, snags cooked on a barbie, smoochings in the crowd and, in essence, damned good fun.

There were tunes from her new album and some crowd favourites, some silly fun ones and some that were somewhat more serious, and others simply beautiful: a ballad called The Drover’s Boy, just reminding us that the colonisation of this continent that was being celebrated that day had come at a cost to the indigenous inhabitants, and then the concert closer, Nick Cave’s The Ship Song, sung from the balcony.

A raucous encore featuring an all-in rendition of Map of Tasmania and Oasis, complete with glittering gogo dancers, sent the crowd buzzing out the doors after three hours of musical mayhem. The bridge arced over the harbour, mist hugged the skyscrapers, the black-clad tide disappeared into the Sydney streets.

And not an Oi Oi Oi to be heard.

The Seventh Wave by Paul Garrety — the moment is nigh!

seventh wave by paul garrety

The clock’s ticking and my mate’s nervous. Fair enough, given his debut novel is about to hit the shelves!

Paul Garrety is a member of my Brisbane-based writing group, Writers on the Edge, and it’s been a thrill to see this story progress to the stage where HarperCollins have picked up both The Seventh Wave and its sequel. Sweet cover, too!

Voyager have posted an extract here to whet the appetite.

Writers on Rafts — help for flooded Queensland

writers on rafts by QWC

The Writers on Rafts site is now live. You can buy a ticket for books, services from writers such as story assessments, and other stuff, such as having a character named after you in a book. It’s a raffle, not an auction. The initiative is being run by the Queensland Writers Centre, who still have not been able to return to their offices since floods devastated South East Queensland earlier this month. The floods meant that, in the past month, three quarters of the state has been declared a disaster area — Queensland is more than twice the size of Texas or France.

Other initiatives by writers to help flood victims are running, too. Check them out!

Black Swan — a dark flight of fancy indeed

Black Swan is the latest offering from director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler); it’s won a Golden Globe, amongst others, so yay that it’s finally reached Australia.

The buzz is warranted. It’s a gripping little drama, intensely personalised thanks to the bravura performance from Natalie Portman who handles her role with just the deftness required.

The story centres on a ballet dancer angling for the plum role of the Swan Queen in a new production of Swan Lake — Winona Ryder appears as the current prima ballerina. I went in knowing only that the movie was set in a ballet, and frankly, I was glad to not have read or heard any further information than that. The air of not quite knowing what was going on lasted right till the climax.

There were some delightful ‘ew’ moments, mostly from the simple realities of the physical toll of dancing, and some tasty little swipes at the industry as well.

Highly recommended.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Finally caught up with Scott Pilgrim, directed by Edgar Wright riffing hard on the original graphic novel, and really enjoyed the style. There’s a lot of graphic interplay to bring the fantasy home, ranging from unnecessary sound effects spelled out on screen to very cool sound waves and slow motion lines, and funky titles taken from computer games. But I can’t help thinking it’s time for the geeks to stop making wish-fulfilment movies. Michael Cera does a great job of portraying the title character, who must battle — arcade game style — the seven exes of the girl of his dreams (she’s smokin’ hot with dyed hair and aggressive sexuality, and she’s so into him because … well, it’s a fantasy, all right!). He also cheats on his current girlfriend, a 17-year-old virginal Asian school girl who proves adept with two swords, and has something of a history of being a cad, but you know, no harm no foul. Yes, I am old and cynical.

The Runaways

My liking for Joan Jett has been boosted by this biopic, which shows there’s more to Kristin Stewart than Twilight. Stewart takes the Jett role while the wonderful Dakota Fanning portrays troubled bandmate Cherie Currie. One is cut out for rock ‘n’ roll fame, the other ain’t. I enjoyed the ride of the all-girl band on the rise, and fall, but was a little miffed that the rest of the band didn’t score a ‘where are they now’ credit at the end, as the principals did. The soundtrack is, of course, rockin’.

Dead Red Heart available to pre-order

dead red heart australian vampire anthology

Ticonderoga has announced that its mammoth collection of Australian vampire stories, Dead Red Heart (including my rural gothic yarn ‘Children of the Cane’), is now available to pre-order online. It is due to hit shelves in April-May. It will also be available through online bookstores including Amazon.

I noticed that the forthcoming paranormal romance anthology, More Scary Kisses (with my first published foray into erotica, ‘Resurrection in Red’), also due out in April-May, is also available to pre-order. This is the first time that Kirstyn and I have had stories in the same original anthology — hers is much creepier!

