Sunday, 27 July 2014

What I Loved: Patient: The story of a rare illness

I was at a pre-program launch for the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of weeks ago.  It was a civilised gathering in Aesop on Collins St, with wine from Mount Langhi Gihran.

The ever-smiling hostess, Lisa Dempster, stood before us with a few pages of text that she barely referred to. Clearly, orchestrating a diverse and innovative program doesn't mean she's out of touch with any of the details.

I was grinning as she talked about the In Conversation session with Ben Watt. Maybe it was Lisa speeding up and (have I imagined this?) fanning herself talking about the lead singer of Everything But The Girl and his books? Maybe she, too, knew a boy that had given her an EBTG album a few decades ago?

Whether it's fair to 'blame' Lisa or not, the Ben Watt session was highlighted at my program planning session the next morning. Ticket booked I thought I'd better have a look at what he's been up to over the past 20+ years.

I borrowed Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness and started it late one night, just to knock over a few pages. It's a good thing I knew that this stuff happened a while ago and Ben is alive and touring and "well", because I was tense and teary in my 75 page quick opening read.

I'm wary of true stories in the actual people's hands. If they're not written well I'm saddened by the waste of a good story, and then I experience a little self-disgust for responding like that. But there's nothing to worry about here.

Watts' journey of dreadful physical illness includes more medical specialists than one hospital hires, surgeries and drips and hoses in and out of his body, and we learn all of this with blends of facts and his reflections. I never thought I'd be rooting for levels of his cell counts and blood culture tests, and I held my breath while they slow-bombed him with cyclophosphamide.

But where he really gets me is writing about other people. Several aspects are analogous to the prison experience, and "like a lone diver among sharks, I would watch the cool-eyed doctors and anaesthetists glide round my bed." During his first days in hospital he doesn't want to face other patients and their illnesses, but over time they become part of his community. We see the arrivals of long-term patients who know the drill, and newcomers who look as confused and dis-interested in others as Watts did at the start.

One morning a patient had been prepped and drugged for theatre, but was left waiting in the ward. He was stoned and couldn't stop giggling, "like a little boy in bed on the morning of his birthday." It infected the whole ward so patients gigged at anything, at the nurse apologising for the delay, the porter arriving with a trolley. For a few minutes these terribly sick men are like little boys in a mini-pageant. It's one of the many places Watts uses humour that is natural and a delightful release.

I'm not sure my nerves are ready for his recent memoir - "a remarkably intimate portrayal of his parents." This was enough on how his relationship with his father evolved during his illness to send me back to the tissues -
"We sat together with our little legs side by side, and just started talking in quiet voices - nothing demonstrative or loaded with meaning: just odd things about the car, about jazz and the cricket. I felt like we were boys. And I realised that was how he wanted it. He didn't really want to be my grown-up dad. He wanted to be on equal terms, conspiratorial and even-handed. Good fellas. Little musketeers. I told him I liked his shoes, and he said he would get me a pair. It was something concrete that he could do."

Interestingly I didn't have EBTG in my head while reading this, but couldn't shake James Taylor -
"I feel fine anytime she's around me now, she's around me now almost all the time. And if I'm well you can tell she's been with me now. She's been with me now quite a long, long time, and I feel fine."
I'd like to think that Ben and Tracey would be okay with that.

What I Loved - work I have read and must share

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Ugly words

Write a list of 10 words that you dislike for their ugliness 

I haven't been doing daily prompts for a while now, but liked the look of this one. Well actually I thought, I can't do that. I'm a word lover. Language is everything - when I write I have no plot and I struggle with dialogue. I need to be able to use EVERY word available. That's what I thought and sat down with a bit of I'll-show-you there's no such thing as ugly words.

1. Flux. Just arrived, straight away. Don't know why.
2. Khaki. But I like olive. Maybe the issue is more sound than sight.
3. Winningest. It's just wrong. I might be old-fashioned and a bit slow to take up new lingo but if it's good, I'm all for it. I was so excited about folktronica I had to share it. But this one? Unattractive. Unsightly. Disrespectful. For many reasons it is indeed Hideous.
4. Presenteeism. Yes, another new-ish addition that is a visual insult.
But enough of the new vernacular.
5. Stakeholder. My eyes well up when they see this. Of course, writing CVs for a living I do actually use it, a lot, but it hurts. And don't even get me started on "touch base" as an expression.
6. Experiential. I misspelt that when I typed it. Enough said. Actually misspelt isn't pretty either.
7. Fugitive. Don't think I like that "fug" is pronounced "fuge". Too trickster.
8. Umbrage. Can't remember ever using it.
9. Cutthroat. Doesn't look right as one word, and loses the impact of its meaning when it's rammed together.
10. Glut. Because they can't all be long words.

