A Storytelling Utopia: Melbourne Writers Festival 2011

So I mentioned a few posts ago that I had a number of reasons for my recent absence, and today I’m going to share with you one of them.

In Australia there is an ongoing rivalry between the city of Sydney and the city of Melbourne.  Those who live in Sydney claim that they live in the superior city, and those who live in Melbourne claim much the same.  The general consensus, however,  is that Sydney is a financial city, and Melbourne a cultural city.  The Melbourne Writers Festival plays a significant role in this widespread understanding and the number of highly acclaimed national and international guests that attend from year to year, is testament to the festival’s success and the city’s appeal.

This year, I was lucky enough to be selected as a volunteer for the Melbourne Writers Festival.  Woo!  The festival is an annual event that has been running since 1986, and this year joined forces with four other international festivals to form the Word Alliance, now made up of:

  • The Melbourne Writers Festival
  • The Edinburgh International Book Festival
  • The Bookworm International Literary Festival in Beijing
  • The International Literature Festival in Berlin
  • International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

Totally rad.

So what kind of guests are we talking? Pretentious editors? High literature writers? Celebrity journalists?  Well yes, I suspect there are some of those, but the Melbourne Writers Festival is far more than that, and unique in that it observes all kinds of storytelling, not just the award winning, ostentatious kind.  The website elaborates:

Each year, MWF invites novelists, playwrights, poets, screenwriters, journalists, songwriters, bloggers – anyone who’s part of the world of words. We host politicians and artists, policy wonks and pop culture icons, crime writers and high culture theorists. The festival program features an enormous range of literary activity including entertaining discussions, debates, readings, film screenings, interviews, literary banquets, performances, workshops and book launches, as well as a lively schools’ program for primary and secondary students.

Festival Background

Last year they hosted Joss Whedon.  Enough said.

The Golden Ticket

So, as a volunteer I get to make sure people are being orderly, scan their tickets, give directions, have a chat, make sure the guests are comfortable and answer any questions that patrons might have.  My fellow volunteers have so far been awesome, the shifts fun and the patrons very well behaved.  I also get to wear a groovy volunteer shirt.  Win.

The major perk to this gig, however, is my volunteer pass, which gets me into any event over the entire festival.

When I attended my orientation day a few weeks ago, I was astounded at the wide array of events, panels and workshops that were taking place and began to get quite excited at the prospect of attending these events in between my shifts.

One event, the Martin Martini In(k) Concert, merges sounds and image with musician Martin Martini playing in concert whilst four artists illustrate to the tune and inspiration of the music, their images projected onto the walls of the venue.  A totally unique experience, demonstrating that the art of storytelling is far from limited to just words on paper and can be inspired and influenced by anything around you, even sound.

Author Kate Grenville

Today, I attended a session called Why I Read, featuring prominent authors Kate Grenville (pictured left), Tess Gerritsen and Chris Womersley, all discussing the books that they read growing up and the impact it had on their calling as writers.  They also discussed how reading has changed, an echoing theme throughout the festival, and how we can encourage children and teenagers to read more.

Another highlight of the festival is the collection of city walks.  From specialist bookshops to the city’s origins, the guided walks highlight the Melbourne that is inspiration for writers, readers and storytellers.  My favourite of the walks is called Melbourne’s Hidden Dragons, and it takes you on a tour of the stone guardians and silken mascots that are scattered around the city and explores the mythology of the beasts and their presence in storytelling.  Seriously cool right?

One of Melbourne's hidden dragons

And, on Tuesday evening I hope to attend Edinburgh Unbound, described as “Part reading, part gig, part party”.  Basically it is a fusion of Scottish and Australian musicians and storytellers coming together to present an evening of performance, music, film and stories in celebration of the partnership between the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival in our sister UNESCO City of Literature.

It is heartening to note that the attendants of the festival have so far ranged from toddlers to grannies, with no gaps in between.  I like to think this is a positive indication in light of recent discussions regarding ‘the death of the book’ and even ‘the death of the reader’, which today I was assured were both myths.  Yes, fellow writers, you can rest easy.

Young and old, we are still fascinated by the art of storytelling, whether it be through the traditional or graphic novel, music or art, the written or the spoken word.  How we tell the stories may be changing, evolving even, but the fact that we are still telling them and interested in how others tell them is what’s important and is what will keep the art of storytelling alive for a long time to come.

The festival runs from Thursday 25th August to Sunday 4th September and all the information can be found on the Melbourne Writers Festival website at http://www.mwf.com.au/2011/.

~storytelling nomad~

Lessons Learned

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island. -Walt Disney

With the 30 Day Book Challenge now done and dusted, I find myself missing the daily mission of scouring my bookshelves and digging deep into the recesses of my mind in a hunt to find the appropriate book for each task.  It was a literary treasure hunt for my book-lover mind, and I took great pleasure in reliving my reading history and rediscovering what books mean to me and the influence they’ve had on my life.

Throughout the challenge I contentedly reacquainted myself with some old favourites, relived memorable childhood reading moments, and crooned over some literary heartthrobs.  I confessed some secrets, pledged my eternal allegiance to a certain author, and had many an inner battle in futile attempts to choose ‘favourites’.

Frankly, I found the whole challenge a wonderful exercise and am happy to see so many of you taking the challenge too.

