According to my dashboard, this is my 200th post since I started this blog in May 2007. And you know what? In the past couple of years through this blog, my novel manuscripts, my short stories and thesis, and my work, I’m quite sure I have written over a million words. I mean, I probably average 2000-3000 a day! Other numbers: I exercise on average one-and-a-half hours a day, I read on average two hours a day (wish that were more), I sleep on average four to five hours (I’m working on this), and thus lie awake stimulated/frustrated by thoughts and ideas for about three hours a night, I see one or two movies a week, I spend on average three nights at events or with friends, I spend five days at work, I spend a very small amount of time of washing clothes and dishes, I take five minutes to put make-up on, and I watch zero television.
I was the only person in the cinema by myself last night, that I could see. This interests me. Because it doesn’t bother me to be alone. I have many friends that I could have invited, whose company I enjoy. Instead, it was just me and chocolate and Rorschach (Watchmen ‘Read and Seen’ coming soon…). Last Sunday night I saw Taxi Driver and Easy Rider alone at the Astor. I did invite someone at the last minute, but they were busy. There were many people alone in that session. I think there is a very fine line between solitude and loneliness. Solitude I enjoy, I crave, I need – but loneliness can slip in easily and unexpected. I relate to Travis Bickle at the same time as he makes me cringe, feel hollow. I love Midnight Cowboy because it speaks deeply of connection – so fleeting, possibly hurtful, possibly impossible. I love it when it all goes wrong for the characters. I feel it is truthful. I feel scooped out by the end of Easy Rider but also feel like someone has looked me in the eye and told me the truth about freedom. Often I’m afraid to share the experience with someone in case they don’t feel the same – in case they try to gloss it over. By the end of the weekend it can sometimes tip into loneliness.
* I went to two great launches this week. Bel Schenk’s book of poetry Ambulances & Dreamers was launched at FAD Bar/Gallery, down one of those fun little lanes off Chinatown. The poems are simple, modern, resonant – and many also engage with the subject of solitude.
The other launch was of Sleepers Publishing’s first book, Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming, which I reviewed earlier in the week. I got to meet Steven and eat his delicious cinnamon cookies. The introduction from Toni Jordan, author of Addition, was gorgeous. She said to the small, eclectic (and quite distinguished) room ‘look around you, look at the people on either side of you, lock this in your memory – because this will be a moment in history’. I don’t doubt it. For the record I was standing next to Dan Ducrou, who is a launch-whore like me and has been shortlisted for the Vogel, is also a Varuna alumni, and has been published all over the place; and a guy called Gus. The new editor of Voiceworks, Bel, was nearby, as was Jessica Au, a writer I’ve admired for a long time and now have met. Was very excited to hear she is working on a novel. I also got to see Emily Maguire briefly, but she had to go before I could go and gush to her about how great I think she is. I hope I’ll have a chance to talk to her properly one day. Steven Amsterdam wrote in my book ‘Be prepared for anything’. I’m not quite sure how I can do this, except perhaps keep going to the gym so I’m fit and strong and can superhero my way out of any situation (sorry, still Watchmen on the brain). I should probably also stock up on Steven’s cookies for emergency energy needs. And decide on those ‘desert island books’ that many people I know keep talking about.
I’m very happy to report that Steven will also be doing a ‘responsive’ interview for LM.
* Just finished reading this month’s Australian Literary Review. My favourite piece was Mark McKenna’s ‘Silence Shattered With a Whisper to the Heart’, because it engaged me and taught me about a writer/activist and his works – Henry Reynolds. A friend on Twitter remarked that they were disappointed with the ALR because it had no new voices. I’ve been thinking about this a bit over the last few days. My opinion is that as long as ‘established’ voices provide interesting insight (and the ideas are fresh), I don’t have too much problem with ‘established’ writers/critics taking up the pages. It’s a small country, and it is very difficult to break into the realms of reviewing and intellectual debate in some of the major newspapers/magazines, but surely we do need something to aspire to? It would be great to see ‘new’ voices, but not just for the sake of it – for the fact that they’re providing some essential addition to public cultural discussion. And there were, actually, a few names in there I hadn’t heard of, so I don’t know if it’s technically true. What do you think about old/new voices in mainstream media? I would very much miss Robert Dessaix if he got shunted just because he was becoming old hat.
* You might recall that I am curating the 15 Minutes of Fame segment at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. I have been handed the shortlist by the lovely organisers, and I am trying to put together an interesting program of a mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s which will run over three or four nights during the festival. I didn’t realise how hard it would be. I can think of questions I’d like to ask them all. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this, and also for the opportunity it gives these writers, many of whom don’t really have the resources to promote their work otherwise.
* Only one week until my participation in the Format Festival! Please come along if you’re in Adelaide (the 15th of March).
* Here’s a really handy blog/site created by Sophie Moon on where and when to submit stuff! It’s called SnUfft. Thanks Sophie for collecting these mags and comps for us.
* Pick-‘n-mix links:
Adoring Carly-Jay Metcalfe’s blog Chasing Away Salt Water; discovered New Zealand artist WD Hammond after I saw his artwork on a book cover; awesome to see one of my favourite writers, Joe Meno, talking about the influence of music on his work and learn about his new novel in the process; writers on writing for a living – a joy or a chore? (via Beattie) – what do you think of this?; The Short Review names 96 short story collections published in February; March 2009 in the US is ‘Small Press Month’, great idea!; a wonderfully haunting short story recommended to me by Ryan O’Neill – ‘Mary Postgate’ by Rudyard Kipling – save this for when you’ve got a moment to read and let me know what you think.
