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.

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Art and artifact and market value

Alan Baxter shows a pretty cool head on the issue of the .99c prince for e-books, and his post also touches on another issue that’s been banging around since a writers’ group discussion a month ago: what’s my price?

This comment from Alan really hit a nerve with me:

I love getting contributor’s copies of books I have stories in, because I’m a vain fucker and like to point to the brag shelf and say to people, “Yes, I have work in all those anthologies. And those are my novels. Ahaha.” Shut up, I need validation.

Validation. Yes indeed. Because I too like my trophy book, however vain that may sound. Because when the doubt sets in, as it frequently does, it’s comforting to look at a shelf of published works and say, well, those editors all thought my work was okay. So, maybe I should turn the TV off and press on with this yarn.

The thing is, who are those editors? What kind of benchmark are they setting? Is that anthology something I’m proud to have on my CV, or is it just a another centimetre of paper adding weight to the shelf?

It all comes down to what the writer wants. And how much they value their work.

I’m inclined to agree with Cat Sparks, who wrote earlier this year in WQ magazine that, for someone who wants to show they’re serious about their writing, one byline in one well-respected title is worth more than 20 in no-name nil-visibility publications.

Your CV — your bibliography — is an indicator of the kind of writer you are: quirky, top-shelf, developing, esoteric …

There’s a market for any story, I suspect. There seems to be no shortage of cowboys roaming the internet range, offering to publish your finely crafted yarn in return for ‘exposure’. Not even a contributor’s copy, but they might offer you a discount to buy your own. These outfits strike me as being particularly predatory, using their contributors not only as material but as a primary market as well.

Of course, there isn’t a lot of money in publishing at the bottom end of the scale. There’s probably an argument at the moment that there’s not a lot of money at any end of the scale, except for those few exceptional sellers who help finance the rest.

One pay scale that, anecdotally, seems to be increasingly common is the royalty share. It’s nice of the publisher to count you in in the profits, even nicer if that’s in addition to an up-front payment and/or a contributor’s copy, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath waiting for the cash to roll in. Take a look at the formula being used to calculate the royalty, the lifespan of the contract, the likely sales of the antho … It is at least a gesture and it does encourage the contributors to help market the antho.

And then there markets that offer no payment, but contributor copies. I don’t mind this tier at all. It’s honest and it’s contractually clean, and it shows respect for the contributors. It’s your story; of course you want to see what we’ve done with it. Here, show your friends …

And hey, if you can get someone to actually pay you money for your work, a token payment or otherwise, all the better. That’s a serious benchmark. That’s a sign of commitment and professionalism (you hope).

Some anthologies just sound so cool, you want to be in them. Some magazines have serious cache. Some themes stretch your boundaries, challenge your abilities. Some are published for good causes. Some have ace editors. All good reasons to submit, regardless of the pay packet.

It’s fairly common to hear a writer squee, not so much about being in an antho, but about who else is in it. Yeah, there’s a buzz, rubbing shoulders with your role models.

I suspect, too, that your requirements from a market might be more generous if you’re prolific and able to pepper the groovy anthos at all levels of the food chain.

If you’re like me, and squeezing out a short story is akin to pulling a length of barbed wire in one ear and out the other, then you probably want to make those sales count.

Me, I like the pretty, even more than I care about the money, in some ways. Money is good, but money goes away. That book, it lingers. I like a book that looks good, that has an editor who tries to get the best out of my story and a publisher who thinks enough of my work to, at the very least, give me my trophy for effort: my contributor’s copy. In the flesh. On the shelf.

And then, the art

You might notice that the word ‘art’ is contained within ‘artifact’. In the case of books, that’s not the spurious segue it might at first appear to be. Part of my love of physical books is the art: the cover, most obviously, but the stock, the font, the layout, the feel, the comfort … It’s the same reason I still by CDs as my first option.

carrotLee Battersby has been exploring not so much the physical art of the artifact, but the actual art of the story. I liked his take on it, as illustrated by a carrot — yes indeed! — very much, and added my two bobs’ worth at his invitation.

Melbourne in one day: food, writers, art, music

Yesterday’s touch of summer, and spring, and winter, and oh, yes, well, autumn, fine, it IS Melbourne, but at least it didn’t rain, was just dandy for a day in the city.

First, there was lunch at Time Out in Federation Square — the staff there are amazingly efficient and efficiently friendly and the food is tasty and well-priced, though a wine will set you back the best part of $10 a glass — with a Brisbane contingent (including two of us expats and one wannabe). The sun was warm, the wind chill, the quesadillas suitably chilli, the friendship warm. This is what weekend afternoons are all about, hey?

vienna art and design at ngvFrom there, I wandered off to the Vienna: Art & Design exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. The exhibit showcases the Secessionist movement. Here, I again learnt that I do like Klimt (I never knew he drew erotica, so those drawings were educational), that I want to know more about Schiele and Kokoschka (awesome portraiture!), and have sadly little interest in tea pot design.