Before I leave you to it, however, I thought I might share with you the top three things I’ve learned about myself and my reading habits from this literary pilgrimage.

  • I read a lot of fantasy.  I mean, a lot.  I can’t remember the first fantasy book I read, but I do remember my reluctance due to having always associated fantasy with sci fi, which I was not at all interested in.  Even after having read a few fantasy novels, all of which I surprised myself in thoroughly enjoying, I recall it taking me a while to actually start looking forward to starting a new one or seeking out more.  For some time I had this unfounded suspicion that something resembling Star Trek was going to sneak its way into my impressionable reading mind, and put me off reading forever.  I’m still not a fan of Star Trek or sci fi, but I now know the differences between the speculative fiction sub genres, and can proudly profess my love of fantasy without fearing pointy-eared men and beam-me-up-scotty’s scaring me away.
  • My memory is as poor as I suspected.  I anticipated the challenge would be difficult for this reason, and truly it was.  I’m certain I’ve forgotten a great deal of the books I have read and am positive that many of them could have been used over the course of the 30 Day Book Challenge.  I have learned my lesson though.  As they say, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’  As far as I’m aware, my memory isn’t going to improve any with age, so I’ve set myself an undertaking.  From 2011, I have started a reading list, documenting all the books I have read since the start of the year.  I am particularly interested to see how many it totals up to by December 31st, but mostly content to know that I will have something to refer to in the future.
  • I have a potentially unhealthy obsession with a certain author who has consumed the last several months of my reading life.  I mentioned her or her books in seven out of the thirty posts, have referred to her as She-God, Perfection, Wonderful, and Writing God, and suspect that many of you now believe me to be a Robin Hobb stalker.  I’m sorry about that and deny all such claims.  I am, however, seeking help for this matter and hereafter vow not to mention her name again for some time unless it is profoundly necessary* or unless a substantial Hobb-free interlude has passed.  *Profound necessity could refer to: Author contact; Financial ruin due to Hobb book purchases; Discovering the Farseer characters are real; Collapsing bookshelves due to TMHS (To Many Hobbs Syndrome).

So there it is.  My lessons learned in a nutshell.  Thanks to all of you who commented and participated in the challenge with me.  I’m looking forward to *one day* getting to all the books you’ve recommended, and eagerly anticipate the posts of those of you who are now taking part in the 30 Day Book Challenge.

Happy reading fellow bloggers.

~storytelling nomad~

Assholes, masterminds, and funny people in cyberspace

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 28

Last book you read

Well, I’m not going to mention the She-God of writing again, because that would just make me sound like a crazy stalker person…which I’m not, by the way.  If you want to check out the *actual* last book I read you can go to Day 24 of the book challenge, where I talked about my favourite scene in a book (watch out for the spoiler!).

Meanwhile, I’d like to mention the last book I read from today.  Fair?  I thought so.

Today, in a moment of sheer insanity and after several months of giving the WNIP (Work Not In Progress) the cold shoulder, I spent roughly half an hour writing up a plot summary with, believe it or not, actual plots (note: plural!). Hoorah! I’ve mentioned before that I had an idea for a novel but was struggling to begin without knowing where the story was heading and what the protagonist’s purpose was.  Some suggested to just start writing anyway, others insisted that some idea of the plot was necessary, others just told me to stop procrastinating and get on with it (hello again unfriendly but straightforward voice in my head!).

Try as I may, I could not face writing it without the plot to guide me and so, in frustration and disappointment at being unsuccessful in my plot making endeavors, I paralysed myself into a novel hating lull.  I didn’t want to think about it, look at it or talk about it with anyone.  Something just wasn’t working, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

Today, like a sign from the heavens, I received a well needed shove to get the motors going again (thank you She-God!).  I opened up Scrivener and started to write.  Half an hour and approximately 1000 words later I had an idea that I was excited about, with plot twists, drama and conflict! All the things I had been struggling to establish with my original idea, finally coming to life!

So what changed, you ask?  What changed, my friends, was the story.  Like, the whole thing.  About the only thing I kept was my character’s name.  I still love the original idea, but have come to the conclusion that it’s just not ready to be written yet.

So, back to the purpose of this post, that being the last book I read, or in this case, the last book I picked up.  In my plot writing frenzy, I started getting curious about how the big boys of epic fantasy built their worlds and created their creatures.  Who to look to in such a moment of need?  The master of fantasy himself, of course:  J R R Tolkien.

During my teenage years when I was obsessed with the LOTRs, my parents bought me Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day; a comprehensive guide to everything you’d ever want to know about Middle Earth, the Undying Lands, the creatures, the characters, the geography, the history.  This book is pretty spectacular.

Now, it has to be said that when I began flicking through the pages today, I started to panic.  That little voice in my head started having a go with his usual taunts; “Don’t be an idiot Katy.  You could never create anything as comprehensive as the world of Tolkien.  Look at all the research!  It’s far beyond your inferior intellect.”

That little voice is a real asshole sometimes.  As has happened many a time before, my confidence in my abilities started waning and I could almost see that small spark of creativity threatening to die a slow death in the depths of my brain.  Bummer, right?

Well, it would have been if I hadn’t come across what I can only guess was intended to be a funny look on how to write fantasy fiction.  It read:

Researching mythologies, legends, and history on your own is a complete waste of time — real authors don’t worry about that kind of thing. It’s fantasy; they just make stuff up off the tops of their heads!

