Oh Footscrazy, how I’ll miss you

Last year, I wrote an article about Footscray’s gentrification, which has now found a home in Peril’s latest issue, ‘Skin’. Despite having grown up in Melbourne’s affluent eastern suburbs, Footscray (or ‘Footscrazy’ as the locals call it) was a second home. Mum and Dad took me there every second week. It was the only place we’d dine out as a family, scoffing down Thanh Phu* pork chops on broken rice. It provided me with my first mobile phone, my first DVD, and the fabric for my first ao dai.

During my private school years, I hated the suburb. It smelt of piss, rotten vegetables, and fish sauce. Its inhabitants were fresh off the boats who paraded around in demoded styles that Alice Pung would later describe as ‘De Paul finery’. I spent most of my adolescence, sulking in the back of my parents’ station wagon, trying to drown out the front-yard karaoke with Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey.

Footscray grows on you however. It’s loud, vibrant, and just a little bit dangerous. I shall miss the Footscrazy once the inevitable clean-up occurs.

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*Thanh Phu has since closed down due a fatal food poisoning incident.


How many generations of migrants does it take to make a true Australian?

Too many, judging from the numerous online comments on asylum seeker policy. ‘…when is this government going to wake up to the fact that the majority of people dont want refugees here’ (Joan), or ‘When are we going to start looking after our own and sending this lot back’ (Kate), and ‘Will the children be taught in australian schools or will they only be taught in Islam schools’ (Charles) are typical responses to a Yahoo! article reporting Labor’s shift in policy.

I know. What does one expect from Yahoo! News?

Comments to The Age’s articles show a bit more tolerance towards the less fortunate. In response to Natasha Stott Despoja’s article, Laura from Melbourne writes:

Great article Natasha.
I’ve been quite perplexed recently as to Labour and Liberal’s stance on asylum seekers, as, of late, they have both constructed aggressive and hostile immigration policy with the ostensible reason of catering to the ‘anxieties’ of voters.
When did Australia become so xenophobic? Surely failing to help those who need it most is – to use the common phrase – ‘unaustralian.’

But alongside such sentiment, there’s attitude like ‘Oh and a global refugee crisis not needing a global response? What a tard you are for putting forward such an excuse. We can’t take all of the world’s human excrement.’ (Candle)

Gee, thanks, Candle. I’ll pass on your words to my boat-refugee parents who came to Australia with nothing but the clothes on their back. Who worked in linen factories and restaurant kitchens and mowed lawns to make their living. Who paid taxes for your welfare. Who are still working and paying taxes, even though they are well beyond retirement age, because they are proud of their self-sufficiency and hard work.

The reason why people like Joan, Kate, Charles, and Candle show such little compassion towards refugees is because they were born Australians. They have peace, democracy, freedom, rights, safety, healthcare, education not because they have earned it but because they were lucky. Their inheritance is a safe harbour of a nation unblemished by foreign occupation or civil war.

Correction, Australia is a country of foreign occupation, just ask its original inhabitants. The Aborigines probably didn’t want the first lot of boat people either. First and second, even third generation migrants get blamed for eating up resources, not assimilating with the rest of the community, and eroding so-called ‘Aussie values’. But what are we other than a nation of migrants? We pledge allegiance to a foreign queen, speak a foreign language, rape our environment, and cause violence against the traditional owners of our land?

Let me ask you again: how many generations of migrants does it take to make a true Australian?

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.

Letters to the Editor: Disgruntled about Fading Twilight

Dear esteemed debaters for Team Bella and the Anti Sparkly Vampire League,

I have listened to your arguments in regards to a ‘fading Twilight‘. They have been informative. For instance, I never knew that President Bush had pushed for sexy abstinence programs in American schools: ‘not only should you not have sex, but you should be sexy at the same time’ (Jeff Sparrow). Nor did I realise that many boys consider porn ‘educational’, that one in three teenage girls have been coerced into sexual acts by their boyfriends (Van Badham).

You’ve used smutty humour such as ‘sub-zero penises’, and ‘frozen sperm’ to point out that ‘promotion of abstinence…is outdated, out of touch, and insulting to women’ (Chris Flynn), and accused us of literary snobbery (Kate Forsyth) and Stephanie Meyer of bad prose (Ben Chandler) . You’ve even brought up my favourite topic of the month, Mr Joss Whedon, via musings on Angel/Angelus, a real vampire (Ben Chandler).

But only one argument came close to the debate topic, ‘Fading Twilight‘, and that was the number-crunching. Nineteen thousand Breaking Dawns being sold per week (Bec Kavanagh)? That’s suggestive of a here-to-stay phenomenon. If only you had produced evidence of unmitigated sales as well, instead of making vague references to the New York Times Best Seller lists, we might have all been convinced one way or another.

