Ditmar Award nominations open

The Aussie spec fic fan-voted Ditmar Awards are now open for nominations, using a handy online form, post or email — see the rules page for details about who and how. There’s also a massive list of eligible works that is admittedly not totally comprehensive but is a fine place to start for memory jogging! The awards will be presented at Continuum in Melbourne in June. Electronic nominations close on April 15.

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra at Northcote: a grand finale

amanda palmer and grand theft orchestra posterThe Northcote Social Club was packed on Monday night for the last of five gigs by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, and what a sweaty little box that venue is. But the sound was on the money and if elbows in the chest and a stage seen past bobbing heads counts as intimate, then this was it.

The purpose of the band’s string of low-brow gigs was to road test material for an album, which begins recording in Melbourne this week. Today, in fact. And it promises to be a most enjoyable record indeed.

Palmer has assembled three multi-instrumentalists (Jherek Bischoff – mostly bass, Michael McQuilken – mostly drums, Chad Raines – mostly guitars and synthesiser, and trumpet and vox too), who share a joyous rapport on stage. It’s great to see a collective of musos enjoying themselves, playing for the fun, interacting, teasing and laughing. A Palmer gig is often a rambunctious affair, and this was no exception. There was even birthday cake for the mostly drummer, and a ukulele present that was broken in immediately. Kudos!

The new material, mostly upbeat and groovy, shows an expansion of style leaning on an ’80s sensibility — and synthesiser — in addition to more typical staccato Palmer delivery. There was some gorgeous phrasing, excellent harmony work, exquisite changes of mood and tempo. There was a ‘My Sharona’ lift, traces of Siouxsie Sioux and Martha Davis and, if the crowd is to be believed, The Cars, though I wasn’t quite convinced on that score. Happy beats and sombre ballads. And a big blast of brass.

Monday night’s finale — sadly, the train timetable meant we had to eschew the encore — included an appearance by near-nekkid performance artists, an opening slot filled with so much aplomb by Die Roten Punkte (so versatile, this duo, playing punk, pop, silly ditties and Krautrock — catch them at the Spiegeltent!) and a superb vocal guest spot by Bauhaus’s David J (who DJs at Cabaret Nocturne on Friday).


Tales from the Bell Club opens it electronic doors

tales from the bell club anthology

Tales from the Bell Club, an anthology of ghastly and gloomy fiction set around the turn of the 20th century and edited by Paul Mannering, is now available as an Amazon download. A print version is to follow. I’ve mentioned the table of contents and the process behind my story ‘The Kiss’ previously. If you’re curious, the yarn is actually readable in its entirety as part of the Amazon book sample. Please enjoy.

UPDATE: Print edition is now available right here right now, and will be available from Amazon (US$14.99).

Observations from Adelaide Writers Week

adelaide writers week

The Adelaide Writers Week, parcelled within the Adelaide Festival (and how the city’s hotels must have been gleeful), last week was much fun, mainly because it provided a wonderful opportunity to catch up with good friends from four states.

The festival set-up promoted conviviality. It was centred on two marquees in a park in a relatively quiet area of the city: jet flypasts for the Clipsal street race added some aerial interest and background noise occasionally during the opening weekend, and presumably the Fringe festival’s open-air gigs up the hill were the source of occasional summer beats laying down a groove in the background, but generally speaking, sirens notwithstanding, quiet.

With only two streams of programming, skiving off to see people didn’t require a great sacrifice of panels, and a book store tent close at hand and plenty of shady trees outside the (somewhat expensive — kranski sausage in a slice of bread, $8) refreshments tent made chilling out with those people quite easy. Plus the city’s cafes were only a short walk up the hill, so finding affordable lunches and snacks and after-festival dinners was very easy indeed.

Social pictures by Cat Sparks

The weather was kind, overcast and relatively cool in the main, only on the last two days really beaming down some sunshine to give a hint of how languorous and sweaty it might’ve been. With the greenery and the marquees and the heat, it reminded me a lot of early Brisbane Writers Festivals down on the river at South Bank, before it went corporate.

