Monday, 19 December 2011

Stupidity Rules Part 4

I was in Sydney on Saturday, and while there weren't exactly tumbleweeds rolling down George St, I thought there was a surprising absence of eager Christmas consumers, wallets at the ready, credit cards thrust forward in a mad desire to enter the New Year with a financial burden of significantly greater magnitude than good ol' 2011.

The woman in Dymocks didn't appear to notice, claiming it was as busy as ever, and that her coping mechanism for the Festy Season was 'smile and nod' which is good advice in most situations, from political leaders indicating their intention for your nation to invade the slightly smaller one to the north, to just about any and every domestic situation.

I wasn't convinced it was so busy, however. The vibe just wasn't there, and the number of sales and discounted items in various stores seemed to belie the economic vitality claimed by this single sales clerk. She was, after all, hardly a suitable statistical basis for any kind of survey, despite her position on the Christmas front line.

Down at the Quay (see previous post) it was kind of going off, but people were intent on filling their stomachs rather than their Christmas stockings. I thought, if the nation was indeed heading towards a financial slump, then perhaps we needed to find an alternate means to stimulate the economy. We needed to concentrate on our core strengths. No more spending on pink batts and school halls and other arcane paraphernalia, we needed to get the dollars going to tried and true spending sources.

Which means alcohol, of course. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in certain places at least, large quantities of Kevin Rudd's previous cash stimulii were certainly invested down at various locals. The alcohol led economic recovery is a no brainer, a sure fire winner not only guaranteed to increase employment in the service industries, but also by the virtues of flow on, to the law enforcement and health sectors as well.

The only significant issue that I can see, after a little bit of fieldwork, is how we can encourage people to drink more. Short of employing the kinds of devices used to ensure large volumes of high octane fuel flood directly into the bellies of voracious Formula 1 racing cars in under a nanosecond, I don't know if it's really possible to drink in greater amounts than Australians are currently imbibing. Possibly the economic salvation we seek is already at hand. Forget the mining boom and two speed economy. As the collective livers of Australia swell and distend, raise another glass and know you're doing your bit for the nation.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

It's a Writer's Life Part 4

It was a sunny day in Sydney yesterday, spectacular actually if you happened to head to the Quay and see the brilliant trilogy of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and some God awfully huge passenger liner moored to the passenger terminal. The icons were surrounded by thousands of people intent on recreating in all manner of traditionally accepted forms: sight seeing, spending time with the fam, eating and drinking and conviving with similarly minded friendly folk, and the whole scene was bathed in a brilliantly tepid amber afternoon light.

I had come not for the rays or the views or even the caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart devoured with relish, but for the opportunity to witness a hero. Granted, he hadn't saved anyone from a firey inferno or flooded causeway lately (as far as I know), but he had certainly contributed to my literary salvation.

Tom Stoppard was a figure of primacy in my formative days as a writer. It's no accident my two earliest plays explored figures already existent in literature (Biggles and Juliet - and possibly there's a future play title there for an aspiring post-post-post modernist). His own writing trajectory had followed a similar path with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Travesties.

Tom (should I say 'Sir Tom'? It is his title afterall. Or am I betraying my republican ideals?) went on to create a bunch of plays which ensured his position as a writer of importance back when contemporaries like Osborne and Pinter were also breaking through. Stoppard writes with intelligence and wit and with a practically unparalleled capacity to manipute the English language to within, of its creative capacity, a split infinitive. He also won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love.

In many ways he appeared a reticent intervieee. I'm sure he was paid the metric equivalent of a shitload to be there, and was as willing and intent and obliging as someone who accepts such a gig should be, but he was, dare I say it, humble. Not something we're particularly used to seeing these days. Fake humility, sure, You can't get out the door these days without wading through a small lake of fake humility. But the actual stuff is much harder to find.

Over the course of the hour a well-audienced Concert Hall learned something of his working habits (still uses a pen, writes pyrimidacally in that he does many drafts of the first page of a play, then tapers as he goes until he hopes that the end page will be so logically arrived at that it will require little in the way of revision), and we saw his passion for human rights doesn't seem to have diminished. We were also told one other, possibly very important, thing.

