Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Angry One.

As you may recall, I was lucky enough to find myself inside Abbey Road studios a couple of years ago. When I first entered the holy place and was waiting at the reception counter, I stood next to some guy who was opening a stack of envelopes and checking the mail. What made this ultra cool, though, was the letters were all addressed to Sir George Martin. To me it was a moment of surrealism, a moment when I felt connected personally to the Fabs. I mean, here I was standing next to the guy who opened mail for the guy who produced The Beatles.

With my wife and our host, I toured all three studios guided by the studio manager. She was able to share lots about the studios, both technically and historically, but I more than held my own when it came to geekdom and useless trivia.  At one point she pointed to some pictures on the wall, and identified the artists. The Goons, Cilla Black, Sir Malcolm Sargent. (All of which I knew.) There was, however, one group that she didn't know.  I was able to identify them, though.  At another point she told me she wasn't sure whether The Beatles had ever used Studio 3. I was able to state which songs were recorded there, and then had a similar conversation in Studio 1.

Yeah, I know I'm sad.  But I'm a Beatles nerd.

There is very little in the way of storage available at the studios, so the hallways are lined with instruments. As we passed a couple of pianos and an organ, the manager just tapped them and said "Lady Madonna, Billy Preston, A Day in the Life.  Would you like to play any of these?"

I don't think I drooled though I may have gasped audibly.  I did, however, have enough presence of mind to grab the opportunity to play a couple of chords on the Lady Madonna piano.  And it had that sound. You could instantly recognise the tones.

As we were leaving, I asked my wife what the date was. She replied it was the 4th of January. "Wow", I said. "Thirty-seven years ago today the Beatles had their last ever session here. George played the guitar overdubs to Let It Be." At this point our host said, "You need to get a life!  Ride a bike, or something." And grinned. I guess he was kind of impressed, in the same way people are 'kind of' impressed by road accidents.

Let It Be was released in two versions. The single with the softer guitar solo, and the album track with the overdubbed 'angry' solo.  I believe there were plans at one stage to release the song with the two solos on different channels, but it never eventuated.

But last week, as I started teaching myself the 'angry' solo, I recalled the afternoon I spent in the studio. A bunch of kids at school, the keyboard ensemble,  have chosen to play Let It Be at a concert. And their music teacher has asked me to accompany them on stage. It didn't take long to figure out - but I want to nail the thing so I get it right on the night.

OK, it's not Woodstock, but it's a gig.  And I know I'll have fun.  I only hope I do credit to George Harrison.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Whale Of Doubt.

I must not be reading the right magazines or web pages or whatever.  I had absolutely no idea that another Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy book was on its way.

Mind you, I was equally clueless about the publication of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, until I saw a copy on a friend's shelf. And it was only by accident I discovered the existence of the new Red Dwarf a few days after it aired in the UK. (And don't we wish they'd held out for a bigger budget, a better story and more rewrites!)

So this afternoon, when my wife and I wandered down to the NOVA in Lygon Street to see Moon, and An Education, I was rather surprised to see a new HHGG book on the shelf in the bookstore next door. Written by Eoin Colfer, it's authorised by Adams's widow. Adams apparently said he planned to write a sixth book in the series, as he felt the last one ended on too much of a downer - but I was under the impression that his unpublished intentions for book six had already been released as Salmon of Doubt. While part of me is thrilled at the prospect of more Hitchhiker's to read, another part of me is quite distrustful of stories carried on by other writers. I did, however, enjoy Starship Titanic, written by Monty Python's Terry Jones (apparently in the nude), but Douglas Adams was around for that one and had some input into the book. There's a very fine line between fan fiction and posthumous authorisations. I'm rather glad they don't do this with music. Can you imagine a new Beatles' album - for example, Sgt. Pepper. 2: More help from my friends - written and recorded by four other guys and authorised by Yoko Ono?

I met Douglas Adams once.  He was in town to promote his enviro-book, Last Chance to See, and was sitting at a table in the middle of a bookstore. Having been totally under-promoted, it was reminiscent of the album signing scene in Spinal Tap. When I arrived, the only other people present were two teenage boys. Neither would have been out of place as extras on Big Bang Theory. They just stood to one side and grinned a lot, basking in his presence, not even brave enough to speak to him. Douglas sat and smoked, happily chatting to me for quite a while - about Melbourne, about writing, about music, about stuff, and very kindly signed some books for me. Sadly, not one other person approached the table or even seemed to wonder who he was or why he was sitting there. A few months later I met Patrick Tilley in the same place, under similar circumstances. Again the only promotion was an A4 piece of paper taped to the interior wall of the store.

Predictably, that bookstore didn't last long.  I guess no one knew it was there.

But HHGG is still alive, and I reserve judgement on whether that's a good thing or not. I will, of course, purchase a copy once it's in paperback. And then I'll decide whether I would like to see a seventh one or not.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

They Grow Up So Quickly, Don't They?

And so my senior students have their last day of school today - 'muck-up' day, as they call it.  School administrators prefer the connotation of 'Celebration' day, but that's never really caught on with anyone.  Especially the media.