The panels at Adelaide were diverse but weighted towards the literary. US noir writer Megan Abbott was a find. Boori Monty Pryor was engaging and fun with a very real message. Garry Disher was sharp. Jenny Erpenbeck gave an East Berliner’s view of life in reunited Germany, as told through the medium of a summer house from her childhood. A chance meeting with Favel Parrett at the airport revealed she was also a Sisters of Mercy fan. Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link were delightful, flying the fantasy flag. There was also a touch of SF with Ian Mond and Rob Shearman providing a commentary to Rob’s episode of Dr Who, one of the few paid events at AWW and quite fun; we missed Garth Nix’s appearance on the last day, but an earlier encounter revealed a forthcoming (Australia: next month!) YA space opera title, A Confusion of Princes, that sounds truly awesome.

adelaide writers week megan abbott interview

Megan Abbot (centre) discussion with Susanna Moore, with Auslan interpreter in background.

One of the things that struck me was the impact to be had of reading out a section of one’s work. This isn’t something that necessarily fits well in the format of genre conventions, where panels address topics with the authors treated as learned sources. But at Adelaide, where the focus was very much on the authors and their latest work, reading a small passage to illuminate a point did fit, and more than once hearing the authors’ words from the page cast their work in a totally different, and more alluring, light. Case in point was the personable Michael Crummey, whose Galore hadn’t been given much of a talking up, really, until he read the opening pars, in which a man is pulled from the belly of a whale on a Newfoundland beach. We now have a copy sitting on the to-be-read pile.

Listening to Lanagan and Crummey talk to each other, without a moderator, was a highlight of the festival: two interested and interesting authors, who had read each other’s work, who had established a rapport before the panel, exploring the themes and methods each employed.

The welcome party on the Sunday night also revealed the emphasis carried by social media, with festival director Laura Kroetsch commenting that the event had been ‘trending’ on Twitter, and the hashtag being part of the housekeeping before every panel.

The panels ensured time for audience questions, but the use of a single, central microphone hampered accessibility for those unwilling to scramble across their fellow audience members.

AWW was largely free, totally relaxed and extremely welcoming, with a little bit of most things to cater to all tastes. With the right couple of drawcards on the guest list and the promise of good friends on the ground, AWW will be an attractive addition to our annual event list.

Writerly news

Catching up after time away and largely off-line at Adelaide Writers Week, and there’s good news:

when we have wings by claire corbettBarbara Jefferis Award shortlist: Claire Corbett’s SF novel When We Have Wings (which I am STILL to read, damnit) is on the shortlist of the Barbara Jefferis Award. Sean the Bookonaut, who I met for the first time in Adelaide, recently interviewed Claire: listen here.

Mythic Resonance: editor Stephen Thompson — how long has it been since he compiled the Vision writers group’s Glimpses anthology? — has a new anthology, Mythic Resonance, which, as the name suggests, riffs off myths. Excerpts are available at the Specusphere.

Thirteen O’Clock: a new aggregator of dark fiction news has hit the interwebs. The blog also posted an excellent piece on the difference between horror and dark fantasy recently.

Narrelle Harris reveals Showtime: The Melbourne author of The Opposite of Life is the latest in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series, offering ghosts, vampires and zombies in a four-story collection that includes an appearance of some old friends.

Aurealis #48 in the ether: Aurealis #48, with stories by Rick Kennett and Greg Mellor, is available from Smashwords.

Ticonderoga living large in 2013: the WA press already has an exciting schedule for 2013, including several collections by both veteran and tyro writers and the continuing Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

And Chris Meade on Queensland’s writing future: the if:book pioneer reflects on his experience in Queensland and considers how my home state might leverage itself in the global literary landscape with ‘big sky writing‘. It’s also worth checking out if:book Australia’s 24 Hour Book Project for a hands-on view of how technology is changing the publishing industry.

Up a tree, with vampires

kathleen jennings illo of Jason Nahrung up a tree

A belated note to acknowledge that the wonderful Dr Brains have picked my grey matter for ruminations on things writerly and vampiric over at their Lair — if the wonderful Kathleen Jennings illo is anything to judge by, I’ve truly gone out on a limb! (Because the Brains, aka Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett both host — a kind of left and right brain thing, perhaps — I’m linking to them both!)

