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Comedy and Cultural Difference in Tom Doig’s Moron to Moron

Guest Post by Michelle See-Tho

Among Lonely Planet guides, endorsements for various restaurants around the world and poignant tales of “self discovery” in foreign lands, the contemporary travel writing scene leaves little room for comedy. However, Tom Doig’s first book, Mörön to Mörön, points at the standard of travel writing and laughs.

Part travel guide, part comedy, part tragedy, and in no way an endorsement for the towns it visits, Mörön to Mörön holds no dirty detail back in its illustration of its subjects and surroundings. But the book’s main charm is its use of comedy to ease the intensity of such gritty detail.

BETHANIE BLANCHARD | October 16, 2013 | AWARDS | |

A twisty, cosmic tale crowns the youngest-ever Booker winner

— This piece originally appeared as a Crikey news article.

This morning, 28-year-old New Zealand author Eleanor Catton made history as the youngest author ever to win the Man Booker Prize, for her intricate tome The Luminaries. It’s been described by the judges as “a dazzling work, luminous, vast”.

Catton is only the second Kiwi author to win the prestigious literary prize after Keri Hulme, who won in 1985 for The Bone People — the year, in an interesting coincidence, Catton was born.

The Luminaries’ win is remarkable also as the longest novel ever to claim the award in its 45 year history. It’s a complex, ambitious, 832-page work in 12 sections which is guided by astrological movements and includes calligraphic astrological charts. When the shortlist was announced, chair of judges Robert Macfarlane told the press conference: “We looked for books that sought to extend the power and possibility of the form.” Catton’s work certainly does that. 


NYWF series: an interview with Nadia Saccardo

“Smith Journal was really conceived as a place to kind of pull out stories that get lost between the internet and other print media or don’t get the attention they deserve, so it could be an old dude building boats or it could be a robot worker, or something like that. But it’s really our goal to be able to showcase these stories in a way that resonates not just for a week or a month but for a long time, so you could pick up Smith in five years time and the story could still speak to you.”

To describe Smith Journal as a Men’s Magazine conjures entirely the wrong image. The Frankie Press quarterly “aimed at men and read by interested folk,” is a men’s title where I use not a hint of irony to say its readership buys it for the articles – an eclectic mix of writing and interviews on everything from typography, history and science to design and photography.

Its editor is Nadia Saccardo – a female editor just another way in which the title sets itself apart from the men’s mag category. (Though when I question Saccardo on this aspect she says, “Yeah I need to think up a better answer to this. To be honest, I don’t think about it that much, and I probably should, I get asked that question all the time, but I am just interested in stuff that Smith is interested in as a publication.”)

BETHANIE BLANCHARD | September 30, 2013 | FESTIVALS | |

NYWF series: an interview with Alice Bell

“I think I’ve just always been a studier of people, always observing and thinking about why they might say what they just said or did what they just did and I think all people who write are like that. They’re studiers and observers, little spies,” Bell laughs. “I think you’ve just got it or you don’t, that ability to listen. It’s mostly about listening, because then the dialogue is truthful.”

Reading through Alice Bell’s bio is a guide to some of the best television series Australia has produced. She has been a screenwriter on Puberty BluesSpiritedRush, as well as her multi-award winning film, Suburban Mayhem, which was set in Newcastle and invited to Cannes. What intrigued me especially was that Bell was a writer for The Slap – the acclaimed ABC adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ novel – and wrote the ‘Connie’ episode, one of the most affecting in the series.

Her work has centered especially on young female characters – Suburban MayhemPuberty BluesThe Slap – and Bell and I are laughing about one of the subjects that has become an area of expertise throughout her career. “Now I’ve done so many virginity episodes, just so many teen sex episodes of television, that’s sort of become my niche!”

BETHANIE BLANCHARD | September 23, 2013 | FESTIVALS | |

NYWF series: an interview with Adam Liaw

“In the same way as writing a novel, where you’re trying to communicate certain emotions through the way a character acts, or how a scene changes, with a cookbook you’re using a whole completely different set of stimuli,” Adam Liaw says of his experience writing his first book. “Whether it’s the choice of recipes, the photo, the styling, the words you use to describe it, the list of ingredients, even the types of ingredients that they are, all come together to create the whole picture of the book. So I find it really challenging and interesting to write a cookbook. It’s certainly one of the deeper things that I’ve done.”

If, like me, you were one of the many swept up in Masterchef fever when the series was still a ratings juggernaut (and the contestants could actually cook) you would know Adam Liaw as the winner of the second season.

While researching for this interview, I realised that I live-blogged his 2010 Masterchef finale for my undergrad uni magazine, and I narrowly resist the temptation to ask him if the highlight of his Masterchef experience was when a fellow contestant, upon choosing kidney instead of liver, said they’d made an “offal mistake.”


BETHANIE BLANCHARD | September 11, 2013 | AWARDS | |

Young NZ author wins spot on Man Booker shortlist

— This piece originally appeared as a Crikey News article.

The shortlist for the 45th annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction wasannounced last night in the UK, and young voices that span the globe have dominated.

From a longlist described by the judges as “surely the most diverse in Man Booker history” comes a shortlist with authors from New Zealand, England, India, Canada, Ireland and Zimbabwe.

“Global in its reach, this exceptional shortlist demonstrates the vitality and range of the contemporary novel at its finest,” chair of judges Robert Macfarlane said last night. ”World-spanning in their concerns, and ambitious in their techniques, they remind us of the possibilities and power of the novel as a form.”

New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton — at 28, the youngest-ever author to be shortlisted — is nominated for her intricate tome The Luminaries, a mystery set in the NZ goldfields. At 832 pages, it stands as an unusual success story at a time when many new releases are regarded as unmarketable if they run beyond 300 pages.

