December 30, 2010

Byebye Bungo

We're back from nine days in Sydney (our longest trip to our hometown since we moved to Melbourne almost 5 years ago), pleasantly exhausted from incessant socialising, celebrating and overeating but so, so happy to be back in our little house and reunited with a very cuddly and purry orange cat.

While attempting to catch up on the 500+ blog posts that accumulated in my feed while I was away, I came upon the sad news that Elizabeth Beresford, creator of the Wombles, died on 24 December. The Wombles have always held a special place in my heart. As a very small child, I remember watching the Wombling Free movie with my Granny Mabel. I adopted Bungo as my middle name at some point in my adolescence when I got fed up with being the only person I knew who only had one name. I even tried to convince Mr Fantapants that we should both take Womble as our surname, mainly so that we could turn up to restaurants and say, 'We've got a reservation...for the Wombles.'*

In Elizabeth's memory, I offer you the soundtrack of my very-young childhood:

* Not much surprise that he chuckled slightly to humour me and then said, 'NO', but our cat's full name is Morris Watersports Womble, so at least one of us took the name.

December 15, 2010

The sound of Christmas

I have a confession to make: I don't love Christmas. In fact, there's nothing much I like about it at all. Maybe it was all those years spent working in retail, listening to a loop of instrumental versions of carols on Woolies Radio or piped through the Small Electrics department. Maybe it's the rampant consumerism. Or maybe it just brings out the bah in my humbug.

Of course, I wasn't always a festive funbuster - and I have an annual reminder of that fact whenever Christmas playlists are wheeled out...

Picture it, Sydney, Christmas Day 1984. A young girl eagerly unwraps her presents until she comes to the penultimate package, the apex of her tween giftlist: the 7-inch single of Band Aid's 'Do they know it's Christmas'.

The giver of this gift was my big sister*, who had scoured every record shop in Sydney to find a copy because she knew how desperate I was to own it. It went straight onto the turntable, the volume turned up as high as my parents could bear. I think I may have even shed a tear.

All quibbles about musical quality aside (and recently Sir Bob Geldof quibbled about it himself), 'Do they know it's Christmas' will always whisk me back to my 11th Christmas, and the point in my life when music began to be more than just the background noise to pass-the-parcel. So when the video clip appeared on Rage the other morning I was mesmerised, as usual.

Of course, when I was younger I was too awed by the sight of all my fave pop stars in the same room and too busy singing along to prove that I knew all the words to notice the body language between some of the participants. I was particularly struck by how mightily pissed off Sting looks to be singing with Simon le Bon (at around the 1min. 10 secs mark). I suspect someone in the studio noticed too, because the next thing you see is Bono wedged between the two of them, and Simon's too scared to sing at all (1 min 24 secs). (Poor Simon. Rest assured that I (and 20 million other girls aged 10-14) still loved you.)

Here in all its glory is my one festive tradition. Marvel at Sting's Prince Valiant haircut! Be awed by Paul Young's mullet! Gasp at Phil Collins' little knitted vest! Shake your head incredulously at the synchronised guitar 'playing' by members of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and other-not-very-musically-credible-groups!

* who loves Christmas enough for both of us

December 14, 2010

Excuses for not blogging

The last couple of weeks have been a blur of editorial revisions for Little Sister, trying to finish the Day Job project I've been working on all year and getting stuck into a new (Day Job-type) project that needs to be whipped into some sort of presentable shape before we head to Sydney next week.

Inbetween whingeing about my workload, the crowds of Christmas shoppers and my deep desire to escape to an island that is deserted except for a small cocktail bar and stay there until 2 January, I've been enjoying other people's rather more productive blogging:

December 3, 2010

What she watched: Heartbreaker

On Tuesday I met Mr Fantapants in the city after work to go to a Hopscotch Secret Screening. We had no idea which movie we were seeing (cos it’s a sekrit, duh), but since the last one of these we went to turned out to be The Kids Are All Right, I was willing to take the risk.1

The movie turned out to be Heartbreaker, starring Vanessa Paradis (aka Mrs Johnny Depp) and Romain Duris. The premise is that Duris is a sort of lothario confidence trickster. He's paid to get women who are in unhappy relationships to fall in love with him and leave their despicable boyfriend/lover/husband. Paradis is days away from marrying a man2 who seems perfect: loving, kind, generous (and rich, obvs), but who, for some unknown reason, her dad hates.3 He hires Duris to break up the relationship before the wedding, which is being held in Monaco (cue exclusive-designer-shops-and-stunning-beachside-hotels montage). The rest is romantic comedy history.