For those who haven’t seen the blog that this illo riffs off, Goths Up Trees is not only photographically interesting but comes with the kind of endearing snark one would expect — great fun.

Vale Paul Haines

On Monday, I was sitting in the dappled shade of a park enjoying a lovely late-morning chat at Adelaide Writers Festival with some of my fellows. And then the phones beeped and vibrated, and the word arrived that Paul Haines had died.

Around us, the bon homie continued, and I found myself asking how it could. Where was the silence? The announcement? The respect?

How could the audience — an audience of writers and readers and publishers — not be shaken by this news? Not be struck mute and sombre as were we?

There was no such silence on the internet, which has been carrying tributes on Facebook and Twitter and on blogs, showing just how much impact Paul had in his too-short career. His too-short life.

I knew Paul as a writer of wonderful and daring and confronting fiction. Fearless in fiction, fearless in life. His documentation of his long and brutal fight with cancer, the hopes and the setbacks and the sorrows for the wife and daughter and family to be left behind, have touched hearts and minds well outside the speculative fiction community who proudly claimed him as one of ours. His writing career was just taking off, suggesting the delivery of the wonderful promise that anyone who’s read his short fiction would recognise.

I’m glad I got to know him, however briefly. I’ve drawn strength from his honest, challenging prose and warmth from his company, and I will miss him and lament the stories he might’ve given us. I feel terrible for his family, to have lost such a personality, such a person.

One of my favourite moments: reading his story ‘Doof Doof Doof’ at work and bursting out laughing, chuckling all the way through. I’ll always thank him for that.

The Thirteen O’Clock blog has posted a wonderfully detailed overview of Paul’s work. There is some small comfort in having that legacy. But there are times when this life and death thing seems far too cruel for words.

There’s a memorial service on Saturday and I expect it will be crowded. We will try to remember the good stuff, the Doof Doof Doof, and try not to rail too much at this wolf that is cancer, that has ripped yet another chunk out of our light.

Out and about in Auckland

The combination of ridiculously cheap airfares to New Zealand and a gig by bucket list rockers Sisters of Mercy, then not having announced sideshows to their Soundwave appearance, resulted in a three-night stay in Auckland last month.

Waitomo caves

The weather was forecast to be rainy for the duration, so our first outing was to Waitomo to take in some of the caves there — at least we’d have a roof over our heads.

The caves were a picturesque 90 minutes’ drive or so to the south, the road narrowing from two lanes to one and twisting in part alongside a river. Cicadas interrupted the drive with bursts of chittering as we passed clumps of vegetation. There were, surprisingly, more dairy cattle than sheep. A brunch stop was more than pleasant and the coffee of uniformly good quality across our stay. Big tick, NZ!

waitomo glow worm cave stalactites

Waitomo stalactites

Waitomo Glowworm Cave was the first stop. The building is an impressive piece of timber architecture set in hilly farmland with walking tracks all around. One led through a swatch of rainforest, a very pleasant stretch of the legs before going underground.

The caves have been well set up with smooth floors and atmospheric lighting. The highlight is at the river level, where we bundled onto a tinnie and floated out, our guide using overhead ropes to control our direction, into darkness. As our eyes adjusted, more and more glow worms appeared overhead, their starry glimmer reflecting in the still water.

The next cave, a short drive away, was Aranui. The entrance was in a forested hillside, and it was a lot drier than the glowworm cave, but possibly featured more spectacular formations, with many melted-wax style formations and plentiful variations of stalactites and stalagmites, and a monstrous cathedral.

More cave pictures

Then it was back into Waitomo to catch a bus to Ruakuri cave. The entrance was an SF spectacle, a spiralling ramp some 40m deep with a stone formation under dripping water at its base. The ritual for entering and leaving was to at least wet one’s hands, purifying on entering, washing away any spirits on exiting. Part of the cave is sacred to the local Maori and off-limits — hence this spectacular piece of engineering.

