‘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).

Voiceworks Parlour Games

This is a quick post before I head up to Mt Buller.

A week or two ago, the shy, awkward kids from Voiceworks invited strangers into their new home, the Wheeler Centre, for readings and parlour games. No cake or tea, but plenty of publications on sale and youngsters tumbling up the stage to either a) fill up the hall with their confidence or b) flutter with  nerves. In some ways, I am glad that I am no longer ‘under twenty-five’. It seems like such a painful state to be in.

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Pictures in order:

  1. Reading by Holly Voight from ‘Birthmark’
  2. Boggle with Johannes Jakob. I’ve never played Boggle before, and I’m not very good at word/number puzzles in general, but it was a lot of fun and what I’d imagine Bingo would be like. Boggle + Bingo = Bingle?
  3. Reading by Christopher O’Neill from ‘Birthmark’.
  4. EdComm Radio Play. Left to Right: Duncan Felton (special effects), Adolfo Aranjuez, Rafael S. Ward, Rosanna Stevens and Sam Rutter.
  5. Reading by Daniel Hogan from ‘Birthmark’.

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)

The First Fifteen Minutes

Does anyone recall last year’s 15 Minutes of Fame? Angela Meyer perched on a stool, interviewing timid-looking writers also perched on stools. Free wine tastings. Small room. Guy slumped in the pod on the other side of the glass wall, oblivious to the EWF happenings.

Well, this year’s first 15 Minutes is like last year’s 15 Minutes on steroids. Think imposing  Wheeler Centre stage, bright lights, square armchairs. Think Estelle Tang with seductively husky radio voice, telling post-Catholic neurotic, Joel Magarey, to ‘suck it up’ on stage*.  Think Meyer and Tang having a face-off, with Meyer later admiting that Tang’s 15 Minutes was funnier than hers. You missed out. Yeah, you did.

Tonight’s line up included Miscellaneous Voices, Andee Jones, Lucienne Noontil, as well as Joel Magarey.

Miscellaneous Voices, an anthology of Australian blog writing, is Miscellaneous Press’ first title. Editor Karen Andrews and contributor Carla Del Vecchio represented the anthology; both discussed their blogs and why they loved blogging. In spite of the imperfections, blog posts are often written in the heat of the moment and thus have a ‘raw power or beauty about them’. Andrews tried to distill this in the anthology, choosing pieces that resonated with a coincidentally personal bent.

Reviews for Miscellaneous Voices were mostly positive. There was one reviewer who didn’t see the point of such a book, since they had already read five of their favourite pieces previously online, but Tang was quick to note that Voices would have been a great introduction to twenty-six other bloggers. Geordie Williamson’s review also came up. In response to  ‘some pieces show signs of having been gussied up at the last moment for publication’, Andrews declared that the edits were similar to that of any other book.

Andee Jones, writer of the memoir Kissing Frogs, started her fifteen minutes with a tongue-in-cheek performance, establishing the tone for the rest of the evening. Her memoir details a mature woman’s experience with internet dating. A child of the sixties, she had never been on a date before, believed it to only happen on sitcoms. But she had hoped that one got braver as one got older, so she gave it a try. Jones comes across as sassy and self-reliant and her book seems less cynical than Michaela McGuire or Clementine Ford’s thoughts on internet dating.

Next up was Lucienne Noontil who wrote and illustrated Possum Tales. Storytelling for adults is not quite the same as it is for kids. Noontil deliberately adopted a patronising tone in her reading and was rewarded by silly interjections from Tang. Afterwards, the two spoke about the editing process, how every word has to count in a children’s book and how one has to avoid offending readers. For instance, Rusty the possum leaves home, but Noontil had to word it in such a way so that it didn’t sound like he was getting kicked out of home.

In the last quarter, Joel Magarey spoke about his book Exposure, which details his global odyssey. He had hoped to replicate a state of being he had experienced while living with a tribe in Papua New Guinea; he believed that his Western existence had a surplus of choice, leading to bewilderment and anxiety.

Magarey described the process of writing Exposure as psychotherapy: he had been through the pain during his travels but learning to understand it was like light. What he noted was that comedy equals tragedy plus time and was darkness transposed, something he would talk about further in his other EWF gig, Going to a Dark Place. Yes, 15 minutes is all about the spruiking, people**. Get over it.

15 Minutes of Fame happens around seven at The Wheeler Centre each night until Thursday. That means you’ve only got three more 4 15 Minutes. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Now who’s up for some Madonna?

*She did apologise profusely afterwards.

**More spruiking: Literary Minded’s review of Exposure here, and Killings podcast on Joel here. It’s a spruik-fest.

Update: Damnit, Jodie Kinnersley beat me to it. She’s already posted on 15 Minutes. THIS IS NOT A COMPETITION.

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.

Sick as a dog

After Bike Fail, I’ve managed to contract a summer cold, so I’ve been keeping a low profile, which is a shame as there’s an advanced screening of Fantastic Mr Fox at Moonlight Cinemas tonight.

There’s also a Voiceworks launch at the new Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing, and Ideas with an appearance from Nam Le that I might drag myself out of bed for. Nam Le’s this super articulate lawyer-turned-writer who I have an aspirational crush on. If you haven’t read his book The Boat yet, you should.

Okay, now back to bed.