Tag Archives: comedy

The house with a ‘poo corner’ – ‘Home Truths’ by Mandy Nolan

11 May

Home-Truths-final-cover-724x1024‘Home Truths’ is Mandy Nolan’s third comedic memoir, following hot on the heels of ‘Boyfriends We’ve All Had (But Shouldn’t Have)’ and ‘What I Would Do If I Were You.’ In ‘Home Truths’ she turns her shrewd gaze to all things domestic. And as it turns out, the home is a very funny place.

As a child, Mandy used to wander the streets at night, looking into other people’s windows. She enjoyed the surreptitious peek into their private world. This book is an extension of that early fascination, asking the question – who are we when we close the door?

Mandy introduces us to her childhood, in a small town near Kingaroy, which was of course Joh Bjelke-Petersen heartland at the time. Here in Wondai, she develops a syndrome that stays with her – Fear of Missing Out on Living Somewhere Better.

Leaving Wondai for university, she hooks up with a wild bunch of girls in a share house in Brisbane. This quickly becomes a squalid mess, with a special feature ‘poo corner.’ The girls are too lazy to train their cats to use the kitty litter. This hideous living experience is the harbinger of Mandy’s later self-confessed cleaning fetish.

Moving up in the world, we venture into the stressful territory of home building. Here Mandy meets the ‘coping guy’ who she imagines as, ‘some sort of super dude who can handle demanding, difficult and obstreperous women like me. I’m up for the challenge…’

Via homelessness and living alone we land in the fashion-challenged life of the ‘at home worker.’ Popping down for a coffee in a pair of black pyjamas Mandy is told that she looks ‘very corporate.’ It’s easy to let standards slip in a town like Mullumbimby.

Mandy delves deep into the psyche of the home – the psychology of missing socks, the optimum number of decorating cushions and the difficult art of Feng Shui. ‘Why change your behaviour when all you have to do is move the bed?’ Boarding up her daughter’s room seems the best solution to a tricky Feng Shui problem in her house.

Full of laugh out loud and uncomfortably honest moments, ‘Home Truths’ is an incisive and exuberant examination at our homemaking instincts.

This review first apppeared in the Northern Rivers Echo.

 

Mandy is launching ‘Home Truths’ in Lismore on May 14. Tickets from the Book Warehouse on 66214204.

I will be on a panel with Mandy Nolan at Bellingen Writers Festival on June 7.

This is my second review for the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Schoolyard politics – my review of ‘The Hive’ by Gill Hornby

3 Oct

The Hive is the debut novel by Gill Hornby who, incidentally, is the sister of best selling British novelist Nick Hornby. It comes much-hyped as the subject of a fierce bidding war between publishers. The novel’s name is a reference to a bee hive and the story is driven by the doings of the mothers of St Ambrose Primary School who are ruled by their aptly named queen, Bea.

The action is divided up into school terms and centers around the fundraising activities for a new school library. Bitchiness, infighting and power plays abound, heightened by the arrival of a potential new contender for queen bee. The daily gatherings at the school gate are an opportunity to discover who’s in and who’s out of Bea’s favour. Didn’t get a text inviting you to morning Pilates? Well, sorry dear, you’re out. If it sounds like Mean Girls for adults, that’s because it is. Hornby based the book on the same advice manual, Queen Bees and Wannabes, which inspired that movie.

the hiveWhile The Hive was amusing, there were so many characters that none of them really developed much depth. Rachel has been unceremoniously dumped as Bea’s best friend. Heather is working hard to access the inner circle. Bubba is on a career break from a big job in the city, and on it goes. While Rachel was the main point of view character, I didn’t find her especially likable or interesting, so that detracted somewhat from the book’s appeal.

Nonetheless, a car boot sale, a disastrous ball, a quiz night and a series of fundraising lunches offer entertaining vignettes of the women in action. I especially enjoyed the minutes of the fundraising committee meetings. They were enough to scare anyone off joining a P and C. Darker notes are struck when suicide and cancer enter the story but due to lack of engagement with the characters they fall a little flat. A spunky new school principal sets the cat among the pigeons and provides a romantic interest.

