TINA 2010 Tales (Part Two)

In a town far, far away, my boyfriend and I are walking down the street, holding hands. Heading in the other direction, an old Asian man sees us and shouts, ‘Hey!’ He glares at our smallish public display of affection with a mixture of disgust and incredulity, and continues to do for the next three hundred metres.

The moral of the story: interracial dating is not the done thing in Asia Newcastle.

Racism aside, Newcastle CBD is a Gothic town. Its streets are a mixture of Georgian, Victorian, and Art Deco. There’s a sense of decay. In every strip of shops, there’s a building that has been abandoned. Some advertise rental reductions, whilst others are unsalvagable husks—windows boarded up, ceilings blackened with soot, walls vandalised.

Naturally, there’s signs of revival. New apartments have popped up along the foreshore. Darby Street is a collection of trendy cafes and kitsch boutiques. But this is only a veneer of gentrification. The town and its inhabitants still seem rough and unpredictable, and I never feel safe. In some ways, it’s a bit like St Kilda…

There once was a lass from St Kilda

Who went by the name of Brunhilda

Of the gentlemen there

She had nary a care

As they tried with small cocks to fulfill her.

And that’s a craicin’ limerick about St Kilda. Okay, so that wasn’t my best segeway, but that was my partner’s best (and possibly only) limerick, which was the result of Thomas Benjamin Guerney’s ‘How to Write a Craicin’ Limerick’ session at TINA 2010.

During the session, Guerney spoke about form. Limericks use the following meter:

– – / – – / – – /

– – / – – / – – /

– – / – – /

– – / – -/

– – / – – / – – /

This meter is to be strictly adhered to, though there are exceptions to the rule (wtf). Limericks also follow A, A, B, B, A rhyming and their content should be witty and bawdy.

He then followed up with a limerick workshop in which we came up with folks from Helsinki being flexible like slinkies and losing their primary/secondary pinkies. It was a fun session, but perhaps it was not as fun as ‘Lit Journal Survivor’, where windows were broken and genital-constricting shorts were worn.

‘Writing About Place’ was a more serious workshop. Run by Voiceworks, it consisted of various writing exercises. For instance, we had to think of the worst place we had ever been to and write an advertisement for it. Another exercise required us to use industrial-sounding modifiers to describe natural settings and vice-versa. The exercises were great but the size of the workshop was intimidating. I don’t know about everyone else but my responses to such prompts tend to be shit, and I’d rather not share them with a score of strangers.

Socialising has been less fun. This year, Newcastle has been invaded by packs of writerly hipsters and the occasional lone wolf. It feels like my pack of two is having a bit of a standoff with the other packs. Or maybe we’re just standoffish. Who knows?

‘The American Gothic Ball’ was less crazy compared to last year’s Great Gatsby, while the Zine Fair was again full of pretty things. I picked up a Lets Learn Lao with Mechelle B zine, which teaches one how to say important things like ‘your undies smell’ (‘salip-jow-men’) and a pair of awesome scarves from her sister.

Hosted by Benjamin Law and Michaela McGuire, this year’s ‘Spelling Bee’ featured ‘Who am I’ dinosaurs, and ‘Televangelist or Dental Product?’ It also challenged contestants with words such as ‘jurisprudent’, and ‘verisimillitude’. I managed to fluke my way through ‘gleet’, but not ‘ukulele’. Anyway, reigning champ Geoff Lemon was deposed by the word ‘beryllium’, and Garth, last year’s runner-up, took home the trophy.

I was wondering whether it was time to go home yet when we decided to try the Royal Exchange reading. Thank dog we did. Guest speakers Rochelle Jackson, Will Kostakis, Mandy Beaumont, and Patrick O’Neil entertained their mellowing crowd with tales of crims, inappropriate jokes, Brisbane’s West End, and supposed human rights abuses. But the best tale of the night and the highlight of my festival was open mic’s Ben Jenkins who spun us a story about fearlessness, cat poo parasites, and ice addicts. While his reading was perhaps overly long, he captivated his audience until the end with his manner of speaking and his factual asides, and won a standing ovation from Mister Geoff Lemon. Thanks Ben Jenkins for putting my faith back into the open mic section.

