The New Gothic

The nineteenth century gothic novel has been recently revived by Joel Deane, Louise Welsh, and Chris Womersley whose work seems full of body parts, suspense, and gloomy atmosphere. Strangely enough, only Welsh confesses to being ‘quite self-consciously gothic.’ ‘I’ve never thought of myself as a gothic writer,’ Deane states at their MWF 2010 panel. Womersley simply wanted to write a story and find the best way to tell it.

It’s hard to believe, considering that all three novellists were influenced by the gothic classic Wuthering Heights, as well as individually finding inspiration in Emily Dickinson, the Romantics, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Edgar Allan Poe. But they seem to have adopted the form in response to what Womersley describes as the ‘dominant mood in literary fiction’. For The Norseman’s Song, Deane didn’t want to write a ‘polite novel’, ‘novels that were navels’. He wanted to write about ugliness and violence, what killing does to people. Womersley adds, ‘The Gothic is all about the senses…[We've been] under the thumb of Raymond Carver [writing with]…not a lot of texture or deep emotion…A good gothic novel really smells.’

There can be pitfalls to such writing. Welsh cautions on the gothic excess, using Matthew Gregory Lewis’ The Monk as a cautionary tale. In spite of this, Welsh delights in how the gothic novel is ‘endlessly reinventing itself’, responding to social fears such as xenophobia (Dracula) and HIV (eighties vampire fiction). Having said such, she’s dismissive of Twilight with its case against premarital sex. But if Jeff Sparrow is to be believed in regards to the current abstinence movement in America, perhaps Twilight is a response to today’s social issues…?

Dog’s Tales @ The Toff

Lucky me has been sick lately, so I haven’t been able to partake in the writerly festivities.

Ohmidog, I just wrote ‘sicked lately’. Speaking of Dog, last Sunday’s Dog’s Tales was a superstar version of the weekly event with international writers like Elif Batuman, Tiffany Murray, and DBC Pierre spinning yarns for us for the MWF version of the night.

Dog’s Tales co-host Josephine Rowe opened with an off-the-cuff about father and daughter miscommunications, whilst Kalinda Ashton thought she’d forego the leather armchair for her performance. Elif Batuman cracked up at her own jokes, Dog’s Tales patron David Carruthers told a more formalised version of his bikie gang story, and DBC Pierre drawled about tequila and skin. I got to listen to Tiffany Murray a second time (I had seen her earlier at The Lifted Brow event) and was treated to Carmel Bird’s snack-sized piece about fun buns. FUN.

I’ve made some bootlegs of Dog’s Tales. (What kind of unofficial MWF blogger would I be without unofficial tubes/photoblogs?) Elif Batuman’s performance  seems to be the least shaky so far:

For those who enjoyed the night, Dog’s Tales happens at the Dog’s Bar every Thursday night. There’s talk about changing the event to Tuesday night, so check with the venue before you start your journey southside.

Magazine @ MWF 2010

The good chaps from MWF 2010 have refurbished a shipping container on the river terrace near Fed Square for the purpose of showcasing local literary magazines. It’s a great idea, and the refurbishment is reminiscent of TINA ’09’s Masons club, but a shipping container is not the easiest thing to find, so turnouts to these showcases have been small so far.

But small and intimate can be a good thing; The Lifted Brow felt very much like a family event. The editor(s), intern(s), contributors, readers knew or at least had heard of each other, and there was a bit of conversation between those on stage and audience members.

Half of the literary magazines have already had their turn in the shipping container, but Meanjin, Ampersand, harvest, and The Big Issue will be running fifteen-minute bursts of readings, interviews, and entertainment next Saturday and Sunday, so do drop by for a sticky beak in between other MWF events. For more info on dates and times, check out MWF’s Magazine page.

Meanwhile, here’s some snapshots from yesterday morning’s Lifted Brow:

On God, the Creator of Buffyverse and all other good things

Sue Turnbull: How does it feel to be God?

Mr Whedon: [after boasting how good his mountains are] …I don’t believe in Me.

Joss Whedon is one of those comedic personalities with full-formed quips flying out of their mouths, and this Melbourne Writers Festival interview sounds scripted. Whedon knows how to work the dramatic pause, how to play the dunce, the megalomaniac, and the guy-next-door. And as he scores humour points with his audience, I’m thinking, ‘God, I hate You…even if you did create Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.’