Overall, The Hive seems somehow less than the sum of its parts. It was a lightweight and enjoyable social comedy that had a lot of potential, but for me didn’t quite hit the mark. Still, those with an interest in schoolyard politics will certainly find something to enjoy.

You know what they say about sex – what’s in a name?

9 Jan

I have terrible trouble with book titles. My first novel, ‘Liar Bird’, started off being called (ahem) ‘Toading – a tale of lies, lust and feral pests.’ Yes, it’s quite embarrassing, but I feel better for having shared. Clearly it was never going to make it to a bookshop near you with a title like that. My good friend Jane Camens came up with the title ‘Liar Bird’ and I never looked back.

So, you are now asking no doubt – what title did I used to have for ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’Sex Lies title before alighting on this one? Well, it used to be called, ‘The Greatest Child Failure in History.’ The protagonist, Edie, believes she is a terrible failure because she doesn’t surf, unlike her surf-champ dad. The trouble was that as the story grew; this particular theme didn’t feel quite as central as it was in the start. Some folks also gently suggested that it was not a very good title. In fact it was a bit of a downer.

So, I had a powwow with my publisher and she suggested ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’.  Just off the top of her head in a coffee shop. Just like that. It totally fits with the story. It looks great on the cover of the book. It’s easy to say. And of course it has that magic word – sex.

But is sex a double-edged sword? It has been suggested that the key to a good cover is that people should not feel embarrassed reading it on the train in the morning.  Hence those dreary grey covers that have proliferated in bookshops this year. Anyway, there’s no mistaking my cover for one of those. It’s bright, it’s beautiful and I couldn’t love it more.

I now suspect that the duller the cover, the more suspicious your fellow commuters will be as to what lies within. What do you think?

The Shy Erotic Writer (how do you explain to your mother that it might be best to skip a page?)

23 Nov

Monday was a very exciting day. A box of my new book ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ arrived on my doorstep. So excited, so very, very excited. I felt like a kid on Christmas Day. And – this is probably going to sound a little pathetic – I took myself off to bed to read it. Yes, I have read it before… But not in a book!

 

So, there I was in bed, happily reading away until I got to page 34. And then I encountered a word that stopped me in my tracks. Here is the strange thing, the whole time I was writing the book, and even editing it, I somehow managed to convince myself that no-one else was ever going to read it. It’s funny the games your mind plays.

 

Because if I’d been thinking of all the people who might potentially read this book, I never would have left the ‘c’ word in. Yes that word. Only once. On page 34. And there is a context – it’s not gratuitous. But still.

 

And now, of course, I am thinking about my mother. And my mother-in-law. And all my mother-in-law’s friends who are going to get a very poor impression of me because I used that word. Not to mention the neighbours. And my kids’ teachers…

 

I’ve had a few people tell me that my last book ‘Liar Bird’ was a bit raunchy. That worries me because if ‘Liar Bird’ was raunchy, that would make ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai’ the new ‘50 Shades of Grey’. Which it totally isn’t  Really, there’s just the odd bit of sex here and there and it all advances the plot. As much as I might like to get on the erotic fiction bandwagon I think it’s taken off without me.

 

I’m open to suggestions from anyone as to how to tackle this delicate issue with regard to my mother and my mother-in-law. I could:

 

a.. pretend that the book never got printed due to tough economic times.

b. get out the whiteout, or

c. add a note with an apology from my editor, explaining that she made me do it…

or perhaps

d. flee the country never to return.

 

What do you think?

Sex, Lies and a Book Trailer

2 Nov

Opinion is divided about book trailers. Some think they work, some think they don’t. Some, like Jonathan Franzen, are fundamentally opposed to them, but do one anyway. See Franzen’s grouchy take on a book trailer for ‘Freedom’ here.

Me, I have no idea, but I’ve done one anyway. Why? Just because it’s fun. And maybe they work… Who knows?

I don’t have any high profile friends, like Gary Shteyngart, who called on James Franco, Jeffrey Eugenides and others to act in his video for ‘Super Sad True Love Story.’ But what I do have is… a talented teenage son. Lucky me.

