MICF: Sarah Kendall and Daniel Kitson

It was the night for intelligent comedy at last night’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing, with pre-show drinks at Cabinet and a pleasant dinner break at Time Off in Fed Square where Massive Attack and Joy Division albums were on the stereo. Oh yes.

sarah kendall First up was Sarah Kendall at the Victoria Hotel. Kendall, 35 (there’s some laughs in that), resident in the UK for the past 12 years, tells us she’s that woman with the screaming toddler on the jet plane. Her Persona show reveals a dry delivery and acid wit — and incredibly expressive eyes — as she explores the world her daughter is growing up in. Some subjects covered are pole dancing, banana innuendo, depictions of women in advertising and, most wonderfully, a nighty-night sequel to the ugly duckling fairytale in which growing up to be pretty is not the answer to being bullied and marginalised.

daniel kitsonAfter dinner, with ‘Disorder’ still whispering in my mind, we headed down to the Arts Centre for UK comedian Daniel Kitson. Kitson’s mission in Where Once Was Wonder is to share his thoughts on the meaning of life, exemplified in three stories, taking 90 minutes. Intellectually arrogant, confronting and very bloody funny, Kitson is an unreliable narrator but sure knows how to string a yarn together. Suspense, divergence, segue, meta references and ‘denial’ river puns, all combine for a superlative performance.

He makes the audience complicit, whether about vegetarianism, ideology, typecasting or the bleeding obvious. ‘I’ve got a lisp, don’t know if you’d noticed. I’m very brave.’ Or words to that effect.

By the end of the show, he’s undercut the diatribe he espoused at the beginning; he’s shared thoughts about image and personality and character, about certainty and uncertainty and seizing moments and living with principles and undermining those principles when it’s convenient or easy to do so; the audience is highly amused and guilty and guiltily amused.

A dangerous pair, Kendall and Kitson; though chalk and cheese in delivery, they both manage to get the message across amid the laughter. Brilliant stuff.

WriteFest windows of opportunity, and other writerly news

Bundaberg’s WriteFest is a great event, one of those fairly intimate occasions when everyone’s just chilled out yet totally keen. This year the organisers have upped the ante, offering a workshop with Louise Cusack — her writing advice is always worth it — as well as the chance to get feedback from Allen & Unwin’s Rachael Donovan on how to improve a submission to a publisher, and a chance to talk to Clan Destine Press’s Lindy Cameron about a manuscript. But you want to be quick: applications for the feedback sessions close on Sunday April 15. Check out the website: there’s plenty more on, including two workshops with Marianne de Pierres and seminars on many things writerly. WriteFest is held on May 19.

  • Michael Hauge provides insight into story structure and the rules of engagement for hero and ‘reflection character’.
  • The horror of having a book go to print without its opening line, and a constructive way of dealing with the misdeed, courtesy of Kirstyn McDermott.
  • I’ve recently had cause to chinwag with a.rawlings, this year’s Arts Queensland poet in residence hosted by Queensland Poetry Festival, and was again struck by the power of the written word when read out loud. I found her poem, ‘a hoosh a ha’, inside her collection Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists, and then this clip on YouTube of her performing the piece. It’s a gorgeous book, beautifully laid out, but to hear those words out loud: wow. To complete the narrative circle of this post, it’s worth the mention that one of Louise Cusack’s suggestions for improving self-editing is to read the work out loud. Advice I really wish I’d take more often, because it really does highlight awkwardness, errors and repetition.


  • Callout to Queensland authors of 2011, and other writerly news

    queensland writers centre logoQueensland Writers Centre is compiling a booklet, Books from our Backyard, of Queensland authors to have had a book published in 2011. Must be first edition, paper or e-book, with ISBN and cover image. Details at the website.

    Also, the centre has compiled a website of reaction to the summary cancellation of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards by incoming premier Campbell Newman. The centre is looking to salvage something from the debacle and provides some avenues for reaction to the move. A separate push is underway to establish the Queensland Literary Awards.

