Clan Destine Press has extended its 50 per cent off sale through to the end of April. That means half-price books or, if you like, both books in the Vampires in the Sunburnt Country duology for the price of one. $27 for Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke in paperback. Or $6 all up for B&S and TBS in ebook. You might also like to check out the vampire novel from Narrelle M Harris, Walking Shadows (decidedly tasty!).
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.
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
On 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:
How good was it to see Stuart Chatwood caressing those keyboards? Jeff Burrows going restrained Animal on the drums up the back, silhouetted by that spectacular backlighting beaming out across the Palais like some kind of mystical door opening? And Jeff Martin, being Jeff Martin, up the front of the Tea Party for the first time since they called it a day seven years ago?
Very bloody good.
Sure, the sound was always a pain with the feedback buzz and increasing muddiness. The lighting at times a little overbearing. The medleys a little ad hoc, not quite as smooth in the transitions as we’re used to.
Oh, there might be a few cobwebs still hanging off the trio, but after two hours of blasting out hits such as ‘The River’, ‘The Bazaar’, highlights in ‘Fire in the Head’ and ‘Psychopomp’, and on, to an encore culminating in ‘Sister Awake’/’Paint It Black’), they proved they’ve still got IT.
Throw in the theremin on ‘Lullaby’ (if memory serves), ‘Shadows on the Mountainside’ and a wee slice of ‘Hallelujah’ — more Cohen than Buckley — with ‘Heaven Coming Down’, ‘Release’, ‘Temptation’ and more, and last night’s opening gig of the Reformation tour in Melbourne was quite the emotional rollercoaster. More fun than Luna Park next door. And somehow, walking out into a cool, light shower of rain was the perfect end to what might be a new beginning for the Canadian trio.
They’re recording this Australian tour for a live album; will the studio follow?
This is the ninth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.
by Meg Mundell
Scribe, 2011, ISBN: 9781921640933
This is Melburnite Meg Mundell’s debut novel, and it’s a cracker. Once again*, we have Melbourne being gloomified in a near-future dystopia in which that mighty gap between the haves and the have-nots is bringing the city to the brink of anarchy. In the glass towers, the government manipulates its embedded media to try to keep a lid on. On the streets, the undocumented lower classes slink through the shadows, dodging security cameras and police patrols to earn a crust through corporate sabotage. And then there’s the young turks, looking to draw attention to the corruption at the top and the suffering at the bottom through increasingly violent demonstrations.
Into this tense social battlefield come two sisters, divided by an unfortunate incident, one seeking the other, and both forced to engage with the world beneath the veneer of identity cards and taxable wages.
The sisters provide the emotional thrust of the story, while other points of view are offered by a journalist delving into the underworld and a ‘moodie’ — a cross between tech and artist who uses lights, sounds and smells to exert subtle emotional control over people, usually in a crowd: say, keeping gamblers happy, helping concert-goers get frenetic without being destructive.
It’s a fetching combination of character-driven narrative and reportage, as shiny as the black glass that hides the corporate shenanigans, but not dark enough to be opaque.
All the pieces fit together and the ending is sublimely satisfying. It reminded me a little of the most excellent Moxyland, by South African Lauren Beukes, with its ensemble exploration of social strata.
Black Glass has figured in a bunch of Australian awards short-lists this year; it wouldn’t surprise if Mundell goes all the way in the future.
* cf The Courier’s New Bicycle, below.
Previous Challenge reviews:
- Debris by Jo Anderton, fantasy
- The Resurrectionists, by Kim Wilkins, horror.
- Sea Hearts, by Margo Lanagan, fantasy.
- Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres, fantasy.
- The Courier’s New Bicycle, by Kim Westwood, fantasy.
- The Road, by Catherine Jinks, horror
- The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
- Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
Last night, there was steak, seafood and Macbeth. It’s a winning combination, even if the play wasn’t quite as noms as the dinner.
