Sunshine, darkness and the people we meet

in sunshine bright and darkness deepThis book arrived in the post yesterday. In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep: An Anthology of Australian Horror collects short stories from 14 members of the Australian Horror Writers Association. “If you are unfamiliar with Australian horror, let this book be just the first step on a long voyage of dark discovery,” the blurb says.

The anthology contains a reprint of my story ‘Triage’, from 2005 — the only reprint in the book. I offered ‘Triage’ because it’s a special story to me, and it had only a limited airing on first printing, in sf-envision, a magazine printed by Fantastic Queensland that came out of the EnVision writers workshop run in 2003 and 2004 in Brisbane.

It was at this workshop that I largely met the people who would form the Writers on the Edge critique group, who remain good friends even though my departure from Brisbane spelled the ultimate end of the critique meetings. Some of us still share stories online.

It was also where I got to know the tutors, and these industry contacts have become friends over the years: like minds, generous spirits.

The message here: go to workshops, improve your craft, never stop learning, meet people. Be kind to one another. Pay it forward.

sf-envision‘Triage’ is also important because it mined the death of a close friend; it tried to give him, on some ultimately inadequate level, what the story’s hero, Nosplentyn, tries to do for the dying patient: a memorial of the heart and mind. Nosplentyn, a name coined by one of my roleplaying game mates and used with his blessing, is a prototype for the Needle in my Vampires in the Sunshine State books. He has changed much, as have we all.

We in the Edge Writers have since lost one of our own. Nea has a story in sf-envision, an excerpt of her then work in progress that, sadly, never saw publication. We hold them in our memories, these ageless loves, and the words take us back to them and the times we shared.

So ‘Triage’ is both sunshine and darkness, a touchstone for bright memories and dark ones. It seemed to fit for the AHWA’s book. Bon voyage.

  • In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep is available* from Amazon.
    * ADDENDUM: the book is officially launched 18 September. Its appearance on Amazon beforehand was to allow contributor copies to be sent out. But, y’know, wishlist away!
     

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  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: a worthwhile stroll

    girl walks home alone at nightIt doesn’t surprise that director Ana Lily Ampour, a Britain-born Iranian, grew up in the US: this debut feature film is steeped in Western celluloid, to the extent of a laugh-out-loud use of Leone-like soundtrack at one point.

    A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) might be set in Iran, or it might be set in Detroit (based on Ampour’s graphic novel, it was shot in California): its desolate streets and industrial backdrops and urban decay, a single crowded drug-fucked nightclub, bring to mind Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (reviewed here).

    The hero (Arash Marandi), or at least the protagonist — it’s hard to find heroism in a drug dealer — is a James Dean lookalike, though this rebel has a cause: to get out of ‘Bad City’, where his father is an addict and his horizon is strictly limited.

    Enter the titular heroine (Sheila Vand) — her hajib used to effect in one of the black-and-white flick’s best set pieces, skateboarding down a night-lit street, cloth flying cape-like. There’s a degree of feminist bent to our vampire; also loneliness and likely boredom, enlivened by pop music and the occasional murder.

    Part of the joy here is in the interaction: the actors convey much with little conversation; the quiet here is engrossing. The performances of the leads in particular are quite wonderful. Combined with the cinematography, that’s plenty of reason to check this out right there.

    The movie lacks the subtext of Lovers, the narrative cohesiveness, but it’s a stylish genre-clash and an affecting movie, well worth visiting for some arty pastiche of east meets west.

    Bell Shakespeare’s Hamlet: what a sweet prince this is, or, the award for best use of condoms in a Shakespearean play goes to:

    Hamlet-webOh my bard! I caught the two-and-a-half-hour epic that is Bell Shakespeare‘s Hamlet at the Melbourne Arts Centre last night, and I’m still reeling.

    One of the best Shakespearean productions I’ve seen? Without a doubt.

    The set design: a facade of doors and windows, shakily climbable, splits the stage. Behind this lit window, a spy, replaying dialogue just heard behind another, as the new king keeps an ear on his fellows. Behind this one, the boudoir. Look, the bed becomes a grave, Yorick! With dirt for the shovelling, a pit for fair Ophelia, complete with toe tag after she is wheeled in in a wheelbarrow. And see here, how the theatre bunting can lose some letters and have others changed to present a far more telling dramatic title! Best use of condoms in a Shakespearean play!