Now, I realise research can be more than important when writing.  I for one can’t write without a fast internet connection for all the Googling I do while I’m ‘in the mode’.  And yet despite this, it sort of reminded me that my greatest tool is my imagination.  If I want to, I really can just ‘make it up off the top of my head’.  For some time I have been crippling myself with the idea that I simply don’t know enough to start, or continue, especially with world building.  But really I don’t need to ‘know’ anything.  I just need to create it.

Ideally, of course, I would like to have my world reflect a reality readers can relate to.  Power structures, heirarchy, economy and commerce are all things that make a world run, for better or worse.  They may not need to be identified, but the reader needs to know they’re there.

But I digress.  The point of the story is that today was a good day.  Tolkien both helped and scared me out of inertia and some funny person on the internet reminded me not to take it all so seriously, because my mind is quite capable of filling in the gaps.

As for the asshole in my head?  He’s still there, but he’s unlikely to resurface again today.

Katy 1 – Asshole 0

~storytelling nomad~

Feeding my book addiction

My last post had me mentioning (again) Robin Hobb, so I thought I’d follow it with a quick update on where I’m up to in the world of Hobb and other reading exploits.

I’ve been a bit behind on my reading lately, and seem to be progressing far slower than usual, so I’m only up to book two of The Tawny Man Trilogy: The Golden Fool.  Loving it of course.  But I’m quite keen to finish this trilogy, not only so that I can read more Hobb, but also because I have a number of other attractive books that continue to stare at me from their place on the bookshelf, alone and unread and tempting me with their alluring covers and seductive stories.  They include:

Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones - I love her!

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin– I am SO very excited to start reading this series because I recently watched the new HBO television adaptation of it and thought it was AMAZING! Apparently the author also played the part of executive producer in the making of the show, which gives me high hopes that the novels will be just as spectacular if not better.

On Writing by Stephen King – I have been hearing about this book literally everywhere I go.  I started reading it at work one day and already understand the hype.  Looking forward to reading the rest.

Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres– I recently heard Marianne speak at the Supanova Fantasy/Sci Fi Convention in Sydney.  I was inspired to read her books and was lucky enough to meet her at the book stall and have her sign this one.  I have heard nothing but good things about this Australian writer, so can’t wait to check it out.

Friday's Child by Ian Kennedy Williams

Friday’s Child by Ian Kennedy Williams – The author of this collection of short stories is a fellow member of my writers’ group, and a talented writer at that.  Yesterday I went to hear Ian at a National Book Council meeting here in Launceston, where he discussed where the ideas for some of his stories came from and some of the places that have inspired stories he has written.  Having already read one of his short stories in the writers group, and finding his presentation yesterday fascinating, I decided it was time to stock up on some more of his work, starting with Friday’s Child.  After hearing him read some excerpts, I already know I’m going to like it.

La Bella Lingua by Dianne HalesGifted to me on my birthday by my best friend Priscilla.  It’s been a while since I read a travel story and I’m having severe withdrawals.

I’m not out of work!..I’m a Writer! by Wayne E. Pollard – I was lucky enough to be sent this by the author when I mentioned his outstanding blog in my post about The dangers of ebook world domination.  Thanks Wayne!  Meanwhile, his blog Bo’s Cafe Life has some highly entertaining comics relating to all things writer-ly.

An example of the entertainment found over at Bo's Cafe Life

And yet, despite this excellent line up of books yet to be read, I continue to find excuses to keep buying more books to pile up in sweet anticipation.  Today alone I ordered another three from the Book Depository, which by the way is where I buy all but my home grown Aussie books these days.  Free delivery anyone?  And super cheap new books too.  Book lover heaven I tell you.

Okay, I think it’s time to scoot.  I do, after all, have a KAZILLION books to read and so little time.

~storytelling nomad~

I had you fooled, right! Right? Hello?

See how I did that?  Right there.  No there!  The part where I slipped in a sneaky blog post after two weeks of silent truancy, so delicately you didn’t even notice my absence.  Right?  Right?!

Is there an echo in here?

Okay, so maybe a few of you noticed.  And to you I am grateful for the warm welcome back to the blogosphere.  I missed you too!

I think it’s finally time to admit a sad fact; I find it impossible to write without my laptop, a fast internet connection, silence, and more often than not, my own writing space.  This is fine when I’m at home, but as you may have noticed, the name of this blog includes the word ‘nomad’, which may drop a not so subtle hint that I’m not always going to be at home with my laptop, a fast internet connection and sweet, unbroken silence.

(This might be a good time to note that although I do sort of sound like one of those outrageous celebrities claiming they can’t work without a golden toilet seat, a tank of live lobsters and a purple, three-headed shewolf, I swear that I do no associate myself with or emulate such behaviour.  Now bring me that coffee, pronto!)

During my first month as a blogger I aimed to write something every day, which I did.  It immersed me in the world of blogging and became an excellent exercise in helping me to write on command, write better, and basically to write more.  This past month I have come to realise that daily blogging is not always going to be possible, and truthfully, not always favourable.

