Christmas viewing: Ides of March, Black Mirror, American Horror Story

I’m starting to quite like George Clooney. I like his attitude. He isn’t afraid to play the non-hero, either. He does subtle and quiet well. We saw one of his latest movies, Ides of March yesterday: it stands out from the pack of twee Christmas fare; our choices were quite limited. The movie tracks the campaign of one of those things they do in America, where candidates to run for president must face off against each other to represent their party … Clooney is the green of the piece, espousing policy that will never be accepted in the American dream however much we might wish, things such as alternative energy and a fair health system for all. And he’s doing well, if only he can win this one state over, it’s all the way to the White House. The focus is on the campaign managers, how they fight for the public’s vote. It’s image and it’s spin and it’s dirty tricks. Ryan Gosling is trying to fight clean. Unspectacular and unsurprising though the movie may be, watching Gosling’s tyro fall is a bittersweet delight. Well played, all.

To the small screen, and there are two shows we’ve gulped down recently: American Horror Story and Black Mirror.

American Horror Story puts such a delightful spin on the trope of the haunted house, it is must-see. It doesn’t throw the viewer any bones, either; flashbacks can occasionally be jolting and confusing, but it all comes out in the wash. The ghosts are amazingly well drawn, to the point where it took quite a while to work out just who was haunting who. And Jessica Lange’s performance is to die for. Heh.

Black Mirror, alas, a mere three episodes of which have been made, is British. Three standalone episodes survey issues of society and technology. The first, a terrorist demands the UK prime minister fuck a pig on national TV, or the kidnapped princess gets it — media and internet communications are in the spotlight. The second, a future world, and celebrity can be the way out of drudgery, but there’s a price… And in the third, what if we all did have implants that allowed us to never miss a thing — memory on instant playback?

Black Mirror comes from Charlie Brooker, the writer who gave us Dead Set, simply one of the best zombie dramas of recent years, and Black Mirror is likewise sharp and unstinting. Brilliant dialogue, perfectly timed, superb world building without and not needing explanatory notes, effects that enhance without jarring or looking trite.

And one of the things that makes all three shows stand out is the quality of the acting. From the minor to the majors, the casting on all three is superb. Black Mirror in particular makes impressive use of non-verbal cues — the silence can be so telling. Black Mirror has to be one of the best shows of 2011. Let’s hope there’s more to come…

Speaking of more, the trailer for David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has me all excited (the eight-minute version moreso; the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross soundtrack is a delight). Not so much, the last of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but I’ll go anyway. And Ridley, oh Ridley, you had me all in a fluster about Alien “prequel” Prometheus, and then I was told it’s being shot in 3D, and now you’ve got me all afeared. Thank goodness there’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on the way: we saw a trailer while waiting for Ides of March, and the cast, the mood … it all looks just bloody brilliant.

Brimstone stokes the embers, and other writerly news

Brimstone Press is showing a pleasing glow of resurgent life after a meltdown earlier this year which saw press releases announcing much pulping of stock. The website carries three available titles, announces an Australian distributor and promises further titles to come.

Another Aussie publisher specialising in the dark side is Dark Prints Press, who has announced a new anthology of supernatural crime stories and has also opened its doors to novellas.

Which is a timely reminder that Twelfth Planet Press is looking for novels — send submissions throughout January.

WA writer Martin Livings has flagged the cover of his forthcoming anthology Living with the Dead and it’s a beauty — just what you want for a 20-year retrospective.

And you can get some insight into the issues surrounding the e-publishing revolution with a collection of essays commissioned by if:book Australia — High Tech Hand Made is free!

And non-writerly but wonderful is the new single from Brissie band Felinedown, playing a New Year’s Eve gig with Tycho Brahe — damn shame to be missing that gig.

Writerly round-up: D Publishing still doesn’t quite get it, and the quest for quality and equality

[Update, 18 December: Steve Rossiter reports (in the comments section here) a third version of the D Pub contract is promised [Dec 24: Rossiter still finds holes in the new Dymocks’ contract, calling it a wasted opportunity]. Meanwhile, Writers Beware has posted this succinct summary of some of the concerns sparked by the original contract, which presumably will be addressed in the amended agreement for those wanting to use Dymocks’ distribution.]