Down in the dripping cave, the sound of rushing water never far away due to the underground river that carved out this complex, the lighting is set on timers to follow the visitors so as to minimise impact in this dark environment. Duckboards keep our feet out of the puddles and there are some spectacular formations and rock falls. At one point, it’s lights out, hands on shoulders single-file into the dark, to take in the beauty of glow worms close up. Seeing the incredible sticky tendrils the worms use to trap their prey was most impressive.

auckland from rangitoto island

Rainy Auckland skyline dominated by SkyCity needle behind island, seen from Rangitoto Island

Rangitoto Island

On our second full day in Auckland, under threat of clouds, we embarked on a catamaran for a 45-minute voyage to Rangitoto Island. The island is a dormant volcanic cone, an intriguing environment of tossed black stone and rainforest vegatation. At the dock, the narrow, rather rough beach is dotted with holiday cabins called bachs — some have been removed, their location marked with plaques.

We tromped up the uneven black soil and stone path that winds up the slope to the crater rim, completely forested over. There’s a duckboarded platform at the crest where a former military observation post and wireless room still stand watch over the waterways, Auckland’s skyline hazy on the horizon. Also of interest are some lava tubes, small and cramped, and a duckboard area in the mangroves.

More Rangitoto Island pictures

The strata of vegetation, from the sparse seaside flats to the forested slopes, make a fascinating ecology seemingly ruled by birdlife.

The island has been linked to another by a bridge, but we didn’t have time to check that out. One day is simply not enough to appreciate the Rangitoto landscape.

rangitoto island walking path

Rangitoto Island

Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Adventure

This Auckland landmark was a good place to kill a few hours between hotel checkout and airline check-in, but it’s showing its age. I got totally saturated in the rainy sprint from the car to the entrance, but the line-up — there’s a single ticket booth handling both prepaid and on-the-day tickets — took so long to run in that I had stopped dripping once we got inside.

There, observation windows in the entrance hall reveal two species of penguins; there’s a mock-up of Scott’s Antarctic hut with heaps of period artefacts and documentation about the explorer; and there’s an extensive children’s educational play area.

Penguins are otherwise viewed from a ‘snow mobile’ people mover that jolts around the enclosure at a fast walking pace while recorded information plays through the speakers. We’d aimed to be there for penguin feeding but been foiled by the long line-up, but we went on the snow mobile several times to get our fill, and were rewarded with three penguin chicks looking cute and fluffy at their parents’ feet.

Elsewhere, a limited cafeteria with even more limited space serves the worst coffee we had, but hey, when you’re drenched, you’ll take it.

There’s a pool in which some massive rays are fed — very cool — and a walk-through glass exhibit showing off numerous fish types. Another walk-through reveals several species of shark — you can scuba with them, or simply stand in a cage with a snorkel. Another series of aquariums houses numerous types of sea life, including star fish, an octopus and moray eels, and many more fish. A special section houses a series of seahorse tanks.

There’s a bit of a mixed message in the shark area — info boards exhort an end to fin farming (and rightly so) and educate about how sharks aren’t the fearsome critters we’ve been led to believe, and yet, it’s the danger of diving with the sharks that’s emphasised in the brochures, and the Jaws soundtrack plays in the area.

Still, getting up close with marine life is a delight and the complex is a remarkable example of retooling — the original structure was a sewage works — made somewhat poignant by the life story of Tarlton himself, who comes across as a bit of a Harry Butler or Steve Irwin of the seafaring world. Sadly, he died only months after the complex opened.

Dining

It’s worth noting that Auckland has superb food. We splurged on the revolving restaurant, Orbit at SkyCity, and found that it wasn’t that big a splurge at all. It was very neat knocking back the three-course special while watching the city lights slide past. The value was enhanced by having the observation deck included in the price, normally $28 a head.

We also ate at Princes Wharf, a yuppie area being gentrified by the look, with an array of cafes and restaurants offering a range of menu prices roughly indicated by not only the dress code of the patrons but the quality of the table cloths. The highlight was a superb seafood basket at Y-Not, and a full-bodied pinot noir to wash it down.


All in all, a most enjoyable sojourn, so close to home but yet so delightfully different.

AWWNYRC#6: Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

This isn’t on my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, but what the hey.

