Sunday, June 29, 2014

Are You Listening?

My drive to work has been much enriched by listening to podcasts. And I've recently added to that enjoyment by adding radio plays to my journeys.

I must have been 16 or so when I found out one of the radio stations was going to broadcast a BBC adaptation of one of my favourite books, Asimov's Foundation. It was on around midday, and I happened to be home. I threw a cassette tape into Dad's stereo and recorded it.

Unfortunately, what I didn't realise until the end of the broadcast was that this was only one part of an eight part series, and the rest would be played while I was at school. I played that tape a great deal but was never able to hear the rest. Later, of course, I heard Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (albeit in the abridged format on vinyl) and loved that as well.

I've started listening to Foundation again. I've transferred my Hitchhiker's Guide to mp3 ready for the future. And I've delved well into the past and downloaded a bunch of episodes of Dimension X from the 1950s. This series features a lot of well known stories by famous writers.

The BBC currently has Dangerous Visions, a series of SF radio plays. The most recent being Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

And on the near horizon stands Night Terrace, an Australian production featuring some well known Australian talent.

Radio plays suit SF so well. I find they don't date as much as many old TV shows, as the visual aspects are left to the listener's imagination.

Mostly, they take the the monotony out of a daily drive. I'm on two weeks' term break now, most of which will be devoted to writing. But when I need a break from words on the screen, a short radio play and a coffee will re-energise me.

Any other radio play suggestions?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Graphic Literature.

So I'm teaching Macbeth at the moment, which I haven't taught for many years. Murder, betrayal, sex, sword fight and naked witches (OK - so that last one's in the Polanski version) Teaching this to teenagers? What could possibly go wrong?

I have lots of support material to wade through, lots of text analyses, lots of historical information, lots of commentary. Some of it is good, some of it needs culling. One of these is a comic...  um, I mean a graphic novel version of the play in modern English. I haven't yet had time to read it, due to end of semester marking and report writing. I have scanned it and it's really good. But there's a blurb on the back which caught my eye. It's a quote, and it's along the lines of "If I were a Literature teacher, I'd buy a whole set of these for my students."

Really?  Why?

Aside from this quote sounding more like a sales pitch than a realistic review, why would students studying Literature use this text? A Literature course should be using the original version. I suppose it could be used briefly if they are looking at comparisons of the same source material. As support material it may be useful in some instances, but from my experience students can't take Literature unless they are doing reasonably well in mainstream English.

During the past few years I've been asked why we don't study more film/TV/graphic novels in English. And yet others have asked me why we do teach these forms, as though they aren't valid texts.

We cover these media because they convey meaning and communicate. We don't spend as much time on them as books (paper and e-book) because they don't use English as much or in the same way. Graphic novels use images to convey setting, and most of the written text is dialogue.

I love my graphic novels - everything from Asterix and Tintin, through Aztec Ace and Alien Legion, to Moonshadow and Saga. And they're as deep and as rich as many other texts. But they usually sit on the fringes of the assessable criteria of English as a subject.

Don't worry, though. There are units available for students which do cover these forms.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Recent Activities.

Continuum X has been and gone. I can barely believe two weeks has since passed. I didn't write about it last week for two reasons. Firstly, I'd just written about Gitte Christensen, and I wanted to leave that on top for a few more days. Secondly, because I wasn't sure what to make of Continuum.

Jim C. Hines and Ambelin Kwaymullina were wonderful guests, and their speeches were challenging and inspiring. Certainly brilliant follow-ups to last year's guest, N.K. Jemisen. I returned home with new ideas and understandings of issues within SF. And a whole lot more questions about gender, race, culture and diversity. And that will, of course, bleed through to my writing.

I also had the opportunity to converse with Jim C. Hines. It was an important conversation for me, and he helped me out a whole lot more than he realises. Thank you Jim for your time and words.

It was an odd convention for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. I didn't feel spoiled for panel choice as I usually am, and that may have been part of it. The venue was different and the rooms were more spread out. That too may have been part of it. The bar prices were insanely high, which meant a lot of people didn't gather or linger, which I certainly felt played its part. My con-going buddy was missing this time, which may have played its part. Or maybe it was just me. Or, of course, all of the above in varying degrees of culpability.