Heartbreaker won't win any awards for originality, plot or scipt, but it was light and sweet and had some nice moments. Duris and Paradis make a cute, if scrawny,4 couple, and even though you could see the ending coming before the opening credits had finished, it was fun. This movie definitely seemed to be tailored for a rather specific audience (i.e. thirty-something women, their friends, mums and boyfriends who couldn’t get out of it), and when the Dirty Dancing sequence started there was literally clapping and ooh-ing and aah-ing around the theatre. I can’t help speculating that within two years there’ll be an American remake, starring Drew Barrymore and [insert 30-something thinking-woman’s-crumpet here].5

After the movie we went in search of dinner and discovered that Cellarbar (less glamorous sibling of Grossi Florentino) is not impossible to get a table at on a weeknight. I had a deliciously acidic spaghetti with preserved artichokes and olives; Mr F went for the superrich gnochhi gorganzola. Afterwards we took a leisurely stroll past The Paperback Bookshop6 where I snaffled up a copy of Dash and Lily's Book of Dares.

All around, a pretty perfect night out.

1 Plus, I subscribe to my dad's motto in life: If it's free, take two.
2 Played by the lovely Andrew Lincoln, for any This Life and Teachers fans

3 No coincidence that he’s a Brit, eh?

4 Seriously scrawny. I know Vanessa’s always been a wee fragile-bird of a thing, but I spent the whole film wishing I could pass her a sandwich, and Romain is similarly not-at-all-meaty (but very buff, as we saw in a number of shirt-off opportunities).

5 Although if they’re going for a Duris looky-likey it might be Russell Brand…shudder.

6 Which not only has a small-but-comprehensive YA section but also gives Victorian Writers Centre members 10% off - score and double score!

December 2, 2010

What I learnt from NaNoReMo

So I failed NaNoReMo, just like I failed NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. But, like my NaNo failure, I did learn a couple of things:

Thing 1: reviewing is hard! Okay, I already suspected this, but attempting to write a mini review (if it could even be called that) of each book was tough. Aside from the always-tricky plot synopsis (which I cheated my way out of*) I often found it hard to put into words how I felt about the books I read and what I got out of them.

Given that most of my decisions to buy books** are based on reviews, I now have even more respect for the bloggers I rely on to help me spend my reading budget wisely.

Thing 2: reading is ace! And although I didn't reach my goal of reading 12 books in November,*** consciously making time to read instead of only allowing myself to get lost in a book on the bus or at bedtime meant that I could read without feeling guilty about the things I wasn't doing. (Hello, laundry, I haven't forgotten you completely.)

I think I'll leave the reviewing to the experts in future, but if you want to see my top books I list my favourites on Goodreads.

* Thank you, Goodreads :)
** Borrowing books from the library is much less fraught, but my book budget is fairly slim so I try to make sure that the books I pay for are going to be Keepers.
*** I made it to 9, it might have been 10 if I hadn't started re-reading Graffiti Moon (she said, defensively).

November 29, 2010

NaNoReMo: week 4

I'd be ashamed to admit that I only read one book in the second-last week of NaNoReMo, except that the book in question was Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. From Goodreads:

"Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers."

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

This book wasn't in my original stack of NaNoReMo books, but after hearing Cath speak about it at the Melbourne Writers' Festival, and reading so many fantastic reviews, and having it recommended by friends with great taste in books, I couldn't resist buying a copy and then couldn't resist reading it IMMEDIATELY. I devoured the first half on a flight to Sydney last Tuesday (the only time I've ever wished that it took longer to fly from Melbourne to Sydney), and the remainder over the following few days, whenever I had time to dip into it. And when I finished it I wanted to start re-reading it straight away.

I loved everything about Graffiti Moon, both as a reader and as a writer. Lucy and Ed were fantastic narrators, their stories were compelling, their voices were true. The city and its locations were so perfectly drawn; the artworks - in galleries, on walls and in characters' heads - so brilliantly described.