Tom claims that his works he feels are the most successful are those he has managed to 'write lucky.' He explained, I think, that this means there are some pieces that he felt very clever about when they were finished, and others which he allowed to develop and to inform themselves as he underwent the creative writing process. In other words, he allowed the work to find its own truth rather than the impose on it his own intentions and expectations.

Let's get one thing straight: I've seen a lot of theatrical crappola which I suspect has been created using exactly this methodology. All exploration and no structure. Some writers who work from the 'take the idea and run' viewpoint don't always produce good things. However someone like Stoppard, who has learned more than enough of the rules to be confident about breaking them, has the capacity to conceive brilliance and see it emerge on the page, all the stronger for its own veracity. It's a bit like jumping into the deep end of the pool without knowing how many sharks, stingrays, piranhas and other assorted aquatic carnivores lie waiting below... but feeling confident you can outswim the lot of them.

So where does this leave my next project? I'm normally a plotter and a planner. I like to know where I'm going. I've always preferred to fully research before commencing writing rather than begin with an idea and see where it takes me. This time, though, I think I'd like to try it. I think it's time to write with luck. What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Stupidity Rules Part 3

I was reading today that in 2000 there were over a million and a half people from South America who had the temerity to attempt to get into North America across an imaginary line that separates one part of a landmass from the other in order to live more fulfilling and satisfying lives with an income, greater opportunities for their kids, some safety and human rights, not to mention the chance to send a few dollars back home to their needy relatives etc.

Here in Australia, of course we face loads more people attempting to cross the border. Well, no, actually, of course we don’t. Even though there were still over 300,000 people turned back in the States last year, we’ve managed to create something of an outcry over just a few thousand people who risk their lives on little ships to try and find better lives for themselves and their families Downunder. Despite the polemic from the hysterical right, it’s actually not illegal to do this. The United Nations says so. So does the Australian government. And when all the processing is done and the numbers are added up, very few asylum seekers are actually sent back. While there’s a whole lot of media hoohah and vested interest outcry over the ‘boat people invading our shores’, something like 95% of people currently in Australia without visas have arrived here by plane. In addition, Australia’s population rises between 200,000 and 300,000 people every year through planned migration from all the nations of the world – a number that rose to this level during John Howard’s Prime Ministership. Hang on, didn’t he have everyone thinking he didn't like immigration, especially if it led to the whole de-Anglicisation of Australia thing? He was sneaky, wasn’t he?

Personally, I think it’s time to stop blaming the victims. Of course Australia is a nice place to live, that’s why we’re here. Of course, other people are going to want to live here, too. The ‘boat’ people are not bad people, they just want a better life for themselves and their kids. Who can blame them? Yeah, we need to check no crims get in, but beyond that, do we have to pay out on them so much?

There was a thing on Facebook a while back: ‘What do Moses, Oscar Schindler, the French Resistance and Elliot from ET have in common? They were all people smugglers.’ (OK, yes, technically, Elliot wasn’t a people smuggler.)

The point is, people will always want to move where things are better, like where they’re not being persecuted, where there’s some food, where there’s a chance their kids will live long enough to pass the HSC and maybe even get into uni and have a career. Where there's no war happening down the block...

If we’re not helping to make things better in their own countries, we have to accept that some folk are going to want to move somewhere else. Somewhere better. Like here. That’s the salient point. Let’s hear Julia and Tony and the rest mention that. You never will...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

It's a Writer's Life Part 3

I set one of my children free today. Er, not one of my actual children, they're much too valuable where they are. (Lol jks kids! I still love you all...) No, I mean I published a new story and made it available for free download on the internets.

Having won or been shortlisted in so many competitions now, I've grown a little tired of waiting for someone to publish my fiction, and have decided to release my better works as eBooks. Much more satisfying than having them sitting neglected on a hard drive gathering cyber-dust.

