Things to do in Melbourne #2 — Moreau at NGV International

Gustave Moreau has turned out to be something of a surprise package. I rolled up to NGV International for its Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine exhibition expecting a bunch of, well, second-tier oil-rendered classical views of some cool myths, and was pleasantly enlightened.

Mr Moreau, painting in the 19th century and not someone whose works I was acquainted with, might have started in such terrain, but his use of wide-ranging cultures, abstract elements, patterns and different media, proved there was a lot more going on.

Lady Macbeth by Moreau

Lady Macbeth by Moreau

I loved his Salome series — sadly, this exhibit of more than 100 of his works did not include a couple of key pieces referenced with working sketches — and two exquisite pieces, one showing three sirens as the vaguest of shapes lurking on the shadowed shore, the other a featureless Lady Macbeth roaming the gloomy castle with a taper. There were others, of course, ghostly renderings, emotive splashes of bright oil amidst the dark, textures of oil and inlaid pieces of coloured stones. This article from The Australian gives a much more informed overview.

The Apparition by Moreau, showing Salome encountering the ghost of John the Baptist

Also showing, and free, is Unnerved, a survey of modern art from New Zealand on loan from the Queensland Art Gallery. There are a lot of photographs, a striking sculpture of a seal balancing a piano, and some audio-visual presentations, as well as paintings and installations. Post-colonial themes abound. I particularly liked Lisa Reihana’s large digital images reflecting Maori heritage.

It’s impressive that a collection such as this is free.

I can also recommend lunch at Persimmon, a restaurant tucked away at the rear of the gallery flanked by water features and offering a view of the gardens. For $55 a head, we enjoyed two courses — we had a prawn salad each for starters and lamb backstrap and pork belly for mains, with a glass of chianti and coffee, and tickets to Moreau. The food was delicious — note that the kitchen shuts at 2.30pm, though the restaurant hours are till 4pm, and the gallery’s till 5pm.

Note that you’ve got till the end of February to catch the Rock Chicks exhibition at the nearby Arts Centre: free, and a wonderful introduction to the history of women in Australian rock and pop.

Things to do in Melbourne #1: Shakespeare in the park

How to make the most of a languid Australian summer evening, Melbourne-style … get thee to the Botanic Gardens, ensuring you have a blanket, wine, cheese and other essential victuals. Perhaps some mossie spray, but last night, the bites were few. And enjoy, under a gibbous moon and occasional small aircraft, the romp that is Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.

Played by the Australian Shakespeare Company, Comedy added Pythonesque elements and slapstick to the play about mistaken identity to make it absurdly chuckle-worthy.

A simple backdrop, showing German expressionism in its cityscape, featured three doors plus a balcony, all that was needed as the sun went down and the lights came on. (The site is well chosen, with plenty of shade cast across the space.)

The back story about how the two sets of twins have come to meet under such circumstances is told in instalments that intersect with the main story at the climax; cleverly interwoven and and offering some of the play’s driest humour in the person of the bestilted Duke.

The costumes were gorgeously over the top, vaudeville meets Venician masquerade, and the performances were so physical and such good fun, with modern touches to add extra laughs without deconstructing the whole.

I’ve previously seen Midsummer Night’s Dream by the same ensemble here, and I think I’m going to be a regular from now on.

Food and beverages are available to buy, but BYO is welcome. There are chairs for rent.

White Lies — finding comfort in Ritual

The White Lies’ album To Lose My Life was one of my favourites of 2009, so the follow-up — Ritual — was much anticipated.

It’s been taking a while to grow on me; I keep zoning off, hearing reflections of the breakthrough To Lose My Life. And then suddenly, pow!, the track ‘Peace and Quiet’ pounced on my ears and tore all the way to the heart. Which is why I love music. Even the most played album, or song, can take on new shades as the years go by and life lends new perspectives.

The White Lies have pushed on a little from To Lose My Life, bringing in some synths and adding a touch of harmony. Ritual is perhaps a more subtle, mature album.