* Coming soon: Eva Hornung interview; Charlotte Wood’s literary space; a poem by Geoff Lemon; Read and Seen – Watchmen; and tons more reviews…
Things We Didn’t See Coming is a series of vignettes, from different stages of the unnamed protagonist’s life in a dystopian alterno-present/future. It is a post-apocalyptic story, but told in a hard-boiled, yet highly resonant literary style. The sentences are sharp, the character is hard and the environment is one of rapid change and ruin – but throughout there is also deep resistance. The book acts to massage you at your core, and every secondary character met along the way (no matter how fleeting) leaves a poignant stain on character and reader. They are examples from all of humanity’s shredded social standings – how different people would deal with natural disasters, segregation (between urban and land environments), political situations (and radical politics), survival against disease, and more. There is so much imagination at work in describing employment the character undertakes throughout the novel, and in his family situation, his love life, and his drive for physical and emotional survival. Though it is a series of stories, they run linear – from a small boy taken to his grandparents house on the eve of Y2K (which isn’t named, but that’s what the situation seems to be) and his father’s rant about the world we live in, to a conclusion which shows that through all the rapid fluctuations in the world, some people don’t change, and there will always be pockets of good, of nature, of things that don’t make sense at the time. There will always be meaning to a fleeting existence.
The character is adamantly nonreligious, but there really is a spiritual essence in this book – in his personal ethical struggles, and the overriding hope within the bleakness. The character fights with his instinctual nature to steal, and to live for survival and himself alone. This is a great part of his journey that isn’t played out overtly, but is present in his actions throughout the novel.
There are many moments of struggle and sadness, such as the chapter ‘The Theft That Got Me Here’, an incredibly poignant escape with his grandparents, on the day his grandmother’s pills kick in and she becomes herself again, fleetingly.
There are also moments of pure imaginative fun – sexual encounters; a difficult and moving love story; a cocky kid the protagonist has to guard; the jobs; the conflict; and the pharmacopia.
One interesting thing to note – the setting of the book is unknown and never made explicit. Deer are mentioned, and some landscapes that seem North American, so it will also sell in that market, I presume, but my imagination still planted the story in Australia. I know it’s due to my awareness of the author’s origination, but I think one of the points of it is it could be imagined in just about any Western country. A kind of nowhere-land of modern Western civilisation and societal mores, politics, religions, etc.
Another experience of reading this book, is the realisation that so much of it actually seems plausible. It is rooted in a speculative framework, but it is very near-future, or even alternate future. Droughts and floods, for example, don’t seem so implausible – and the political situations that may arise due to technological class divisions, generation gaps and opposing urban/nature mindsets. Not to mention evolving illnesses and an ever-increasing cocktail of drugs. Of course while much of it is imaginable, much of it is highly fantastical, and both prove the quality of Amsterdam’s skill and imagination.
Things We Didn’t See Coming is bleak yet inspiring, a little like retro-future text Blade Runner. It’s a completely refreshing literary work from an Australian writer who I predict huge things for.
See the official website for the book.
Chris Currie has pulled back the curtain and revealed our names alongside our stories after his ‘Sneaky Celebrity Writers Month’ on Furious Horses in February. Krissy Kneen was the one who guessed the most correctly and won a grand Obama-themed prize. Lucky thing!
Here is my story ‘Velocity‘.
Also – Krissy is herself having guest writer contributors on her blog, Furious Vaginas, throughout March, so she can concentrate on the final edits for her memoir, which Text are bringing out later in the year. I may or may not have contributed an anonymous, erotic story…
Reviews + Analyses
Mar 2, 2009
James is eighteen, works at his mother’s gallery in New York, and is trying to worm his way out of going to Brown in the fall. Why? He prefers the idea of buying a nice old house out in a ‘quiet’ state, and not being around other people his own age. James finds people generally say obvious things ‘and then they repeat it about thirteen times’. His sister Gillian is studying linguistics and is particular about her name being pronounced with a hard G. His mother’s honeymoon in Vegas has failed, with her new husband betraying her on their first night away. James is young, but he is weary.
I often forgot that this understated, mature and often sly novel was meant to be YA. The voice of being ‘unsure’, was assured, if that makes sense, and you had a feeling that James will never feel quite right in any social situation – that he will continue to run away, backchat, play tricks, and swear preference to being alone.
James did experience something majorly traumatic a few years before (as did much of New York in close range) but you get the sense that it only confirmed or enhanced his burgeoning negative feelings about people and the world, rather than sparking them.
James’ grandmother, or Nanette, is the only one he truly feels comfortable around, and is sometimes the only one he’s got. Although a few times he mistakes connection with others, to be left disappointed.
This novel is quiet, there are no bells and whistles. It is occasionally beautiful. James watches a couple on the street:
‘Something about watching them made me sad. I think it was too lovely: the summer night, the open-toed shoes, their faces rapt with momentarily tamped-down joy. I felt I had witnessed their happiest moment, the pinnacle, and they were already walking away from it, but they did not know it.’