Dead Red Heart and More Scary Kisses: books with bite!

more scary kisses cover

Here is the cover of More Scary Kisses, Ticonderoga’s anthology of paranormal romance stories due out in April. The table of contents is here.

And Ticonderoga’s Australian-themed vampire anthology, Dead Red Heart, has had its table of contents announced, and it’s a monster: 32 yarns, more than 130,000 words, due out towards the end of April.

I hope this means both will hit the shelf in time for Swancon, Perth’s annual spec fic convention which this year is also the national science fiction convention.

It’s particularly exciting to have a couple of stories coming out this year after such a long hiatus.

after the rain ebook edition

There’s also a story of mine, a cyberpunk one just in contrast to the New Orleans hot-and-sweaty of MSK and cane-and-dust vampire action of DRH, in Fablecroft’s forthcoming After the Rain anthology, also due out in time for Swancon. A special e-edition of ATR is available with proceeds going to the Queensland flood appeal. More than $1200 has been raised so far. Awesome!

For me, after the rain should probably be after the drought, it’s been so long since I’ve written a short story. But last year, after much kicking around and failing to succeed with novel-length manuscripts, my subconscious apparently found a window for some short stuff. Dark Prints Press’s Surviving the End anthology started the ball rolling — that book’s due out in 2012, and I quite like the story of mine in it: a dirty, post-apocalyptic Australian Gulf-country yarn.

I’m back in drought mode, now, but it sure feels affirming to have been able to dredge out some yarns!

Treme: the power of music to heal

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped across the Gulf coast of the USA, taking a terrible toll on the city of New Orleans.

I’ve been taking a great deal of heart, particularly in light of the devastating floods hitting Australia at this time, from a HBO program called Treme (trem-ay), set in a neighbourhood of New Orleans where it’s all about the music, man.

There are a couple of things that make this show exceptional.

For starters, it’s so understated. There is no melodrama, no great conspiracies or car chases. It follows the lives of various residents trying to cope in post-Katrina New Orleans. A bar owner trying to get repairs made on her club. A restaurateur trying to keep her head above the financial waters. A uni professor struggling to deal with the reality of the destruction and the general poorness of the nation’s response. Musicians, trying to make a living in the empty city. And so on. It rings true. Victory is not guaranteed.

I love the way the lives of these people intersect, by circumstance and by happenstance. I love the way the story can move me to tears in one beat and have me laughing out loud in the next. I love the compassion. I love the way it deals, from a street level, with government inaction, corruption and ineptitude, and yet, it’s pretty even-handed, showing the good and the bad of the NOPD, for instance.

The acting from the main players is superb, so natural and measured, so dignified in the face of nightmare and frustration. When they blow, you feel it.

And there’s the music, of course; unifying and restoring pride, an anchor when all else is swirling. It’s not by chance the series opens and ends with second lines (funeral processions led by bands). Jazz, jazz and jazz, a touch of Cajun, but it’s the brass and the bass that’s driving this beat, with plenty of identities (Dr John, Elvis Costello, Kermit Ruffins and more) sprinkled in the mix.

It’s simply some of the best television I’ve seen: no vampires, no explosions, just … real.

New Orleans is one of my favourite cities, one I’ve visited most often: one that does indeed live in the heart and mind. It’s so refreshing to see such a portrait on the TV. I hope all of America is watching.

Amidst the destruction, cancer takes two star musicians

As my old home state begins picking itself up out of the mire, burdened by destruction across three-quarters of its area and a death toll at 20, my new state of residence faces an ongoing flood menace.

Adding to the woe is the news that two members of legendary Aussie bands died at the weekend: Cold Chisel’s Steve Prestwich and Sherbet’s Harvey James.

Writers, and readers, to help Queensland flood victims

Please check out these sites set up by writers to raise money for charities assisting Queensland flood victims:

Ocean Hearted: poetry book, proceeds to charity

100 Stories for Queensland: send in your stories, buy the book

After the Rain: Fablecroft had already got this anthology on the drawing board, and has turned around a quick e-version for charity purposes.

An auction site, offering signed books, manuscript assessments and plenty of other stuff, is now running at Authors for Queensland.

And don’t forget, cash donations can be sent to numerous charities online. This is the State Government’s website.