Noirish imagery and striking turns of phrase abound. The overarching mood tends towards the fatalistic: lost love and a broken planet and a society riven by loneliness. Opener ‘Is Love’ sets the scene with its cynical treatise; the album closer, ‘Come Down’, suggests the brightest moment casts the longest shadow.

Ritual might not have the instantly catchy anthems such as ‘Farewell to the Fairground’ and ‘Death’ To Lose My Life, but it does reward repeated listening. I’ll keep delving, waiting for the next little piece of emotional lightning to strike.

Reasons to write short stories

I’ve written two short stories this year. This is big news here at the coffee pot, because short stories aren’t really my thing. They’re tricky suckers, so tight and concise and punchy; no rambling, multi-plotted story with an epic cast of characters here. I envy those who can do them well, and who can do them consistently and frequently. It sucks that shorts, mostly, don’t pay that well. It sucks that the short story struggles for acceptance in the broader community.

But why the flurry over here (two does not a flurry make, granted, but I’m counting the wee outbreak from last year as well) where the long form is by far the norm? I think it’s possibly, partly, mostly, procrastination, but it’s good procrastination. Sure, I’m not working on a novel — pick one, the hard drive’s littered with carcasses and infants — but I am writing.

And that’s one of the beauties of shorts — they’re short. The procrastination will only last so long (I promise).

Here’s my justification, in answer to those whispered accusations of neglect from those aforementioned bits and pieces of novel:

1. Shorts are short. There’s more to this than meets the eye, and not just a pair of knobbly knees sticking out either!

a. Because short stories don’t have a lot of room, they help hone craft. They demand that extraneous matter be discarded. They require a singular devotion to the point of the exercise, without cluttering up the place with overblown description, secondary characters, waffling dialogue, and so forth.

b. Short, theoretically, means they don’t take as long as a novel to write. Some might gestate for ages, but in the actual writing, more often than not, a short should fall out of the oven a whole lot quicker than a novel. Bask in that warm glow of accomplishment. Just think: beginning, middle and The End in just a day, or two, or a week, maybe a month… However long it takes to get it shiny, do then take the next step: send it out to a market. And, if the factors align, score an acceptance. The warm glow is now a roaring fire complete with wine and chocolate.

My short stories are infrequent visitors, so I like to send them to a home made of bricks and mortar. Or dead trees, if you want to be strictly accurate. It might not enjoy the accessibility (and, arguably, the exposure) of a half-decent online mag, but it does look good on my shelf. Ego stroking is important in the depths of discouragement and narrative black holes, when the decision to sit at a keyboard making up stuff seems a stoopid career choice compared to, oh, watching telly, going to the pub and otherwise doing “real” stuff.

c. Because they’re short, you can play. Try different voices, different tenses, different structures. And when they don’t work, you don’t have to spend six months changing it all back to third person, past tense. Shorts are a great sandbox; raking it over and starting again doesn’t hurt quite so much.

d. Sometimes, short is just the right length. How long is a great story? It’s as long as it needs to be. Sometimes, that means short. If you can get your point across in 1000, 3000, 8000 words, then go for it. Don’t waffle. Don’t wander. If it needs 160,000, well, that’s fine, too. You can pretty much always tell when a TV show has been extended halfway through the first season; likewise, a written story can suffer from over-reaching.

e. We now interrupt this program with a news flash … There are times when you hear about an anthology and the theme or the title just zaps you: pow! Instant idea! Run with it. The novel, or whatever other project you’re suddenly neglecting, can wait — it’s only a short break, ain’t it. You don’t wait for those lightning bolts to strike twice. And even if you do miss out on getting into that title, well, maybe you can send the story somewhere else. Anything that gets you enthusiastic about writing must be good.

2. Shorts are fashionable. There are lots of markets for shorts, both in print and online (look at and duotrope as starting points for spec fic markets). It means you probably won’t have to wait too long to hear if the baby has found a home. You’d think the commuter set would be lovin’ the shorts, especially when delivered on a wee screen. They should. Everyone should. Because of point 4 (below). But first, there’s another fashion statement to consider:

3. Shorts look cool. Not as cool as a fez, perhaps, but cool, nonetheless, when they’re racked up on a CV. You don’t need them to get a contract for your novel — hey, everyone has a story to tell about how they cracked that first book deal, and not all of them involve a razzle dazzle set of short credits — but it can’t help, can it? To show that you’ve been writing, learning, engaging with the market and the writing community.