[Dec 24: Crikey has interviewed Rossiter, and also provided a handy synopsis of the D Pub issue including links to the various criticisms levelled at the original contract.]

Dymocks’ D Publishing has been doing the PR rounds trying to hose down the criticism of their contracts — the ones you have to dig through their help menu to find — for those who want to use the service to not only print their work, but have it distributed. Those two arms of service do seem to have blurred in commentary, perhaps because D Publishing isn’t staking out that division strongly enough. It’s something they’re trying to address with PR, rather than website design or clarity. Still, early days…

Steve Rossiter, who issued a warning about the terms and conditions when first announced, and wasn’t wholly convinced by the second pass, has since had a chat with D Pub and seems somewhat mollified.

And over at Bookseller + Publisher, Dymocks has played serve and volley with contracts expert Alex Adsett, and has done a fairly good job of avoiding the actual issues she raises about Dymocks’ rights policy while playing the line that Dymocks is there to serve the author. In which case, they’d put their terms and conditions up front and centre for those considering publishing with them (as opposed to merely printing), and remove the ambiguity that Adsett has identified. But, you know, as I said, early days…

As always, it’s a case of ‘let the buyer beware’: shop around for the service that offers the quality, product and cost-effectiveness that best suits your needs, and mind the small print. One thing you can’t argue about: being publisher, distributor and sales outlet is a great example of vertical integration.

  • Meanwhile, Zena Shapter has been searching for what makes a good anthology or collection. I’m judging the Aurealis Awards in that very category this year, my second year in a row (which means I really should be doing some reading right now!), so I was included in her survey of editors and judges to see what they looked for from within three criteria — quality writing was pretty much the unanimous pic. The message here: love that talented editor and don’t let them go!
  • Kevin Powe — I’m catching up a bit here — recently blogged about sexism in the tech industry (he was also catching up, on Ada Lovelace Day) and, in the wake of the announcement of the Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge, it’s worth a read. Also, neat to see him namecheck one of the editors who’s published my non-newspaper work.
  • JKL and sounds for summer: Jezabels, Kidneythieves and Ladytron

    The stereo is cranked up for summer, and here’s three bands firmly ensconced on the stacker (in alphabetical order!):

    The Jezabels

    One of the things I like about the Jezabels is that I can tell it’s them when I hear them. Their identity is in the drumming — man, Nick Kaloper works hard! — and the unmistakable vocals of Hayley Mary, the ebb and flow structure of their tunes that makes the most of her range. The Aussie band landed their debut album, Prisoner, this year, after wowing with three EPs and a considerable reputation for live performance. It’ll be interesting to see where they go with their next album, but for now, I’m enjoying the here and now, in particular the album’s strong openers ‘Prisoner’ and ‘Endless Summer’, those bars of sultry summer guitar that pop up all over this smooth road trip of an album with its sign posts harking back to the ’80s.


    The video for ‘Taxicab Messiah’ inspired a bit of a binge on this US duo’s music, and the albums sampled so far — 2004’s Trickstereprocess, Trypt0fanatic from 2010 and the most recent, this year’s EP The Invisible Plan (free track available for download) — are remarkably consistent.

    Probably the hot fave at the moment is Trickstereprocess, a revamped issue of the band’s 1998 album, Trickster, with a few bonus tracks. It opens with the aforementioned attention grabber and unfolds like the best of sonic rollercoasters, melding trip hop, rock and synths on a solid foundation of compelling bass grooves. At the fore is the rather fetching vocal style of Free Dominguez, hitting buttons ranging from Portishead’s Beth Gibbons to Collide’s kaRIN to Berlin’s Terri Nunn. (Speaking of Berlin: a new album is in the works — wunderbar!) The album exhibits plenty of light and shade: thumping drums on ‘Pretty’, for instance, standing out from the favoured fuzz guitar attack — there’s a rock ‘n’ roll heartbeat under the synths, for sure.

