Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNo is a go-go:

I think the face I am pulling here, in this delightfully-grainy webcam photo, is a look of cautious optimism -- either that, or concern for my mental welfare. Maybe it's a little bit of both.

Last year, I bemoaned the fact that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated) falls ridiculously, cruelly, in November -- almost the worst month possible for such an undertaking, for those of us in the southern hemisphere at least. I mean, there's just so much happening, including (or sometimes especially) the end of semester finals and all the joy that comes with that.

This year, however, I'm already done with uni (thank you, bizarre trimester system) and although everything else is still happening, that is one sizable chunk of stress delight which I don't need to think about. I only made this realisation about two weeks ago, and the lightbulb moment brought with it glowing feelings of enthusiasm and a little madness. I could do NaNo this year. I could actually do it.

So I'm going to. And by "do it", I mean "attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days." I know the frenzy is part of it, and I'd really really love to reach that ridiculous finish line, but at the same time I'm excited just to be giving it a go, regardless of the consequences. I've waited years for this! Who else is joining in?

Of course, I feel ridiculously under-prepared. Friends I know have been outlining for weeks (months!) now, and many have their majestic plots all neatly laid out and ready for the prose work to begin. I have a half-baked idea that has been growing in urgency and interest for me, but which still has no clear ending, even though the characters are starting to make themselves known. This isn't my ideal scenario. I'd love to have a fabulous plot outline drawn up, with names and faces and character sketches of all the major players. As it is, however, I just keep getting more and more odd little ideas and filing them away mentally. I take comfort from the fact that NaNo founder Chris Baty seems to have taken the same approach as me every year he's actually participated. Somehow, out of his personal madness and lack-of-plan, novels have emerged.

That's my goal, too. Just a novel. Not a great novel or even a good one, but in the true spirit of Ann Lamott, I just want to have another really trashy first draft under my belt, written in the haze and frenzy of one busy month. It'll be a good kick-start to the writing system during these Summer holidays, when I'd like to get lots of words flowing.

What am I planning to write? Well, it's a buddy story with biblical allusions, and it's set in dystopian Brisbane -- which is frozen, no less. Also, there are aliens, because, well, because.

Yes, please go ahead and laugh. I am.

And while I may be laughing, I'm also super, super looking forward to this. I might just be a little bit in love with my main characters already. Onward!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bookjournal: what I've been reading lately

With uni winding down for the year as well as two blissful weeks off from work, I've had time to do lots of reading lately, and boy it is SO GOOD. There's no set theme to the books I've been devouring, but by happy accident much of it has been Australian YA fiction. I love it when writing is local AND good.

What I don't love, however, is writing book reviews. In my attempt to be all fair and journalistic, I tend to get formal and stuffy and my reviews come out sounding like newspaper copy. Then I contemplate how each of these books will affect readerships of different ages and then I wonder if I need to put disclaimers and content warnings. This process can be paralysing because I could quite easily spend more time explaining why a book isn't good than why it is. But that's really not how I feel about books at all, so instead I'll pretend I'm sitting at a cafe with you, internet all, where we're drinking iced coffees and talking about stories we've enjoyed lately. If you have any questions, do butt in to ask.

A Straight Line to My Heart (Bill Condon) has been popping up all over the place as well as in award shortlists. After reading it, I can see why. It was a refreshing and really delightful read for a bunch of reasons. It's a gentle coming-of-age story about Tiff, a recent high school graduate living in small-town Australia. Tiff is on the edge of everything -- of adulthood, of her first real job, of love, and of letting go. What I loved most about this story was its gentleness and its authenticity. In a way, it could be anyone's story. There were no cataclysmic events of earth-shattering import. Rather, the small events of unfolding adulthood and the vivid characters in Tiff's world were what drove the story. I loved, too, that Tiff is enough of a girl-not-yet-a-woman to really be believable and relatable. I wasn't a grown-up at seventeen years old and I don't know anyone who was. Yet so many books have teen protagonists living, thinking, and feeling like twentysomethings. This one was different, with a seventeen-year-old protag who seemed seventeen, in a really genuine and sweet way. -- Oh, and the cover art is adorable.

A Straight Line to My Heart is published by Allen & Unwin.

The Dead I Know (Scot Gardner) is another one I've seen on awards lists round the traps. It was mesmerising, and one of the most unique books I've read in a while. It's a difficult one to trap within the confines of genre, though. On one level, it's realist YA drama, but the air of dread and the intense emotional turmoil of the main character build to fever-point until the story has the intensity of a psychological thriller.

