Why this cat is not happy

unhappy cat

Ian Irvine has been running a series of guest posts by writers, and this time it was my turn: I fail to come to terms with art vs society and apologise, kind of, for being a deadline snob. But I’m happy to report that, since that post was written, Smudge is a happier cat now that regular lap time has been resumed.

No hope for Thoraiya and other writerly stuff

anywhere but earth

Thoraiya Dyer has reviewed Keith Stevenson’s monolithic (it’s more than 700 pages!) SF antho Anywhere But Earth and I *love* her comment about my story in it:

Jason Nahrung, as usual, wrote beautifully, but handed me horror in sci-fi clothing. One day, he’ll gift me with a glimmer of hope!

A glimmer? I *think* I could do that. In fact, I did try once, and the jury’s still out on that story, but I *guess* I could try again…

Read Thoraiya’s thoughtful and generous review here.

  • Meanwhile, Karen Brooks has penned one of her, as usual, insightful media-probing articles about a new Snow White movie starring Charlize Theron and ‘that girl from Twilight‘, Kristen Stewart, a casting decision which apparently has issues of the shallow flesh front and centre. Stewart impressed in The Runaways; this might be worth a look. Has there been a decent adaptation since Sigourney Weaver played the wicked stepmother? I like what Karen says about looking for moral reinforcement in uncertain times, and just hope that means the movie makers are subverting the old tropes of cultural reinforcement rather than wielding them from a pulpit.
  • Louise Cusack has blogged on the authenticity of blogging and the crafting of online personae, this weird business of marketing the creator and not just the product. A kind of cult of personality, or a genuine reaching out to those who make a creative life financially viable (if you’re one of the lucky ones)? For those writers who fit the shy, retiring mould, the idea of appearing in public to try to talk up their work is anathema, but the pressure’s on. I guess the key is to try to be nice about it, wield some respect for others and yourself, while at the same time not taking it too seriously because there’s nothing worse than seeing a big head explode in front of an audience…
  • Jay Kristoff, who recently exhorted us all to walk and keep on walkin’ till we reach the destination, has got me thinking that, hm, yes, I really must investigate this Dropbox thing, or something similar. Read these words and tremble in shared terror:

    …the entire sequel had flipped out and been eaten by gremlins. Every draft. All my notes. My diary of a madman scribbles about where the trilogy was headed. Everything.

  • Michael Pryor, who has a new book out soon, has provided some cool tips for DIY booktrailers. Possibly the hardest part is getting someone to watch it, neh?
  • And Stephen M Irwin talks about the three acts of a narrative, the kind of basic info that I really should staple to the wall above my computer before I start the next project…
    Act 1: make it matter
    Act 2: make it messy
    Act 3: make it meaningful
    I can’t help feeling that it’s Act 3 that lets a lot of stories down. Boom, crash is all very well and lots of fun, but the stories that linger are the ones that reach down deep and make us ask those ‘what if’ questions.

    Back to the fairytales, then, and one of the coolest Disney villains: magnificent Maleficent!

  • Dragons, love and lights that shine after the final sunset: vale Anne McCaffrey

    Awoke to the news that Anne McCaffrey has died, aged 85, and I imagine all around the world readers are looking up and waiting to see if any dragonriders take flight to stave off the threads of dark the news has struck. Of her books I’ve read, from her famous Pern universe, one passage still rings clear, in which and a boy and a girl meet and fall instantly in love, and the narrator tells us there are two kinds of love, the one that creeps with time and subtlety and comfort, and this second one, the lightning bolt. Oh, yes.

    No doubt McCaffrey’s words linger still in the minds and hearts of her fans, and will continue to do so as long as those words are available, for generations to come. We will always have dragonriders to stave off the dark.

    Fly safe.

    Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl — what a bright spark

    meow meow cabaret performerHumour, pathos, an awesome voice, a superb use of light and shade in all forms … oh Meow Meow, it was all over way too soon, the light burning twice as bright burning half as — no wait.

    We saw Meow Meow’s Little Match Girl at the Malthouse Theatre, that gorgeous old refurbed brewery in Melbourne’s Southbank, and it was a hot ticket. Not ‘too hot’, like the opening number sung in German and then English with true cabaret panache, but just the right kind of heiss: flirty, yes, and creative, and clever.

    I don’t want to say too much, because the show took turns I didn’t expect, in staging and lighting, and in musical direction. But there was at its core a social conscience anchored around the plight of children — hence the nod to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale — and in the wings superb support from a talented singer, Mitchell Butel, and a sharp four-piece band who added atmospherics with violin that were truly sensational.

