Good things come in threes

Herewith, three groovy recent outings that put a smile on my dial:

totes80s21. Totally 80s. Sure, the tour is well over now, but I enjoyed this greatest hits parade far more than I thought I would. Great to see Real Life’s David Sterry, for starters; Wa Wa Nee brought the keytar; Katrina of the Waves rocked out. The main draw, though, was ticking off a bucket list item to finally see Berlin‘s Terri Nunn in action. The set list for Berlin: No More Words, Metro, Masquerade, Animal (yes, still making vibrant music!), Dancing in Berlin, Take My Breath Away, Sex (I’m a). Such a happy vibe, I was smiling from the moment the second song of the night, Safety Dance, got the crowd grooving.

2. Ghostbusters. The remake. Seen it twice now and it’s very cool. The climax feels a little pedestrian (maybe that was just the echo of the original) but to see these four women work together so capably — not an arse shot in the whole movie — is such a delight. Sign me up to the Holtzman fan club. I like what the flick said and how it said it and I had a lot of fun at the same time. Neat cameos, too.


 
3. Pokemon Go. I blame/thank my wife. She loaded it on my phone. And then I went to the city and saw the augmented reality overlay the game provides and it was, like, wow. And then last night we’re parking (because Ballarat turned on the wind machine) and we’re surrounded by other people parking because there are three PokeStops with lures and the critters are spawning like crazy and it’s fun and it’s kind of communal fun — I haven’t seen that much life in that street on a Monday night ever. I also like that public art and graffiti and historic sites are PokeStops so these sites are drawn to your attention. How much attention you pay as they spin and disgorge goodies and critters is up to you.

Anyway. Today is a day to consider some good things and share the word. May you too count good things.

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:)

Greetings from Ballaratia

gargoyles at the front door

Five weeks or thereabouts since this blog troubled the interwebs. I guess moving home and waiting … and waiting … for the internet to be connected will do that.

So what’s happened since the boxes went into the truck and came out the other side, here in steamy Ballarat, in the shade of a hill I’ve christened Wendouree Tor?

Well, my pals The Isle have released a funky little ep, Moment, offering a nice mix of electro stylings. Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, ain’t half bad if the streaming’s anything to judge by. How to Destroy Angels have released their first album, Welcome Oblivion, and it’s a cruisy end to the world if ever there was one.

We saw Einstuerzende Neubauten mix-cartons, and it was a crack, seeing them producing all those sounds from what looked like an abandoned dairy farm on the Palace’s stage. I really dig their gentler stuff, but it’s quite amazing how they manage to make music out of all the rattling and banging. And singer Blixa has an amazing voice.

Tonight, we anticipate hearing new Tea Party material. Oh gosh!

Elsewhere, Aurealis magazine is releasing its duo series with publisher Dirk Strasser and the inimitable Jack Dann leading off. The Aurealis Awards date has been announced — May 18 — with a record field under consideration. Should be a hoot. And the Ditmars and Chronos awards are now open for nominations.

Very pleasing to see the Queensland Literary Awards hitting their stride, too, attracting serious financial support and — gasp! — the State Government funding charmingly parochial fellowships. This from the dudes who axed the awards as their first act in power. Interestingly, a Queensland writer was awarded a life achievement by the Australia Council late last year: Herb Wharton got his start by entering the David Unaipon Award, one of those cancelled by the government and saved by the new awards. Did the AC draw attention to this? You betcha. Because you can’t tell someone like Premier Campbell Newman they’ve acted like a twat enough.

But what about The (other) Rat? There are more stars here and far less buses than in the city. We’ve found the Bunnings and the supermarket and a half-decent chipper and have been very pleased indeed to be in the delivery zone of Pizza Capers (bourbon chicken FTW!). The Courier lands on the front lawn each morning and we scavenge restaurants and events and community groups and places of interest and stick them on the fridge. One day, their time will come.

But first, there’s the last of the boxes, the matter of central heating (winter, it is coming…), acclimatising to the commute and starting to think it might be time to resume the edit of the work in progress. And then there’s that overgrown back yard …

New year, new home, new books!

website clipping of ballarat

When I’ve told people we’re moving to Ballarat, there are two comments that usually follow: ‘Why?’ and, ‘It’s cold, y’know. Like, freezing.’

To the latter, the simple answer is, y’know, coats. But the former is a bit more long winded, to do with property prices in Melbourne, and how Ballarat is as close as we could get to spitting distance of the big smoke, and how it’s got a uni and a writers’ centre and a literature festival (hey, it’s Victoria: what town doesn’t have a literature festival? or a market…), and so on. I liken it to being on the Sunshine Coast and working in Brissie, without the coast. Or the ranges, for that matter. Okay, so it’s got a train and it’s got two lanes of divided road with a respectable stretch of 110kmh in between, and it takes about same amount of time, traffic (an hour and a bit) and rail gods (90 minutes and a bit) allowing.

Ballarat’s a tidy town, brimming with neat cottages and such, and history oozing out its mine shafts. No river to speak of, but lots of culverts, and a very fine lake with swans. I’m told it has a very good Irish pub, obviously that friend’s first memory of a previous visit, and a very fine bakery, too — my friends have broad tastes, clearly. Plus — OMG — an absinthe bar!

Kirstyn and I are looking forward to exploring the place, and the surrounds — for instance, the Pyrenees wine district, which I’m told does a very drinkable shiraz, which is what I want in a wine region. Oh yes. AND we’ve spotted a cafe with a view of the cemetery from the al freso dining area — w00t!

By the end of February, we’ll be Ballaratians. Some might pronounce the former Ballah-ratt-e-ans, but I’m thinking of going for Bal-ah-ray-shuns. I guess Rats could also come up. B-Rat is just far too street. I’m stopping now.

So, a new address, our own patch of suburban dirt with a line already dotted out for a future chook pen, I believe. Excitements!

To go with the new house, new books (though the books came first, to be honest), one apiece: my outback vampire road-trippin’ blood-lettin’ romp, Blood and Dust, and Kirstyn’s dark tale of family secrets, an amazing game of make believe and how what you wish for can be a tad detrimental, Perfections. Both are available now in digital formats (all of ’em) thanks to the small but passionate team at Xoum.

There will be some kind of ceremony to mark the arrival of these two yarns into the wilds, but it’s been delayed by the move. One thing to be said for e-books — no packing!

house with Hills hoist

A Hills hoist of our own

 

The First 30 and other poems

the first 30 by graham nunnThe First 30 and other poems, by Brisbane’s Graham Nunn, arrived in the mail today. A wonderful collection of thoughtful, sparsely drawn, emotive poetry dedicated to the arrival of his first child in November last year. At the front there are love poems to other people and places — the opener, ‘A Brisbane Affair’, I could relate to well — and elsewhere there are other chords being strummed, too. But in this otherwise fairly pacific collection there’s this one poem, written for the unborn Thomas, that carries this line: Crows sing ill omen and the flame tree turns to blood. It’s freaking awesome, isn’t it?

Graham launches The First 30 and other poems on Sunday at Queensland Writers Centre at the State Library of Queensland.

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.