And then there were a couple of situations/conversations at the convention which got me down. I'm not going to go into details, but I just can't believe these things are happening.

Overall? I enjoyed myself, and I look forward to next year's Continuum.

Since then I've been busy at work finishing up assessment and writing reports - every teacher's favourite task. I had a personal rejection for a story for which I'd had high hopes. (It's not you, it's us) Sigh. But I have a couple of other stories out which I think will probably sell. (Of course with my recent history in predicting these sales...... ) At least I've managed to get some words down this week, so I feel productive there. Which is (hopefully) good, as I have two deadlines at the end of the month.

But enough about me. It's back to work.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Getting On Top.

As regular readers will know, I recently changed schools. I hit the ground running, right in the middle of serious assessment time. Not only did I have mountains of marking land on my desk, but I had to quickly get up to speed on the texts, the course, the curriculum, the standards of assessment, and - well, the whole shebang. It's only recently that I've started feeling as though I'm actually on top of things.

But every time I start to feel that way, every time I start to feel like I'm in control of my life, something leaps out at me like the alien bursting from that guy's chest to remind me that it's all an illusion.

I promised myself last month that once I was on top of things, I would set aside a couple of hours every evening simply to write. But will I ever have that free time?


So, as of tonight, I will start writing daily whether I have the time or not. I will squeeze it in somehow. And I have no excuses.

And yes, I have some new words down today.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Farewell, Gitte.

It is with great sadness I write this.

My friend and fellow writer, Gitte Christensen, passed away this morning after a long illness. A couple of weeks ago, surrounded by family members, her life-support was switched off.

Even then Gitte showed great courage, as she has done all along. I’ve been told she said that despite the machines being switched off, she would continue to fight.

Gitte was very private, and asked that I not share her situation with anyone until now.

Those who read Gitte’s blog will know that from time to time she mentioned her illnesses, her surgery and her pains. But you will also know she never dwelt on them, or complained about them. And she certainly never went into any details. She just wrote about how they were preventing her from writing.

I spoke to Gitte several times about her health. Gitte never described what was wrong with her, and I never asked. I believed it was cancer, and I’ve now had this confirmed. Gitte was a Danish warrior. Two years ago she was told she would not live to see that Christmas. It was only two months ago she went horse-riding, one of her great loves. 

Gitte was honest, humble and full of integrity. And optimistic – always optimistic. She was a prolific writer, a quiet achiever. Unknown by many in Australia, she had some great publishing credits. Andromeda Spaceways, Aurealis, Eric Guignard’s  ‘Dark Tales Of Lost Civilizations’, ‘The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2010’, and a whole bunch more. Last year one of her stories was selected by Alex Dally McPherson for inclusion in ‘Aliens: Recent Encounters.

Gitte and I always wanted to share a TOC. This dream was realised only last week, as we both have stories in issue 59 of Andromeda Spaceways. I’m thrilled that in the past month Gitte has sold even more stories, including one only a few days ago. Her family will be maintaining her website, and details will be published there as those stories go to press.

I first met Gitte at a Sean Williams workshop. We said nice things about each other’s writing, and stayed in touch. From there we developed a mutual respect which became a friendship. Gitte and I encouraged, supported and congratulated each other. Every year we would meet up at a convention or writing event. I last saw her at a Jack Dann workshop. She was unable to finish that course due to her health.

Take a moment to wish her well on her travels into the great unknown, and if you are so inclined, donate money to a cancer research organization.

Farewell, Gitte.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vale: Rik Mayall.

Rik Mayall passed away yesterday.

Rik, of course, famously played Rick in The Young Ones. Back in the 80s, it was compulsory and regular viewing among my friends. I remember having marathons, watching episode after episode, and laughing no matter how many times I'd seen them. He was one of the first comedians who spoke directly to my generation.