Il Primo Posto is at Melbourne’s Southbank. It’s a welcoming space, unlike many of the corporate aquariums that line the river walk, given warmth and character by its mural wall, wooden shelves and dashing burgundy feature wall. The staff are efficient and friendly, and the food — the food is spot on in size, quality and price.
We got to the Arts Centre with the bell — not just the theatre bell calling us to our seats, but the Bell Shakespeare Company, performing my favourite work by the Bard, Macbeth.
The stage was set with turf and grass, suitably crunchy for adding to suspenseful creeping scenes, and a key feature was a reflective ceiling — it had a more dramatic effect farther back, I think, based on what I saw at intermission. Lighting was superb.
Among the highlights: Lady Macbeth, played by Kate Mulvany, and the beautifully balanced and passionate relationship with Macbeth; the sensation of spirit possession in the cleverly singular witch, Lizzie Schebesta; Macduff’s emotional speech on reception of news of his family’s death; the way in which dead Banquo exits the stage as the dinner scene is set up around him; the sex/violence dynamic between Macbeth and the witch. Great fake blood, too!
Some of the things that didn’t work quite so well for me: the truncated, even jumpy, second half, especially the absence of the scene explaining how it is that the woods can march; slow motion while actors deliver soliloquies; the confusion about whether the witch is still the witch when playing minor characters. Why keep Macduff’s family’s death scene but deny Lady Macbeth her post-dinner ramble?
One striking aspect of the play was the unexpected humour. There was an ironic, even Ocker, vein that elicited laughs in places one wouldn’t normally expect, while the one character often played for laughs — the gatekeeper — presented in part as quite dour. Lady Macbeth suffers a bout of hiccups, highly effective at beginning and end, but a tad disruptive in the midst of a heavy emotional monologue. And Macbeth himself, looking impish with a constant crouch and hunch and arms akimbo, at times more Rumpelstiltskin than tortured king, giving air to that jarring Aussie twang once in a while. The costumery was understated Australian, too, with the men’s uniforms of jeans and work shirts topped occasionally by formal blue military coats, and woollen jumpers to the fore.
This is another version that seems to put more weight on the role of the witch/es not just as oracles of fate but manipulators or even victims of it. I’m not convinced that reframing is required, given the sheer power of the tale about self-fulfilling prophecy.
It was a bold, even challenging production, and overall I enjoyed it, not just for what it did so very well — some wonderful scenes will linger for a long time indeed — but for what it dared to do. And kudos for programming Fever Ray for the departure song: a perfect beat to leave on after such a striking final moment.
It’s the afternoon after the four days that came before, and what a grand four days Continuum 8 offered. Held at Rydges in Carlton, where the bartenders were, as usual, outgunned by demand, the convention pulled together writers, publishers, readers and knitters (!) from around the country for the celebration of all things fantastical.
Twelfth Planet Press launched new titles by Kaaron Warren — a printing error has meant a recall for those who have already snaffled the enticing collection — and Margo Lanagan (officially hitting the shelves in August) and my novella Salvage (yay!). Keep an ear out for a podcast recorded at the beautifully laid out Embiggen Books(timber shelves! ladders! SECRET DOOR!) about the Twelve Planets series of collections. [update: the podcast is now available here]
There were panels on vampires, e-books, Australian writing and many other things; launches; parties; costumes; crafts; dinners on Lygon St; the nearest Japanese restaurant would’ve seen a pleasing surge in income. And there were awards, with Paul Haines and Sara Douglass both receiving posthumous accolades. A further highlight of the Ditmars was the squeaking octopii, given out as stand-ins when the actual awards failed to arrive in time.
Also awarded were the Chronos awards, recognising achievements by Victorian writers, artists and fans, and how pleasing it was to receive one for ‘best fan writer’. A lovely acknowledgement of my new address! And Kirstyn and co-host Ian Mond landed Ditmar and Chronos awards for their podcast, The Writer and the Critic. The awards lists are below.