4. Shorts can punch above their weight. Oh, how a good short story can leave you gasping. I must’ve been only knee high to a grass hopper when I first read Arthur C Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God” and I still hark back to that final line as one of the best ever. A short is an idea, so very sharp, and when it hits the spot — intellectually or emotionally — it really digs in. I’ve heard it said that a short story makes a great movie while a good book makes a great TV series. Sounds about right.

5. Shorts can value-add. So you’ve got a novel in the works, but that character is a bit of a mystery. Whack him or her or it into a short and see how they fare. It might not go any further, or you might end up with not only some revelation for your long work, but a neat little tie-in. Back story might not fit in a novel, but it might make a handy piece of cross-promotion — if it stands alone as a great little yarn. Fans of the novel will love the extra info, and other readers might gain a yen for finding out more about the world and its characters.

6. Take a short break. Hit the wall in the novel? Even better, finished the first draft? Take a break, go on a literary holiday and write a short. Or two. Explore a new world, a new voice, a new style. Revel in writing something fresh that isn’t the novel. It’s a working holiday and, at the end, you may even have a souvenir acceptance to show for it. Refreshed and ego-stroked, it’s back to the big game. And who knows? That short might, down the track, grow into a novel of its own, now that you’ve planted the seed.

I’m sure there are other reasons to write shorts, other than the sheer love of the form — feel free to share. But I think I’ve procrastinated enough. Writing about writing shorts is probably taking it a step too far. I should probably go write something. But something short or something long? Hmm. I’ll have a coffee and think about it…

100 Stories for Queensland

The list of authors appearing in 100 Stories for Queensland has been announced and it’s a great looking list drawing writers from all over the place. The anthology is to raise money for Queensland flood victims.

The book is due out on March 8.

I’m particularly interested in seeing what Alan Baxter has contributed, given the antho was looking for uplifting yarns *grin*

Glenda Larke on writing strong female characters

stormlord rising by glenda larke

Caught this link on Facebook today, and instead of it being some cad spam bot thing, it’s fantastic reading for scribes about the nature of the female heroine. See, through the dross, the good stuff does rise to the surface — both on the interwebs and on the bookshelves.

If you haven’t read Glenda Larke, please do. Wonderful stuff. I’d suggest in particular The Aware, one of the most wonderful fantasy dystopias around, and The Last Stormlord, an epic with such solid world building and complex characters. (I’m a little bit peeved that my copy of Stormlord Rising, the sequel to Last Stormlord, doesn’t have the cracking cover of the UK version (pictured). D’oh!)

Yasi’s tail hits Melbourne

More than four inches of rain overnight (much more in places), hail, blackouts … Yasi’s long tail lashes Victoria causing major disruption and damaging property across Melbourne. Spare a thought for those poor buggers in the regions who’ve already been flooded this year, now copping another soaking and wondering if the river’s coming up to meet them yet again.

Up north, the clean up is beginning while the search for a missing couple continues. These before-and-after images give some idea of the destruction.

Media Diary goes into PR mode

Following up yesterday’s woefully presented remark about the effect of cyclone Yasi on Queensland, the editor of The Australian’s Media Diary has updated the offensive post headlined, dismissively and offensively methinks, Much Ado.

What a shame that the full context for posting the two pars of reportage wasn’t posted in the first place — it might have helped reduce the outrage to a mere WTF?

If this was the best summary quote that the editor could find to give a picture of what was happening — bearing in mind the effects of the cyclone were still being felt at the landing point at that time (in fact, storm and flooding flow-on will continue for days) — I can’t help but think something was amiss. To pass the caller’s comment on without the context now supplied (a “good news” story from somewhere in north Queensland), and with what comes across as a patronising tone (“palm trees have of course lost fronds”): why? I guess those having their roofs torn off were otherwise engaged at the time and couldn’t make it to the phone to call Sydney talkback.