From the publishers:
You wake in the middle of the night, your arms and feet pinned by strong hands. As you thrash your way to consciousness, a calm voice says, 'Steady. We're here to help.' Your mind registers a paramedic, a policeman, an ambulance. You are lying on the lookout at Keeper's Point, the lookout Amanda Creen supposedly threw herself off. And you have absolutely no idea how you got there.
Aaron Rowe walks in his sleep. He has dreams he can't explain, and memories he can't recover. Death doesn't scare him - his new job with a funeral director may even be his salvation. But if he doesn't discover the truth about his hidden past soon, he may fall asleep one night and never wake up.
The Dead I Know is published by Allen & Unwin.

Pan's Whisper (Sue Lawson) is the kind of realist YA fiction that I'd love to see more of. The story drifts between present-tense chapters detailing Pandora's painful integration into a foster family and new school, and past-tense memories of Pan's sister, with hints of what may have happened between them and why Pan has ended up where she is now. I loved that the story was honest without trying too hard to be gritty or edgy. There's sorrow and heartache in the world, for sure, and we must be faithful to report that. But some YA books seem to dig down into the sadness and get buried there. Pan's Whisper confronted the sadness, but it also offered hope -- as well as a boot to the backside for the protagonist (when she needed it).

Pan's Whisper is published by Walker Books.

The author of The Messenger Bird, Rosanne Hawke, was one of my creative writing professors. Having loved her other books, that alone would've been reason enough to pique my interest, but the cover -- the cover! I love beautiful book designs and the artwork on this one is lovely. It perfectly embodies the gentle and haunting tone of the story, which unfolds as Tamar wrestles both with grief following her brother's death and bewilderment after her mother has a mental breakdown. The story is told from Tamar's perspective as well as that of the new farmhand, Gavin. Gavin's blunt and frankly curious outlook is the perfect foil for Tamar's introspective melancholy, which would normally frustrate my much less dreamy self. The way Rosanne Hawke has pulled together the two contrasting stories, though, is just right. The result is a mystery that crosses the bounds of time and history, with just enough creepiness to be delicious.

The Messenger Bird is published by UQP.

How did I miss Genesis and its follow-up Equinox (Lara Morgan) for so long? Rollicking dystopian adventures set in a futuristic Perth -- and MARS? Sign me up! Five hundred years into the future, global warming has completely redesigned the earthscape and society itself. There are the wealthy, who live in optimised environments to make post-Melt life easier, and the Ferals, the fringe-dwellers. Rosie Black is a Banker, somewhere in the middle of this societal mix. A virus known as MalX keeps killing people off; Rosie's mother is among its victims. Her dad is lost in his own grief and her aunt is away on a trip to the colony in Mars. Rosie feels lost and alone, but when she stumbles across a mysterious box, her situation worsens -- and the pacing doesn't slow up until the last page. I'm looking forward to Dark Star, the final book in the trilogy, which is to be released in just three days. Reading the first two books a week before the third comes out has got to be the best way to read a trilogy.

The Rosie Black Chronicles are published by Walker Books.

And that's what I've been reading lately. How about you? What's your latest favourite Aussie read?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A(nother) Meaghan weekend:

My weekend spent with excellent friend and laughter-buddy Meaghan was so lovely. We didn't seem to do very much at all, and yet we also did a lot. We watched an unusual array of movies (the Mormon Pride and Prejudice was a rewatch must), lazed and chatted on a rug with a view of sky and sea, ate Fudge Sundae pop tarts (which were far less impressive than they sound), hung out with Lauren and her adorable bubs, face-timed our sisters who couldn't be there, chatted about life and families and growing up.

We went on a shopping trip that turned into an iPad purchasing experience, and then we ate Thai food and established an extremely precious and heartwarming love triangle between the three iPads. This in turn led to laughing ourselves hysterical over photobooth pictures and playing some silly iPad games, one of which (and I'm not kidding) consists of a race to be the last person to hit the reactor button before the clock counts down -- very quickly -- past zero. We live in a world now where we are all Pennys and our kindly Inspector Gadget uncle, aka Steve Jobs, plies us with amazing technology. It's incredibly funny to me.

Meaghan (perhaps to her regret) got me hooked on these adorable Kid History videos, and now our friendship vocabulary consists largely of phrases originally coined by four-year-old American children. Also on the popular culture front, K-pop star Psy was like a demented guardian angel hovering over our weekend for, once we realised we could teach ourselves Gangnam style moves thanks to YouTube tutorials, we kept finding reasons to practice them. We even pulled Mum in on the act.

So, we kind of didn't do anything and yet we didn't really stop doing things*. Most of all, I just enjoyed hanging around this precious friend for a whole weekend. She is the sort of friend you don't really have secrets from, the sort you say dumb things in front of because you're so comfortable that you don't employ the usual filters. Then, when you feel stupid about saying dumb things, she makes you forget both what you said and the fact that you felt stupid about it. It's cool to know people like this.

*I said that twice, which is what happens when you write one blog post over two days.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Life, lately:

I'm pressing pause for a moment on the backlog of posts I have lined up, in order to spend a second focussed on the now rather than the then.

