Friday, March 30, 2012

Chat With Margo Lanagan

Over on Egoboo WA I've been chatting with Margo Lanagan, the multi award winning australian fantasy writer. I'm a great fan of Margo's writing - I'm currently on my second reading of Sea Hearts - released a few weeks ago by Allen & Unwin.

I first met Margo when she was one of my tutors at Clarion South 2007 although I had read some of her work before. She has a great sense of humour and a wonderful way with language. It's poetic and grittily real at the same time which makes for a satisfying and unsettling experience that adds greatly to her stories. I only found out when interviewing her that she started out as a poet which goes a long way to explain the unique quality of her writing.

I'm loving Sea Hearts (released as The Brides of Rollrock Island in the UK and USA). The stories around selkies have always fascinated me. A short story about one appeared in the first short story collection I ever read. It was required reading for my first year in high school and I don't even remember who wrote it or its title but it has stayed with me ever since. The image it evoked of a seal becoming a man and the lover of a girl who eventually joined him as a seal herself fascinated me. The selkie and girl were very much equals in that story but Margo Lanagan's selkies are part of a very different scenario. She raises some complex and confronting issues as she tells the story of the people of Rollrock Island. I'm enjoying it, if possible, even more on this second reading as I pick up on the nuances and details that make both the island and its inhabitants so alive.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Poetry - Baroque and Oscarly

Over on Baroque In Hackney, poet Katy Evans-Bush shares a poem by Oscar Wilde. She asks what we think of the ending. Well, for me, it literally took my breath away. Go here and have a look. See what you think.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The History of English in Ten Minutes

I watched Part 3 of Stephen Fry's Fry's Planet Word on ABC 1 last night (this episode is currently available on ABC iView within Australia) which was about the function of swearing in language and how these taboos originate. It turned out to be a fascinating and informative exploration of the development of language, culturally, socially and physically.
Following on from that when I was doing my daily skim of The Passive Voice, the source of much valuable information and news about writing and the business of writing, I found this video where the history of the English language is condensed into ten chapters in ten minutes. Very funny and clever - and, despite many of our obscenities having come from the Anglo Saxon period, they don't talk about the 'naughtier' aspects of language so you can watch it without blushing.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

I'm a great fan of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher novels. I love the Australian Roaring Twenties setting, the unconventional characters and the complex mysteries. So I was very much looking forward to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television series but...

It's beautifully filmed, the costumes are stunning and the stories ring true. So what is my reservation? It's to do with casting of the main character. I like Essie Davis. I think she is a talented actress. She showed just how talented in the recent ABC series The Slap where she managed to make her character one of the more sympathetic among a dysfunctional group that I struggled to find a connection with. She certainly has the elegant look I'd expect of Phryne Fisher and carries off Twenties fashion beautifully. She is, in turn, glamorous, caring, witty, sexy and clever as Phryne should be.

So my criticism is not actually about Essie Davis but because I feel she has been let down by the scripting. I can forgive the slightly stilted language because it feels right for the period and even the messing about with various characters and relationships - that's inevitable when novels are translated to the screen - but for me the age related issues distract from an otherwise enjoyable series.

In the novels Phryne is a wealthy woman in her late twenties and she acts it. She acquires a unconventional group of employees (who quickly become devoted to her and with whom she shares a genuine friendship). All this means she acts on impulse and takes risks - and sometimes does foolhardy things to the distress of her maid. The problem with the television series, to my mind, is that, while Phryne does all these things which are compatible with an unconventional young woman in her twenties, the actress playing her is not in her twenties. She is a very beautiful 41 year old who looks as if she's in her mid thirties but has moments - and they are only moments - when she does look her age. The way she moves and speaks at times gives it away. As well the ABC did her no favours with one of the images in the beginning credits where she looks much older than she actually is and so draws attention to the age discrepancy.

As a result Phryne seems a mature woman who, at times, behaves in immature ways. It detracts from her intelligence and makes it harder to believe she is capable of solving the mysteries she gets involved with. It also changes the nature of her relationships particularly with her maid, Dot. For example, while it might make sense for a twenty something to announce that she's taking her maid with her for them to have fun together, it's less so when it's a mature woman. It's a pity because those relationships are a big part of what Phryne is.

For me, all this is enough to disrupt my belief in the character and story. It would have taken very little alteration to the script to accommodate the age difference and, considering the other liberties taken with the original which are many - some characters have vanished and new characters have been introduced along with new, and to my mind unnecessary, story lines - I doubt it would have mattered. The result would have a perfectly cast actress and a series that really captured the essence of novels.