And that’s it folks. I’ll be attending a couple more events, and hopefully finding some prompt tucker in this dogforsaken place. Bloody public holidays. Grrr.

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TINA Tales 2010 (Part One)

Once upon a time (last Thursday), there was a toy sword that was going to be a prop for my American Gothic Ball costume. It was cheap and nasty but I loved it very much. One day, it got confiscated at the airport. The grizzly airport security took one look at it, and they said: ‘This sword is too real looking. This sword is too big looking. This sword is not right.’ So they confiscated it, and checked me for explosives.

The moral of this story: five-foot Asian women who carry around toy ninja swords are potential terrorists.

But back to more important things like the TINA 2010 program. My first TINA 2010 event was not ‘How to make bombs’, because you can learn that from MacGuyver, but ‘Ethical Magazine Making’. Cameron Pegg moderated a roundtable that consisted of Lin Tao (Trespass), Andre Dao (Right Now), Lian Lowe and Hoa Pham (Peril) and Elizabeth Redman and Duncan Felton (Voiceworks).

In regards to advertising, Andre Dao spoke about his wariness of being used. Starbucks had approached his human rights magazine with a large sum of money, wanting to become a sponsor. It probably wanted to improve its corporate social responsibility profile, but the magazine reluctantly rejected the offer due to Starbuck’s suspect practices.

Lin Tao and Cameron Pegg noted that a lot of companies expect advertorial as well as advertising space. Hoa Pham wondered about her magazine’s future. Once grant money runs out, will Peril have to align itself with a university? And how would that influence the magazine’s direction?

The ethics of blind submissions was then raised by Pegg. Voiceworks, Peril, and audience members discussed the pros and cons of each. Yup, the blind submission process seems fair, but sometimes context is needed to ethically accept or reject a piece of work.

Discussion then moved to the payment of contributors. Voiceworks was willing and able, but Right Now didn’t have enough money to pay all of its contributors. Andre Dao posed the question, ‘Do we pay the high court judge or the student?’

While Right Now had taken an egalitarian approach, Peril was still using the Meanjin system of payment. Poets were getting paid less by the magazine and Laura Smith, poet and audience member, took issue with this.

Brief mention was given to environmental ethics. With the improvement in quality and affordability of environmental stock, Pegg declared that there was no reason why magazines couldn’t choose to be environmentally friendly. Concerns about sustainability were one of many reasons why journals were ditching paper for the internet.

In summary, advertising is still The Big Issue, but magazine makers should also be addressing a broad range of ethical concerns.

‘Ethical Magazine Making’ finished with plenty of time to spare for me to get to the ‘Op Shop Tour of Newie’. After handing out ‘Op Shop Hop’ badges and hand-drawn maps, Vanessa Berry took us on the bus out to Islington where we hurriedly ransacked seven op shops. Prices are generally better than Melbourne: I saw many good quality religious prints going for cheap, and thirty-buck retro couches. I picked up some old placemats for $2, and 1950s coloured glassware for $6. 🙂

On the way back, our group chatted with the blue rinse set. One lady suggested that we should go to Gardenvale, land of many chain stores, and a trio appraised our hipster outfits and hats.

Back at the Town Hall, Van Badham, Zora Sanders, Alexandra Neill, and ‘Adam’ were debating whether free-to-air television was for old people or idiots; it seemed that everyone was arguing for the negative side. After the ‘snarky’ arguments were made, the real discussion began. Alexandra Neill brought up the morally superior ethic of watching free-to-air. How can we expect to continue watching good shows if we don’t support them by adding to the ratings? Van Badham talked about the worldwide tweet phenomenon that is ‘Q&A’, which has taken the old lounge room discussion online and abroad. All were of the belief that new media would not kill the TV star.

We grabbed dinner at Lan’s, a Darby Street Vietnamese eatery stuck in the eighties. It shared many of the dishes my mother used to make at her Saigon Restaurant in Melbourne: carmeralised pork, stuffed chicken wing, lemongrass pork/chicken, ginger chicken, and chicken and corn soup. There was a distinct lack of fish sauce, and aromatic herbs, replaced by strange additions of celery and pineapple in my prawn and pork coleslaw. Lan’s is a great example of showing how Melbournian taste has developed over the years in regards to Vietnamese cuisine.

