Archive | May, 2012

Playing Bingo on New Year’s Eve– my short story ‘Blossom’

29 May

My story ‘Blossom’ appears in the Review of Australian Fiction this week, partnered with a story by Venero Armanno, ‘Sugar Baby’.

The Review of Australian Fiction is a new online magazine that aims to support Australian Fiction by publishing stories by established writer s partnered with an emerging writer of their choice.

Veny’s short story ‘Sugar Baby’ is actually more of a novella and explores the emotional cost of an older man seeking comfort via a financial transaction with a much younger woman. For those who don’t yet know Veny’s work, you have a treat in store.

My story, ‘Blossom’ started on a trip to Japan where we spent New Year’s Eve as the only foreigners in a small lodge in the snow. I was very taken with the way the evening was organised. A whiteboard was set up in the lounge room outlining the agenda. Events ran to the minute and included bingo, noodles, a visit to the train station to see the snow train go by and a prayer at the Shinto shrine. The last item on the agenda, taking place just after midnight, was ‘sleep’.  It was such a contrast to the way we celebrate New Year’s Eve here.

In ‘Blossom’ I transported this New Year’s Eve to a train station in Byron Bay where an Australian woman meets a Japanese girl.  I wanted to explore the idea that a chance meeting with a stranger can change your life. Especially in Byron Bay of course…

The Review of Australian Fiction operates by passing royalties on to the authors of the stories so you can subscribe, happy in the knowledge that you are feeding a chocolate-hungry author. It is a bargain at $2.99 an issue and comes out fortnightly.

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Laughing about Climate Change – ‘Solar’ by Ian McEwan

25 May

A new Ian McEwan novel is always an event, although I must confess that this one is not very new – it was published in 2010. The world (well, me anyway) has been waiting for a long time for the great climate change novel and if anyone can do it, McEwan can.

Ian McEwan is known for his grasp of science and novels that interweave rational argument and emotion. Enduring Love features a science writer, Saturday a neurosurgeon and now, with Solar, we meet Michael Beard, a Nobel prize-winning physicist. So how does McEwan tackle this most complex and rather boring subject? Dystopian futures and eco-thrillers have been the main weapons of choice for climate change novelists, but McEwan does something different – he makes us laugh.

Michael Beard is a fat, randy has-been who has done nothing significant since his prize winning Beard-Einstein Conflation many years ago. Offered a place on an artist’s trip to the Arctic to examine the effects of climate change, Beard jumps on a jet to Norway (carbon off-set of course). Soon he is getting his delicate parts caught in a zip while urinating at minus forty degrees and fleeing a hungry polar bear on his skidoo.

Getting on board the solar bandwagon, Beard reassures his business partner; ‘Here’s the good news.  The UN estimates that already a third of a million people a year are dying from climate change. Bangladesh is going down because the oceans are warming and expanding and rising. There’s drought in the Amazonian rainforest. Methane is pouring out of the Siberian permafrost… Now the eastern Antarctic is going.’

Yes, this is black comedy at its best. The boot room on the frozen-in boat where the artists are staying becomes a metaphor for the planet as it descends day by day into further chaos. ‘How were they to save the earth,’ Beard wonders, ‘when it was so much larger than the boot room?’ There is also a laugh out loud moment when Beard helps himself to a stranger’s chips. This in turn becomes a metaphor for our need to re-examine known facts in light of new evidence.

While Solar might not be the hallelujah moment in fiction that climate change activists would hope for, it has does carry an important message – a flawed scientist does not mean that the science is wrong.

You can also just read it for laughs.

For people in the Ballina area, I’ll be talking about my writing at Ballina Library at 10am on the 4th of June. Do pop along if you can!

Lusting after the TV weather man – ‘Yearn’ by Tobsha Learner

9 May

I loved the cover of Yearn so much I just had to pick it up. The voluptuous, tattooed woman floating with a crimson parasol had the allure of the off-beat. She promised a lot, but could she deliver?

Erotic fiction is difficult. Badly written, it is smutty, embarrassing or just plain boring. Too much sex and it becomes the opposite of erotic. I am reminded of the over-achieving couple who doggedly set out to have sex every day for a year. Ho hum, I bet the champagne corks were popping at the end of that year. Anais Nin, anyone? Let’s face it, if you can do this genre well you’d be mad not to build a career around it. Tobsha Learner, a part-time Australian, is the bestselling author of four novels and two previous collections of short stories, Quiver and Tremble. She’s good with titles too.

Not only erotic, many of the stories in Yearn play with magic and fantasy. Ink is the story of a young biographer using ancient sex magic to get revenge on an older and more famous rival. In Fur, a girl is transformed by the visits of a fantasy lover with some connection to her cat. In The Alchemy of Coincidence a sculptor conjures up her dream lover while preparing for her new collection.

Other stories are more romantic. In Barrow Boy a self-made man has an epiphany after reuniting briefly with his childhood sweetheart. Pussy and Mouse is a surprisingly moving account of a lonely call centre worker finding love online and in Flower, an older woman learns to appreciate her body’s beauty. There is sensuality as well as sexuality; ‘The woman didn’t walk so much as flow… an assemblage of fluid molecules seamlessly gliding through space.’

I enjoyed the way Learner plays with sensuality – fur, porcelain, weather… Who hasn’t been stirred by a warm breeze or a sudden storm? In Weather, a woman fantasises about the TV weatherman. ‘Fog was interesting – a short push with both hands… suggesting that … he might be capable of a little rough play…’ There is also humour; ‘…don’t forget the patches of fog in the north-east… oh yes, oh yes, sweeping rain, and yes! The breaks of sunshine!’ Weather has never been so sizzling.

Learner’s writing is good enough to avoid the perils of purple prose. Plenty of variety, no ho hum. Read this one in private.

 

This is my seventh review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

On the dangers of running (how I found myself enrolled in a stand-up comedy course)

2 May

There’s something about running. It’s the endorphins, I suppose – they’re supposed to be like morphine, aren’t they? Obviously one should never make important decisions while under the influence of mind altering drugs, and yet my morning run on the beach is the time when all my brightest ideas strike me. Well, they seem bright at the time…

The other week on my beach run, it occurred to me that I should enrol in a stand-up comedy course. I’m not sure what brought this to mind, and even less sure why it seemed like a good thing.

I’ve known people who have done stand-up comedy before and it has always seemed like bungy jumping to me (which I’ve never done). Why would you do that to yourself?

But last week, on my beach run, somehow it seemed like an excellent idea. I needed to challenge myself. I’d been in the comfort zone for too long. I’ll just have a look on the web when I get home, I thought to myself. There probably won’t be a course on, or it will be on when I’m away. And I’ll be off the hook – another brilliant idea that I just couldn’t get around to. Drats!

But no, when I looked it up – horrors – there was a course starting in two weeks, it had vacancies and, incredibly, it didn’t clash with anything else I was doing. I had no excuses. The combination of endorphins and internet shopping was too much for me to handle. Within five minutes, I had whipped out my credit card and enrolled. You know what they say, enrol in haste, repent at leisure…

Every Wednesday night for six weeks, I will be facing my fears with my tutor, the amazingly talented Mandy Nolan. Hopefully I’ll get some laughs out of it. Whether anyone else will, remains to be seen.

Has anyone else done this, or been tempted to do something else really scary? Any sage words of advice or condolences to offer?

 

I will be talking about chick lit at the Gloucester Writers Festival this weekend with the lovely Lisa Heidke. This is the ‘before’ case study. By the time I get to the Byron Writers Festival in August, I will be much, much funnier, I promise!