I tend to do things in surges.  My seasonal job working at the snow often has me working 14 consecutive days without a day off.  I don’t mind because I love working on the mountain and I know the season will only last a few months.  With writing, I immerse myself in it for weeks, months even.  But then I’ll go away and visit friends for a couple of weeks and not write at all.  It’s just the way I’ve always done things, and I find it allows me to fully appreciate and take pleasure in whatever ‘surge’ I’m channeling at the time.  It also means that sometimes I won’t be able to blog, but that hopefully whilst I’m not blogging/writing, I’m away doing something that will later give me inspiration to write.

In short, sometimes I may disappear for a while.  But unless my blog starts growing teeth and snapping at me, kind of like Hagrid’s The Monster Book of Monsters in Harry Potter, then you can rest assure that I will return.

Rah!

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to sharing all the exciting things that have been happening in Katy land.  I think my brain is about to self combust with all the built up adventures and stories I have been storing in there.  Prepare for the onslaught.

~storytelling nomad~

Book that contains your favourite scene

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 24

I realise that this is going to sound sort of bizarre, but I’m nothing if not eccentric in my ways.

I recently finished reading Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Errand (I know, I know, I’m still stuck in the Robin Hobb love bubble), and I was on a plane when I read this particular scene.  Now, I’m not usually prone to public displays of relative instability and unsoundness, but I honest to God was crying like a baby when I read this scene.  I mentioned I was on a plane at the time, right?

I then arrived at my destination, hopped in the shower and booed again.  A week later I was walking through town with my mum, explaining how I had teared up on the plane AND in the shower, and as I related the scene to her I choked up again.  Mum was a little concerned, but once I managed to get it out through the sobs, she understood.

So my favourite scene is one that has me wailing like a banshee?  Yes, it is.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so emotionally connected to a character/s and his/their quest, as I have with Fitz and co. in both The Farseer Trilogy and now The Tawny Man Trilogy.  I think the sheer fact that I got so upset by this scene is a testament to the author and her writing.  When I’m reading these books, I’m there and the characters are real.  I experience their joys and their sorrows, their desires and their concerns.

The scene in question is at the end of the book after the final battle, when the protagonist, Fitz, lays down by his wolf, Nighteyes, with whom he can communicate with and is essentially bonded to in mind, heart and soul.  Those who have this ‘magic’ are known as Witted, or as having the Wit.  In this book, Fitz and Nighteyes undertake a quest to save their Prince Dutiful from a band of Witted folk with evil intentions.  Throughout the story it becomes apparent that Fitz and Nighteyes are not the youthful heroes they once were, with Nighteyes in particular showing signs of fatigue and aging.  As they fall asleep after the final fight, exhausted, they share thoughts and dreams.

*spoiler alert*

I could not sort out which thoughts were mine and which were the wolf’s.  I didn’t need to.  I sank into his dreams with him and we dreamed well together.  Perhaps it was Dutiful’s loss that put us so much in mind of all we still possessed, and all we had had.  We dreamed of a cub hunting mice beneath the rotting floor of an old outbuilding, and we dreamed of a man and a wolf pulling down a great boar between them.  We dreamed of stalking one another in deep snow, tussling and yelping and shouting.  Deer blood, hot in the mouth, and the rich soft liver to squabble over.  And then we sank past those ancient memories into perfect rest and comfort.  Healing begins in deep sleep such as that.

He stirred first.  I nearly woke as he rose, gingerly shook himself, and then stretched more bravely.  His superior sense of smell told me that the edge of dawn was in the air.  The weak sun had just begun to touch the dew-wet grasses, waking the smells of the earth.  Game would be stirring.  The hunting would be good.

I’m so tired, I complained.  I can’t believe you’re getting up.  Rest for a while longer.  We’ll hunt later.

You’re tired? I’m so tired that rest won’t ease me.  Only the hunt.  I felt his wet nose poke my cheek.  It was cold.  Aren’t you coming?  I was sure you’d want to come with me.

I do.  I do.  But not just yet.  Give me just a bit longer.

Very well, little brother.  Just a bit longer.  Follow me when you will.

But my mind rode with his, as it had so many times.  We left the cave, thick with man-stink, and walked past the cat’s new cairn.  We smelled her death, and the musk of a fox who had come to the scent, but turned aside at the smell of the campfire’s smoke.  Swiftly we left the camp behind.  Nighteyes chose the open hillside instead of the wooded vale.  The sky overhead was blue and deep, and the last star fading in the sky.  The night had been colder than I had realised.  Frost tipped some of the grasses still, but as the rising sun touched it, it smoked briefly and was gone.  The crisp edge of the air remained, each scent as sharp as a clean knife-edge.  With a wolf’s nose, I scented all and knew all.  The world was ours.  The turning time, I said to him.

Exactly.  Time to change, Changer.

There were fat mice hastily harvesting seedheads in the tall grass, but we passed them by.  At the top of the hill we paused.  We walked the spine of the hill, smelling the morning, tasting the lip of the day to come.  There would be deer in the forested creek bottoms.  They would be healthy and strong and fat, a challenge to any pack let alone a single wolf.  He would need me at his side to hunt those.  He would have to come back for them later.  Nevertheless, he halted on top of the ridge.  The morning wind riffled his fur and his ears were perked as he looked down to where we knew they must be.

Good hunting.  I’m going now brother.  He spoke with great determination.

Alone?  You can’t bring a buck down alone! I sighed with resignation.  Wait, I’ll get up and come with you.