    Meow Meow is so engaging, risque and personable and witty, making established one-liners and tired double entendres work anew. She swears for emphasis, not conversation. She does silence very well, and darkness, too. She pulls folks out of the audience and doesn’t take the piss, though she does tumble into some Teutonic instruction from time to time.

    The show went for 80 minutes and there were torches and light bulbs and a chandelier. It could not be confused with Phantom of the Opera although the singing was very good. There was a clever — damn, that word again — to a Melbourne moment that might not work in other cities, unless they’re equally as clueless when it comes to public transport.

    The Malthouse show runs till December 4 (I can recommend the pork belly if you’re dining beforehand, and isn’t it nice to be at a theatre where you can take your drink in?), and Meow Meow returns early next year for gigs in Melbourne’s Spiegeltent, and others’, too. Nom nom nom.

    Wendy Rule at the Caravan Music Club

    wendy rule

    Melbourne’s Wendy Rule played ‘south of the river’ on Saturday night when she took to the stage at the cosy Caravan Music Club, at Oakleigh’s RSL Club. With a cemetery for a backyard, it was a suitable venue for the pagan singer-songwriter, given a cabaret air with the red-and-white checked table cloths and candles.

    Saturday’s gig drew a small but appreciative crowd on a wet night on a soaked day — my sister had retreated, saturated and mud splattered, before the main act at a vineyard concert earlier in the day — and it was a shame there weren’t more on hand to hear a wonderful performance.

    With the air scented with white sage and red wine on stage, the gig was engagingly laid back. Rule was effervescent as always but with an extra sparkle in the wake of her recent wedding, and husband Timothy on stage with guitar alongside regular companions William Llewellyn Griffiths on percussion and Rachel Samuel on cello. I love the cello in particular, such a great accompaniment to Rule’s hybrid brand of folk/rock/world/jazz, the notes penetrating all the way to the spine.

    There were several highlights over the two sets, timing in at around an hour and a half and leaning on latest album Guided by Venus: an a capella Celtic ballad in ‘John Riley’, stirring ‘Wolf Sky’ and ‘Artemis’, a fetching rendition of ‘Horses’, two promising fairytale-inspired tunes being worked up for side project Don’t Be Scared, and Rule and guitar providing the encore, ‘La Vie En Rose’ (I think).

    The sound was superb and the lighting rig sufficient to embellish the dark, romantic mood evoked by Rule’s music.

    The night was well worth venturing out into the rain for, well priced and well presented. Blessed be, indeed.

    Spot the Christmas gift idea…

    macbeth tea towel

    Cute Macbeth tea towel, for the writer, reader or theatre lover who has everything? From Readers’ Niche. They have the same pattern on erasers, too — *chortle*.

    And while I’m throwing shopping suggestions around for the festive crowd, one of my happiest hunting grounds for pressies for my Significant Other is Poppet Planet. We fell in love with Lisa Snellings’ work at World Fantasy in San Jose a couple of years back: writer poppets, Halloween poppets, Dr Who poppets, cute and melancholy and downright adorable poppets… oooh. Awesome service, too.

    lisa snellings poppet

    Amanda Palmer in San Diego, and three cheers for the Jane Austen Argument

    amanda palmer san diego concert poster

    So back in October, which was only last month but feels like years ago, we ducked out of the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego to hit the gorgeous Birch Park North Theatre (it’s a lot lovelier and older and genteel than it sounds) to take in a show by the always entertaining Amanda Palmer.

    As good as she was, largely arranging her set list by audience request and running a tighter show than usual, the night was made truly superb by the most excellent support bands: San Diego’s London Below and Melbourne’s Jane Austen Argument.

    London Below, aka Tragic Tantrum, were a gothed up bunch made awesome by the operatic range and presence of their lead singer, Zoe Tantrum. They plumb the waters of ‘dark cabaret’, in the queue with the Dresden Dolls and Emilie Autumn and such, but distinctive enough to hold their own ground.

    But the big buzz of the night was the Aussie duo, Jane Austen Argument, who have supported Palmer in Australia and popped down for the San Diego from Seattle, where they were recording their debut studio album, Somewhere Under the Rainbow, due out early next year.

    Their first tune was met with silence. Then, from the front, a guy said, ‘wow’, and the room erupted, and kept erupting. To judge by the response, both to their set and then to a trio of songs during Palmer’s set, and then the throng still gathered around them as we left after the final curtain, the duo scored a theatre of fans.

    They’re a fetching, modest act, with Jen Kingwell on keys and vocals and Tom Dickins holding centre stage with his amazing voice. Material played on the night suggests Somewhere Under the Rainbow is going to be a blinder.

    That was then, this is later: the Dresden Dolls are touring in January, and on another musical matter of much excitement here, Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde fame is playing the Spiegeltent in Melbourne in March. I’m hoping for plenty of material from her awesome solo album, Scarred. The Blonde have recently posted new singles at CD Baby… wonderful stuff.