Interviewer Sue Turnbull is a Buffy buff and many of the audience members are Whedon fans, so much of the introductory ramble which accompanies such events is excised. The interview makes quantum leaps from Buffy/Angel to Alien Resurrection to Dollhouse and Fray, as Turnbull tries to nut out a coherent trajectory of the screenwriter’s career.

As a child, Whedon ‘spent most of…[his] time creating science fiction universes rather than stories’. He moved onto studying film-making with the hopes of creating a huge summer blockbuster, instead of a Sundance movie. His excuse, stated rather proudly: ‘I’m a Star Wars guy.’

Screenwriting was a way to earn money after college. Despite having his father and grandfather in the TV screen-writing business, he tried to stay away from going ‘3GTV’. He confesses to being a snob back then. TV was dumb, ‘mostly Fantasy Island, and stuff you can’t excuse.’ While writing five spec scripts for five TV shows in the year before getting work, he realised that he had found the great love of his life.

Television writing is like ‘living with a story for years and years in a collaborative fashion’. ‘TV is special like that,’ Whedon notes, ‘something you don’t get in movies at all.’ Over the years, Buffy characters moved beyond the initial spark of life: Willow got cooler, Giles became more hip, and Anya went weird.

‘Buffy was very much a study in actors influencing their roles.’ The whole process can be very organic, and when it isn’t, when there’s too much creative control, the end result can feel stilted.

In many ways, Buffy was a special project for Whedon. During its broadcast, longform TV series evolved into a respectable genre, allowing its creator to tinker with the form. ‘Ultimately…the real pleasure in playing with the structure came later [during the series],’ Whedon admits, bringing to mind ‘Restless’ and ‘The Body’, two memorable later season episodes that were written and directed by the man himself.

Strangely enough, Buffy’s first season coincided with the launch of the internet, and Whedon and Turnbull discuss the then-fledgling phenomena. The internet community made small network shows like Buffy viable. ‘They invented the internet for me,’ Whedon jokes. ‘Now they use it for other things…porn…you know.’

They touch on Firefly and writing comics, before turning to writing methods. It’s dark, you can’t see much of the audience in the Melbourne Town Hall, but I’m guessing that the writers in the room are leaning forward. Turnbull asks whether Whedon circles around his work like a vulture?

‘I circle like a beautiful dove that wants to peck at the flesh of a dead man.’ Everything needs to be there before he can sit down and write. He works on the big scenes first, before joining the dots with exposition, etc.

Even though a lot of his work comments on social and cultural issues such as feminism and corporatisation, he writes with no particular grand theme or message in mind. It just doesn’t work that way. (Dang.) But he has always put up with a ‘social monkey on…[his] back’, even as a boy scribbling stuff that wasn’t going to be read by anyone else.

The interview wraps up with talk of the upcoming Avengers movie. Since the release of Spiderman (2002), Whedon has wanted to try his hand at making comic book adaptations, despite being always entangled in this or that project. When postmodern comic book movies such as Watchmen and Kick-Arse appeared, he lamented, fearing that it would be too  late to make an awesome but standard comic book movie. Hopefully, The Avengers will be a return to the original form.

After the interview, there are numerous intellectual questions on corporatisation, mental illness, and getting into the business of screenwriting. Many in the Town Hall have been one with the Whedon. But my favourite question comes from a true fan who just, like, wants to know what Mr Joss Whedon, God and Creator of Buffyverse and all other good things, yearns to be involved with. Whedon gushes, ‘Battlestar Galactica.’ And it’s geeks for the win.

‘Never date a writer – we are total drama queens.’ – Bret Easton Ellis

Christine Priestly heads to the Athenaeum Theatre to catch a glimpse of the ‘person whom everyone expects to be… well, Patrick Bateman.’ (‘Shrink rapping with Gen-X’ , The Age, August 14, 2010)

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I’m not sure what I was expecting from an interview with the author of American Psycho, Less Than Zero, and The Rules of Attraction. It certainly wasn’t a forty-six-year-old confessing to tweeting about Delta Goodrem and chatting to strangers on GRINDR out of sheer hotel-room boredom.

‘Me admitting to liking Delta Goodrem reveals more about me as a writer than anything I say about my writing process,’ Ellis told the audience.

And that was about par for the interview course. For the better part of an hour, Ellis shared with a theatre full of hardcore fans (the Melbourne show sold out in 7 minutes) his thoughts, insights, and generally wrong-town attitudes to life, the universe, Australia’s ‘complicated relationship with Delta Goodrem,’ and why you should never date a writer.

