I caught the Wheeler Centre’s Next Big Thing: Spotlight on Queensland event on Monday night. It reminded me of those heady days of Queensland Writers Centre’s Wordpool, cramming into a sweaty bar to hear a mix of established and upcoming writers bare their work. Community-building. Great stuff. (see Whispers, Queenslanders)
On Monday, in the intimate and rather spiffy surrounds of the Moat Bar and Restaurant in the Wheeler Centre’s basement (happy hour: BONUS!), four Queenslanders took the stage.
Bri Lee goes a’hunting.
First off the block was Bri Lee, reading a narrative non-fiction piece published in Voiceworks, about her experirence on a hunting trip. Descriptive, self-aware, highlighting the dichotomies of the experience and the hunter.
Sally Piper shares Grace’s Table.
Sally Piper was up second, reading from her 2014 debut novel, Grace’s Table (it was great to catch up with Sally, following her profile interview for WQ last year). Sally read two excerpts, highlighting how food — its preparation, serving and consuming — provided a window into the shifting structures of a family. The novel takes place in the course of a meal — a second novel is being shopped around now, so keep an eye out.
My old mate Trent Jamieson brought the vampires to the table, with a suitably chilly section from his brand spanking new novel Day Boy. The short chapter, its cold theme sympathetic to the chilly night outside, was everything you expect from a Trent story: atmospheric, literate, touching. And in this case, just a little spooky, too; it gave me an undertone of Let the Right In One, perhaps a little of that wonderful scene from Wuthering Heights when the ghostly child is seeking entrance. I HAVE THE BOOK! Thanks to Embiggen Books, who were selling copies of the readers’ work. The Brisbane launch is TOMORROW (25 June).
Sarah Holland-Batt reveals The Hazards.
Poet Sarah Holland-Batt read from her hot-off-the-press second poetry collection The Hazards, the four poems showing broad subject matter gathered from her travels, an eye for landscape, emotional resonance.
Excellent curating, highlighting a great mix of talent, who all read well — not always easy with clinking glasses and background conversation to contend with.
Secondly, the Wheeler Centre is back in the swing, and has posted a video of Alison Goodman and Alison Croggon discussing their approach to fantasy: something both write extremely well (cf The Two Pearls of Wisdom/Eon and The Gift, respectively).
And thirdly, I’ve reviewed The Coming of the Whirlpool, the first book of Andrew McGahan’s YA fantasy series, over at ASiF. An enjoyable, intriguing read for anyone who’s had an eye(patch) on swashbuckling.
If you haven’t checked out the Wheeler Centre’s amazing program of mostly free events, now is a great time to do so. This month, they are hosting much-awarded Shaun Tan, best-selling Kate Morton and tunesmiths Stephen Cummings and Clare Bowditch, amongst others. Not bad diversity, that.
And in other events to keep an eye on, it’s worth noting that an uber expensive Tutankhamun exhibit is on its way to Melbourne next year. Despite the level of crass commercialism suggested by the article, I still *shiver in anticipation*.
A couple of bookish outings coming up, with options for the signing of books and drinking of wine for those so inclined:
Kirstyn is lining up at the Wheeler Centre’s debut night on Monday, Oct 25: good fun to hear debut novellists read from their work and maybe grab a copy and have a chat over a drink afterwards;
We are both joining Bruce Kaplan, Alan Baxter, and Bob Franklin at a Halloween signing at Dymocks at Southland noon-1pm on Oct 31: grab a copy and/or get one signed, stay for a chat
Also, there’s a bit of pre-Halloween fun to be had at a trivia night in support of the excellent Continuum convention (next year, June 10-13).
When: Saturday 30th October, 8pm
Where: Brian Boru Function Room @ The Celtic Club
316-320 Queen Street, Melbourne
Cost of Entry: $5
For more information or to RSVP send an email with the subject line
‘trick or trivia’ to events AT continuum.org.au
Costumes optional but a prize for the best one will be awarded by the
Prizes also given out for arriving in a lucky manner!
Many awesome raffle prizes!
BRET Easton Ellis is on his way to Melbourne so I thought I’d better swot up, starting with Lunar Park (2005; his only book since then, Imperial Ballrooms, came out last month and is a sequel to his debut, 1985’s Less Than Zero).
Lunar Park is a very clever book, all about a writer called Bret Easton Ellis whose career path seems to mirror the drug-snorting, much-screwing celeb career path of the real life character (there’s a fascinating interview with Ellis in the Guardian about his new, drier, quieter life, and his public persona). It also offers some of the spookiest scenes I’ve read in ages, as fictional Ellis realises the mansion he shares with his wife, their son and her daughter is, shall we say, under a cloud. And it’s not just the fact that the wild child is grasping on to what passes as a normal life when you’re famous and your missus is an actress. Mixed in with acerbic observations about a certain well-to-do class of society is a plot of vanishing teenagers and some even stranger goings on at chez Ellis; there’s a son’s difficult relationship with his deceased father and the whole issue of fitting into this strange, new family; there’s drugs and booze and a certain girl at the university where he teaches who he’d really like to screw; there’s the dog, a truly delightful character.
The climax left me a little underwhelmed, but the writing was so smart and, despite some long (very long) sentences here and there (that for the most part worked), accessible, the characters so engaging (if the narrator is a tad, well, useless (he’s an addict so, d’uh)), that I really didn’t mind the letdown. The denouement was fetching, so maybe that helped.
FAMILY is also central to Tomorrow, When the War Began, but the focus is different and the comparison ends there. While Ellis and co are snogging and snorting in McMansions, Ellie and her small band of high school pals are sweating it out in the Australian scrub in the aftermath of an invasion by an unnamed and unidentified foreign power. All we know is that the soldiers probably hail from Asia or the Pacific — you do the math. John Marsden doesn’t say, at least not in the first three books. Given Australia’s traditional xenophobia, it’s probably wise to keep it obscure, but I can’t help feeling that wanting to know where the invaders were from would be on the minds of the invaded. It’s a small thing, and it’ll be interesting to see how the makers of a movie based on his series (opening in August), first released in 1993, tackle the subject of just who launches this comprehensive strike with an eye to colonisation.
Ellie’s from the bush, a rural town where most of her friends are farmers’ kids, so they know there way around machinery, animals and the scrub. They’re resourceful and plucky, and altogether human. Watching the characters rise to the occasion, mature under the pressure, grow and change, is part of the joy.
One of the most compelling features of the story is the way Marsden balances the action with the insight — this war is not patriotic, it’s survival, and questions of hate, morality, love and the future under foreign rule are handled with such care it’s a pleasure to read. There are some explosions — Ellie’s mates work out that they have a compulsion to fight for their land and their way of life against those who would take it by force. But the kids don’t turn into commandos overnight. They don’t use karate and explosives and guns with an innate Hollywood sensibility. Rather, they use their nous, they learn from their mistakes, and they pay a physical and moral price for making some hard decisions. Thoroughly enjoyable.