I already had my story The Walking Wounded, which won the Byron Bay Writers' Festival/ Varuna unpublished manuscript award a few years back online, now it's the turn of Papertrail, which was shortlisted in the Varuna/ HarperCollins publisher's fellowship competition last year.

I really enjoyed writing Papertrail, mostly because it has the kind of characters in it that pretty much write themselves. They are warm and funny in just the way I wanted them to be. The premise rests on the life of Marilyn, whose husband deserts her just after she finishes the house renovations. Although I always intended a happy ending, I had great fun pulling the rug out from under her on every opportunity I could find. The strapline 'How the worst year of her life became the best year of her life...' pretty much sums up what happens.

I was also interested in seeing how much material I could 'plant' in the story which would have a good pay-off at a late point in the book. That was fun to do and I think it works. Above all though, like The Walking Wounded, I wanted recognisable, believable characters - people you could easily imagine knowing and liking and hanging out with - who were quietly undergoing remarkable personal changes. I think both books are among the best I've written.

As I said, they're online for free (although I've set up a PayPal link so that if you're feeling generous there is a way to reimburse me). What are you waiting for? Check out now.

Here are the Top Ten reasons why you should download my free eBooks:

1. They're free.
2. They're eBooks: the pages won't crease, the spines won't snap, the covers won't get stained, you can never lose them (as long as you don't delete them accidentally or lose your eBook reader, I guess. But they're pretty robust, you'd have to say...)
3. Did I mention that they're free?
4. They're great Christmas presents for anyone buying gifts on a budget.
5. If you read them soon, you'll be among the trendsetters who read me before I 'brokethrough'.
6. If you read Papertrail, you'll be able to create a cute origami shape out of folded paper - although you'll spend the whole book guessing what it is.
7. If you read The Walking Wounded, you'll gain a unique insight into unorthodox counselling methodologies - which can be quite fun if you're into that kind of thing.
8. Both books should leave you feeling happier and wiser than before you read them - or your money back.
9. I think I mentioned that they're free, didn't I?
10. If you're the kind of person who believes in reward for effort and choose to make a donation, then you get the chance to decide how much you want to contribute... and this will be an interesting exploration into personal ethics which carries it's own reward in terms of your personal growth and development.

Gees, what are you waiting for? Have fun, and even if you don't donate, I'd love to hear what you think. Download my kids now!

Mainly because the following sentence is such a satisfying way to end this post, I will now quote Bela Lugosi playing Dracula, bearing in mind that the context is completely different and I usually write in the mornings. But it's such a great line.

'Listen to them, children of the night, what music they make.'

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Stupidity Rules Part 2

So even though we haven’t quite made all the payments on the Queen’s recent visit, now we’re stumping up for the fawning and swanning and obsequiousness in overdrive, not to mention the circus of security, that is the current trip down under made by a certain Mr Obama of Washington and parts thereof.

Look, I know it’s polite when the visitors pop over to ensure they're safe and that they’ve got enough lamingtons and somewhere to crash but there are Other Considerations here. I think you know what I’m talking about. You must have seen it. It’s impossible to miss. There are blind people out there who have actually felt it assaulting them through their flat screens. I’m talking about the smugness factor. Not his. Hers. Julia’s. In every shot I’ve seen of them standing side-by-side she looks like the cat who’s got the cream. And not your bog standard supermarket-standard cream, either. I’m talking King Island Secret Stash Royal Reserve Mega Premium Double Thick Double Dollop Hand Stroked Extra Special For Your Eyes Only Sourced From The Secret Magic Cow Allowed Only To Feed Upon The Purest Greenest Grass Grown In The Ripest Pasture In All The Land-type cream.

Smug smug smuggety smug. As smug as a slug on a drug. As smug as it’s possible to be without actually dying of pure smugness. We need to ask why this is... Is La Gillard secretly watching her sagging polling fortunes start to rise? Or is it simply that the nerd from Unley High School is practically holding hands with the most powerful – and one of the cutest, from her perspective, I dare to suggest – blokes in the known universe. Having private chats with him about national security, foreign debt and how Stacey in Fourth Form never thought Julia would amount to anything.

