Sharing the love — little heart warmers

2016 has been a bit shit in a lot of ways, hasn’t it? Loss and meanness and downright ugliness. But, as Heart would say, or sing, rather, what about love?*

Well, recently my writerly community was gathered in Melbourne** celebrating their love of the written word, in various literary and visual forms, and my wife and I were off at the other end of Ballarat taking a quiet anniversary weekend out. Here’s a picture: let’s call it Love 1.

Worldmark Ballarat resort

If you like willows and lake reflections and red bricks against blue sky, you’ll find more pictures here.

On day 1 of the weekend, we ate dumplings at our favourite dumpling house (Fu Man Lou) and then went on a ghost tour***, the tickets for which had been given to me for my birthday. That’s love right there — a gift from someone who “gets” you. For the record, the tour started out pretty well, in a haunted Victorian-era bakery subject to flooding, but kind of went off the boil as the night wore on and the cold set it. Too much sauce, not enough substance — unlike the dumplings. Nom nom nom. Funnily enough, the site of the dumpling house was also the setting for one of the ghost stories. What the hell, Love 2.

The second night, we went to Catfish Thai. Oh my, times a bunch. Seven courses, each one delectable. We had a window seat looking over this old brick place and next to it a wall covered in winter ivy — noice. Wonderful restaurant, great service, divine tucker, with a bill best suited to special occasions. Love 3.

And then, as there are on anniversaries, wee small gifts of affection: a Plague Doctor Bird! My beloved secured this months ago, a fabulous work by KJ Bishop, a damn fine writer who also is a dab hand at gardening and sculpture. Round it out with a Batman mug: Love 4!****

Plague Doctor Bird

The weekend wasn’t entirely without its “literature”, of course. We slummed for a day and watched Anomalisa, a disappointing film from Charlie Kaufman about a dude not coping with his decisions in life and hurting everyone; the well-constructed and quite engaging, and infuriating, The Big Short; and a surprisingly entertaining Trainwreck. Claymation annoyance, effective rom com and political statement: Love 5. The wine and cheese gets the movie marathon over the line. Also, do check out a card game called Sushi Go! Great for pairs or groups, quick and easy but not without its strategy. It’s Australian, and, I’ve just found out, was the subject of an Indiegogo campaign: more love!

And, as readers of this blog might realise, I finished off that weekend by sharing that other love of mine: my vampires. But that’s enough about that.

As shit as it all gets, we’ve got nature, and art, and each other. It’s worth taking the time out sometimes to remember that. Love out.

* New album out next month! (New versions, a couple of new tunes *drums finger* still no Oz tour, but.)
** We missed youse all!
*** We did their Ararat ghost tour a few years ago and it was brilliant.
**** In return, there were poppets. We love poppets:)

Getting crafty at the biennale

Photographic exhibit by Vanessa Brady

Photographic exhibit by Vanessa Brady

Wendouree circuit of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale has been achieved — with added craft!

First stop was breakfast at one of our favourite cafes, Eclectic Tastes, which is hosting a small group exhibit. Then:

  • chic French cafe Eau Verte for Nina O’Brien’s black and whites of kids being kids;
  • road kill at the Wendouree Performing Arts Centre — a few victims were missing (an aside: there are a couple of wonderful works by Aboriginal artists — curse me for not getting proper details — in the foyer, a feature of which is a hanging Marc Rogerson sculpture reflected in mirrors);
  • wildlife and landscapes on canvas at the Lake View Hotel (a woman with blurred face in a forest, kind of Blair Witchy, was my pick) — sadly, still running on the big brekkie so couldn’t snaffle a $15 lunch special;
  • Oodles of wunnerful black and whites ’80s concert photos by Jeremy Bannister, including — gasp — Sisters of Mercy! at Racers (hard to get up close to, though, in the busy cafe);
  • cool landscapes set against star fields by Matt Thomson at the Ballaarat Yacht Club (old spelling of Ballarat reflects the club’s founding in 1877);
  • close-ups of flowers at the Statuary Pavilion at the Botanic Gardens;
  • and finally, probably the day’s highlight, rural landscapes from Vanessa Brady on show at the Robert Clark Conservatory in the gardens. Brady also has some wildlife pictures, and also in the conservatory are sculptures by Kim Percy.

    A morning well spent, with plenty of variation and an admirable matching in most instances of theme to venue.

    Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage

    Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage

    Also in the Botanic Gardens is the Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage, a store run by the Crafts Council of Ballarat occupying the relocated home of the intriguing poet (1833-1870). A wide selection of handmade giftware is on offer, including exquisite timber pepper grinders and cute door stoppers.

    The biennale runs until 20 September 2015. The cottage is open daily September-mid June, otherwise at weekends and public and school holidays.

  • Moira Finucane, does it again

    glory box la revolucion


    The milk was good, but it was the tomato sauce that took the prize.

    There on Collingwood’s Melba Spiegeltent catwalk, Moira Finucane in a white gown, tearing out her heart — only her heart was a family-size bottle of tomato sauce, dribbling and spurting in time with her anguish. Exit to Hollywood blonde Clare St Clare taking that dripping container while singing Blue Velvet.