Perhaps not the gruelling self-analysis the audience hoped for, but gripping none-the-less. To be honest the theatre had something of a circus-side-show feel to it as we sat wondering where the interview was headed next. ‘If it comes to mind,’ Ellis said, ‘I will go there.’

Clearly Ellis’s latest book, Imperial Bedrooms, did not come to mind.

‘Latest? I wrote it like nine months ago.’ And I guess that’s what writers and celebrities don’t tell you – about ‘the huge disconnect between writing the book and doing the tour’. But unlike most celebs who dredge up the necessary persona to play the promotional game for their bread-and-butter fans, Ellis makes no secret of his dislike of tours and the intense boredom he experiences doing the PR circuit. Ellis told the audience that if he writes a book and someone happens to read it, that’s great, but he claims to live in relative anonymity and be perfectly okay with that. (Easier said when your craft just happens to pay your bills and then some.)

Ellis’s reluctance to talk about Imperial Bedrooms was a little disappointing, given the event was hosted by the Wheeler Centre in partnership with the Melbourne Writers Festival and Readings, and was essentially intended to promote his new work. But I had to ask myself, were the audience really there to hear about Imperial Bedrooms, or were they (like me), there to meet the ‘character’ of Bret Easton Ellis?

I also found myself wondering what sort of individuals would pay to hear Ellis speak? Would the crowd resemble that of a late-night screening of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ at the Astor? Maybe a tad younger and with fewer trench-coats (I’d also say with fewer single-seaters, but the fully-booked theatre may have given a false impression there), and certainly with more female fans than I had anticipated.

Ellis says himself he is always surprised that at every book signing there is one ‘pretty twenty-five-year-old holding a copy of American Psycho whispering that it taught her to masturbate at age fourteen.’

That the interview was conducted by Alan Brough was another plus. After Ellis’s appearance at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, I was expecting a lot of prickle, which can be quite uncomfortable to watch. ‘I froze in front of the audience at the Byron Bay Writers Festival,’ Ellis said, and then proceeded to blame the interviewer for asking such ‘boring’ questions. I hoped for (and received) a more comfortable ride with Brough as host.

Brough also had to navigate the show-pony crowd and Ellis’s biting retorts. When one audience member asked Ellis a question about how he handled his relative anonymity among post gen-X-ers, Ellis asked how many drinks she’d had. ‘Four, five?’ Like any hard-core Ellis fan, she wasn’t about to put up with that, and promptly informed the writer he was being offensive. The audience shifted in their seats. And there was Brough, stuck in the middle.

When asked where Ellis sees himself in his work, where fact meets fiction, he replied that his writing is ‘emotionally autobiographical’, and added, ‘the best question I was ever asked was, “Why are you so fucked up?”’

I’m not about to delve into what Brough terms ‘the conflation of the character and the writer’ (apart from anything, Ellis would be bored), but the nakedness with which Ellis depicts his lifestyle (not his life), his penchant for making disturbing and outlandish statements, and his general disdain for anything conventional, begs the question: how much is put on, and how much does he really believe?

-CP

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Note from TL: there’s a video of BEE @ the Wheeler Centre for everyone who couldn’t make it (including me).

EWF Panel: Never Surrender

Okay boyos, girlies, and mumsies. We’re flying back in time like a time lord (the latest Doctor Who is such a hottie*, don’t you think?) to one of Saturday’s EWF panels, Never Surrender, with Paul Callaghan, Elizabeth Campbell, Sean Condon, and Dee White.

Angry writer Sean Condon ranted like a loon, making me laugh and cringe at the same time; poet Elizabeth Campbell recited poetry about the ‘unprofitable servant'; and game developer Paul Callaghan spoke of failing as part of the human condition—’How many words have we thrown away? …as writers we fail all the time, as people we fail all the time’. Literary Minded has already summed up their words nicely, so I won’t repeat them here.

I will, however, write about how YA novelist Dee White told us to stick up for the stories we love. During her Victorian Writers’ Centre mentorship, White was asked to redraft her manuscript: YA stories about artists were out of fashion at the time, could she frame her story in a different context? White did this, turning her protagonist into an astronomy geek. But publishers weren’t fans of the new manuscript; while it showed potential, it lacked passion. It was obvious to them that astronomy wasn’t what White wanted to write about. White’s original concept was resurrected and the novel Letters to Leonardo was the outcome.

That’s all for today. I’ll post up some photos tomorrow mayhaps.

*’hottie’ in a nerdy, SF way. It’s the bow tie and the tweed jacket, I think.

EWF Panel: You Want Me to Do What?