Wait for you? Not likely!  I’ve always had to run ahead of you and show you the way.

Swift as thought, he slipped away from me, running down the hillside like a cloud’s shadow when the wind blows.  My connection to him frayed away as he went scattering and floating like dandelion fluff in the wind.  Instead of small and secret, I felt our bond go wide and open, as if he had invited all the Witted creatures in the world in to share our joining.  All the web of life on the whole hillside suddenly swelled within my heart, linked and meshed and woven through with one another.  It was too glorious to contain.  I had to go with him; a morning this wondrous must be shared.

‘Wait!’ I cried, and in shouting the word, I woke myself.  Nearby, the Fool sat up, his hair tousled.  I blinked.  My mouth was full of salve and wolf-hair, my fingers buried deep in his coat.  I clutched him to me, and my grip sighed his last stilled breath out of his lungs.  But Nighteyes was gone.

Robin Hobb Fool’s Errand pp.604-606

And yes, typing this out had me in tears yet again! It’s so sad, and yet so beautiful.  I think Robin Hobb is a truly wonderful writer.

~storytelling nomad~

Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 23

This is a curious case.  I enjoyed reading this particular book, I just never got around to finishing it.  And yes, I am guilty of claiming that I have indeed read it.  Alas, the cat is now out of the bag; I have not read (or finished reading) the Dickens classic, Great Expectations.

I do, however, promise to rectify the error of my ways.  I won’t stop declaring that I’ve read it, but I will try and make sure that in the not so distant future I have actually done so.

~storytelling nomad~

Books, Birthdays and Best Friends

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 22

Book you plan to read next

And with another extended absence I offer my sincerest apologies and propose we turn a blind eye to my blogging indiscretions and continue with the 30 Day Book Challenge.

Agreed?

You rock!

So, onto the book I plan to read next.  I have a few sitting on my shelf and am as yet undecided which I will read next, but there is one amongst them that I’d like to mention: La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales.  A memoir/travel book recounting the author’s “love affair with Italy and the most enchanting language in the world”, I think it’s highly probable that I’m going to enjoy it.  Why?  For four main reasons:

  1. I love Italy
  2. I love Italian
  3. I love travel literature
  4. I love the person who gave it to me

Yep, that’s a pretty good indication that I’m going to like it.  Point number 4 is particularly important.  You see, on Saturday it was my birthday.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ME!

Okay, I’m done.  As I was saying, on Saturday it was my birthday, and herein lies part of the reason for my blogging absence.  To celebrate the big two six, I decided to spend the weekend in the beautiful city of Melbourne and catch up with two of my very good friends, both who I’ve known since High School.  On the night of my birthday the girls took me out to an amazing Italian restaurant in Carlton, where I ate far too much and happily indulged in the magnificent company.

One of these lovely ladies is named Priscilla.  She’s not the queen of the desert, but she is many extraordinary things: a talented music therapist in the making; a fellow Buffy enthusiast; a devoted chicken connoisseur (the girl loves her chicken);  but first and foremost she is one of my best friends in the whole world.  The whole world, I tell you!  I can safely say she has been for quite some time in the top three when it comes to those who have supported and encouraged my writing, and I love her very much for it and am so grateful to have her as a friend.

As it turns out, she always knows, as often only best friends do, just what to get me on my birthday.  This year she gifted me the aforementioned book, with the following inscribed message:

Best Friend Love

Thank you Priscilla.  I’m sure I’ll love it, and even if the book isn’t inspiring, you my friend, are.

~storytelling nomad~

I want my potty!

Favorite picture book from childhood

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 21

This one sticks in mind by far as my most memorable picture book from childhood.  I Want My Potty by Tony Ross is the story of a little princess who decides that nappies are, in her words, “YUUECH!” and  resolves to go cold turkey and start her potty training.

Of course, she learns the hard way that needing to use the potty and actually making it to the potty in time, are two entirely different matters.  As such, she spends the whole book running around her princess palace screaming I WANT MY POTTY!

The pictures of her red-faced screaming and sitting on her potty with her L plates are spectacular.

And yes, as an adult, I’m still partial to a bit of toilet humour.

~storytelling nomad~

Snape. Snape. Severus Snape.

Book you’ve read the most number of times

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 20

I have read the Harry Potter books A LOT of times in more than one language.  And I’m okay with that.  However, in light of the fact that I’ve already discussed my love of these books already within this challenge, I feel inclined to instead share with you this ridiculous Harry Potter related video, which recently had me in stitches for the greater part of the day.  Be warned, you might have the words “Snape, Snape, Severus Snape” circling around your head for a few days after watching this.

Also, I feel I must add that I have not yet seen the new movie, which devastates me so, but unfortunately work hours won’t permit it for another week.  In any case, although yes, I have read the books a thousand times (not an accurate calculation), and yes I know what happens, I must say that I am insanely jealous of all of you who have had the pleasure of seeing the movie.  So feel free to boast and tell me how spectacularly awesome it is, but please don’t tell me what happens, or what they missed or what they added or what they did or didn’t do right.  I’m in a Harry Potter bliss bubble at the moment and I simply can’t have you popping it.  Deal? DEAL?

I will return this act of charity with many cyber love hugs.

~storytelling nomad~

Facebook and Twitter’s shiny new lovechild

The result of a forbidden love

I recently had the pleasure of being invited by my blog buddy Kate, to trial the new social networking site Google+.