I’m still not sure why this item even made it onto a blog dedicated to the comings, goings, pratfalls and indiscretions of the media.

So what we’ve got is:

Headline: FAIL

Content: FAIL

Presentation: FAIL

Timing: FAIL

The update isn’t much better. A bunch of tweets showing that, really, the editor really did give a damn (just not on the blog), the unconvincing defence of the decision to post those two pars, and then a return salvo at the irate but telling blog at Grog’s Gamut taking the original post to task.

Nice try, Much Ado, but something is rotten.

Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres – is there an award for book trailers?

And now for the good news (goddamn it, we lost another Digger in Afghanistan today, as if a frigging cyclone wasn’t enough sadness for one day/week/lifetime):

How yummy is this? I mean, I’m a sucker for pretty much anything with music (well… certain music!) and BATS! Yeah! Go Marianne!

It’s funny, seeing this today, because I only just caught up with Marianne’s chat with Tara Moss about her crime series, and I was thinking, though I don’t read a lot of crime, this Tara Sharp sounded like a pretty cool investigator.

Good things happening for good people. Good stuff.

So that would be a FAIL for Media Diary then

Had dinner, another coffee, taken some deep breaths… and after re-reading and re-reading these bizarre two paragraphs posted at 9.17am today at The Australian’s Media Diary, I’m still going WTF?

A resident of north Queensland has just called into Sydney radio to say the roof of their cubby house was blown off during Cyclone Yasi.

Also, reports of garage doors being battered. Some poles are down. Palm trees have of course lost fronds.

I’m trying to understand why this piece of copy made it to the internet.

With a headline of “Much ado”, the tone of the piece is pretty much set. Cyclone Yasi: nothing to see here, folks. Much ado about nothing. Probably not the sentiments of those who have lost their homes and their farms, whose businesses are closed if not destroyed. The storm is still making merry with the inland, roads are blocked and washed away, power and communications are cut … we don’t even know, 12 hours after this post hit the Australian’s blog, just how much damage has been done. The Premier of Queensland says thousands will be homeless.

So is it a bad joke? Whose? Why repeat it as the sun is coming up on an unknown amount of devastation — there’s been a hell of a lot more than a few palm fronds blown away up north.

Is it repeating a serious caller — again, from whom, and why select this one for a moment of fame on a blog dedicated to “this week’s take on the Australian media”? (Why is it even on this blog?) “North Queensland” is a very big place — was the caller in Cooktown, perhaps, outside the immediate rage of cyclone Yasi? Or was it a resident cracking hardy while all around them turned to sludge? That’s one hell of a dry wit (always possible; northerners are a breed apart and hard to shake: see the duckhand video for making light of danger or, as the blog would have it, officialdom and hyperbole (a new euphemism for cyclonic winds, presumably)). Actually, that comment under the video does tend to suggest a tone that just maybe this cyclone isn’t as dangerous as we’re being led to believe – the absence of corpses might allow those who think that way a chance to say, see! But maybe it’s the ‘hyperbole’ that’s partly to thank for the absence of body bags.

But back to the Much ado piece that so incensed me: Why publish these two paragraphs that, on face value, do nothing other than trivialise the anguish of hundreds of thousands of people? Is the second paragraph also courtesy of the caller, or is that editorialising/reportage?

Without context, these come across as someone’s idea of a joke: I’ve got no idea who would be laughing.

It certainly detracts from the piece underneath, which seems to hose down a Crikey report, and its apparent endorsement by the blog, alleging a failure to give a damn about the people on Palm Island.

The Much Ado post reflects badly on the writer, it reflects badly on the masthead, and it further exacerbates the stereotypic perception of journalists as little more than vultures and sharks.

I’ve emailed the blog’s editor to ask about the context for posting this item, but I think my concerns above are valid.

ON a technical side, I also wonder if it’s not just a little disingenuous to have an open comments box on a column that, if previous articles on the blog can be judged by, never publishes them. What’s it there for: the Christmas party brag sheet?