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

    A Chronos nomination!

    I guess I’m officially a Victorian now …

    I’ve only just caught up with the nominations for the 2011 Chronos awards, which recognise achievement within Victoria’s speculative fiction community. It’s a popularly nominated award, voted upon by members of the year’s national convention. Voting rights can also be bought for $5 for non-convention members. This year’s natcon is Continuum 8, in June, in Melbourne, and it’s going to be a hoot with Kelly Link and Alison Goodman as writer guests of honour.

    Anyhow, a look at the shortlists shows I’ve been nominated as a fan writer, which is very cool. But allow me to be partisan for a moment and say just how happy I am to see the late Paul Haines on the list for both his collection, The Last Days of Kali Yuga, and his absolutely unforgettable story ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’. Fuck but he’s missed, and when you read these yarns, you realise just what a talent we’ve lost.

    Chronos finalists

    Best Long Fiction
    Black Glass, Meg Mundell (Scribe Publications)
    Mole Hunt, Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)
    The Key to Starveldt, Foz Meadows (Ford Street Publishing)
    The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Paul Haines (Brimstone Press)
    Scape e-zine, edited by Peta Freestone
    Changing Yesterday, Sean McMullen (Ford Street Publishing)
    Thief of Lives, Lucy Sussex (Twelfth Planet Press)
    No Award


    Best Short Fiction
    Neverspring, Peta Freestone (in M-BRANE SF #25)
    The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt, Paul Haines (in The Last Days of Kali Yuga)
    Gamer’s Challenge, George Ivanoff (by Ford Street Publishing)
    One Last Interruption Before We Begin, Stephanie Lai (in Steampowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories)
    So Sad, the Lighthouse Keeper, Steve Cameron (in Anywhere But Earth)
    No Award


    Best Fan Writer
    Jason Nahrung
    Alexandra Pierce
    Peta Freestone
    No Award


    Best Fan Artist
    Nalini Haynes
    Marta Tesoro
    Rebecca Ing
    Rachel Holkner
    No Award


    Best Fan Written Work
    Dear Space Diary, Sam Mellor (Blog – Fiction)
    Tiptree, and a collection of her short stories, Alexandra Pierce (in Randomly Yours, Alex)
    Interview with Meg Mundell, Nalini Haynes (in Dark Matter 3)
    No Award


    Best Fan Artwork
    Girl Torque, Nalini Haynes (Cover for Dark Matter 3)
    Dangerous Penguins, Marta Tesoro
    Blue Locks, Rebecca Ing (Scape 2)
    No Award


    Best Fan Publication
    The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
    Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Alexandra Pierce
    Bad Film Diaries, Grant Watson
    Dark Matter, edited by Nalini Haynes
    No Award


    Best Achievement
    Trailer for Gamer’s Challenge, Henry Gibbens (Ford Street Publishing)
    Continuum 7 Opening Ceremony Video, Rachel Holkner (Continuum 7)
    Conquilt, Rachel Holkner and Jeanette Holkner (Continuum 7)

    No award is to be presented for Best Artwork due to insufficient nominations being received.

  • More information about the Chronos awards and voting procedure can be found here.
  • MICF: Victoria Healy and Lisa-Skye

    Two Melbourne comedians, two sides of the same self-empowered coin in last night’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing.

    comedian victoria healy

    Victoria Healy

    First up was Victoria Healy, taking the stage at an intimate upstairs room at the wonderfully downbeat Rue Bebelons — out of the cafe, down the alley, up the wooden stairs … and Healy’s journey was even more entertaining.

    Entitled Independent Women Part 2, Healy’s show offers the soundtrack to her understanding of what it means to be an independent woman. Starting with the Spice Girls in Year 7 and including Shania Twain, Black Eyed Peas and the titular tune from Destiny’s Child, there are six or seven songs that serve as milestones along the way.

    Through a timeline featuring high school dorkiness and learning to be a team player, a spate of loser boyfriends, becoming a fashionista and a competitive sex object, Healy, in jeans and sleeveless blouse and armed with telling character voices, delivers observations and laughs at a conversational and endearing pace, brought to a close with disappointing abruptness. And damn if I couldn’t see the signature hoop move that made her the star of the rhythm gymnastics team…

    comedian lisa-skye

    Lisa-Skye

    TAKING a different approach to the subject of self-awareness and fulfilment is Lisa-Skye, holding down a spot upstairs at the John Curtin Hotel.

    Lisa is ‘a glittery drag queen in a tubby goth real-girl’s body’ who delivers a multi-media exploration of sexual desire and individualism par excellence in Ladyboner. She enters the stage with a walk through the audience while reciting Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’, and you just know you’re in for a treat.