I have to say, when I got the invite I was fairly excited.  I don’t like to be behind with new technology and for a number of weeks previous to my royal invitation, it seemed that everyone was talking about their exclusive participation on Google+, with me behind the red carpet ropes, jumping up and down screaming “pick me! pick me!”

It wasn’t that I had heard anything particularly special  about Google+, with some people happy, others not and a decent amount of expected new technology confusion.  It was more the exclusivity of the whole thing.  By not offering it to everyone but leaking out enough information to set chins wagging, people (myself included) got curious.

Well played Google. Well played.

So, now that I’m a member of this cool new club, what do I think?

Well, at first I was confused.  It sort of looked like Facebook, but with more colours true to the Google logo style, so I felt slightly deceived when I tried desperately to communicate on someone’s wall, only to discover that walls don’t exist in Google+ land.

After much exploring, tinkering and many scratches of my head, I finally figured it out.

Facebook and Twitter defied the odds, fooled everyone into thinking they were arch enemies, grand rivals, wild adversaries!  When in fact, they were snogging in the back seat of the car, concealing their unrequited love, and stealing passionate embraces in the deep of the night.  One thing led to another and then it happened.

Facebook and Twitter had a baby, and they called it Google+.

As is customary with brand new celebrity babies, it was bestowed with a ‘unique’ name, following the likes of Sunday Rose and Suri, and hidden from the media spotlight until it could be all but guaranteed that its first public appearance would bring great profit, stardom and popularity to said VIPs.  I know you’re wondering how this is different to any other superstar couple popping out an overindulged lovechild, and I’m not sure that it is. I can say with confidence only that I’m neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed by this new celebrity rug rat.  I’m just, whelmed?

From the onset you can see that it’s all very sleek and pretty.  Like Facebook, you can update your profile information and provide more about yourself than twitter has ever consented to.  The design closely resembles Facebook, with a few tweaks and changes, such as the +1 button where Facebook instead has the like button.  But for the most part, it acts like Twitter.  You can post on your own ‘wall’ but not on others.  You can add friends to circles (the Google+ equivalent of ‘following’ people on Twitter), meaning you will follow their posts (the ones they make public or available to your circle, anyway), without their having to reciprocate the friendship.

There is a new feature called Circles, which essentially requires you to compartmentalise your friends into categories, which I’m still a little shady about.  I haven’t yet figured out if those people can see the name of the ‘Circle’ you place them in, so be wary about your labels (I’m thinking ‘enemies’, ‘boring’ or ‘losers’ are probably not appropriate).   Truth be told, I still don’t know much at all about the ins and outs of the Circles yet, unsure what happens when you have friends in more than one category and what exactly their purpose is, but I think it comes down to your posts and being able to easily manage what groups, or Circles, can see each of them.

As with any newborn, Google+ is experiencing the usual teething problems as he tries to make his mark on the world, but I haven’t found it too painful to deal with yet.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether Google+ is heading for the bright lights of fame and fortune that it’s famous parents have been blessed with.  I love how clean it is, the simplicity, but as with anything, without the people there really isn’t much to look at.  Currently, I have five lonely Google+ buds, which makes for a pretty slow and dreary post feed as we all walk around aimlessly in circles, bumping into walls and occasionally each other, trying to figure it all out.  There is a distinct echo in the room.

There are a few other features, including the new group video chat ‘hangouts’, which I haven’t yet had the chance to experience, probably due to the aforementioned unremarkable number of Google+ buddies, but if you would like to know more about it, and other various features of Google+, you should definitely check out this very entertaining post at terribleminds.  Here is an excerpt:

I’m also afraid that if I somehow turn on my webcam, the first thing I’m going to see is someone masturbating at me. Which is why I am prepared instead to masturbate at somebody. Fight fire with fire. Fight Onanism with Onanism. I have a very clear “first strike” policy on webcam jerkoffery. Once again, the need for “Circle Jerk” to enter the Goo-Plus parlance is dire. Dire.

Continue reading here

Meanwhile, I’m feeling optimistic enough to stick it out for the time being, although I’m mildly aware that having three platforms to post on is somewhat absurd, and that somewhere along the line, something will have to give.

N.B.  I think it should be noted that I’m resolved on one thing further; at the slightest whiff of a Farmville, Zombieland, Vampire eating, sheep throwing, masterchef making, pirate ninja war battling piece of spam making game, I can safely say that I will lose all respect for this royal lovechild.  I’m hoping his parents will have the decency to teach him the error of their ways and save us all the spammy theatrics.

~storytelling nomad~

First “chapter book” you can remember reading as a child

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 15

I’m going to take a wild guess and say Peter Pan by James M. Barrie.  I haven’t read it in a long long time, but I do still love the story.

In more recent times I have to say that I’ve been more distracted by a particular film adaptation than by the book.  Hook has got to be one of my favourite movies.  With Robin Williams playing a grown up Peter, and the very cool Dante Basco playing arguably the best character in the movie, Rufio, this movie never fails to entertain me.

Bangarang!

Ru-fi-oooooooooo!

~storytelling nomad~

Book whose main character is most like you

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 13

Matilda Wormwood from Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

If you haven’t already noticed, I’m kind of obsessed with books and reading.  In this, Matilda and I are one and the same.  I do appear to be lacking in the psychokinetic powers that Matilda possesses, although I’ve made peace with that considering I was lucky enough not to have the savage parents Matilda had, nor her frightening teacher Miss Trunchbull.