    Tragic Tantrum, ‘Only With You’

    Emilie Autumn at the Espy: so Victoriana!

    emilie autumn

    The Gershwin Room at St Kilda’s Espy (aka the Esplanade hotel) was the perfect setting for last night’s ‘Asylum’ gig by Emilie Autumn, a sideshow to her tour with the Harvest Festival. The American performer loves her Victoriana, melding lace and feathers with lashing of goth and steampunk, and the Espy’s peeling paint, pressed metal ceilings and ageing blemished mirrors suited the show to a tee. Or perhaps to a ‘tea’ might be more appropriate …

    Emilie is a powerhouse, at home on the keyboard and the violin, with a decent range in her vocals and oodles of expression, and a deftness when it comes to interacting with her adoring audience, most done up to the nines.

    She also has her support crew — Captain Maggot, voluptuous Veronica and dotty Contessa — to keep things lively on stage, including tea parties, lesbian pantomime and a girl-on-girl kissing sideshow called the Rat Game. Contessa and Maggot are adept at fire twirling, and Veronica plays a mean keyboard, too. Maggot is a particularly cool character, piratical in nature and small of stature, but possessed of wicked expressions and a top sense of balance, appearing as she does at one stage on stilts.

    But there’s no doubt this is EA’s show, and she’s a fascinating ring mistress for this vaudevillean presentation set inside an asylum for wayward girls. Last night’s gig felt much tighter than when I last saw her in late 2009 doing much the same. Last night’s set also featured the title song of her forthcoming album, ‘Fight Like A Girl’, which suggests a similar musical direction to the winning Opheliac.

    There were a few minor sound glitches, particularly early on, but songs including ‘Liar’, ‘Opheliac’, ‘I Want My Innocence Back’ and ‘Dead is the New Alive’, performed to thumping backing tracks, evoked effusive responses from the phone-wielding crowd. The only place the show seemed to slip away was towards the end, with a series of might-have-been final tunes proving false.

    The encore was a cheeky singalong to a recording of Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, with EA promising a speedy return to Oz. Keep your dance card open for that one!

    The Melbourne Museum: now with added Tut

    tutankhamun exhibition

    So we succumbed, and despite having seen it in San Francisco already, we hit the Tutankhamun exhibit at the Melbourne Museum. And I’m glad we did, because my sieve-like memory had forgotten much of the awesome and remembered only the vague disappointment about there not being that much Tut there (in particular, sarcophagai or the famous death mask), and the information being fairly thin when it came to the details of this slice of Ancient Egyptian history.

    The bas relief of Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the Aten is damn cool, as is the bust of the infamous monotheist, but it’s the quirky bits I’d somehow let slip that excited me once again: a wee ‘animated’ ankh holding Tut’s staff while he’s out hunting ostrich, and the amazingly different animal art (Bes, apparently, but rendered in ways I just haven’t seen before) on the chair of Sitamun, so fresh you could sit in it today (sadly, I can’t find a decent pic of the animorphs in question). There’s also a delicious statue of Sekhmet, though her eyes have had a rough time of it.

    As usual, the colour and the detail of Egyptian art leaves me astounded. To think of the people who lavished so much effort on these works, to have them in such good order thousands of years later…

    The Tut ticket gave us entry into the other areas of the museum, which we explored after a tasty lunch at the Middle Eastern-themed Tcheft Restaurant. The museum, and we didn’t have time to see all of it, is astoundingly good. The dinosaur and animal area is chock full of fun and informative interactive displays and is attractively presented, although the stuffed animals filling floor-to-ceiling ledges in one room did make me feel a little like an extra on a weird adaptation of The Birds. My only hope is that young’uns will see the poor glass-eyed critters and resolve to not let them go the way of the thylacine, of which there is a preserved specimen.

    A walk-through forest section includes live animals — turtles, lizards, bower birds, tawny frogmouths and finches — and elsewhere there are more live fish and spiders and lots of stick insects.

    And yes, race horse Phar Lap is on show, and it’s an awesome taxidermy job.

    Also of note is the display outside the Tut exhibit of a replica of his mummy and the efforts made to finally solve the puzzle of his death at age 19 — nope — and, nearby, on a totally unrelated topic, CSIRAC, Australia’s first computer: about as big as your lounge room.

    Tips: Tut is open only till December 4. The early bird parking is a good deal: $14 if you’re in before 9.30am and out after 2.30pm. Filling the time at the museum is not a problem, and the Garden View Cafe has great coffee if you want to while away the half hour till the museum opens at 10am. Or the Carlton Gardens are right there for a slow wander — I still am surprised to see massive Moreton Bay figs this far south. Don’t ask me why.