Graffiti Moon reminded me of strange, wild, perfect nights spent with friends a long time ago, when anything seemed possible. It's a book I know I'll read again and again, and enjoy every time as much as the first. Perfect.

November 22, 2010

NaNoReMo: week 3

I'm behind on my NaNoReMo goal of reading three books a week :( After week 2's huge effort I only managed two books last week, but I enjoyed them both.

The first was Cassie by Barry Jonsberg. From Goodreads:
Holly hates her name, her looks and her life. She isn't in with the right crowd and she has little hope of dating the gorgeous Raph McDonald. With Cassie staying, she has to move out of her bedroom into the tiny, smelly spare room, and she feels her life couldn't be more unfair. So when Demi, the coolest girl in school, invites Holly on a make-over shopping spree, she jumps at the chance. Even Cass can see that Holly is stretching her wings. But will she fly or fall?

This was a really interesting book, both in its narrative and stylistically. There's a lot of talk about how there's not enough diversity in YA, and I think that includes characters with disabilities.* As a reader, I thought Jonsberg did an amazing job of communicating what it is like to be trapped in a body that won't obey your mind, and also in creating Cassie and Holly as well-rounded, believable characters. I also loved Holly's dry wit. As a writer, I was intrigued by Jonsberg's mix of first and third person narration, which I haven't come across before.
The second was Little Bird by Penni Russon. From Goodreads:
Ruby-lee is cynical about love; after all, she's watched her sister Shandra call off her wedding three times a week. But when Shandra volunteers her to babysit her friend's seven month old baby, Ruby-lee discovers just what love means. First she's overcome by powerful feelings for tiny Maisy, then she starts spending time with Maisy's dad, Spence. She even begins to imagine a future together, as a family. But where will Ruby-lee's fantasies lead? And what sort of trouble could they get her into? When it looks like Ruby-lee might lose everything, she has to discover what love truly is to find her own heart.
Little Bird came highly recommended, and for good reason. As both a reader and a writer I loved Russon's exploration of love in all its forms. Her writing is beautiful and she managed to pack so much into a relatively short book, without making the pacing too rushed. It also appealed to me that the book is set in Tasmania - a state I don't know nearly enough about!
* Cassie has cerebral palsy.

November 15, 2010

NaNoReMo: week 2

Thanks to a few extra bus trips last week I managed to catch up on my NaNoReMo reading schedule, finishing four novels.

The first was Same difference by Siobhan Vivian, which I'd wanted to read since Persnickety Snark's review. It didn't disappoint.

From Goodreads:
Emily is ready for a change. She's been in the same town with the same friends for a long time...and none of them really understand her art. But when she goes to Philadelphia for a summer art institute, she suddenly finds like-minded people. One in particular, Fiona, intrigues and challenges her. But there are some things Emily is going to have to find out for herself...

As a reader, I could really relate to Emily's conflict between the comfort of the people and places she'd grown up with and the urge to step into the breech in the big city with her new artist friends. It also made me want to visit Philadelphia, if only to see The Waterfall for myself.

As a writer, I thought Vivian really captured the feeling of being forced to choose which direction you want your life to go in, and the fear and exhilaration that accompany that. I also loved the way artworks, art theory and art processes were woven throughout the book. I can't wait to read Vivian's other books!

I must admit that Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan is not a book I would have picked up in a bookstore and paid full price for.* But after I'd read it, I wondered how it ever ended up in the remaindered pile in the first place.**

From Goodreads:
Gusty Peterson, the hottest bimboy in school, is always thinking I’m sick, as in totally gross to look at. Not that it matters, since I don’t have a crush on him or anything. And Mallory, my first real friend since forever, has disturbing romantic ideas about me and my ginormous gazungas. Ask me if I’d rather not know these things...

I’d probably be a lot better off if I weren’t psychic after all...

As a reader, I loved that this book has quirkiness by the bucketload, particularly 'Journeys', the alternative school that the protagonist, Kristi, attends, and Jacob Flax, who I couldn't help picturing as The Geek from Sixteen Candles. It took me a while to warm to Kristi, but as the book progressed I was more and more drawn to her.