  • In award news, and much more positive all round, Aussies Jonathan Strahan and the gang from Galactic Suburbia podcast have made the shortlist for the Hugo Awards — Strahan twice, for best short form editor and also his co-hosted Notes from Coode St podcast. Way to go!
  • The Blood-Red Pencil hosts two posts about the life of agents, including their changing role in an industry where self-publishing is no longer the path of last resort.
  • At the Lair, Sean Williams and Karen Miller talk joining Forces with the Star Wars franchise.
  • In Lisa Hannett’s Tuesday Therapy (it’s been a busy week), Kim Falconer offers some down-to-earth advice about setting goals and achieving them despite all the good advice. In today’s Theraphy, Angela Slatters offers excellent advice about both offering and receiving favours of a literary nature.
  • Looking ahead: Swancon 2013 has announced a guest list of Gail Simone, Charles Stross, John Birmingham and Lucy Sussex. w00t!

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Creature Court series is pushing into overseas markets — great to see a publisher investing in local talent.
  • And finally, this piece from Call My Agent! about the cultural cringe and Australian novels. I’d like to think that the efforts of our fantasy, crime and romance writers, in particular, are changing the apparent reluctance of readers to buy locally … This post riffs off a previous one about why it’s hard to get an Aussie novel published, which kicked along a meme about ‘what Australian book have you bought recently’. You don’t buy local just because it is local, of course, but because it’s local and good: it’s that last part that has had buyers doubting, but they’re out of excuses these days. Now it’s how to raise awareness in an ever-crowded market place.
  • Late addition: I’ve been meaning to add 20c to this excellent post about the value of a book cover over at Patrick O’Duffy’s place, but that’s gonna have to wait for another day. When you see the amount of quality info Angry Robot has packed onto that back cover … wow. The absence of a back cover on an e-book — that requirement that the browser has picked up that info on the web page — is an interesting quandary that I haven’t got around to pondering in any meaningful way. Patrick, it’s up to you!
  • MICF: The Underlads

    underlads comedy duoWe hit the awesome warehouse space that is 1000 £ Bend last night to catch The Underlads — a former Townsville duo fairly recently (I gather) moved to Melbourne — conjure a haunted house tale as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

    Living on Limbo Lane uses an array of techniques to bring the story alive: mime, hand puppets, marionettes, video, slapstick, night vision cameras, songs. There are more homages to movies and video games than you can point a ouija board at.

    Shrub and Wearnie are likeable, engaging performers, but the show — for all their energy — never really takes off. Over-ambitious, perhaps, but the Ed Wood level of staging and effects, while charming, is too often less effective than it might’ve been, and the underpinning material relies too heavily on old gags and tired tropes.

    The pair have got some great comedy chops, but this show was perhaps a street too far. An act to keep an eye on.

    Queensland Literary Awards to go ahead, sans philistine premier

    This item from ABC News is something to cheer about. Only days after the premier of Queensland withdrew government support from the state’s literary awards, established by then premier Peter Beattie in 1999, a group of volunteers have rallied around the organisers to see the awards go ahead. And blow a big raspberry to that petty little autocrat, premier Campbell Newman. Good luck, guys. I’m sure you’ll do the state proud, even if your government can’t.

    UPDATE: Krissy Kneen says there’s a meeting at Avid Reader book shop, in West End, on Tuesday (April 10) at 10am to discuss the revamped awards. All welcome.

    UPDATE 7 Apr: The organisers of the Queensland Literary Awards have a nascent website as they scramble to ensure this year’s awards go ahead and cover the previous categories: queenslandliteraryawards.com

    Campbell Newman, subsidised arts and the popular vote

    Sadly, today’s editorial in the Australian doesn’t surprise. Had it not been self-published, an editor would’ve have a field day cutting out the tired old tropes. The piece shows as little awareness of the reality of publishing in Australia, I can’t help but wonder if the editor was a board member of Borders.

    Good on Campbell Newman for cancelling the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. They deserved it. How dare they short-list a bio from that terrorist David Hicks? What do they think this is: a democracy?

    Scary stuff, literature, especially that high-falutin’ stuff that goes to pains to use big, fancy words and literary balderdash to criticise and question today’s society and the people who run it.

    First ones against the wall, that lot.