Sea Hearts

By Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2012, ISBN: 978 1 74237 505 2


sea hearts by margo lanagan

THIS delightful novel began life as a novella of the same name, in the rather clever novella anthology X6 (Coeur de Lion), and that novella forms the mainstay of this longer work. It’s an interesting read, the narrative strung together by a series of first-person narratives revealing how life on the island of Rollrock went through some amazing changes: the why, the how, the thereafter.

The short version: a witch finds revenge for being the subject of derision when she discovers the power to pull people out of seals. The women so brought forth are rather delectable, moreso than the common weather-beaten and life-worn specimens already available. The island’s menfolk are happy to pay for the privilege of a seal wife, a fairly docile offsider amenable to performing all the household chores and breed some sons as well.

In a kind of flip on the Lesbos tale, the women leave the men to their magical arrangement and the witch grows rich.

australian women writers challenge 2012I’m not entirely convinced I needed to read the before and after, the novella having proven quite enchanting in and of itself, but the opportunity to do so shouldn’t be missed. The novel is most enjoyable and provides a possibly more evenly rounded tale centred around that core; the set-up providing more insight and the denouement given more time to breathe.

And then there’s Lanagan’s wonderful prose, her playful way of recasting words and phrases, and describing things afresh. (See Sean the Bookonaut’s review for more on this.)

This is a gently told fantasy, presented unusually and quite beautifully in this Allen & Unwin paperback version, with a rather horrible narrative kernel.

Previous Challenge reviews

  • Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres, fantasy.
  • The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood, fantasy.
  • The Road, by Catherine Jinks, horror.
  • The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
  • AWWNYRC#5: Burn Bright, indeed!

    This is the fifth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

    Burn Bright

    by Marianne de Pierres
    Random House, 2011, ISBN: 978 1 86471 988 8

    burn bright by marianne de pierres

    THERE’S a lot to enjoy in Burn Bright, the first of a YA dystopian series by Marianne de Pierres. Mdp has scored avid followings with her previous series — the cyberpunk dystopia of Parrish Plessis, the sprawling space opera of Sentients of Orion and her Tara Sharp crime series — and this has tapped the fanatical YA market with even more gusto: a soundtrack song, online campaigns … whoa.

    It’s no surprise, as MdP knows how to put a story together, and this one comes in some truly cool trappings: a nocturnal, youthful party world watched over by vampire-like sentinels, and lots of secrets in the dark. Her heroine, Retra, has quite the journey too, right down to a name change, though by story’s end, one wonders if Naif is really so accurate. Clearly, she’s still got some learning to do, but she’s well on her way to adulthood. Yes, this book packs some powerful metaphors.

    This first volume introduces Inoxia, a hilly realm of constant night in which the pursuit of pleasure is paramount for its young population who are runaways from other surrounding realms of various fantastic, and not so fantastic, proportions. In one, a hunter-gatherer society can trap bat-like creatures for mounts. In Retra’s, it’s Puritanism 101, right down to child abuse dressed up as moral policing.

    Inoxia is a fantasy land, reached through a kind of vortex beset by pirates. If this sounds a little like Alice sliding down a rabbit hole, it’s a far updated version, and the lost boys and girls don’t so much stay young, as disappear once they reach a certain point in their early 20s. While the pirates are the nemesis of the land, the faires are also fearsome. Called Ripers, the vampire-like overlords police the young party animals, dolling out drugs, food and clothing as required. Of course there is no free lunch, and Retra discovers the true dark side of Inoxia’s society. Freedom, or at least escape, comes at a price.

    australian women writers challenge 2012Mdp has created a distinctive and believable world and her character work is a delight as Retra, through a transformative experience key to adolescent maturity, grows into a new individual. While the second half suffers from annoying, but perhaps unavoidable repetition of recent events, it charges towards its climax and the jumping off point – a new bright day – for book 2.

    With Burn Bright, we’ve been given a strong starting point and an enticing look into a world where colonisation has taken some bizarre avenues. Quite the delight.


    Previous Challenge reviews:

  • The Courier’s New Bicycle, by Kim Westwood, fantasy.
  • The Road, by Catherine Jinks, horror
  • The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.