But that's not actually the only scary part of this cavalcade of  congratulation, is it? There's also the question of the new US base, where a couple of thousand Marines are going to hang out in the Top End and drop ridiculously efficiently from helicopters – presumably with ropes or parachutes – onto anyone underneath them who isn’t quite in the loop about the training exercise going on overhead.

This is a concern because as soon as Ms G and Mr O head to Indo and start spruiking to the countries around us that there’s ‘nothing to fear’ from the new base, you know that there’s actually a helluva lot to be righteously afeared of – and I'm not talking about the Festival of Smug.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

It's a Writer's Life Part 2

Another balmy tropical evening on Thursday Island... What a blessing to be brought to this place to work with a bunch of amazing people: actors, musicians and our producer and audio engineer to create a new series of radio plays. This is a stunning environment and it produces amazing people.

We are recording eight eps of the play and a music video. Spent two days rehearsing and translating what I'd written after the initial workshops and subsequent readings into yumpla tok. This way of speaking which used to be called Torres Strait Creole or broken English or sometimes just 'broken' is now called yumpla tok which means 'our people's way of speaking' from what I understand.

Hearing the play performed in this way is amazing by itself. I'm working with Danni and Rhiannon who I worked with on the last series as well as James, Joseph and Chiomi who constantly blow me away with their ability and enthusiasm. As well there's Patrick Mau 'Mau Power' who is simply a rapping prodigy and able to create amazing music. Heather has pulled the whole thing thing together, Corey and CJ are filming it and the awesome Nigel Pegrum is recording. After we fly out on Friday we spend some time editing in Nigel's Pegasus Studios in Cairns.

On my return I spend the following weekend giving a workshop on writing for the stage in Bowral NSW which I hope goes as well as the one I gave in Bermagui the weekend before last.

I always had a dream to go to interesting places and be paid to write and here I am. Amazing!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Hint hint...

You know what it's like. You invite the nice folk you think you'd like to impress round for a barbie. You spend slightly more on the prawns than you meant and buy a case of clean skins because you don't want to run out of grog if the evening starts to kick along.

At first it all seems to be going well. The visitors are smiling and nodding in the right places even in some of your more dubious anecdotes. But then the evening starts to drag and you and the missus exchange eye contact a couple of times and realize that on this occasion at least you're both in synch. It's time for them to go. You start dropping hints: you have to get up early in the morning, the kids have been running you off your feet, you're very tired and you even attempt a not so subtle yawn or two. Still they sit there holding out their glasses for more.

Now it's getting serious. Do you state the obvious or continue with the subtleties? At what point exactly do you lose all tact and shout loudly across the lounge room: 'Go home you pair of historical anachronisms swanning around the countryside at the Australian tax payers expense! Liz and Phil, I guess it was kind of nice to catch a glimpse of you and get some sense that as head of state you do remember we actually exist, but now it's time to leave! We've got things to do: carbon and mining taxes to debate while simultaneously selling our children and grandchildren woefully short because we're not taking them as nearly as seriously as we should. But we need to abase ourself in private if you don't mind. Now go home and live off your own taxpayers again!'

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Stupidity Rules Part 1

The question is not whether women should be allowed to fight alongside men on the front line of the army but rather why they would want to. Really, after all this time, the best women are able to do is get themselves in a position where they now have equal rights for the possibility of a high velocity copper coated soft point round to become suddenly intimately acquainted with their individual neocortexes?

The fight should actually have been to get men to stop shooting rather than to get women shooting as well, I would have thought. The dream of Natalie Sambhi, a 29-year old Master's student who speaks six languages and who apparently lusts after the opportunity to become Taliban target practice, is an intriguing one. It seems that none of the languages she speaks offers the opportunity for her to argue the case for peace, and instead she's fought for well, more fighting.

Australia, Canada and NZ are currently the only places which allow women in full combat roles (unless you count countries where female suicide bombers have done their bit to ensure a bunch of kids live in terror a while longer), however don't expect the US to wait too long to join the trend as this seems an easy solution to current recruitment shortfalls.