Unfortunately, you did not, and as a result, the debate on ‘Fading Twilight‘ had strayed completely off topic. Come on. Who cares if Edward’s a prude? Or how male-dominated the publishing industry is? And why on earth are we talking about ‘pink icypole penises’?

Instead, we should have been examining Twilight’s continuing impact on its readers and the rest of society. Has it improved the literacy rate in children and adolescents? Has it affected reading patterns? Kavanagh mentioned increased sales in Wuthering Heights; that’s a good start. Has Twilight become set texts in schools that promote abstinence? Has it been duplicated by other writers (YES), adapted for film (YES) and graphic novels (YES), and parodied (YES)? These are the questions that need to be answered in a debate about the staying power of Twilight. That little girl in the audience might have been laughing at your jokes but even she wasn’t convinced by the pointless rhetoric.

See, that’s the thing, esteemed debaters from Team Bella and ASVL. This debate was part of the MWF’s Schools’ Program. We’re supposed to be teaching kids how to make a proper argument, instead of teaching them bad habits. ‘So long as you’re eloquent, the devil may care’ is what they’ve learnt today, thanks to you. You should be ashamed of yourselves.



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.

Review: Kogan eBook Reader

At this year’s Willylit festival, Chris Flynn made a convincing sales pitch for eBook readers. Not only are eBook readers ‘libraries-in-hand’, they’re also tree-savers, since only a small part of a book printed in the US is made from recycled paper.

I was reluctant to rush out and buy a Kindle however, since it would limit me to DRM material from Amazon, and I hate monopoly, especially in the publishing industry where it affects both authors and consumers. There’s a few other low-end eBook readers out there, such as the Kobo, but I thought I’d give the Kogan a go. Kogan is an online store, and there was no opportunity to play rough on a demo device, so I ruminated before clicking the ‘shopping cart’ icon. I bought it in the end because the Kogan supported an amazing range of eBook formats as well as being Adobe DRM-friendly.

My Kogan eBook Reader arrived on Monday. It’s teeny-weeny bit smaller than a DVD cover, and the screen is six-inches, same as a Kobo. The buttons feel a bit plasticky and unresponsive (think of the old Nokia 3210s), but the e-ink screen is easy on the eyes. Size of the font was not an issue for Kogan’s preloaded material, but my uploaded Adobe books sported newspaper-print, which can be a problem for the visually impaired. One can zoom in and reformat pages of course, but then one ends up with widow text.

One major flaw with the Kogan is that it doesn’t have a ‘last page’ function. On one occasion, my Kogan switched off after being idle for too long. I forgot to bookmark my page, so on my return, I had to trawl through half of the book to find my spot again.

With a potential storage capacity of 34G (using a 32G SDHC card to shore up the built-in 2G memory), the Kogan can store images and music as well. I’m not sure why anyone would want to look at images in greyscale, but an eBook reader that also works as a basic MP3 device would be muchos useful for travellers. One less gadget to fit into your hand luggage.

In regards to Mac/PC compatibility, Kogans seem to be Mac-unfriendly. I got around this hiccup by uploading books onto my SD card, but this is frustrating, especially when I know my Kogan can sync with Adobe Digital Editions.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased with my purchase. When it comes to buying books, bookshelf space has always been a limiting factor for me, and it’s nice to have a home for closet publications (i.e. trashy fantasy). I know this is very ‘Stuff White People Like’**, but, hey, you’ve got to agree with me that fantasy books take up a lot of space. Stephanie Meyer*, anyone?

To find out more on Kogan eBook Readers, visit Kogan’s website here. For eBook reader geeks, I’d suggest looking at iTWire’s more comprehensive review.

*Note: I was so ashamed of my Stephanie Meyer collection, that I donated the whole lot to the Borders Bushfire Appeal. I really should borrow books first before buying them.

**Second Note: I suppose that makes me a wannabe white person? Okay, let’s not go there…

‘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)


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?



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

David Eddings

Blogging’s been a struggle lately. I’ve had to balance work and writing commitments with David Eddings. Yup, you’ve heard right. For nostalgic kicks, I’ve been reading Pawn of Prophecy. You play your first generation video game consoles; I dip into books that I discovered in 1995.

Reading Eddings is like speed-reading Tolkien. There’s a quest minus descriptive backstory and singing dwarfs. There’s also a whole bunch of racial stereotyping: Chereks equal brutish warriors, Drasnians live off intrigue, Tolnedrians love money, and Angaraks are terrorists. But one can overlook this, thanks to the peppering of snide comments throughout the book. Never mind that most of the goodies make the same sounding snide comments.

Gee, I can’t wait until I get my hands on Queen of Sorcery again, which ‘will reveal Garion’s own dangerous powers of sorcery and more on his heritage, which underlies their quest’. And I’m sure there’s some snake woman in it somewhere…

For a much more helpful review on Mr Eddings, try 3000 Books.