    The lighting, used to highlight the areas of the drama, whether by spotlight or torchlight or flickering wall lights, was sensational. One dramatic front-lit Dracula-like moment still blazes in my mind. Underpinning that, the music, just touches of thriller bass or gay song to enhance the mood, or the sound of rain, or the sound of fighter jets doing a flypast.

    Here a mobile phone captures a moment; there, an electronic listening device is disabled or revealed. And here, it’s halberds and foils, and the ensemble sharing a king’s joke as he dons a player’s crown.

    And here’s the thing of it, the thing that really elevated this production: the acting. Not just in delivery and emotion, and there was plenty of emotion, but in the interplay. In the interpretation of the lines. Bawdiness. Cheekiness. The use of repetition to telling effect. The use of props to add context to the lines, to illuminate character — the play with said condoms between Ophelia and Laertes as he prepares to leave at the airport (with Rosencrantz and Guildernstern hailed over the PA in the background!), the sister-brother relationship anchored around their doomed father. The physicality: Ophelia (Matilda Ridgway, divine), only days in to the play’s run, already sports scrapes and bruises revealed by her dishevelled night dress.

    They play them well (better than well; I love that to be fit to receive a guest still in her a nightrobe, Doris Younane’s Gertrude first slips on her shoes, then transforms her hair), but it is Hamlet’s show, and Josh McConville is amazing, physically and emotionally, seamlessly switching from rude imp to avenger to distraught son. Bravo!

    Hamlet plays at the Arts Centre till July 25.

    Vampires on the radio

    the big smoke by jason nahrungEarlier today I chatted with ABC Ballarat 107.9’s Prue Bentley about Australian vampires, fast cars — and how freakin’ cold it is!

    Producer Gav McGrath has posted a (stammer-free!) summary of the radio broadcast here.

    It’s taking two of the things I love – the Australian landscape, and vampires and the gothic more broadly – and trying to make them fit together

    The Dangerous Bride, by Lee Kofman: sex, love and belonging

    the dangerous bride by lee kofmanThe Dangerous Bride (MUP, 2014), by Lee Kofman, is a memoir of exploration: of relationships, of place, and of self. It’s candid but polite, and the prose shines with description and metaphor.

    It tells Kofman’s story of, as a child of Russian Jews, coming to Australia via Israel. In Tel Aviv, her generation of young people lived life as though there was no tomorrow, because in a land of bombs, that was the case.

    Melbourne was a sanctuary, with its bookshops and cafes and galleries — once she’d got the courage to explore, English not being her native language and the city filled with strangers. (The Dangerous Bride is her first book in English.)

    Overtaken by wonder, I vigorously, like a young horse, clacked my platform shoes upon the wide, friendly sidewalks. The public transport that operated during Shabbat, the cheap sushi, the absence of cockroaches — all these luxuries the locals took for granted filled me with joy. I was amazed at how in Melbourne even police cars drove by quietly. After a while, whenever their sirens did sound, I no longer thought about bombs.

    Kofman’s exploration of Australian society and landscape is a strong vein in this memoir, but the focus is on her sexual identity: is it possible to have a successful non-monogamous relationship? She gets caught up with an Israeli known in the book simply as J, who chases easy money in property and business. Escaping him, Kofman ends up with Noah: they have a loving marriage but one lacking in intimacy.

    Australian women writers challenge 2015Kofman turns to ‘famous dead people’ for inspiration: Anais Nin (the movie Henry and June was a watershed for her), HG Wells, Iris Murdoch. And she travels, to interview swingers, ‘hunters’ (couples who pick up sex partners), polyamorists, open marriages. She’s looking for the key to maintaining a relationship while still satisfying all-round needs of desire, intimacy, identity.

    The book shifts, the chronology of her time in Australia, the changing relationships and eventual second, stable marriage interspersed with flashbacks to relationships past. In particular, the awkward relationship with J takes some unravelling. There is room for rumination on the nature of love and relationships, society’s expectations versus natural impulse. She analyses the non-monogamy of others, looking for the reasons of success or failure, and trying on the templates to see which one best fits her experience. She visits modern social theorists, elements of her academic studies shining through. Arthur Rimbaud’s contention that the poet ‘consumes all the poisons in him’ is a theme.

    The honest self-awareness of Kofman’s voice makes this an engaging journey of exploration, at the end of which Kofman has found a comfortable understanding with her new country and — at least for now — her new love.

  • This review is part of my commitment to the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.