So here’s my trailer for ‘Sex, Lies and Bonsai.’ It’s thirty seconds long. It’s set in Lennox Head (as is the book). It’s got SEX. It’s got LIES and there’s even a BONSAI. Featuring me on the computer keyboard, me on vocals, with all cinematography by Tim. (here’s his YouTube site)

What do you think about book trailers? Do you reckon they work?

 

A comedy in letters – ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple

6 Oct

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is the second novel by American author Maria Semple, who has worked as a writer for TV comedies such as Saturday Night Live and Arrested Development. I don’t watch the box much, but if the writing in this book is anything to go by, maybe I should. Yes, I’ve become an instant fan of Semple’s work.

Bernadette Fox is a reclusive genius, an architect who hasn’t worked for many years. She lives with her teenage daughter Bee and her husband Elgie in a rundown mansion in Seattle. While Bee, a gifted child, attends the local Steiner-type school, Bernadette makes enemies by refusing to volunteer. ‘So neither of you believe in community?’ one of the mothers asks her. ‘I don’t know if community is something you do or don’t believe in,’ Bernadette replies.

Elgie is a Microsoft superstar. They hung a poster of him from the building after his talk at a technology powwow was an internet sensation. Semple’s take on the Microsoft culture in the town is very funny. Conversations with MS (as they say) employees end in one of two ways – with paranoia and suspicion, or in gobbledegook tech speak, ‘My team is working on an end-user, C Sharp interface for HTML 5…’

Meanwhile Bernadette becomes involved in a feud, resulting in a mud-slide into her neighbour’s house during a high-profile ‘Mercedes parent’ brunch. Trying to keep her life in order, Bernadette hires a virtual assistant from Delhi. But then, as things start to go terribly wrong, she vanishes while on a voyage to Antarctica.

Bernadette is an epistolary novel – a collection of emails, letters and blog posts tied together with narrative from Bee as she searches for her mother. This could have been a hodge podge, but instead keeps the story lively and allows for the kind of gaps in the tale that the reader can enjoy filling in.

One of the things I especially liked was that the protagonist was a feisty, individualistic, fifty-year-old woman. There aren’t enough of them in fiction, I say. As well as being hilarious, the story is poignant, raising questions about the effect that squandering their talent has on women. The bond between mother and daughter is also lovely. I intend to hunt down Semple’s previous novel, This One is Mine, as soon as possible.

Review – Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerrilla Knitters Institute By Maggie Groff

23 Jun

Mad Men, Bad Girls etc. Is the debut novel by north coast author, Maggie Groff who has previously written two bestselling works of non-fiction.  The novel is a comedy crime caper set between Byron Bay and the Gold Coast.

Freelance journalist Scout Davies works at a desk which ‘overlooks Byron’s main thoroughfare, Jonson Street, where the muse in charge of fabulous things has dropped the biggest fancy-dress party in the world.’ Given a job to investigate a dodgy American cult, The Luminous Renaissance of Illustrious Light, which has moved to the Gold Coast, Scout sets to work.

Scout’s sister Harper (her parents were fans of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) also needs her help with an underwear cutter on the loose in her school. This unleashes a second plot strand of cyber-bullying and school politics. Scout goes on the hunt to solve these mysteries, following a number of clues and red herrings.  Adding difficulty is the fact that Scout is an insulin-dependent diabetic. Naturally this creates difficulties out in the field.

There is plenty of danger and intrigue as Scout infiltrates the cult, coming face to face with its ‘Mystic Master’ Serene Cloud, a man who, ‘in another place, in another colour (would) have made a fabulous Santa Claus.’ Also fun is Scout’s mission with the Guerrilla Knitters Institute, a group that leaves stealthy graffiti ‘yarn bombs’ around the town and her banter with her cat and side-kick, Chairman Meow. I enjoyed the Byron Bay flavour as Scout picnics at Wategos and chats with locals.