So amidst the catching up, the memorials and general frivolity, a bittersweet announcement has been made: my wonderful boss, Kate Eltham, is leaving the Queensland Writers Centre to take the reins at next year’s Brisbane Writers Festival. Kate is a dynamic woman and talented writer who has made the QWC such an active organisation, reaching out across the state and the nation and overseas through various programs all aimed at not just keeping writers of all ilks in the loop but helping them to be part of the loops. It’ll be interesting to see what new ideas she brings to the BWF. This is great news for Kate and a real shift of gears, but I confess that I will sure miss her. Good luck with it, mate!
Ditmar Award winners:
Peter McNamara Award: Bill Congreve
A. Bertram Chandler Award:Richard Harland
Norma K Hemming Award, TIE: Anita (AA) Bell for Hindsight; Sara Douglass for The Devil’s Diadem
And a new award, the Infinity:Merv Binns
- WINNER: The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood (HarperCollins)
- Debris (The Veiled Worlds 1), Jo Anderton (Angry Robot)
- Burn Bright, Marianne de Pierres (Random House Australia)
- The Shattered City (Creature Court 2), Tansy Rayner Roberts (HarperCollins)
- Mistification, Kaaron Warren (Angry Robot)
Best Novella or Novelette
- WINNER: ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’, Paul Haines (The Last Days of Kali Yuga)
- ‘And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living’, Deborah Biancotti (Ishtar)
- ‘Above’, Stephanie Campisi (Above/Below)
- ‘Below’, Ben Peek (Above/Below)
- ‘Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary’, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Love and Romanpunk)
- ‘The Sleeping and the Dead’, Cat Sparks (Ishtar)
Best Short Story
- WINNER: ‘The Patrician’, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Love and Romanpunk)
- ‘Bad Power’, Deborah Biancotti (Bad Power)
- ‘Breaking the Ice’, Thoraiya Dyer (Cosmos 37)
- ‘The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker’, Martin Livings & Talie Helene (More Scary Kisses)
- ‘Alchemy’, Lucy Sussex (Thief of Lives)
- ‘All You Can Do Is Breathe’, Kaaron Warren (Blood and Other Cravings)
Best Collected Work
- WINNER: The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Paul Haines (Brimstone)
- Bad Power, Deborah Biancotti (Twelfth Planet)
- Nightsiders, Sue Isle (Twelfth Planet)
- Ishtar, Amanda Pillar & KV Taylor, eds. (Gilgamesh)
- Love and Romanpunk, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet)
- WINNER: ‘Finishing School’, Kathleen Jennings, in Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories (Candlewick)
- Cover art for The Freedom Maze (Small Beer), Kathleen Jennings
Best Fan Writer
- WINNER: Robin Pen, for The Ballad of the Unrequited Ditmar’
- Bruce Gillespie, for body of work including The Golden Age of Fanzines is Now’, and SF Commentary 81 & 82
- Alexandra Pierce, for body of work including reviews at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus, Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth, and Randomly Yours, Alex
- Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work including reviews at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus, and Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth
- Sean Wright, for body of work including ‘Authors and Social Media’ series in Adventures of a Bookonaut
Best Fan Artist
- WINNER: Kathleen Jennings, for work in Errantry, including ‘The Dalek Game’
- Rebecca Ing, for work in Scape
- Dick Jenssen, for body of work including work in IRS, Steam Engine Time, SF Commentary, and Scratchpad
- Lisa Rye, for Steampunk Portal series
- Rhianna Williams, for work in Nullas Anxietas Convention Program Book
Best Fan Publication in Any Medium
- WINNER: The Writer and the Critic podcast, Kirstyn McDermott & Ian Mond
- SF Commentary, Bruce Gillespie, ed.