Some of you might be thinking, ‘Ten zillion EWF events have happened since Monday’s 15 Minutes of Fame and The Last Hurrah…This blog’s looking old lately.’

Well, so’s your face and your mum.

My face is looking a little haggard also. It happens after too many ten-hour shifts and intense looks of concentration from listening to various EWF panels/sessions and the stress caused by scraping the side of my car in a claustrophobic inner-city car park which charges $5/hour on weekends…Don’t ask, and I’ll try to reconstruct the better parts of the week, while forgetting the rest.

Sunday, 30 May. I woke up late. I ate at Jungle Juice for the first time. The guy at the counter was making a batch of chocolate, ginger, and beetroot cupcakes. Crazy. (Yeah, my mum’s crazy too, I know.)

After Jungle Juice, I headed down to the Melbourne Town Hall, where the EWF weekend program was in full swing. Hosted by Dan Ducrou, You Want Me To Do What? was the first panel I attended, with speakers like Dr Natasha Campo (from Monash University), Katherine Charles (Hollywood Ending novellist), Declan Fay (Jack of all trades) and Sean M. Whelan (poet and spoken word veteran).

Natasha Campo was first on the floor. She found the transition from solitary and dishevelled postgraduate to polished public speaker extremely difficult. Most academics have issues with self-promotion and yet they are often expected to write their own press releases and discuss their work. Her tips were 1) keep it simple with three key points 2) don’t be afraid of repeating yourself, and 3) memorise some sound bites, fifty-word descriptions on what the work is about.*

Sean M. Whelan thought ‘reading and writing are two very very different skills…[but] being an engaging reader is really not that hard, even for a shy person’. He noted that while good writers can really mutilate their work, mediocre writers can seduce you with their mad oratory skills. He had a list of don’ts, which I have paraphrased.

Don’t…

1) Apologise for your work before you read a single word. Once onstage, you are instantly imbued with authority. If you say your work is shit, then your audience will believe your lack of belief.

2) Shuffle through your pages or flick through your chapbook. Plan your setlist

3) Say, ‘I’m not sure what I’m going to read.’ Don’t fluff about and waste our time. Have an introduction ready.

4) Barrel on through your pieces without pause between each.

5) Believe that microphones are made of magic. It’s not rocket science, speak into it. (Oh, and respect the microphone: don’t throw it about.)

6) Go over the time limit. Always go under; leave them wanting more.

In addition, he spoke about dealing with nerves, ‘Don’t fight it, accept it’, and suggested using a book instead of paper if your hands tend to shake. ‘Generosity of spirit’ was Whelan’s final catchcry. Read to an audience rather than at them. If you’re a closed shell, not looking up, mumbling your words, those listening aren’t going to warm to you.

Katherine Charles worked as a publicist before publishing her novel. For the panel, she focused on handling interviews. But first, how to secure a media interview? ‘Give them an angle,’ she suggested, something ‘compelling and intriguing’, something ‘sexy’. With Hollywood Ending, Charles used her grandfather’s unsolved murder case as hers.

She then spoke about preparing a key messaging document prior to an interview. What three key messages did you want to impress upon the journalist? Charles’ were 1) the name of her book (‘STATE THIS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE…’), 2) a once-sentence description of the publication, and 3) the intended audience or release date of said publication.

Also, ‘know what you don’t want to say.’  Beware of ‘throwaway remarks’.

Later on, during Q & A, she suggested hiring a freelance publicist who has been recommended by another writer. In many cases, a book will only be the publisher’s publicist’s top priority for one week. Freelance publicists are expensive but they’re worth it, especially if their contract stipulates payment after results.

Declan Fay had done a lot of public speaking at schools and he shared several anecdotes. He spoke about finding ways to ‘enter the room’. At one school, a beekeeper went on before him. Singling out the resident tough kid, he told the boy to stick his hand into a hive. By making the tough kid look vulnerable, he captured everyone else’s attention.

While a lot of You Want Me to Do What? discussed the promotion of the finished product and wasn’t directly relevant to my situation, it was still an interesting how-to session on an often challenging aspect of an emerging writer’s career.

I’ll be posting other bits and bobs from EWF over the next couple of days. Stay tuned for more festival gossip news, media, advice, and bad mum jokes.

*And look la! She practises what she preaches.

30 x 1 minute pieces = 3 hours

…only adds up with much schmoozing and boozing, and Small Room’s A Bridge for Short Attention Spans had plenty of that. It also had plenty of zines and literary magazines on sale, raffle prizes, and free Small Room Issue Ones at the door.