    Slinkier, but no less intense, is Trypt0fanatic, with an array of strong tunes: the grab bag of ‘Beg’, the full speed ‘Size of Always’, the sexiness of ‘Lick You Clean’ and catchy ‘Dead Girl Walking’ are highlights.

    The Invisible Plan ups the electro quotient yet further, heading into sultry terrain.

    Any of these Kidneythieves outings would provide an ideal soundtrack for building up a party sweat under Chrissy lights.


    UK-based Ladytron released their fifth studio album, Gravity the Seducer, this year, following up from a greatest hits collection. It’s so very smooth, gliding along with synthesisers and twin vocal melodies from lead voice box Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo (whose accented delivery adds flavour when she steps up front). The album doesn’t have such immediately fetching tunes as previous singles ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’ (Witching Hour) or ‘Runaway’ (Velocifero), but there are some beautiful arrangements: on ‘White Gold’ and ‘Altitude Blues’, for instance, and the comparatively up-tempo instrumental ‘Ritual’ (one of three on the album); ‘Ambulances’ has a cinematic quality, a tinge of dread absent elsewhere. A suitable album with its steady, almost carousel, rhythms for setting the mood to ‘chill out’.

    The novella, Salvage, surfaces at last!

    salvage by jason nahrung

    Twelfth Planet Press has announced the forthcoming publication of my novella, Salvage — big smiles all round. The novella was written primarily over three consecutive years, at my writers’ group retreat on Bribie Island, and then finished off in a fourth retreat on the shore of Lake Weyba at Noosa. The cover art is by Dion Hamill, who also provided covers for TPP’s Horn, amongst others (and not, as previously written here, TPP’s edition of Marianne de Pierres’ Glitter Rose). Now, the edits…

    Epilogue: so there is hope for Thoraiya after all!

    A little while ago, writer and reviewer Thoraiya Dyer said that one day I might provide her with a glimmer of hope in a short story, and I said, much chuffed with her review, that I was working on it and the jury was still out. Well, the jury has returned its verdict, and I’m pleased to say, it’s guilty. ‘Mornington Ride’ has found a home in the FableCroft anthology Epilogue, the theme of which is hope after the apocalypse (it’s original working title was, in fact, Apocalypse Hope). I think ‘a glimmer of hope’ sums up my yarn well. The icing on the cake is that Thoraiya has a story in the anthology as well!

    Here is the table of contents:

    ‘Time and Tide’, Lyn Battersby
    ‘Fireflies’, Steve Cameron
    ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Thoraiya Dyer
    ‘The Fletcher Test’, Dirk Flinthart
    ‘Ghosts’, Stephanie Gunn
    ‘Sleepers’, Kaia Landelius
    ‘Solitary’, Dave Luckett
    ‘Losses Beyond the Kill Point’, Kathleen Martin
    ‘Cold Comfort’, David McDonald
    ‘Mornington Ride’, Jason Nahrung
    ‘The Last Good Town’, Elizabeth Tan

    [Edit: due to my botching the WordPress publishing feature, this post originally appeared with a too-early date stamp.]

    Writerly roundup: tips from Dr Kim, Aussies breaking out, Xmas tips

  • Start the writing/working week with a set of tips from Kim Wilkins, and grapple with the problem of prioritisation with Louise Cusack
  • Bone up on stories by Aussies that would make fine Christmas stocking fillers (and see below for Trent’s Xmas book corner edition!)
  • Lee Battersby notches a two-book deal with Angry Robot, and fellow Robot author Kaaron Warren goes single with The Grinding House
  • The 2012 calendar of Australian literary events has passed the 40 listings mark — updates and new entries are welcome.
  • The good, the nervous and the ugly: aka a new story out, and Dymocks drops the ball

    after the world corpus christi issue 4The good news is that After the World: Corpus Christi Issue 4 is out now, and in that book I have a story in which I make a pass at the real reason for the disappearance of Harold Holt. I’m a little nervous about seeing the story in print, because I haven’t seen edits or a proof, so the final product will be a little like an early Christmas present still wrapped!

    We visited the Nepean and the beach where the PM took his last swim, and it’s easy enough to imagine a swimmer foundering there, without any help from my twisted imaginings. But twisted imaginings make for more fun, don’t they?