This handful of pictures is a fair representation of the happy spots in my days lately. School is out for the summer (yes! I have a ridiculously long summer break, which is amazing) and even work has slowed down a little, too. In unoccupied moments, I've been doing lots of spring cleaning, which makes me feel old because I actually feel kind of satisfied and accomplished about it. If that doesn't make me old I don't know what does. I've also been revelling in the freedom to sit up late reading in bed -- reading fun things that I really want to read (though I've paid for it with too many nights of minimum sleep). Relatedly, I have a bunch of little book reviews to share when I can get them removed from brain and transcribed onto page.

I've been relishing getting to know my shiny new nephew, and watching his big sister become suddenly precisely that: a big sister, full of toddler quirks and hilariousness and one-and-a-half-year-old dorkiness. She's super entertaining. I've also enjoyed the laidback vibe of my dad's recent work leave visit, which meant things like going out for coffee or spontaneously eating dinner down by the water on windy dark evenings. And I'm loving getting better acquainted with a bunch of young people from my church at a new Bible study group. Don't worry, Thursday night guys: you are my longtime group and my best (just don't tell anyone else, okay?).

And tomorrow -- tomorrow I get to pick up one of my very best friends from the airport, for what has become a vaguely yearly tradition: a Meaghan weekend!* I realised this week that I have known Meaghan and her sister Carla for fifteen years now, which is basically amazing. The fact that Meaghan still wants to hang out with me after all this time is even amazinger. She is a true friend, full of grace and fun, plus she is hilarious. Our mutual hatred of phone calls means that we have lengthy text conversations and... I think that's a pretty cool way to conduct a long-distance friendship.

*You may visit events from previous Meaghan weekends (plus one Meaghan AND Carla weekend) here, here, here, and here.

"Sculpture is everything" at GoMA:

I have raved here before about how much I love public art spaces. While private galleries are important for a number of reasons, I'm particularly appreciative of state and national galleries. It says something about a government when it is willing to invest funding into the cultivation and accessibility of the arts. Even more, though, it gives something to the community of people who are then able to access and appreciate that art. Throughout many eras of history, art has been accessible only to an elite group of society. Sure, there are artists in every demographic of society, and in that way art is within reach of everyone. But the appreciation of art on a broader scale -- art from around the world, from people outside the close confines of connected communities -- has mostly been a privilege of the wealthy and the well-networked. How awesome, then, to live in an era when cities make active investments in the acquisition and exhibition of art from all around the world and then share it with art-ignorant laymen like me.

And perhaps it's just me, but public galleries give me this tiny sense of ownership, this idea that in some small way, this art belongs -- just a sliver of it, mind you -- to me, and to you. So when I visit a public gallery with someone I care about, I get the feeling -- wrong as it may be -- that I am sharing something of mine with them, and introducing them to something of theirs that they should have known about all along. It's pretty cool.

When my cousins were in town recently, we checked out GoMA's current exhibit, Sculpture is Everything. Our first stop was in the foyer to see Ai Weiwei's Painted Vases (2006). Painted Vases are part of GoMA's permanent collection, and always one of my favourites to look at when I visit. There's something super-daring about the fact that these vases are from the Han dynasty, and they've been almost recklessly painted over. History and art collide!

And the other thing about public art spaces? Some of it you can touch, interact with, and be a part of. This little contraption of wonderfulness by Yoshitomo Nara and graf is like something out of my eleven-year-old self's fantasies.

More Ai Weiwei being reckless.

I'm excited I got to be there for baby Andrew's first art gallery visit. He looks mesmerised by Lara Favaretto's Gummo IV. Yep, it's a car wash. And yes, it was moving.

Sculplture is Everything is on for ten more days at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art. Admission is free.

Friday, October 12, 2012

In praise of excellent cousins:

My mum's sister's kids -- my cousins -- have always been hugely important to me. Growing up, we saw each other (at most) a few times a year. But no matter how long it'd been between hangs, it was always easy to jump right back into intense fun mode when we were together. We got up to the coolest shenanigans: floating down rivers, climbing trees, making art, going on bushwalks, building shelters, eating marshmallows around bonfires, and playing endless games in which some aspect of a latest favourite book would actually come to vivid, reenactable life.

We all have very different personalities, but we share some crazy family similarities, too. Yet somehow, neither what we have in common nor what we don't has managed to get in the way of our friendship. As we grew older, the girl cousins (my sisters, Andrea and Lauren, me, and cousins Fran and Elizabeth) exchanged letters, emails, and delirious LiveJournal comment wars (RIP, oh frenzied days of LiveJournal). These days, our lives are fuller and our correspondence skills aren't a speck on what they once were. We get to catch up in person only rarely. But Fran and Bette recently came to stay, bearing with them husbands and babies, and their time here proved that the bond of awesome is just as real as ever -- maybe even better than before, because now there are extra cousins-in-law to join the fun.