I bought a copy of Ampersand (which I’ll be reviewing soonish), and won a copy of Tristan Clark’s Stick This in Your Memory Hole (Aduki Press). Someone also handed me Windmills, a Deakin uni zine, and ‘Red Den Beauty’ was ftw*; I managed to recite without forgetting/stumbling over/slurring my lines, though standing on a soap box is intimidating when one is in heels, the audience is visible, and there’s no A4 sheet to hide behind.

The rest of the night was readings, readings, readings. One minute was very little time to impress upon an audience, and pieces that succeeded were usually humourous and or well-performed. I say ‘well-performed’ because there was a difference between those who read their writing and those who engaged with both writing and audience. Allison Browning’s piece was not funny at all and rather late in the night, but her acting background helped her work every word.

Thanks to Bryan Whalen for organising a jam-packed**, super fun night. Hopefully we’ll be seeing Small Room No. Two some time soon.

*Red wine, however, was fail; I got red wine down the front of my shirt and had to liberally dab myself with white wine to erase the evidence.

**Why is it packed with jam? This is the weirdest phrase ever.

Guest reportage: Eagerly awaiting Etchings 8 – Dusk till dawn

The launch of Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn could have been straight out of a how-to manual. It had every element you’d expect:

  1. a sexed-up venue with indoor-outdoor schmoozing space
  2. bar snacks (very important)
  3. bar service (more important)
  4. eager interns (Eliza-Jane Henry Jones and Lana Rosenbaum) taking turns to act as MC
  5. the metaphoric breaking of the champagne by appropriate famous person (poet Anthony O’Sullivan)
  6. a taste of said launch product to activate salivation (A.S. Patric read from his story ‘The Wife’, Georgina Luck, from ‘Clutching the Butterfly Shawl’, Kate Murfett her award-winning poem ‘The Red Queen’, and twenty-year-old writing student from Deakin University, Allyse Near, from ‘Venus in the Twelfth House’)
  7. a plug-in by one or more field professionals (Professor Jennifer Radbourne, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Education at Deakin University, celebrated the literary successes of Deakin’s past and present students)
  8. and most importantly, discounted launch product (I managed to score a copy of Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn and Etchings 7: Chameleons – which included drink cards – for not much more than the cost of an extra drink. Happy me).

Having said that, for an issue touted to be ‘dark and sinister’, which ‘delves into the obscure, goes undercover, seduces, spirals into obsession, journeys into other galaxies, and is haunted by the otherworldly and mysterious,’ I had been hopeful of a Tarantino tribute, or at the very least, volumes of vampiric verse.

Instead, with its fabulously floral-faced podium and 80s discothèque dance floor, I discovered a serious insufficiency of ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ décor. None of the guests even got into character or played dress-ups.

On the whole, a successful, if staid, evening.

Here’s hoping the issue itself provides what the launch lacked: some deliciously devious darkness.

-CP

My amateur photos (check out Ilura Press on Facebook for a more professional, less fuzzy and with fewer shots of the backs of peoples’ heads impression of the evening):

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Christine Priestly is currently studying for her Master of Arts in Writing and Literature at Deakin University. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction and knows you can never own too many pairs of stilettos or love enough cats.

March 1: Debut Mondays

There’s something imposing about the Wheeler Centre’s set up for Debut Mondays. Big stage, giant lights and scaffolding, minimalist coffee table crowded with a jug and glasses of water, and rows upon rows of chairs. Most of the rows filled up and the writers were herded up on stage for the slaugh…er…reading.

I had seen Andrew Croome read before, in the bowels of the Empress, but I hadn’t been able to concentrate there with the eating and the drinking; it was much easier to conjure Canberra suburbia  in the hush of the Wheeler Centre. I finally got to listen to a passage from Lisa Dempster’s Neon Pilgrim, and was introduced to LK Holt’s fantastical verse. Tom Cho, on the other hand, is comfortingly familiar like a favourite film with his AIYO!!! An Evil Group of Ninjas is Entering and Destroying a Call Centre!!! He also read Counting Rhyme, which translates well as spoken word, and a section from Look Who’s Morphing.

After the readings, wine was consumed, conversation was made. We relocated to Section 8 after getting kicked out of the Wheeler Centre (boo!) and Lisa had her first drink(s) after a month of sobriety (yay!).

Debut Mondays runs fortnightly at the Wheeler Centre. Check out www.wheelercentre.com for more details.