- Galactic Chat podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts & Sean Wright
- Galactic Suburbia podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayer Roberts, & Alex Pierce
- The Coode Street podcast, Gary K. Wolfe & Jonathan Strahan
Best New Talent
- WINNER: Joanne Anderton
- Alan Baxter
- Steve Cameron
William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review
- WINNER: Alexandra Pierce & Tehani Wessely, for reviews of The Vorkosigan Saga, in Randomly Yours, Alex
- Russell Blackford, for ‘Currently reading: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke’, in Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
- Damien Broderick & Van Ikin, for editing Warriors of the Tao: The Best of Science Fiction: A Review of Speculative Literature
- Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene, for ‘2010: The Year in Review’, in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010
- David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts & Tehani Wessely, for ‘Reviewing New Who’ series, in A Conversational Life
Best Long Fiction: The Last Days of Kali Yuga, Paul Haines (Brimstone Press)
Best Short Fiction: ‘The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt’, Paul Haines (in The Last Days of Kali Yuga)
Best Fan Writer: Jason Nahrung
Best Fan Artist: Rachel Holkner
Best Fan Written Work: ‘Tiptree, and a collection of her short stories’, Alexandra Pierce (in Randomly Yours, Alex)
Best Fan Artwork: Blue Locks, Rebecca Ing (Scape 2)
Best Fan Publication: The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
Best Achievement: Conquilt, Rachel Holkner and Jeanette Holkner (Continuum 7)
* It’s possible there might be a photo of me with a bottle of wine and a glass: I was pouring for other people. Honest.
To start the week on a high, here’s a picture from a recent drive to Grants Picnic Ground near Kallista in the Dandenongs. The picnic ground offers a couple of walking tracks. I chose it with my father in mind, because one track is specifically built for people with limited mobility — it’s about 300m of flat track through the ferns and ash trees if I remember the sign rightly.
A bonus is the cafe serving coffee and scones, and across the road, the bird-feeding area where you can buy seed for the cockatoos, galahs and other parrots who flock to the tucker. The national parks in the Dandenongs are a spectacular getaway close to the eastern outskirts of the city, and sometimes you really need that breath of fresh air, eh?
Napolitano, in her top hat and be-ribboned home-made dress worn over trousers, had anecdotes aplenty, starting with a ‘frog on a log’ song she wrote at age 12 — her first — to entertain a sick sister. Marc Moreland (of Wall of Voodoo, and Napolitano collaboration Pretty & Twisted with Danny Montgomery; he died in March 10 years ago) and ‘Joey’ featured. A superbly delivered poem from her Rough Mix book that had her harking back to the Rat Pack and the Hollywood of her youth. Those interjections within songs: priceless.
The Spiegeltent encourages that lounge room conversation atmosphere and this was a very comfortable house party indeed.
I’ve not heard versions of ‘Joey’ and ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’ (by Wall of Voodoo’s Andy Prieboy) more impressive than tonight’s renditions. Quite remarkable, given the guitarist has fractures in both hands.
Again, though the songs were much the same as previously, the order was changed around and each was given its own treatment. Finale ‘Bloodletting’ was more comical — Napolitano has a wonderfully expressive face; ‘I Don’t Need a Hero’ rang heavy with emotion — I suspect there were ghosts in the house, haunting those lyrics, as one might expect from a gig with an autobiographical intention.
The audience, as last night, provided the rhythm section for ‘Roses Grow’, and how Napolitano can hold a note… I can’t even hold my breath that long, and she’s got a good 10 years on me. The sell-out crowd again got to put their hands together to bolster the encore, a cappella ‘Mercedes Benz’.
Other songs included ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ with Napolitano on piano — man, it ripped — ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘the Wedding Theme from Candy‘, ‘Rosalie‘, ‘New Orleans Ain’t the Same’ (so gorgeous, a favourite for this French Quarter tragic) and “Take Me Home/Rehab’.
On Thursday night we had the rain, and last night there was a woman in the audience, apparently on her way to a party, dressed as Marilyn Monroe, which was the perfect window dressing for ‘Roses Grow’ (which references the actor). No such ‘extras’ tonight*, just honest, at times affectingly raw, music, that drew a standing ovation.
I hope her hands heal soon, that she continues to make wonderful music and lets us experience it in person like this. I saw Concrete Blonde twice on 2010’s Bloodletting tour (Melbourne and Brisbane) and they totally tore it up, but this series was something else again. Bravo; fucking bravo!