As a writer, Vibes was a lesson in effectively taking a character from being pretty unlikeable to someone who readers connect with, because they have such a deep understanding of everything that's happened to make her the way she is. When I started reading, I was worried that Kristi's psychic abilities were a bit of a paranormal cop-out for her 'seeing' everything, in a telling-not-showing way, but my concerns were misplaced.***

The Vietnam War was one of the only high school history topics that really interested me,**** so I was keen to read Pamela Rushby's When the Hipchicks went to war.

From GoodReads:
The sixties are in full swing and going to a war is the last thing on Kathy's mind. For sixteen-year-old Kathy, it's all about miniskirts, the Beatles, discos and her fab new boots! The world is rapidly changing, her brother is fighting in the Vietnam War and her best friend is protesting against it. Kathy simply wants to live life and experience a world beyond her suburban existence. So when the chance comes for her to dance with an entertainment troop in Vietnam, she slips on her boots, walks away from her convent school and heads off to war.  

As a reader, I was really interested in Kathy's perspective of the war as an 'opportunity' to escape her day job as a hairdresser in the suburbs. Whenever I think about Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War the first thing that comes to mind is the conscientious objecters, so it was fascinating to read something told from another viewpoint.

As a writer, I was tremendously impressed by Rushby's meticulous research, and her ability to translate the 'facts' of that research into a very readable book. It was a real eye opener into the experience of women at war.

My last book for the week was She's with the band by Georgia Clark, finished at 11.47pm last night.

From Goodreads:
Life never starts when you think it will. When I turned 15, I figured I'd be tossed the keys to the city, make out with a hottie, and have a modest parade thrown in my honour. But all that happened was that I got out of doing the washing up. The day we moved to Sydney was supposed to be the start of the new Mia Mannix - confident, charming, taller. But so far, it sucked.

As a reader, I liked that Mia was a pretty cool and confident character, who seemed to know what she wanted, even if she wasn't certain how to get it. Her fast moving world of muso and artist friends kept the action moving at a cracking pace.

As a writer, I thought Clark brought her experience as a musician and music journalist to the fore, both in the narrative and in the book's hip playlist. It made me wish I'd had a cooler career before writing!

All in all, it was a great week of reading, even though - as with NaNoWriMo - there were times when I wished I could slow down and enjoy the ride rather than race to the end for the sake of meeting my NaNoReMo goal.*****

This week I'm neck-deep in revisions for Little Sister and only have one bus trip planned, so I may have to try to schedule some reading time...what a great excuse!

*I think mainly because of the title. Vibes is up there with 'moist' and 'gusset' in my list of words that aren't dirty but sound like they should be...
** unless others were also put off by the name?
*** to say any more would be a spoiler, but trust me, it's none of that and very, very clever.
**** I know, it's some kind of writerly sacrilege to not be a history buff, but all the rote learing of dates and facts really put me off at an early age.
***** which is to read 12 books in November.

November 12, 2010

Sex, drugs and vampires... the catchy title of a panel discussion about YA that I'm chuffed to be participating in. Details from the City of Sydney website:

Everything you secretly wanted to know about young adult fiction but were too afraid to ask!

Once upon a time young adult fiction involved babysitting clubs and ponies. Now it is a brave new world that reflects our modern anxieties. Join four young adult authors when they discuss the new landscape of young adult fiction.

Georgia Blain has published four novels including Closed for Winter. She has been named one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Novelists and shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

Laura Buzo has worked as a social worker in various community-based mental health settings. In 2005 she wrote her first novel, Good Oil.

William Kostakis is the 21 year old author of Loathing Lola and winner of the Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer of the Year.

Aimee Said is author of Finding Freia Lockhart: How not to be a successful teen. She is also a web content manager, writer, editor and proofreader.

Friday 26 November
6.30pm – 7.30pm
Surry Hills Library
Telephone: 02 8374 6230
Bookings essential

November 7, 2010

NaNoReMo: week 1

I was hoping to keep up a reading schedule of three books per week during NaNoReMo, but this week revisions for 'Little Sister', another writing project and the Day job have conspired to rob me of reading time, and I only finished two books: Shug by Jenny Han and My Candlelight Novel by Joanne Horniman.

I haven't read that many books about younger teens, but I thought Shug really captured the uncertainty of starting high school (or junior high, in Shug's case), and all the new social challenges that come with being 12-13.