Anyone else have a fictional literary double?

Matilda by Roald Dahl

~storytelling nomad~

Living a Life Down Under

Australian Christmas Essentials

A short while ago I posted about my seasonal job working at the snow, which in Australia translates as working mid year in the June-August months, or thereabouts.  I know it’s all very confusing for those of you on the upper side of the Earth, but really it’s all very simple.  We still have the same four seasons, just in reverse.  So as you currently enjoy the warm sunshine and summer holidays, I am sitting here, wrapped in a blanket by the fire.

But what does this mean for Christmas?

At the time of my post, my magnificent blog friend, Angela Wallace, made a most valid request:

You’ll have to explain Christmas to me later, because I’m suddenly starting to feel unbalanced with the idea of hot Christmases and no hot chocolate if December is your summer…

You are not alone, Angela!  Now, as I grew up in the UK until the age of 10, I am more than familiar with a wintery Christmas.  As December approached during my school days in England, we would make Christmas cards decorated with snow flakes, snowmen and open fires.  The Christmas holidays would be spent frolicking outside in the snow, our mittens permanently attached to our fingers, and coming inside at the end of the day with red noses, rosy cheeks and a fatigue that only an entire day of absolute merriment can deliver.  On Christmas Eve we would leave Santa a mug of warm milk and a plate of chocolate biscuits.  Christmas dinner was always a feast of hot food to warm the heart (and the body) – a turkey that had been slow cooking all day, roast potatoes, parsnips and (always to my dismay) brussel sprouts.  I hold fond memories of those English Christmases and am grateful I had the opportunity to experience them as only the Europeans know how.

One winter morning in England a few years ago

An Australian Christmas is a different experience entirely.

When my parents first told my brother and I that we were moving to Australia, I was genuinely excited.  Mum had come back from a recent recon trip with a huge illustrated children’s book of Australia and a sing-along video, amongst other fascinating souvenirs, which succeeded in getting us most enthusiastic about the imminent journey to the land down under.  I honestly don’t remember once contemplating the thought of leaving my friends behind, or having to start afresh at a new school.  I was at an age where I just saw it all as very cool and a bit of an adventure.  The only time I cried was when I realised we had to leave our German Shepherd behind, and a brief moment when I found out I wouldn’t be around to participate in a skipping rope competition I had trained so very hard for.  Despite these two unhappy affairs, I never looked back.

I believe this enormous transition at such an early age truly contributed to how well I have adapted to every move since.  Back then, the internet was still in its very early days, and not yet commercially available.  Flights were expensive and snail mail was precisely as slow it sounds.  In hindsight, I was unreasonably optimistic in light of the circumstances that strongly indicated it would be some time before I saw or heard from my friends or extended family again.  But optimistic I was, and it hasn’t let me down yet.  Ever since, with every move I’ve made, I have always looked forward to what adventure awaits, unafraid of what I might be leaving behind.  I’m a strong believer that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the technology of today is a testament to that.  Nowadays you need only an internet connection to keep in touch with friends and family across the globe, and although I have made new friends in Aus, I have since been able to reconnect with old ones in the UK.

But I digress.

In light of my optimistic attitude, I was not at all unenthused by the prospect of a Christmas without the traditional snow glazed trees and hot chocolate suppers.  Mum and dad had filled us in, and we were as fascinated by the idea of a hot Christmas as we were hopeful at spotting a koala up a tree along a suburban road, or a kangaroo hopping down the streets of Sydney. (Although this didn’t actually happen quite as we hoped, I can since assure all those non-Aussies out there, that there are plenty of places in Australia where they do exist amongst urban living.  Just the other night I took the dog outside and was greeted by an enormous kangaroo, taller than me and gawking like a deer caught in headlights.  I froze, and after a moment it took off into the night in a few huge bounds, the soft thumping sound of its feet betraying its graceful getaway.)

So what do Aussies do for Christmas?

Well, obviously every family is different, but generally speaking, Christmas Day will involve a BBQ.  It’s usually too hot to have the oven on inside, so a backyard BBQ or a barbie on the beach is the answer.  The beach?  I hear you ask.  Yes, the beach.  Aussies LOVE the beach and most beaches have BBQ’s under a nearby pergola, which on Christmas Day requires an early morning, some organisation and a basic knowledge of kung fu in order to lay claim to one.  Fresh seafood is the cuisine of choice, with prawn platters and smoked salmon followed by our national desert, Pavlova.

The 2008 Santa Claus Pub Crawl crew

A lot of Aussies will just spend the day as they would most summer days, lazing on the beach with a cool beer in hand.  The Christmas parties are never ending, and usually involve some kind of dress up theme and a pub crawl.  For a number of years I participated in a Santa Claus Pub Crawl, which involved dressing up as Mr or Mrs Claus and with a bag of candy in tow, ‘crawling’ the pubs along the Northern Beaches of Sydney, handing out candy canes to children and getting just a little bit more inebriated with each passing pub, and a little more sunburnt with each walk to the next.  I would like to take this opportunity to promote stranger danger, SPF 30+ sunscreen, and to encourage responsible drinking.