    ‘If (Newman) restores the awards in future, as he has hinted, he would do well to ensure they reward the best-quality writing, including that which appeals to the broader public.’

    What is clear from the editorial is that the editor has fallen for the PR from his own circulation department and believes that quantity is a measure of quality. He hasn’t eaten at McDonald’s lately, it appears. See, books aren’t one size fits all. It’s what makes them such an interesting product to try to market. There’s no accounting for taste. Clearly, the work of the Qld Premier’s Lit Awards hasn’t been to the editor’s taste, nor that of the LNP. Tough.

    As Nick Earls said in his response to the axing:

    While I’ve had little personal reason to love the Premier’s Literary Awards, I’ve been glad they’ve been there.

    It might not be my cup of tea, either, but I don’t doubt for a second that it’s important. Just as important as the popular fiction that I write. Maybe even more important, at certain levels.

    I wouldn’t mind if someone was throwing cash awards around for the stuff I write. Hey, here’s an idea. How about the Oz step up, take the editor’s philosophy and run with it. Out with the old men like Patrick White, a recent front-page feature of the Oz’s venerable lit pages, and in with the popular fiction. The crime, the romance, the YA. Dare I suggest, the horror? And before the movie gets made. That’d be a bonus.

    ‘Newer writers will also build loyal readerships, if they are good enough,’ the Oz says.

    Define good enough. And then tell me how they build that readership. I would’ve thought the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards with sections for unpublished manuscript and unpublished Indigenous manuscript was a perfect avenue for that new writer to be noticed. It’s back to the table outside the local bookstore, huh?

    Maybe the Oz can up the Vogel to remove the age restriction — after all, those young guns have got an entire lifetime ahead of them in which to make their career – if they’re ‘good’ enough. Maybe the Logies can add a book category and the Oz can print the ballot. Twilight for the win.

    Here we sit in 2012 still arguing about what makes a great read, and how to recognise the practitioners who provide it. The bean counters still treat books like tins of pineapple and tell us homegrown or imported, it doesn’t matter.

    The Oz is appalled at writers, and artists in general, sucking on the public tit. This ‘vocal minority’ should be standing on its own economic two feet.

    That’s an interesting precedent to set, isn’t it? No seed funding for industry, is what it amounts to. No subsidy for innovative new tech. Government-funded apprenticeships? You want a library? Better start charging admission and rental fees. Reading’s a luxury, after all, not a right. You want an oval? Build it and maintain it yourself — stand on your own two feet. If you build it, they will come.

    In a separate article in the same day’s Oz, the comment is made that Campbell isn’t planing to cut other government awards, not even for drama. I guess there’s something appealing about taking one’s lobbyists and business pals out to see a show, maybe do some deals in the intermission. No, he’s singled out the lit awards, and why?

    Because he knows that the ‘vocal minority’ that is the country’s writers don’t have a lot of support in the wider community. Not even in newspaper offices where economic rationalism reigns, and the idea of a good read starts at the back of the paper, where ‘good’ is measured by dollar signs. Campbell’s looking for easy money to bolster a bottom line, hoping those pennies he loves so much will become pounds. What a bleak hole he’s digging for Queenslanders.

  • The Queensland Writers Centre has compiled a great list of responses to Campbell’s axing of the awards. The centre has taken a very reasonable, proactive approach to the debacle. You can plug into it here.

    And there’s this thoughtful piece from TLC Books about just what lit awards offer, and why they’re good things to have, both for the community and for writers.

  • Campbell Newman chases the dubious dollar sign

    This news just in: Queensland has the proud title of being the only state in Australia not to have a state literary award. Wow, way to go Campbell Newman: make those creative industries feel welcome. Arsehat. He can really plough that $250,000 of savings into some serious infrastructure projects. And THIS is why the landslide LNP victory gave me the shivers, even from the other end of the country. They ain’t got no soul, people.

    UPDATE: I think John Birmingham has summarised the situation nicely in his comments (at the updated above link), including:

    He’s not going to lose many if any votes out of getting rid of this prize, and out of slashing the hell out of a lot of arts budgets … in terms of the state budget, there’s probably bigger tough cuts that he could make, but they’re much tougher to sell