The exhibit kicked off with architecture (loved the Die Zeit facade re-creation in aluminium and glass, all very Metropolis*) and ran through visual art, including wicked posters and a couple of exquisitely processed photographs, furniture and cutlery n stuff. In those heady days, the architect was not just designing the building, but the entire fit-out. This was perhaps most strikingly presented by having two sets of furniture on either side of the same room, both products of the era but showcasing the two directions that design took: decorative and pragmatic (in my layman’s terms).

I also ducked upstairs to check out the Deep Water exhibition: a small collection of photographs ranging from creeks and waterfalls to icebergs and people swimming. Makes you appreciate the power of a black and white landscape, and indeed of nature itself (fingers crossed for those in the path of Hurricane Irene, who would, I’m sure, be happy just with photographs).

melbourne writers festival 2011

There followed a long coffee — there may also have been a beer, the day being turned to summer again — and scribbled notes (ink slashing akin to wrist slitting; infernal story, I hate you as much as you hate me) — and then, as the dial turned to a shady phase of winter, my first Melbourne Writers Festival event: Kim Scott, Marie Munkara, Arnold Zable (chair) and John Bradley talking about indigenous language and politics.

My summary: language is an important if not essential plank of cultural identity. So this move to herd folks from their country and teach them exclusively English: don’t. (What year is this again? Have we learnt nothing?)

Bradley made one of the most striking comments of the panel, when he described the Aboriginal language he’d learnt as ‘rising up from the country’, or words to that effect.

Powerful stuff, language; dangerous, too.

PEN International sponsored this panel, and an empty chair on the stage represented writers who have been killed or jailed for daring to not only have an opinion, but to air it.

To balance out this heavy topic, a short walk up Swanson St, the Toff in Town was hosting Stories Unbound. At the Toff, I’ve learnt, it pays to order two drinks at a time, especially when the house is packed. And it was, with punters turning up to hear Tishani Doshi, Brissie’s Nick Earls, Leslie Cannold, Anna Krien, Michael Robotham and MC David Astle share, without notes, an unpublished anecdote from their lives.

Doshi: her love for the woman who introduced her to dance and so freed her to pursue an artistic life; Earls: how the Pope helped him pass medicine — funny stuff, involving testicles and Gaviscon; Cannold: a Jewish mother having to decide whether to get her sons circumcised; Krien: a tonguey from a 90-year-old man in the name of journalism; Robotham: separate misadventures involving pornographers and a redneck. All with sign interpretation. So a good mix of serious and humorous in a convivial atmosphere.

Oh, the music: on the train, there was a guy strumming his guitar, but it was kind of dull so I plugged in my mp3 player. And then got home to the awesome announcement of friend Sarah’s solo album deal with ABC Classics. As Night Falls is the name of the album: can’t wait!

* speaking of Metropolis, it’s as good a throw as I could come up with with to preview the upcoming exhibition of Modernity in German Art 1910-37: it’s hip to be square!

Things to do in Melbourne #2 — Moreau at NGV International

Gustave Moreau has turned out to be something of a surprise package. I rolled up to NGV International for its Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine exhibition expecting a bunch of, well, second-tier oil-rendered classical views of some cool myths, and was pleasantly enlightened.

Mr Moreau, painting in the 19th century and not someone whose works I was acquainted with, might have started in such terrain, but his use of wide-ranging cultures, abstract elements, patterns and different media, proved there was a lot more going on.

Lady Macbeth by Moreau

Lady Macbeth by Moreau


I loved his Salome series — sadly, this exhibit of more than 100 of his works did not include a couple of key pieces referenced with working sketches — and two exquisite pieces, one showing three sirens as the vaguest of shapes lurking on the shadowed shore, the other a featureless Lady Macbeth roaming the gloomy castle with a taper. There were others, of course, ghostly renderings, emotive splashes of bright oil amidst the dark, textures of oil and inlaid pieces of coloured stones. This article from The Australian gives a much more informed overview.

The Apparition by Moreau, showing Salome encountering the ghost of John the Baptist

Also showing, and free, is Unnerved, a survey of modern art from New Zealand on loan from the Queensland Art Gallery. There are a lot of photographs, a striking sculpture of a seal balancing a piano, and some audio-visual presentations, as well as paintings and installations. Post-colonial themes abound. I particularly liked Lisa Reihana’s large digital images reflecting Maori heritage.

It’s impressive that a collection such as this is free.

I can also recommend lunch at Persimmon, a restaurant tucked away at the rear of the gallery flanked by water features and offering a view of the gardens. For $55 a head, we enjoyed two courses — we had a prawn salad each for starters and lamb backstrap and pork belly for mains, with a glass of chianti and coffee, and tickets to Moreau. The food was delicious — note that the kitchen shuts at 2.30pm, though the restaurant hours are till 4pm, and the gallery’s till 5pm.

Note that you’ve got till the end of February to catch the Rock Chicks exhibition at the nearby Arts Centre: free, and a wonderful introduction to the history of women in Australian rock and pop.