    Well, unless you’re Dymocks, trying to run a print-on-demand service under the pretense of being some kind of civic service, in which case, you’re likely to shoot yourself in the tail. Which is exactly what has happened with its “people’s publishing” arm, DPublishing. The site went live on Thursday, and I struggled to make sense out of its terms of service — once I found them, squirrelled away at the bottom of the page far, far away from the “make your book now” button — except to realise they were vague and ever so suggestively skewed towards the ‘publisher’: the publisher accepting no liability and no out-of-pocket expense — this is an author-pays-all kind of deal.

    Fortunately, another commentator with more nous had a proper look, and on Friday, published this review of the D Publishing contract — with a big warning. The D Publishing terms, by Friday night, were no longer available where I’d first found them as a web page, and AusLit has somehow found a pdf of a revised set — I still haven’t managed to find where on the website they’re posted, although the rates card is still live from a previous link.

    For the moment, then, you’d be well advised to make sure you have all the facts about just what rights you’re signing away to Dymocks before you hit that shiny “make me an instant author” button. Their model might work for you, or it might not, but be aware of just what it is you’re getting into. Meanwhile, you’ll find plenty of other channels to publish your book in both print and electronic forms, with far more clear terms and conditions. It might be worth doing some comparison shopping. Let’s face it: if Dymocks is serious about stocking quality, self-published books, then they’ll be looking farther afield than their own little paddock (with its 50% discount on top of its printing fees and 30% commission — Dymocks, as both printer and distributor, gets two bites of the cherry!).

    Design Desire: Abbe May hits all the right notes

    album design desire by abbe may

    Greatly enjoying Abbe May’s latest album, Design Desire. It’s one of those long-players that demands the attention of your ears and, while it offers some killer tracks, it provides a complete journey as an album.

    The Aussie singer, from Perth, kicks off with the title song, an urgent introduction to the nine tracks that follow. It’s hard to disregard, and once you’re hooked, there’s no wiggling away.

    She knows her songcraft, varying light and shade throughout the album and within the songs. ‘Taurus Chorus’ goes from electric guitar wail to sublime croon, for instance; on ‘Mammalian Locomotion‘, the guitars howl like the tyres of dragging cars. There’s lonely echo on ‘Universes’; steel guitar meets slow jazzy groove on ‘No Sleep Tonight’.

    The beat varies, too, but blues rock is never far away – ‘Cast That Devil Out’ is hard to go past, and ‘You Could Be Mine’ is a showcase tune. Throughout, there are shades of Sonic Youth, Siouxsie Sioux and the White Stripes, amongst others. ‘Carolina’ has the country guitar soundscape that suggests the song should be set much farther west.

    And then the end, ‘Blood River’, a drifting, piano-driven dirge that lasts just long enough, letting the listener go gently.

    The vocals mirror the superb guitar control, too, from soft to snarl, delivering musicality as well as lyrics, changing to suit the needs of the song, carrying the emotion.

    There’s an honest, almost live, feel to this album. One of the year’s best.

    Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

    australian women writers challenge 2012So, I’ve signed up for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, because it seems like a worthy way to help celebrate 2012 as the National Year of Reading.

    I’m going to be an official dabbler, reading across more than one genre, and I’m setting the bar at the Franklin level of challenge — 10 books. And here’s the likely suspects:

    1. The Shattered City, Tansy Rayner Roberts
    2. The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood
    3. Burn Bright, Marianne de Pierres
    4. The Road, Catherine Jinks
    5. Frantic, Katherine Howell
    6-9. I figure the Twelfth Planet Press Twelve Planets titles will fill these spots, but if not, I’ll slot Kimberley Freeman’s Duet in there (I can see her shaking her head at me now).
    10. Carpentaria, Alexis Wright.

    What a great kick in the pants to catch up on some reading I’ve been meaning to do for ages!

    If spec fic’s your thing, or you’d like to sample it, then Tansy Rayner Roberts has assembled a list of award-winning Aussie women’s titles to plunder, and the AWW site also has multi-genre suggestions, too.