As is customary with the summer months, we too hold many summer music festivals, which a lot of people attend over the Christmas period.  Some people travel up north to the Whitsundays for even warmer weather, and some people travel down south to cool down, just a little.  Some people go camping, cruising or hiking.  As our school year ends around November, Christmas time is also a time for many to celebrate the end of their exams, school year or school life.

Whatever the occasion, Australians have this unusual knack of being relaxed, content and eager to forget all their worries and just have a good time.  Cheer and beer.  It’s their thing.  It’s our thing.

So Angela, and all, I hope this has cleared up some of the mystery behind how we manage Christmas in summer.  I do miss the white Christmases of England, but I can’t really complain about Christmas at the beach either.  We have the tinsel, the tree and the carols that come with any Christmas, we just do it a bit differently.

In the meantime, enjoy the summer, those of you all the way up there…yeah you!  I’m not jealous, because the funny thing about seasons is that they come around every year, and as it turns out we’re due for another summer in just a few months.  Now I’m going to get back to my fire and mittens, and despite the cold remain eternally content that I get to call Australia home.

N.B.  I can still rock a skipping rope.

~storytelling nomad~

Book that is most like your life

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 12

What’s this? You expect a literary equivalent of my unique, quirky, yet oh so fascinating life?  I’m sorry, but such a thing simply does not exist.  There are those who have tried, to no avail, to fit me like a square peg into a round hole, but it just cannot be done.  I am an undetermined shape of infinite sides, curves and acute angles.

But all is not lost.  Fortunately, there exists a short story and an article that both accurately depict small slices of my life, written by yours truly and published on the Australian Reader website and in Biscuit Magazine’s July 2011 issue.  The links for both can be found on my Published Stories page.

Happy Reading.

Not so long ago I used Apple iPhoto to publish a hardcover book of my travel story Belonging, with accompanying photos from the journey, which my brother and I gifted to my parents. Not only did it make my parents very happy, but for a time, I felt like a real writer!

~storytelling nomad~

A public announcement from your spellchecker

I have a spelling chequer,
It came with my pea sea,
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye cannot sea.

When eye strike a quay, right a word,
I weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar wright
It shows me strait aweigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
I nose bee fore two late
And eye can put the error rite
Its rarely, rarely grate.

I’ve run this poem threw it
I’m shore your pleased two no,
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

-anon

I discovered this while going through my latest editing course readings today, and I thought it was worth sharing.  It really is so important to NOT rely solely on your spellchecker.  He’s a sneaky bastard with a cruel agenda to make you look like a thickheaded illiterate on crack.  Why risk leaving your intellectual capacity in the hands of something that doesn’t even have EYES?  I can assure you your brain is far more intelligent than his (despite his claims otherwise).  So for goodness sakes people, use and abuse that spell checking scoundrel where you must, but proofread, proofread, proofread!

~storytelling nomad~

Book that changed your life

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 10

To be honest, no single book has changed my life.

Books (pl.) on the other hand, yes they have changed my life entirely.

~

From my early days reading Roald Dahl and The Famous Five, to my present day addictions to Robin Hobb, J.K. Rowling and Tolkien.  From those that have scared me, bored me, reminded me, moved me – books have granted me inspiration, escapism, magic, language, pleasure, entertainment, love, expression, adventure, community, relaxation, creativity and most importantly, knowledge.

Without books I would be without a primary source of learning, a source that encourages me to discover, to improve, to embrace, to empower and to inspire.

~

Without books I would not be me.

~storytelling nomad~

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 8

Book that scares you

The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien

This is one of my favourite books ever, direct from the gifted mastery of J.R.R. Tolkein.  Certain suspenseful scenes, however, would often leave me no choice but to put the book down during the night and wait until the light of day to continue reading.

The scenes I refer to are those of the Black Riders, the Ringwraiths…the Nazgûl, and they terrified me with their screeching in the night, the sounds of them sniffing out their prey, and their hooded cloaks hiding the grotesque faces that lay beneath.  I have also since had the pleasure of watching the Peter Jackson film adaptations, which in my opinion, quite aptly represent the Nazgûl’s literary counterparts, but which left me with further sensory images of these frightening figures.  *shudder*

Here are some of the scary scenes from my 1993 Harper Collins edition of LOTR:

“Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.

When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.”

Fellowship of the Ring, p.108-109

“On the far stage, under the distant lamps, they could just make out a figure: it looked like a dark black bundle left behind. But as they looked it seemed to move and sway this way and that, as if searching the ground. It then crawled, or went crouching, back into the gloom beyond the lamps.”

Fellowship of the Ring, p.140

Creeeepppyyyyyy!  And yet, it is a testament to Tolkien that I would read these books over and over again, because typically I shy away from scary movies, thrillers and anything remotely suspenseful.

~storytelling nomad~

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 7

Book that you can quote/recite

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I can’t recite the whole thing, but I do like to randomly drop quotes into casual conversation.  Also, I attribute remembering so much of this book to the BBC series adaptation, which I have watched a kazillion times, and is simply amazing.

Here are some of the best bits:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged.

“My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart.”

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

“Here are officers enough in Meryton to disappoint all the young ladies in the country.”

“You ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere YOU may choose to be, you shall not find ME so.”

“You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged.“

“In vain have I struggled,it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

“From the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

~storytelling nomad~