    Yes, it’s Finucane & Smith, strutting their art — some new, some old — in Glory Box La Revolucion (until 13 September 2015).

    The troupe provide about 90 minutes of entertainment: another highlight, one of the best covers of Bowie’s Wild is the Wind you’ll ever hear, by Mama Alto accompanied by piano.

    That same piano that keeps our table, only a row back from the catwalk, safe from flying milk as Finucane empties two 2l bottles over plastic-wrapped audience, self and stage in wild abandon.

    Elsewhere, she’s nude under witchy fingernails and black diaphanous cape, and rockin’ it out to Garbage (if memory serves) in jeans and leather jacket with St Clare.

    There’s acrobatics involving chairs, rope, trapeze, cork screw … this is 18+ wine drinking. A bewigged industrial thrash dance. A song about more than coffee in Paris, an ooh la la to equality and respect.

    Boobs, chuckles, politics, art: always entertaining. All in the luscious surrounds of the Spiegeltent with its Innocent Bystander pinot noir at the bar.

    The card on the table tells us that Finucane & Smith are heading off to Cuba and may be some time. NO, we say. For all that we’ve seen of Moira Finucane, we still haven’t seen enough.
    Melba Spiegeltent at Collingwood

    SIDE DISH

    lamp at savanna ethiopian eritrean restaurantBefore the gig, we had dinner at Savanna, an Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant. Check out this funky ceiling lamp! Check out the delicious menu — we shared a platter of various veg and meat with injera for $45, washed down with organic Ethiopian shiraz at $6 a glass, and walked out pleasantly stuffed. Highly recommended.

    Napoleon conquers at NGV

    napoleon exhibit at ngv

    It took two-and-a-half hours to go through the Napoleon exhibition at NGV yesterday. It wasn’t particularly crowded, but there was oodles to see and read. Simply oodles. Busts, furniture, books, uniforms, paintings. Music.

    This line jumped out:

    The attention paid to the decorative arts in particular was part of a wider plan to revive the country’s economy…

    Whoa! Art as an important part of a nation’s economy as well as identity? Revolutionary stuff, at least Down Under.

    Napoleon’s savvy might not have made it down here just yet, but the little dictator was fascinated by Terra Australis, in particular Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery.

    A section of the exhibit is dedicated to giving the French their due in the mapping of the coastline and the cataloguing of its flora and fauna. Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, even had black swans, emus and kangaroos in the garden.

    The Australian connection runs close to home, too. I also wasn’t aware of the Napoleonic memorabilia to be found at Briars Park on the Mornington Peninsula, thanks to a family connection running to Napoleon’s incarceration on St Helena.

    napoleon on horsebackAnother section sets the scene for his rise to power, and then it’s a chronological introduction to his career and the way art changed with the times as classic imperial motifs rose to the fore.

    You can trace his evolution from thin-faced general to round-cheeked emperor; a video of his death mask completes the passage. One watercolour portrait on a small box shows eyes of avarice; another display contrasts his simple soldierly tastes with the pomp of state; elsewhere there is mention of manipulation of the media of the day with exaggerated reportage and widespread iconography of his greatness.

    As always in such a historical display, there’s the fascination at the thought of these items being used: the combs and travelling boxes, the chair with the lion-headed arms, the Psyche mirror …

    A familiarity with the French ruler’s history is advisable to help fill in the gaps, but what a champion display this is.

    Meals on wheels: Melbourne’s Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

    melbourne's colonial tramcar restaurantOn Sunday night we dined out in style for a friend’s 50th, indulging in five courses on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.

    The 1947 tram has been decked out with lamps, tables for four and for two, a chef and bar service, and for three hours it trundles amongst a convoy of three around Melbourne — St Kilda, Albert Park and Docklands slid past the tinted windows, while a various artists playlist of the Eagles, Prince and Sinead O’Connor played quietly in the background.

    The food was top notch: appetiser of dips, entree of grilled barramundi, main of eye fillet, cheese and then sticky date pudding for dessert, all washed down with sparkling and red wine, with port to finish. All included in the price. The staff were awesomely friendly, too.

    Rather than rush home from the tram, we made a night of it, crashing at Citigate, right opposite Flinders St Station, which meant we could walk everywhere we needed to go: ideal springtime lunch at Southbank, then to the tram, then to the gallery in the morning before the train home. The room was spacious enough for two people with only one carry-on bag between them, there was an iPod dock, the staff were wonderfully friendly, and this was the view from the twelfth floor:

    view from citigate hotel melbourneQuiet, too. All they need now are proper cave curtains to keep out the sunlight.

    Secret Gardens: fantasy on page and in paint

    oracle of azura by gail collins

    ‘Oracle of Azura’ by Gail Collins

    garden of the two moons by caz mcdougall

    ‘Garden of the Two Moons’ by Caz McDougall

    the blood stones of poora singh by annie higgins

    ‘The Blood Stones of Poora Singh’ by Annie Higgins

    Four years after conception, the Secret Gardens project is finally about to be unveiled in Brisbane.