They don't have any classes today, and so our kids are currently roaming the school in costume, based on their initials.  John came as James Bond and so on.  They're having a good time, wandering around, signing each other's school shirts and taking a million photographs - most of which will end up on Facebook tonight.

A few nights ago another school hit the headlines when their senior students held a party. Three men in balaclavas arrived uninvited and proceeded to rampage and beat up a bunch of kids with baseball bats.  Now while I don't condone this violence at all, I must admit I was rather surprised when the principal defended the kids having the party. They were drinking (kegs of beer) in a public park at 11.30 p.m. on a Monday night. Probably loud music too. I don't know these kids at all, but I wonder how many were under 18.

Surely this is not the appropriate way to celebrate.  And what are they celebrating anyway?  The exams don't start till next week and it ain't over until the last pen is put down.  Heck, you can't even leave the exam room until the time is up.

And I know our kids will have their own parties - hopefully in private and responsibly.  I recall my muck-up day. We came in costume as well, ironically at the same school I currently teach in. (The irony is I thought at the time that I was free of the place and would never return!) We wandered around for a bit, then left. I think most of us were home by 3 p.m., and that was that.

But I do want to wish the current crop all the best for their futures - whatever they choose to do.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

So Many Books, So Little Time.

Although I read continuously, even by my standards I seem to have raced through quite a few books over the past few weeks. And, I must say I'm very happy to report, some of the books I've enjoyed most have been Australian.

The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild has quietly produced a number of quality anthologies over the past few years. I picked up a couple at Continuum 5 earlier this year, and have generally enjoyed the stories. Nor of Human had some moments, although the quality of story and writing varied greatly. Machinations, edited by Chris Andrews, however, was much stronger as a collection. I'm looking forward to reading the others.

I was fortunate enough to meet Narrelle M. Harris earlier this year. She was on a couple of panels at Continuum 5, where she was articulate and very funny. And now I'm able to report her writing suitably reflects this witty personality. The Opposite of Life is an entertaining vampire story set in Melbourne, my hometown.  Despite guessing the ending twist about a third of the way through, I thoroughly enjoyed the tale.  Very, very funny at times (Vampires who have never learned to drive twiddling their thumbs while seated on a tram as they chase someone across the city ) and an entertaining story to boot. Do I get bonus marks for recognising Stalactites? Also recommended.

And by the way, Narrelle - for later editions, the nightclubs are in the west end of Melbourne, not the east. I guess the editor missed that one.

I finished reading Writers of the Future Vol. 25, which means I've now read every winning story except for one. (The Two Tzaddicks by Ira Herman was not included in Vol. 1 as it had previously been published elsewhere) Vol. 25 had some excellent stories, although I didn't feel the standard was quite as high as it has been recently. Make sure you check out Garden of Tiang Zi by Emery Huang, After The Final Sunset, Again by Jordan Lapp and Risqueman by Mike Wood.

At the same time I'm still drifting in and out of Pulp Fiction: The Dames, an omnibus of 1930s detective and gangster stories.  An interesting read of a popular genre from another era. Between other books I'll pick this up for a few stories. Lots of fun to read, and some great dialogue that has since become cliched.

The cream of the crop, however, is Worldshaker by Richard Harland. An alternate history with elements of steampunk woven throughout. What a stunning and clever book! I was at a book launch for this novel a few months ago, and was thoroughly impressed by Richard's energetic reading, as well as his exuberance at having the book released. Last week I finally got around to reading it, and couldn't put it down. I laughed out loud in parts - especially the chapter when Col attends school for the first time. But the richness of the world and the depths of ideas ensnared me.  I've heard there are plans for another book in the 'series'.  I sure hope so. And the great news is that Worldshaker has sold to the US and the UK.  Congratulations, Richard. VERY highly recommended.

Oh, and just another quick one.  I've only read the first story from this dark collection (and that one seemed even darker because it's set around the train line and suburbs I live in), but it needs to be publicised.  Australian author Paul Haines' collection, A Slice Of Life.  The entire cover price goes towards Paul's fight against cancer.  Worthy cause indeed.

So if you haven't read any of these books, what's stopping you?  Read!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We Don't All Wear Funny Costumes, You Know.

About 6 months ago I discovered the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. One Saturday I headed down to an MSFC mini-convention that I'd read about online. I had an absolutely marvelous time and joined up on the spot.  Since then I've attended a few meetings, gotten to know a few people and learned a bit about 'our' history.

Last Friday was special, an evening I won't forget in a hurry. Murray, our extremely capable President, did a fantastic job of installing Helena and Jocko as Life Members. Not only was it fascinating to hear their stories of how they became involved in the club, it was great to hear the tale of how the club started. The second longest running SF club in the world, MSFC has been running since 1952. (The longest running is in L.A. - started in the 1930s) On hand for Friday's presentation were most of the serving Life Members, including some of the founders.  And besides learning about some of the crazy things that have occurred over the years (a teddy bear shaped hole in a window, indeed!) I was able to meet some very cool people, including Ditmar. I've already cleared the spot above my desk where the award that's named after him will one day sit.