* Addendum: There was an inopportune low-flying helicopter that leant itself to a joke about being on the run, like Ray Liotta in Goodfellas was it, that totally cracked Napolitano up.
Thing is, when you’re personable and natural, you can get away with the odd fumble. It’s refreshing to be reminded that not everyone has to be polished and Photoshopped to the sheen of ceramic in order to entertain. Cracks are allowed. Crack-ups are divine; Napolitano’s humour won through. ‘I’m a mess,’ she said; ‘thanks for your patience’. Pshaw. When you can bring tears to the eyes with a rendition of ‘New Orleans Ain’t the Same (Since You’ve Been Gone)’, you get all the patience you need.
The set list was tweaked from the previous, again opening with ‘Rosalie’, and finishing early with the a cappella ‘Mercedes Benz’ before an encore of ‘Roses Grow’ to the accompaniment of audience percussion, ‘(You’re the Only One) Can Make Me Cry’ and the finale, ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’.
Napolitano, in hat and ankle-length sleeveless black dress, was in good spirits, wisecracking, rendering slightly different takes on some songs, making each one fresh within its moment. The set list also included ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’, ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, ‘(You’re the Only One) Can Make Me Cry’ with a snatch of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ on the piano and ‘the wedding theme from Candy‘.
There were anecdotes of Wall of Voodoo’s Marc Moreland and Melbourne (the inspiration for the hit ‘Joey’), of overflowing bath tubs and nanna naps, references to being old belied by a voice that took us far, far away from the canvas and mirrors of the elegant Spiegeltent. Great sound, too.
Napolitano is donating all proceeds of merch sales to the Lost Dogs Home, with one more night to run in her three-night appearance.
Oh yes, I’m a fan, and last night — the first of a three-gig run — was a demonstration of why. That face, lined and shadowed with a life at the lower end of the rock biz, an uncompromising life, that voice that carries so much emotion; and then that cheeky peek from under the hat’s brim, the eyes alight and round with amusement and wonder, and she could be 20, or 12.
I love her shyness, her humility, her quirkiness, her freedom to make mistakes and to interrupt her songs to interject a comment or a laugh. I love the way she plays her way into a song and then — oh — she’s in it, and it’s real, rasping low notes that make you shiver, those highs that make you tremble. She looks, sounds and acts real — ‘I like … my stories true,’ she says at one stage, quoting a passage from her Rough Mix chap book, a smattering of autobiography and lyrics and behind-the-scenes that’s only crime is being too short.
Last night’s gig opened with the recent Concrete Blonde release ‘Rosalie’, thrilled with ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, then sent a frisson with a spectacular version of ‘Mexican Moon’ — some flamenco notes, some Spanish, all heartfelt.
She sang a song about a frog on a log that she wrote when she was 12 — pretty good little ditty, that — and the wedding song from the Aussie movie Candy, the first time she’d performed it, she said (‘I was shitting myself up here; I’m still shitting myself’).
It was a freestyle playlist, snippets of tunes here and there including a grab of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ , anecdotes, requests, stretching back across her bands (primarily Concrete Blonde, her most successful venture) and solo work.
The Pretty & Twisted tune ‘Don’t Take Me Down’ was stunning on the piano. There was a strong showing from the Bloodletting album, in addition to the titular song: ‘Joey’, Concrete Blonde’s big hit, and ‘Tomorrow, Wendy’, the Marc Moreland song that Johnette virtually owns due to her stirring renditions over the years, and a strident ‘I Don’t Need A Hero’. Her wonderful solo album Scarred was represented by ‘Just Like Time’. The gig ended with an a cappella rendition of ‘Mercedes Benz’, completing an earlier impression of a Joplin-like presence.
Lord knows what I’ve missed. An hour was too short but deliciously long. She has two other gigs at the elegant, intimate Spiegeltent, an ideal venue for an acoustic performance from a genuine, and genuinely talented, performer.
Note: I’ve replaced an old PR shot of Johnette used in the original post with one taken on the third night after the audience was given permission to take photos for a period.