Well that was pretty easy. There's clearly a range of attributes that make a word ugly, to me, and I'm a little disheartened that I could keep going here. But I won't.

I'll restore my love of language with my favourite word. I remember reading it for the first time in a David Malouf novel. It must have been about 30 years ago, and I didn't know what it meant but I loved the sound of it, and when I looked it up in the dictionary, I knew it was the one. Indelible.

Dare I ask - do you have any ugly words? I'm starting to think that a good list will be valuable. Not as words to avoid, but a vault of expressions for the unlikeable characters in our stories.

Response to Sarah Selecky daily prompt - 24th July.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Time Out Track - Elemental

Since moving back to Melbourne, 176 Little Lonsdale Street has become an office, a writing thinking and listening space, and tonight somewhere to hangout with friends.

Residents of the building are the people behind The Wheeler Centre, Writers Victoria, Emerging Writers' Festival, The Small Press Network, Express Media, Australian Poetry, and those slightly busy right now folk from Melbourne Writers' Festival.

What an incredible space.

And tonight, a few friends I used to work with, yikes must be nearly 10 years ago now, are catching up for a drink. I'd been saying how much I'm enjoying "discovering" Melbourne since moving back, so I was charged with sussing the coolest places to hang.

I was looking for somewhere we could sit down, drink and eat. Somewhere with a bar after work feeling that wouldn't make us feel too old, and offered real food (rather than go our old Friday night dinner of eating the olives in our Martinis).

Another friend said, "To access the 'coolest' places we either needed to book about 6 weeks ago or spend an hour in a winter's line. My main criterion was 'a place to sit' (perhaps a rug and a thermos)."

His suggestion, a brilliant one, was The Moat. So tonight I'm going back to 176 Little Lonsdale St.

The Wheeler Centre event upstairs, Press Freedom vs Political Power, will include discussion on important issues by intelligent writers and thinkers.

But another Wheeler Centre event, 'Elemental', is happening at The Bendigo Planterium, and inspired by this sold out session here's a Time Out Track from Rezonate.

On a Friday with dreadful international headlines, I hope you enjoy these few minutes of 'Elemental', and that you, too, are lucky enough to have a warm friendly space where you can spend time with people you care about.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

What I Loved: City of Bohane

I've just finished 'City of Bohane' and am full of expletives and remarkable wardrobing ideas. But I have no west coast future city of hoors and dream pipes near me, so the magic can't continue too long. And magic it is. Of the dark kind.

Last year I was lucky. I'd not read, or even heard of (why do I always feel like I'm confessing on here) Kevin Barry, but I went to a wordfactory 'Irish' event on a hot Saturday evening that happened to be during Pride in London, and Kevin Barry read. It was a brilliant short story and perhaps more importantly, his delivery is so animated and accented that once you've heard him, he's reading to you from the pages in your hands.

If you haven't read City of Bohane yet, let me pick a random page and sling you a sample…
"Mouth of teeth on him like a vandalised graveyard but we all have our crosses." (p. 4)
"See him back there:
A big unit with deep-set eyes and a squared-off chin. Dark-haired, and sallow, and wry. The kind of kid who whore his bruises nicely." (p. 53)
I want to go on, to get you a line that's setting, maybe about the Back Traces, de Valera Street or Big Nothin'. But instead I'll leave you with the thirst to read it yourself, and a little help from Kevin to get you started.

What I Loved - work I have read and must share

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Time out track with genres - She's The One

After enjoying a portugese tart with Alison Croggon's genre-bending feature in this month's 'The Victorian Writer' magazine, I sat back to do some work, after a quick Twitter check.

Thanks to Steve Palfreyman asking if anyone needed some entertaining, I listened to this song by Quintessential Doll, and discovered a new music genre that will now be one of my answers to the question, 'What music do you like?'