Final event for Day Two of TINA 2010 was ‘Our Well Hung Parliament’, a quiet affair at Renew Newcastle. Many rambled on thoughts, political ephiphanies, and allegiences, myself included, including Randall Stephens who described the immediate effect of K Rudd’s apology on a group of Aboriginal school children.

For Day Three, I’ll be attempting limericks and traipsing down Georgian-frontaged Tyrrell Steet in my Lizzie Bennet gown. I’ll try to blog you and not cheat with Twitter. Brb gf/bf.

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).

MWF 2010 Itineraries

Last month, I put up a MWF personality quiz, which you can do here if you haven’t already. I thought I’d follow up with some MWF 2010 itineraries for each of the personalities:

For more helpful MWF itineraries (and laffs), check out Sam Cooney’s ‘Hay everyone gess what?’.

*Already sold out.

**Magazine is a refurbished shipping container showcasing both new and established literary journals such as Overland, Going Down Swinging, The Lifted Brow, and Kill Your Darlings.

No, I’m not Estelle Tang, but I will be blogging about MWF 2010

While I was unable to make it to the subscribers’ launch of the MWF 2010 Program on Wednesday, I did make it to the media launch on Thursday at Tjanabi, Federation Square. As is customary with such events, speeches did not start at once, and we were left to make friends for ourselves. After I told Matt from MyStory that I was blogging for MWF 2010, he complimented me on my profile shot. Five seconds later, I came up with, ‘Oh, that’s the other Asian blogger.’ Oops. Sorry Estelle.

Yep, I have been asked to blog about MWF 2010. Others joining me will include Andy Murdoch, Lisa Dempster, Robbie Coleman, Duncan Felton, Sam Cooney, Brad Dunn, and Kathy Charles. We won’t be on the official blog with Angela Meyer, Estelle Tang, and Simon Keck (aka ‘that guy with the pencils in his mouth’), but we’ll be out in force, bringing you the dirt.

For instance, have you been reading your Twitter feeds? JOSS WHEDON is keynoting for MWF 2010, and tickets are selling fast. Will it sell out before the actual program hits the streets? Who knows? And who would have thought Frank Moorhouse could be so adorable? His words at the launch in regards to an older generation of writers and public speaking: ‘We were so nervous, we were often drunk.’ Awwww.

EWF 2010 Photo blog

I have been carrying a camera around with me for the last ten or so days, but have been unable to post them up until now, so I thought I’d do a pictorial recap of my experience of the EWF 2010 festival. Some of the shots are unsalvageable, so please forgive me if your photos aren’t here.

2010 Page Parlour punters pick up The Lifted Brow No.5 at Federation Square. (23/5/10)

Storytime with Lucienne Noontil (centre) and Rusty the Possum (right). Estelle Tang (left) tries to keep mum about the 'happy ending'. (24/5/10).

Homemade 'I Heart Jeremy Balius' tees that failed to dry in time for The Last Hurrah. Boo. (26/5/10)

A.S. Patric reads from his chapbook, 'Music For Broken Instruments', at The Last Hurrah. (26/5/10)

After the gig, the bf made the observation that many of us Black Riders were not looking up from the page, his hero Eric Dando included. Oops. (26/5/10)

Lunchbox/Soapbox: Chris Flynn knows how to entertain with quirky tales about heroic hounds from film and literature. (27/5/10)

You Want Me To Do What? panellists (left to right): Declan Fay, Katherine Charles, Sean M. Whelan, Natasha Campo, and Kelly Gardiner. (30/5/10)

Kirk Marshall (left) and Jeremy Balius (right) discuss the two modes of literary translation at From Here to There: The Adventures of Kaisu and Kalle. (30/5/10)

The Melbourne crew chillax at the end of the festival with Islet editor Anica at the Horse Bazaar. No underaged bar-children working today! (30/5/10)