    Performance poetry, slide shows and video clips complement her search for a girl of her own. There’s the dad dance, the animal kingdom’s mating rituals, her nan’s passions, love requests from a telephone dating service, an audience Q&A on BDSM; all interspersed with beautifully delivered performance pieces set to the beat of a metronome.

    Thirty and married and living in the ‘burbs in her nan’s ‘wog house’, Lisa-Skye is going her own way and taking us along for the ride. She’s personable, honest, acerbic, with great character pieces and spot-on timing. It’s an accomplished performance and wickedly funny.

    If you ever wanted to know what it sounds like when doves cry, Ladyboner is for you.

    MICF: Tim FitzHigham’s The Gambler

    tim fitzhigham in the gamble comedy showTim FitzHigham’s The Gambler is playing at the upstairs bar at the Victoria Hotel as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, giving it quite the home movie feel. Which is perfect, as the gregarious and energetic Englishman narrates his latest zany exploits to the accompaniment of a slideshow and video clips.

    As the name of the show implies, the basis of FitzHigham’s production is wagers: historically based and quite astounding ones. Such as rolling a cheese round 6000m in 100 tosses, or lasting 10 moves with chess master Nigel Short, or pushing a wheelbarrow over a marathon course in 6.5 hours.

    As zany as the tasks are, it’s FitzHigham who makes the show, engaging the audience with his manic energy and awfully amusing anecdotes, and an expressive face just made for comedy.

    He shook everyone’s hand on the way out, too; a gentleman and a scholar and a very funny man.

  • We also saw the Bedroom Philosopher’s High School Assembly variety parody thing last night at the Forum. Execrable, but I enjoyed the dancing.
  • Rocky Wood wins a Stoker

    Aussie writer Rocky Wood has won a Bram Stoker Award for best non-fiction book of 2011, a case of third time lucky. Rocky, flying the Aussie flag as the Horror Writers Association president, won for the most recent of his five titles about Stephen King’s works, Stephen King: A Literary Companion. An updated version of Rocky’s Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished was recently made available as a pre-order only as a fundraiser for the writer’s ALS fund, to help him cope with the effects of motor neurone disease.

    King also featured on the winners’ list, for best short story, in the awards run by the US-based HWA. Other finalists from Australia were Kaaron Warren for short story and Jack Dann, who co-edited the Ghosts by Gaslight anthology.

    The full list of Bram Stoker Award winners.

    The HWA also announced Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend as the vampire novel of the century. (Note that the century was actually a hundred-year period, not an actual calendar century.) The scenario of a last man on earth surrounded by zombie-like vampire hordes is striking. It’s been filmed three times: once with pathos starring Vincent Price, once with a sense of impending doom starring Charlton Heston, and once with ridiculous special effects and titular corruption starring Will Smith. Wikipedia says there’s a fourth, straight-to-video version with even less relevance to the text.

    For my money, it’d be hard to go past Interview with the Vampire for the most influential vampire novel of the 20th century. Stoker’s Dracula (1897) misses out by four years.

    MICF: Des Bishop Likes To Bang

    des bishop likes to bangCaught the Irish-American comedian Des Bishop at the Hi-Fi last night in our first Melbourne International Comedy Festival outing, and it was a bit disappointing. I’d hoped the humour would swing towards the Irish side — the multi-accented comedian’s got a big following thanks to television appearances there — but the material and delivery was squarely old-school observational New York style: fast, loud, self-aggrandising and not particularly witty. The kind that makes fun of yuppie Dubliners, exhorts sex in hotel rooms because you don’t have to clean up, that brags about banging groupies.

    The sell-out crowd lapped it up, though: there were a hell of a lot of Irish in the room and much of the material was directed to them, and I guess he’s been here enough to know that bashing Frankston bogans is always good for a laugh from a Melbourne crowd.

    It was the strangely disjoined show’s third night — maybe it’ll smooth out as it picks up steam.

    One point of difference came from a Roland electric drum kit, loaded with samples of dialogue labelled homeboy, paedophile and bogan, for instance, all mined well past their worth. There was some good laughs when the sound guy went AutoTune on Des’s vocals.

    The entertaining climax came when an audience member was called up to provide a chorus to go with Des’s hip-hop song — Des laid down a beat on the drums, Helen from Cork sang (and very nicely, too) a chorus from a Beyonce song, and Des unveiled his MCing with verses taken from the latest headlines: Julia Gillard, AFL’s late great Jim Stynes (of Irish background, so that explains that connection, perhaps) and Ben Cousins.

    Just why he had to intro the skit by saying he was going to show how easy it was to write a hip-hop song is a mystery, but not as great as the mystery as to why he felt the need, after the song’s completion, to go back through his lyric sheet and explain all the gags. It’s kind of unusual to have a comedy show with an epilogue of explanatory notes.

    As Des observed during the gig, if you’ve read the innuendo in the title, you know what to expect. What a shame he was bang on.