Mayall was fabulous in Blackadder, The New Statesman and Believe Nothing.  I even enjoyed Drop Dead Fred, although I haven't seen it since it was a new release on Beta video. And, of course, there was The Comic Strip Presents. 

But it was as Rick the People's Poet that I will remember him. Although I'd heard he was never the same after his bike accident and found comedy difficult, a quick search shows Rik has continued working fairly solidly for the past 15 years.
“I feel sorry for you, you zeros, you nobodies. What’s going to live on after you die? Nothing, that’s what! This house will become a shrine! And punks and skins and Rastas will all gather round and all hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader! And all the grown-ups will say, ‘But why are the kids crying?’ And the kids will say, ‘Haven’t you heard? Rick is dead! The People’s Poet is dead!’ ... And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, ‘Why kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?’”
Mayall was 56.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

On Receiving Expert Advice.

Today's the day I interview three YA authors in front of an audience of teens.

I saw this done last year at the Melbourne Writer's Festival, first with Morris Gleitzman and then with Andy Griffiths. Gleitzman was really interesting. He held the audience well, but Griffiths turned them upside down. He was like a writing rock star. A few bum jokes, a few gross stories and he had an autograph queue that was so long it had to be culled by his minders. No copy of his book, no signature.

At Continuum, I'll be interviewing Jim C. Hines, Tracy Joyce and Mary Borsellino. That can't be too difficult, can it?

Well I made this task a whole lot easier, last week, when I sought expert help. I asked a class of teenagers what they would ask their favourite writers.

I was pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful their questions were. Generally, they were about the creative process, about how ideas are developed and how stories are constructed. Of course, I then used that data to reflect on how I teach writing. And to write my questions for this afternoon.

I'm looking forward to this session. And should the audience get unruly, I have a book of detention slips with me.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Vale: Doc Neeson.

In the late 70s, The Angels ruled Australian rock, and Face to Face was one of my favourite albums. I was in high school and I played it non-stop. No Exit, Darkroom and Night Attack followed over the next few years and were all great. In fact, those four albums still get played regularly. This was the band AC/DC could have been. Intelligent poetic lyrics, biting guitars, a solid rhythm section and Doc Neeson, the enigmatic Irish frontman who always sounded as though he was spiralling into madness.

For some reason I never got to see them live, which is something I will always regret - particularly when you see the energy of their performance on the La Trobe University video.
But by 1983 line-ups had changed and the albums didn't work as well. I simply didn't bother with them. I still bought the albums, but found they didn't get repeated playings.

So I was really excited when I finally saw the re-united Angels about five years ago, albeit without Doc. And then I was completely thrilled when Doc joined them a year later. Since then I've seen them three or four times, and loved every show.

Of course there were more falling-outs and Doc left again.

About 18 months ago, Doc was diagnosed with aggressive brain tumours. He fought the cancer, formed a new band and planned a tour. This morning, Doc lost his battle. He was the lyricist, the voice of The Angels, and they will never be the same again.

Thanks for the stage theatrics, Doc.

He was 67.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

That Which We Believe.

I'm thrilled that my story, That Which We Believe, is now available in issue 59 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

I wrote this one a few years ago, and started workshopping it with Paul Haines under the AHWA mentor program. We really only managed one critique, in which he pretty much savaged the story. The critique hurt at the time. I had hoped to impress him. But, damn his eyes, he was right. The story was missing something and so I put it aside for a long time to congeal. The plan was that later, when I'd rewritten it, Paul would have another look at it.

Unfortunately that never happened.

But Paul's feedback directed the rewriting process, and David Kernot liked it enough to buy it, and now you'll be able to read it.

This now means that all three stories workshopped with Paul have been published.

Gitte Christensen and I will share the TOC. We have often spoken of having work in the same publication, and so another goal is reached. I look forward to reading her story. I know Preston Dennett has a story in this issue. David Steffen, with whom I shared a  TOC in After Death, has one as well. The fabulous cover is by Paul Drummond. Who else is in there? I have no idea, but I have no doubt this will be another quality issue of ASIM.