YouTube have again shown me that I am well behind the music, and genre times. But though the f-term was coined years ago, like finding Voodoo Jazz in August last year, it's an exciting discovery for me.

And then I find that I own quite a few artists who are classified here on various sites…well shame on you iTunes with your 'Electronic' tag.

Here's one from my vault.

Now, back to that work thing.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Sitting In…Indigenous Places with Tony Birch

Last Wednesday night I sat in the front row of the 176 Little Lonsdale St performance space. Evaluation sheets had been placed on each seat, and I realised that I didn't have any expectations.

Truth: I only heard of Tony Birch a few months ago. Nicole Hayes, my writing tutor, brought 'Ghost River' to our group to study, and that set off a series that seems to happen organically once you've noticed something. 'Blood' is in a collection I was reading to research Paddy O'Reilly, who is judging a competition I'd like to enter. A friend in London tweeted about the Frank O'Connor shortlist and I landed on the longlist, and there's Tony. He's the writer in residence on The Wheeler Centre's Weather Stations project, which is enjoying enormous publicity. And there he is on the Writers Victoria program - Author talk. Indigenous Places.

I had no expectations, I just wanted to see and hear him speak.

Because there was a sort of lectern, a Dr. on a stage and we were seated in straight rows, I felt like I was at the start of a lecture, and subsequently that I should take notes. But quickly that compulsion moved from obligation, because I was fascinated, and (importantly) prompted to think. Several times I wandered off from what was being presented because it sparked so much for me to look into later.

At one point I wrote in my notebook, "Awkward eye contact with TB. I think he thinks I'm a stalker starer. Should have sat further back."

But I was in the front row, and I was writing ideas about how to explore issues in my writing; how to explore my place through not just my own, but others' experience of it. I caught myself eye-locked, mouth pursed and nodding thoughtfully, and thought I must look like a complete wanker, but really I felt awake in the way only intelligent, provocative, considered and interesting conversation creates. I felt as though I'd been taken as a plus one to a dinner party and fortuitously sat beside a compelling and sociable guest, and I didn't want to be interrupted.

The overwhelming message I left with was the value of telling stories. That everyone and everywhere (even Glen Waverley) has a story, and we have a responsibility to pass these stories on. Many of the things that connect us to place, and each other, may be small but they are significant. So my notebooks and collages of observations - a man reading a Feng Shui detective novel on the tube to Arsenal; the French girls playing Trivial Pursuit at my local, certain that the English word 'seal' was the correct answer to the question, "What kind of animals are the main characters in Watership Down?" - I felt a validation for continually noting these sorts of things, and my efforts to construct stories around them.

My notes from the session appear as a random set of unrelated topics - from Hiroshima to ACMI and digital storytelling - but they all have hours of meaning for me to rummage in.

At 6.30pm Tony had spoken of Tanderrum, a Wurundjeri practice where the host has to give their guest something of great value. In a sense, participants at Wednesday night's session should leave feeling they had got more than their ticket price's worth. At 9.00pm I sat on my tram, writing, and drew a box around: Tony Birch is an extremely generous host. I knew I'd wake up feeling as though I had more than "got my money's worth". And I missed my stop.

* * *
Sitting In is a series I've started of my experiences at writing, and potentially other, related events. Like my Time Out tracks and Book Comments, these are not meant to be reviews, but reflections.

I'm always interested in feedback or suggestions.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Hiatus is over - new releases on their way

A couple of weeks ago I got excited at the news of Favel Parrett's new book, 'When The Night Comes', hitting the shelves soon. I'm remaining calm as it's not due to happen until 26th August.
But it's not easy.

If you haven't read 'Past The Shallows', well I've given it to some very different people and all have loved it. My dad loved it. My EastEnders-Coronation Street watching English friend loved it. My dearest Melbourne best friend loved it. Okay that one didn't surprise me so much, but it was good to know.
And then on Monday morning Augie March tweeted, and rrr breakfasters told me, 'Yes, hiatus is over. Music made.'

It's been five years since they released 'Watch Me Disappear' and the new album is due to arrive "later this year".

I remember giving 'Moo, You Bloody Choir' to one of my nieces, opening up a dialogue about music that is still going. She's currently into Violent Soho, so we've diverged a little, but at least we still talk, and share, music.

Will I ever grow out of waiting for new release dates like waiting for Christmas Day?
There Is No Such…There Is No Way.