Mad Men, Bad Girls is a witty, fast moving romp. It has plenty of great lines and a very sexy love interest in the form of a local cop, Rafe, who is possibly a little too good to be true, but who cares? Neither Scout nor Rafe seem to struggle too much with the fact that Rafe is a friend of Scout’s long-term boyfriend who is currently on assignment in Afghanistan.

The plot motors along with almost all of the strands satisfactorily resolved by the end. We leave Scout in love with two men and with an ample cast of lively characters to explore in the next book, which I believe is in the pipeline.  This is light hearted crime in the mode of Kerry Greenwood. Curl up on the couch and enjoy.

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

Writing about sex is hard – but not as hard as stand-up comedy

14 Jun

Well…

Monday night was the big night. After six weeks of baby steps we comedy virgins took the stage at the Byron Services Club. It was pretty packed, especially considering that it was raining torrentially. I must admit that for a while there I was hoping a flash flood might cut Byron off, or a tornado rip through the town, or at least a tree bring down a power pole leading to the event being cancelled.

But no, there we were. And there they were. Ready to be entertained.

                Learning comedy has been enlightening. A good comedian looks like they’ve just popped in to share their thoughts with you. But in fact, developing  a routine is a rigorous process from ideas to writing to rehearsal to learning to performance.

I have learnt about the importance of the premise, the illusion of spontaneity and finding a comic persona which is a reflection of your authentic self. And then, having found your authentic self, you need to lay it all bare to a room full of strangers and hope to hell they have the same sense of humour as you. Because comedy is not a monologue, it is a conversation. It is something that happens between the performer and the audience. It takes two to tango.

                Five minutes is not a long time. But it is way long enough for a lot of things to go wrong. As our esteemed leader Mandy Nolan said on the night, ‘Tonight we’re going to find out whose chutes aren’t going to open.’ Five minutes can be an eternity if you’re in free fall.

We started with a group of fifteen, but as we came closer and closer to the day, several of my classmates discovered other pressing commitments. On the big night only ten remained. In the interests of getting it over with quickly, I went up first. And what else would I talk about, but writing.

It was a fun night. What struck me was the diversity of the performances. It seems obvious, but people really are so different! There is something very warming about seeing others share their struggles in a comic way.

I don’t think I’ll be back for more, but I’m pleased that I pushed my boundaries and gave it a go. And, did my parachute open? You can be the judge because here it is…

Book Review: A Most Immoral Woman By: Linda Jaivan

15 Apr

Linda Jaivan is best known (by me, anyway) for her erotic comedy. Since reading Eat Me in the mid-nineties, I get a tingle every time I go into the supermarket fruit section. Those who associate Jaivan with raunch may not know that she is also a serious scholar of all things Chinese. A Most Immoral Woman brings together her two diverse talents.

This well researched story is set in the ‘floating world’ of foreigners in China in the early 1900s and based on real people and events. It gives an insight into a part of history I knew little about – the war between Japan and Russia for control of Manchuria. And then, of course, there’s the sex…

Jaivan tells the story from the point of view of the Australian war journalist, ‘Morrison of Peking’. The ‘most immoral woman’ in question is Mae Perkins, an American heiress. Maisie, as Morrison calls her, is a free spirit who takes and discards men as she pleases. Morrison battles to resist Mae’s charms, but even her frank admission that she spreads her favours widely can’t quench his ardour. Maisie boasts that the Captain of her ship kissed her all the way fromHonolulutoPeking. In telling Morrison this, she sets him a challenge; ‘kiss’ being a euphemism for her favourite form of pleasure…

Written in overblown prose which mirrors that of the period, the book offers up a myriad of sights, sounds and smells. ‘Shanghai, with its steamy, moist exhalations, was yin. A woman, and a loose one at that. Anyone could have her.’

Morrison was a trifle dull as a character, but perhaps that was true to his nature. The exuberant Maisie was much more fun. And she alone questioned her society’s focus on sexual morality, while the ethics of a war in which so many died went un-noted.

While erotica and history is a not uncommon mix, Linda Jaivan gives it her own stamp. So is it naughty? Yes, but far from the graphic detail of Eat Me. I found A Most Immoral Woman to be a witty and sexy romp through history.

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