BETHANIE BLANCHARD | September 07, 2013 | POLITICS | |

Martin McKenzie-Murray on the culture of timidity in political speechwriting

When I meet with Martin McKenzie-Murray, a former speechwriter for a Federal department during the Rudd government’s first time in office, his frustration at the structure and culture of Canberra speechwriting is palpable: “I was never the speechwriter there, I would say, because the culture of the place was the speechwriter. A million people would look at it, a million rival policy factions would look at it, they’d all want to inelegantly shoehorn their projects into it, and so everything read like a shopping list of expenditure and policies. It wasn’t a fucking speech, it wasn’t an act of persuasion, it wasn’t an act of instruction, it was garbage.”

McKenzie-Murray’s award-winning site, Feeding the Chooks, invokes Joh Bjelke Petersen’s notorious view of news conferences and speaking to the press. But it alludes also to parts of  the 1946 Orwell essay Politics and the English Language of which McKenzie-Murray says he thought constantly during his time there.

I ask if there is anything he wrote while working for the Department that he was proud of? “If I did, they would’ve been abandoned or discarded. Anything that I might have been proud of would’ve fallen by the wayside, or been chewed up by the machine.”

BETHANIE BLANCHARD | September 05, 2013 | POLITICS | |

Tom Switzer on political ventriloquism and the pace of speechwriting

When I speak with Tom Switzer, he tells me he’s envious of me as I’m the second person he knows who has met Boris Johnson on his Melbourne trip. The week before, the infamous London Mayor – a former editor of The Spectator, the Australian edition of which Switzer himself edits – appeared at the Melbourne Writers Festival to deliver the opening keynote address.

Ostensibly meant to be a speech on Johnson’s ‘belief in the power of literature to transform, inspire and delight,’ it was instead a ranging, idiosyncratic, ever amusing narrative about London and Melbourne, littered with references to both high and popular culture – from Star Wars to the Bible, Homer to Banjo Patterson – but with a particular fixation throughout on the chocolate of his antipodean youth, the Pollywaffle.

BETHANIE BLANCHARD | September 04, 2013 | POLITICS | |

James Button on the death of the campaign speech

In 2008 during the Democratic presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton repeated an adage made famous by former New York governor Mario Cuomo: “You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose.”

She didn’t mention Barack Obama by name, but her audience knew the comment’s target. It was intended as a rebuke to a man who was regarded as one of the greatest orators America had seen in decades, whose mesmerising orations were the glittering markers of the 2007-08 primaries.

His poetry helped win the nomination, the presidency, and then a second term in office. While Clinton has undoubtedly been correct about the importance of prose, it’s the fate of the poetry that has been troubling in our own federal election campaign.


‘Moxie and might’: The Moth Comes to Melbourne Writers Festival 2013

Guest Post by Farz Edraki The woman next to me on the bus didn’t apologise after a small, green piece of gum shot from her mouth and landed neatly in my lap. “Oh,” was all she said, adjusting her neck pillow and unwrapping another packet of Extras. It was an overnight bus ride from Canberra to […]


The end of the homosexual or the rebirth of gay liberation: Dennis Altman’s The End of the Homosexual?

Guest Post by Simon Copland


In 1971, academic and queer activist Dennis Altman wrote the book Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation. Positioned between the riots at Stonewall in 1969 and the expansion of the gay liberation movement in the 70s and 80s, Homosexual was in many ways before its time. Altman managed to predict the key trends within the queer movement and propose ways we can create community out of shared sexual identity – propositions that have often been followed through.

This year, Altman has followed up Homosexual with a sequel – The End of the Homosexual?

BETHANIE BLANCHARD | July 24, 2013 | AWARDS | 1 |

‘The most diverse in Man Booker history’: 2013 Man Booker Prize longlist announced

Last night in the UK, there was an announcement of a more bookish kind than the Royal ones we’ve been inundated with coverage of: the longlist for the 45th annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

“This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history, wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject,” Chair of judges Robert Macfarlane said upon the announcement. “These outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000 and from Shanghai to Hendon.”


Melbourne Writers Festival 2013 program launch: an interview with Director Lisa Dempster

Before the full launch of the 2013 MWF program, I spoke with the festival director Lisa Dempster on the writers chosen for inclusion in this year’s line up.

PAUL DONOUGHUE | July 05, 2013 | GUEST POSTS | 4 |

‘Of pity, superiority, disgust’: Laura Jean McKay’s Holiday In Cambodia

Guest Post by Paul Donoughue

It was on a long bus ride toward Sarajevo, past shells of houses full of grass and dirt, that I first became aware of the idea of atrocity tourism. The capital of Bosnia Herzegovina is a lovely place. Apart from being visually stunning — a collection of low-set buildings and homes, part European, part Ottoman, nestled below a mountain range — the city is the Jerusalem of Europe, a mix of faces, foods and politics. But visiting even twenty years after the market bombings and snipers’ bullets makes you question your motives. Is it right or wrong, a sign of intellectual curiosity or tasteless voyeurism, to take a picture of a bomb crater? To look at bullet holes, spread across the body of an apartment building like mosquito bites, and think that might make a cool Instagram photo?


When things don’t fit: An interview with Mel Campbell, author of Out of Shape

Guest Post by Myriam Robin

Melbourne-based critic and journalist Mel Campbell is the author of Out of Shape, her first book, which was released at the start of June.

In the book, Campbell charts her own relationship to clothing, as well as how notions of ‘fit’ and correct dress have persisted and changed throughout the ages, and how society polices our relationship with clothing today.

Before the Melbourne launch of her book, Campbell spoke with Robin about what she discovered.