    Three artists from northern New South Wales – Gail Collins, Annie Higgins and Caz McDougall – have been inspired to translate Australian fantasy stories onto canvas.

    Books by Kim Wilkins, Paul Brandon, Louise Cusack, Karen Brooks, Melaina Faranda, Alison Goodman, Cecilia Dart Thornton, Kim Falconer, Anita Bell, Caiseal Mor, Annie’s husband Simon Higgins and yours truly (The Darkness Within, Annie tells me, but no sneak peek!) have been given the treatment – some more than once.

    The trio didn’t stop there, though. As well as contributing six paintings inspired by published works, each has painted their own fantasy landscape, pictured above. They are running a short story contest to coincide with the exhibition, in which they invite short stories to 500 words based on one of the three paintings. The prize is a limited edition print of the painting. The contest closes on August 30 and is free; you can enter by email.

    Secret Gardens shows at Jugglers Art Space, 103 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane from September 26 to October 2, with a grand opening night on Friday September 28 from 6pm. I can’t wait to see what these three have cooked up.

    Aurealis Awards: catching up with the tribe

    We are home from Sydney, having feted our peers in the speculative fiction community at last night’s Aurealis Awards. Once again, organisers SpecFaction NSW put on a smooth show with plenty of time to mingle at Rydges North Sydney before and after, with a gettogether at the nearby gorgeous awards venue The Independent theatre as well.

    I recognised writers and publishers from all states and the ACT in the crowd that pretty much filled the theatre with a veritable who’s who, which once again demonstrated the generosity and openness of the community.

    The audience saw a virtual passing of the torch from HarperVoyager stalwart editor Stephanie Smith to the new top ed in the hot seat, the much respected Deonie Fiford.

    The late Sara Douglass and Paul Haines were in our thoughts, and it was wonderful to see Haines’s rivetting story ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’ score a win. His widows, Jules, sent a lovely acceptance message read by Cat Sparks which addressed the importance of writing to Paul and the value he placed on the spec fic community.

    Sean the Bookonaut provides a storified rundown of the awards

    Scott Westerfeld, Kim Westwood and — by iPhone, via Alan Baxter — Robert N Stephenson provided some of the other memorable speeches, and Kate Forsyth was the most delightful host one could ask for.

    I think it was a tie between Sean Williams and Marty Young for having the shirt most people wanted to own… but that might just have been at our breakfast table. Robert Hood should be in the running for a Ditmar next year for ‘best use of a cow in a science fiction slideshow’.

    I believe the awards will be held in Sydney for a third year next year — bring it on!

    Pictures of the night by Cat Sparks

    AUREALIS AWARD WINNERS FOR WORKS PUBLISHED IN 2011

    Children’s fiction told primarily through words: City of Lies by Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
    Children’s fiction told primarily through pictures: Sounds Spooky by Christopher Cheng (author) and Sarah Davis (illustrator) (Random House Australia)
    Young Adult Short Story: ‘Nation of the Night’ by Sue Isle (Nightsiders, Twelfth Planet Press)
    Young Adult Novel: Only Ever Always by Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)
    Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel: TIE Hidden by Mirranda Burton (author and illustrator) (Black Pepper)
    The Deep: Here be Dragons by Tom Taylor (author) and James Brouwer (illustrator) (Gestalt Publishing)
    Collection: Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L Hannett (Ticonderoga Publications)
    Anthology: Ghosts by Gaslight edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers (HarperVoyager)
    Horror Short Story: TIE ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’ by Paul Haines (The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Brimstone Press)
    ‘The Short Go: a Future in Eight Seconds’ by Lisa L Hannett (Bluegrass Symphony, Ticonderoga Publications)
    Horror Novel: No winner or shortlist.
    Fantasy Short Story: ‘Fruit of the Pipal Tree’ by Thoraiya Dyer (After the Rain, FableCroft Publishing)
    Fantasy Novel: Ember and Ash by Pamela Freeman (Hachette)
    Science Fiction Short Story: ‘Rains of la Strange’ by Robert N Stephenson (Anywhere but Earth, Coeur de Lion)
    Science Fiction Novel: The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood (HarperCollins)
    Peter McNamara Convenors’ Award: Galactic Suburbia podcast –- Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Andrew Finch (producer)
    Kris Hembury Encouragement Award: Emily Craven of Adelaide

    Spot the Christmas gift idea…

    macbeth tea towel

    Cute Macbeth tea towel, for the writer, reader or theatre lover who has everything? From Readers’ Niche. They have the same pattern on erasers, too — *chortle*.

    And while I’m throwing shopping suggestions around for the festive crowd, one of my happiest hunting grounds for pressies for my Significant Other is Poppet Planet. We fell in love with Lisa Snellings’ work at World Fantasy in San Jose a couple of years back: writer poppets, Halloween poppets, Dr Who poppets, cute and melancholy and downright adorable poppets… oooh. Awesome service, too.

    lisa snellings poppet