I was a terrible documenter of the action, and only managed to start taking pictures (other than instagram snaps) halfway through Bette and Brent's visit -- which was, sadly, after Fran and Josh had to head home. But these shots are from an evening Bette, Brent, baby Andrew and I spent in the city.

Except for my lack of directional skills and my bordering-on-miraculous inability to find the Southbank markets (stuff was rearranged for the Brisbane festival; I promise I'm not a total fruit loop), the whole evening was kind of perfect, really: the lightest Spring breeze, finding the best possible parking space, and then wandering through Brisbane loveliness. We bought delicious booky things at the State Library bookstore, then caught the Sculpture is Everything exhibit at GoMA (more pictures to come) and made our own paper birds as part of Fiona Hall's Fly Away Home installation.

Afterwards, we shared a plate of turkish bread and dips at The Library Cafe, where we found ourselves seated just in time for a delicious hour of Spanish song, poetry, and drama. Live performances in public spaces are very cool.

Once it was dark, we trundled through the Brisbane Festival's fairyland of paper lanterns. It was pretty magical; I felt about six years old. Then we discovered that we were just in time for the laser and light show on the river. Without realising it, we had stumbled into a pretty great spot for watching the show, and while we waited for the action, we took pictures. Bette and Brent make an adorable couple. I make... seemingly drunken air quotes.

After the light show, we quarterbacked our way through the hordes of people and trawled Little Stanley Street in search of the perfect dinner. We made it into a science and spent probably an hour perusing all the store-front menus for the most enticing meals. We finally settled on French cuisine only to discover that there was a forty-five minute wait for our table. So we moved to our second choice -- from glamorous provencal to hearty burgers -- and ate at Beastie Burgers instead. It was so good. The burgers were a fresh, gourmet take on the traditional, delicious and super-filling. Hand-cut wedges and creamy milkshakes (Bette had dark chocolate Lindt and I had -- get this -- tiramisu) were also amazing. I made a mental note to take my dad there, as he is definitely fond of a good burger.

It was the best no-fuss seven or eight hours I've spent in the city in a long while. Thank you, beautiful cousins, for enjoying this lovely place with me.

Monday, October 8, 2012

4/100 (letter to a tiny pink person)

Dear Seth,

At just three days old (or is it four? I'm not certain how to count these things), you are far and away the youngest person I have ever written to. But you are currently the youngest person that I love, and so it makes sense that I'm scrambling to translate that love into words.

You are my newest nephew. You came into the world with a minimum of fuss, and at the moment you continue in a similar polite vein. You are tiny, but you have big hands (farmer's hands? mechanic's hands? architect's hands? potter's hands?). You look startlingly like your dad, but you are also incredibly you, with a serious, thoughtful mouth, and a forehead with a few tiny crinkles in it. It's as though this new world is a puzzle you're trying to solve, and I guess perhaps it is, and you are.

I think maybe it's your name, Seth -- a manly little man's name, and an ancient one, too -- that has many of us already looking ahead to your future. You're so tiny and new, and I promise that we will let you take all the time you need to grow up; please don't hurry it. But in the meantime, we wonder about who you will become.

"Mitch, Dan, and Seth," said your aunty Andrea, tasting the sound of the three boy cousins' names all together in a group. It sounded good, and I imagined a trio of bold, cheeky young men who might distract the girls at church. Uncle Tain is already talking about how he will fish with you, wrestle you, and watch superhero cartoons with you. I, on the other hand, had this vision of you growing up to be a lovely paradox: an artist -- one who rides motorcycles -- is the picture that leapt into my imagination when I heard your name.

But guess what, Seth? You don't have to be any of these things. You've introduced yourself to us as a tiny bundle who honestly wants little more than to sleep and occasionally eat (though not much). Yet already there's a story about you and its pages are filled with amazing things. Someone better than any of us has written it; we're just here to read along and help you out with some of the words.

Be who you are meant to be, Seth -- whether that's a wrestling cheeky fishing artistic motorcyle rider, or a chef who reads poetry and wants to get his pilot's licence. If you love God and you love the people He made, you will be a wonderful, mighty man, and that is enough and plenty.

Thank you for coming into our world.


Aunty Dee

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Hey, October. You're only a week old but already you've called in the big guns: nervousness, happiness, anxiety, relief, goodbyes, hellos, and one big (and tiny) welcome -- all in just seven brief days. By the way, what is with this sun? It's beautiful, but it's also fierce. This afternoon I've closed up the windows and switched the air conditioning on. This isn't supposed to be happening yet. Please. Give us time to adjust!

And hello, internet. I have lots of pictures and stories for you. I'll be back soon to share.
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