There's an interesting discussion about the series at Hoyden About Town.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Aurealis Awards 2011 Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2011 Aurealis Awards are up here. Congratulations to all those on the lists. The winners will be announced in Sydney on May 12. Tickets can be booked via the Aurealis website.

Along with the more general congratulations I have to say how delighted I am personally that so many local Western Australian small presses - Brimstone Press, FableCroft Publications (although they have recently moved to Tasmania they were located in Western Australia), Fremantle Press, Gestalt Publishing, Ticonderoga Publications and Twelfth Planet Press - figure in the shortlists. There are several Western Australian authors too - Peter Docker, Sue Isles and Norman Jorgensen, as well as editors Liz Gryzb and Jonathan Strahan. Is there something in the water here?

I'm also delighted to see what was probably my favourite 2011 release, Stormlord's Exile by Glenda Larke, on the fantasy shortlist along with two others I also enjoyed, The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon and The Shattered City by Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge

I signed up for this the other day. I almost didn't. I've got a lot of quite major demands on my time this year and I read a vast number of books by Australian women writers, much of it genre. The prospect of having to write reviews (even short ones) for them all was daunting to say the least.

Then I read this post where a Sydney based agent talks about the reasons she believes it's hard to sell Australian novels. It makes for interesting reading as much in the comments as the post itself. I'm sure the factors she lists are correct but the important issue raised in the comments of getting hold of books by Australian writers is also critical.

I continually find myself having to order in books because my local bookshops haven't stocked them and, most infuriating, unless I find out from other sources, I can miss out on second or third books in a trilogy because I've never seen that they have been released. If this happens to me, it also happens to others and, if they are not as committed as I am to reading local fiction (and I'm sure the reasons in the post and comments are the reality for many), they may be permanently lost as readers.

I doubt I'll review everything I read and reread - I'm one of those people who doesn't only enjoy a book once - but I'll make an attempt. Watch this space.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hello Blog

How are ya? Wotcha been doin'? Not talking to me, hey. Can't say I blame you. I haven't been around much lately, have I.

There have been reasons - some more valid than others. Here are some.

The mutter mutter mutter builders next door who have been creating mess and noise since the beginning of December - and they're still only doing the earthworks. I'm not sure which is the worst, having to keep the house closed up and not being able to use the evaporative air conditioner in heatwave after heatwave (they've been almost continuous this summer, all in the very high thirties to low forties Centigrade for anything up to a week), the dust that seeps in so, no matter how often you clean, everything is covered in another visible layer within minutes of finishing or the noise - beeping diggers and bobcats and this week endless jack-hammering which, to judge by the size of the limestone outcrop they've uncovered, will be going on for a long while yet. Even earphones and music don't drown it out - and, of course, there's also the vibrations. What I'd give for a dedicated work space away from everything.

Then there have been health issues - my own (not serious, just very incapacitating and persistent). Others in my close family haven't been so lucky. We seem to have turned the corner with those now, thank goodness, so the hospital visits and accompanying stress are no longer dragging at us but full recovery is still a long way off.

The endless on-going renovations. I made out a list when we started and ticked off what we had achieved so far yesterday. It was better than I thought but there's still a fair way to go and there are going to be further disruptions to the schedule - those pesky health on-going health issues again.

The weddings. They were lovely. Beautiful brides, handsome grooms and lovely settings. Wonderful.

There have near-misses in achieving heart's desires but those just involve picking yourself up and trying again. No-one ever said you get what you want just when you'd like it, did they.

There has been much more happening, of course - some sadness, some pain and some joy. I summed up the last twelve months for my family to someone on Saturday as two weddings, a death and a birth.

'Sounds like a name for a movie,' he said. As good a way as any to describe it, I suppose.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Stormlord's Exile

I've reviewed Glenda Larke's latest novel, Stormlord's Exile, Book Three of the Watergivers trilogy (released other than in Australia as the Stormlord trilogy) over at The Specusphere. I'm guessing when the Aurealis Awards finalists list comes out that it's going to figure among them.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is a new anthology from The Specusphere, a free speculative fiction webzine. Edited by Stephen Thompson, Mythic Resonance has an impressive list of writers including Alan Baxter, Sue Bursztynski, Donna Maree Hanson and my fellow Egoboo WA writer, Satima Flavell. It's available from The Specusphere website here.

Apart from its anthology, The Specusphere has much more to offer writers. Its pages include advice for writers, reviews and editing services. You will even find my name occasionally among the reviewers. The wealth of information is invaluable, making it one of those sites that are useful for writers and readers alike.