    Remembrance Day at Fort Nepean

    Despair is too strong a word. It’s not as if I’ve been confined to a sailing shop in the ravaging grip of typhus, or stationed in a hovel with kerosene water to drink and nothing to fight but mosquitoes and each other. Still, after a day of too much sun and not enough coffee, the sight of my car vanishing behind us as the last transport of the day trundles out of the Point Nepean National Park is morale destroying. The thought of trudging 2km from the next stop to collect the vehicle is not high on my list of favourite things to do. Fortunately, a gentleman in our transporter cab overhears my plight and offers a lift from the information centre to collect my wheels: only a thermos could’ve been greeted with more effusiveness. For future reference: when the tractor stops at the road gate at Gunners Cottage, dismount and look lively about it.

    Friday was Remembrance Day, and by fortunate happenstance I was at the Point Nepean National Park where war and sacrifice are enshrined in concrete. Despite our end-of-day setback with the transporter stop, the park is well worth the visit. No more than 90 minutes drive from Melbourne, there are several areas of historical interest inside the park, which occupies the toe of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. A self-guided tour is available and the mp3 audio tour is highly recommended — the historical broadcasts and first-person recollections more than outweigh the very occasional naffness.

    quarantine station, point nepean

    Quarantine station

    Quarantine Station

    About 50 buildings are set out around the former quarantine station, also used as a military training camp and, most recently, home to Kosovar refugees. Many of the buildings are closed to the public, but a couple have been turned into interpretative displays. The most striking is the fumigation building, where belongings were treated on arrival in massive steam boilers. Many of the buildings have been re-purposed over the years, but this one retains its original fittings, right down to the tram tracks that ferried the goods in. The quarantine area brings to life tales of disease and yellow flag ships, burials and resumptions, leprosy and typhus.

    point nepean cemetery

    Point Nepean Cemetery

    Gunners Cottage

    The cottage itself is devoted to ecology and junior ranger programs, but a short walk through the striking Moonah woodlands is the old livestock jetty and a view of Port Phillip Bay, and farther west, the cemetery, where some 300 lay interred, most without headstones. Those monuments that remain include several from the tragic diseased ship Ticonderoga. Gunners Cottage is the farthermost point to which you can drive; after this, you’re on Shanks pony to the other points of interest (or, you can hire a bicycle or buy a ticket for the people-moving tractor-pulled transporter). The Coles Track cuts through the scrub to Cheviot Hill.

    cheviot hill fortifications

    Cheviot Hill

    Cheviot Hill

    The hill is the highest point in the park and retains several gunnery posts looking out to sea. Two searchlight shelters are located closer to the beach. The beach was the site of the wreck of the Cheviot, and also the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt. One look at the rocks and waves and it’s no surprise that someone could drown there.

    echidna at fort pearce

    Echidna on patrol

    Fort Pearce

    Serious entrenchments here for naval guns, and a barracks on the landward side reduced to foundations. A highlight was an echidna nosing around the walls, apparently feasting on the black ants.

    cannons at fort nepean

    Fort Nepean cannons

    Fort Nepean

    The centrepiece of the area’s fortifications, from which Australia’s first shots of both World War I and II were fired, to stop vessels from leaving after the declaration of war. This is an amazing set of buildings, wonderfully lit and illustrated with placards and recorded information including sound effects. The first we heard on our visit was a person whistling from somewhere in the depths …

    The buildings reach down several floors inside the earth. It’s hard to imagine the tension in there as men worked to lift munitions from the depths to the cannons above. There remains the workings of a ‘disappearing gun’ and two of the long range six-inchers. The engineering shed still smells of diesel.

    Alongside the road at one point is a rifle range, but it’s just one of several. Signs still warn of unexploded bombs in the scrub due to the army days. The other ranges, and also the Monash Light, a shipping beacon named after the Australian general, can be accessed via a walking track.

    The buildings are stark, sombre reminders of not only Australia’s military history, but its foreign affairs and social evolution, with fortifications marking the fears of the populace and attitudes to the world wars. Information about the basic living conditions for servicemen and women also gives pause for thought.

    Drinking fountains are placed only at Gunners Cottage and the quarantine station, and there are no food outlets inside the park. Toilets are available at Fort Nepean, Gunners Cottage and the quarantine station. Tractor tickets can be bought only at the information centre – one-way or returns. We spent from 10.30am till 4.30pm at the park and didn’t quite see everything; those entering by foot or bicycle can stay after the road gates are closed. The transporter makes its last run from Fort Nepean at 4.30pm.

    More pictures

    Observatory Point, Point Nepean national park

    Observatory Point