In the past few months I've had a few moments of disillusionment with certain aspects of SF publishing, about my writing and with parts of fandom. But along with Continuum 5, the MSFC has restored my faith in the future of SF. Thanks guys, and thanks especially to those who decided in 1952 that their regular social gathering needed some formalisation.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday Night In St. Kilda.

What a fantastic evening! Dinner with my friend was enjoyable, I bumped into another old friend I haven't seen for five years but have been meaning to catch up with, Gibb Todd impressed and then Steeleye Span was superb. We partied like it's 1399.

This is their 40th anniversary tour, and yet Maddy Prior's voice sounds as pure as ever, Ken Nicol has slotted into the band very well (Last time I saw them, I admit I wasn't convinced) Liam Genockey had a nicely underplayed feel on drums, Peter Knight was as amazing as ever, and Pete Zorn, who is filling in for the unwell Rick Kemp, had a beautifully gentle touch on bass.

They played a lot of songs that I wasn't too familiar with, mostly from the past 15 years - an era from which I haven't listened to all their CDs.  They did, however, play Thomas the Rhymer and The Blacksmith from the earlier days, and then finished with an encore of All Around My Hat (introduced as "our anthem"), and Hard Times of Old England.  

There were two standout tracks for me. I Live Not Where I Love, and Betsy Bell and Mary Gray.  Both were virtually acoustic, one with guitar and the other with violin. And both were completely amazing.

Maddy did her little Maddy dances, those little slightly Scottish steps she usually does, Pete, wearing what appeared to be a cardigan, looked as though he was ready to put on his slippers and have a cocoa, and Ken took every opportunity to remind us who won the recent cricket series. My friend was a little disappointed they didn't sing Gaudete as an encore, and I wanted them to do anything from Commoner's Crown.

But it was still a fantastic show, and I can't wait until their 45th Anniversary shows.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Still Waiting For The Phone Call.

I never did get the rewrite of my current story completed in time. I had a couple of days to go before the end of the quarter for Writers of the Future and decided the story was too good to rush.

There are some unusual ideas in there, and I had another idea that I wanted to work through the story.  I felt that if I waited and spent my time writing and polishing the story, I'd end up with a better piece.  And so I dug up an older story and sent that off instead. A few reprints ended up in the waste paper bin as I made a couple of minor changes, but after some re-reading I deleted those alterations. In the end I simply added one sentence.

I don't anticipate a win from the story I submitted, but then again you never know.  I recall Jordan Lapp thought that of his last entry and it went on to win the quarter. Writers are often the worst judges of their own work. This is a story I quite like, although I've had mixed comments from others. Who knows though, this could be the unexpected one that finally connects with the judge.

Third quarter results have started appearing on the WOTF site, and I know for a fact a couple of finalists have had emails and phone calls. Either Joni has lost my number or has been too busy to call me. Surely my last entry was worthy of at least a semi-finalist?

Seriously, I don't like my chances for this quarter. I figure if I haven't heard by this stage, I haven't won. Now I'm simply hoping for another Honourable Mention. The last group of these should be posted by the end of this week. I know there's nothing shameful about a HM (in fact, it's a positive), but it's not what I'm aiming for either.

So that'll be another story to send out to the mags. And then it's back to my desk to finish off my Q1 story in time for the end of December. Now that one will win.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Parcel Of Rogues At The National Theatre.

I've bought my tickets to see Steeleye Span next week. They're touring to celebrate their 40th anniversary. While my wife cringes every time I plays their albums, and I think I'm now only allowed to listen to them when she's not home, I'm fortunate that my best friend also loves their music. So we'll have dinner, a drink and then down to the National Theatre for the show. This will now be about the fifth time I've seen them live. I was fortunate enough to see them a couple of times with their classic Mark IV lineup, the band that recorded the wonderful Commoner's Crown album.

I wasn't going to write about Steeleye, but I've spent the past few days listening to some of their CDs. And you have to love their storytelling.  Little Sir Hugh, Long Lankin, even Demon Lover - wonderful stories, some dating back as far as the 13th century, that are as dark as anything else I've seen.  Tales of murder, infidelity and meeting the devil abound.  Lots and lots of themes and ideas lie within their discs, just waiting to be harvested for reuse in some of my current stories.

I recently listened to Present, a collection of re-recorded Steeleye songs.  The playing is accomplished enough, but it doesn't groove, it doesn't swing.  It's not something you can describe, but it's something you can feel when you listen to it.  At first I wondered whether it was simply because I was more familiar with the old favourites, but it's more than that. There's something missing - a bit like comparing Gimme Shelter from a recent live recording to the original dark, threatening Let It Bleed version. The Rolling Stones are more accomplished now, but there's a  feel that's absent.

But that's not to say that Steeleye Span still aren't fabulous,  The current line-up (similar to the one I saw a couple of years ago) is still fantastic, and Maddy Prior's voice is still one of the purest I've ever heard.

And while my wife stays home and watches some chick flick, I'll be dancing (at least in spirit) to All Around My Hat.