One curious offshoot of this decision must be that those who dislike gay people in the military will lose the centrepiece of their argument: the distraction of foxhole sex mid-invasion. Surely those beach-heads are going to be one long orgy of shagging and shooting between all genders now. If only they could just forget about the shooting...

Monday, 19 September 2011

It's a Writer's Life Part 1

A good day today... first up interviewed an archeologist who is returning to Cyprus to recommence work on a dig near Paphos, the site of an ancient theatre. She spoke of the sounds of sparrows, of the cooking smells, of hidden churches in the hills containing relics which comprised religion both ancient and modern (kissing the saint's skull), of the role of linen and weaving in history and how important the art of spinning was in an age where clothing wasn't a fashion item but a necessity for survival. And how those in olden times could do some things better than us, and of the shadows that are sometimes all that survive.

Then I finished editing a novel I intend releasing as a free eBook, so check my website ( and expect to see something available soonish.

This was followed by a meeting with a fellow writer, equal part whinge against those who constrain us, and celebration of those who support us, which is probably exactly how it should be.

The final meeting of the day was with a production company which will soon begin further pre-production work on a script I have written for a modern Gothic Australian musical film.  It also included a component on some corporate work we are doing, and I'm happy to report that it doesn't matter what level one works on, it is always possible to learn more, and to contribute.

So, a good day. Life is a weekend. Remember, you read it here first.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Poddie Part 1

So, how cool are podcasts?

Back in the day, and in the place (OK, stand up and take your dues, Australia in the late 70s early 80s, you know what it was like) there infrequently came a simply breathtakingly good piece of audio broadcasting. When it happened, as rarely as it did, it was always far more revealing than This Day Tonight or whatever ephemeral piece of alleged news was on the television. Between the punctuation of static and less informed minds demanding a change to the commercial channels, the ABC would, every now and again, dish out the goods. But, however, it was a hit and mostly miss affair.

Now we can podcast the hell out of the internet and get anything we like. I'll talk about some of the ones I like in the forthcoming weeks, I'm sure, but to get the ball rolling I'd like to mention open source universities. I've just listened to a series of lectures from Yale Open University by Professor David Blight on the American Civil War. 27 lectures by a leading figure in the field, all available for nix nada nothing straight into your phone or pod. How cool is that?

Great for long car drives, lying in bed, pounding the pavement. And every one contains something inspirational in this most seminal of conflicts.

I LOVE the idea of open courses. You don't get the qualifications but you get the knowledge. Great for people with access to the internet but no access to formal education. I'm not saying you should be operated on by a doctor who studied in such a fashion, but if you personally want to hear a bunch of facts delivered by an expert in his or her field, this is the sort of cyberspatial corner you should be hanging out on.

There are hundreds of them, all loaded with intellectual carbs. This is one chance you should take to get as fat you can...

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

After 9/11

A lot has happened in the long days since 9/11, some 3650+ of them actually (you do the arithmetic), but a couple of things come to mind.

I like how 'ground zero' entered the lexicon, even though the towers were hit a long way above the ground. I dislike how 'weapons of mass destruction' was a phrase which was forgotten so quickly and not given the opportunity to batter certain American presidents of the time into complete submission until they started begging for mercy and crying uncle.

And I particularly like how American TV has changed. Coincidence? You decide. But there's been a lot better stuff being produced in the last ten years than in the forty before. The phrase 'truth in television' could never be uttered in older times, but now it has a resonance that transcends advertorial 'honesty'. The programs produced by HBO and its ilk have given a new life to the medium. I don't need to name them, if you've participated in the quality, you'll know which ones I mean.

Suffice to say, another one hit me between the ventricles tonight with the power of a hijacked 727, so well done, USA, in this regard. We'll talk about the other stuff later...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Another day in cyberspace...

Hi, so I'm blogging now, and although they say in cyberspace no-one can hear you scream, sometimes late at night there is a distinct high pitched weird banshee-like wail coming down through the ether, don't you think? I'll write more later, this is really just a test.