As a reader, I loved Shug's candour, especially about her family. Having spent the past year writing about some of the baggage that comes with being a little sister, her relationship with her sister Celia struck a chord.

As a writer, I was impressed by Han's ability to draw me so completely into Shug's world, and make me feel 12 again. (A true talent considering how long ago that was!) I just read a review on Goodreads that compared Shug with Are You There God, it's Me, Margaret, which, on reflection, I think is pretty spot on (and a huge compliment).

I picked up Joanne Horniman's My Candlelight Novel in the teen fiction section of my local library, but I wouldn't classify it as YA.* Aside from the fact that the protagonist, Sophie, is 21 and has a baby, the main reason I think it's adult fiction that teens will equally enjoy, rather than YA, is that her experiences and concerns are very adult. I haven't read Secret Scribbled Notebooks, the precursor to MCN, written from the point of view of Sophie's younger sister, Kate, but I have a sneaking suspicion that that novel deals much more with being a young adult, and that MCN was automatically classified (or possibly marketed) as YA to appeal to fans of the first book.

Semantics aside, I really enjoyed it.

As a reader, I was swept up in the book's exploration of mothers and motherhood, fathers and fatherhood, and birth and death. It's beautifully written and wonderfully evocative of being in one's early 20s.**

As a writer, I really admire Horniman's lyrical writing style: there are some beautiful passages in this book. Sophie is a complex character, who I didn't expect to be drawn to, but who quickly gained (and kept) my interest through her view of her world.

So, even though I'm only halfway through book 3 of my NaNoRe adventure, I'd say it's off to a good start. If the other books in my pile are of the same standard as the first two, it's going to be a very good month indeed!

* Yes, classifying books is an arbitrary exercise; no, it's not relevant to whether young adults will enjoy a book. It's too big a can of worms to open here, but I think Alien Onion summed up the difference between YA and fiction in which the protagonist is a young person very well.
** she said, wistfully ;)

November 5, 2010

Both a lender and a borrower be

There's been talk this week about the pleasure* and perils of book lending. Maybe it's something to do with realising that stuff is just stuff and that I've got too much stuff in my life anyway, but I've definitely become more of a lender as I get older.

Of course, I hope that the borrower will treat my books kindly and return them, but part of lending is to accept that that may not be the case. I write my name in jacketflap in the hope that it will be a reminder to return it to me, but I know there's a chance it won't be returned.** And, to be honest, I'm not too hung up on the condition they come back in. I'm a dogear-er, squishy-handbag toter and spine-breaker (the trinity of Book Sins), so my books are rarely in pristine condition when they go out and usually don't return looking much worse for the extra wear and tear.

Partly, lending books is an alternative to getting rid of the ones that I have no room for. Our house is so tiny that Mr Fantapants and I only have one bookshelf each, and they are packed in double rows topped with teetering piles. Having 5-10 books temporarily residing on other people's shelves gives the illusion that there is room for me to acquire a few more...which is all the encouragement I need.

Partly, it's a way to pay it forward. If I send friends home with a lovely pile of books hopefully they won't mind when I pillage their shelves during times of reading drought.***

But mainly I just lovelovelove playing librarian and picking out books for friends that I think they'll enjoy. Recent successes include King Dork for my muso mate and the Mortal Instruments series for someone who was disillusioned by weak female characters in paranormal books. And, since 90% of my collection is YA, for most of my friends the books I'm introducing them to are ones that they would never have picked up (or even seen) in a bookshop or library (yay for YA-enabling!).

For me, lending books is one of life's pleasures. Followed closely by borrowing them.

* And there's a lovely poem in Kate's post, for all us book kissers.
** When a book goes MIA, I choose to believe that it's because the borrower loved it so much they can't bear to part with it. That said, friends who have form for NEVER returning books are on a blacklist - two strikes and nomorebooksforyou.
*** I, of course, am a model borrower! Aside from the unavoidable handbag squish, I treat other people's stuff better than I treat my own and borrowed books sit in a seperate stack on my bedhead so that I remember to give them back.

We'll always have Barbados

October 30, 2010

NaNoReMo - an alternative challenge for November

As I said in my last post, I'm feeling a bit left out of the writerly group hug that is NaNoWriMo. So when I read that author Natalie Whipple was doing NaNoReMo instead, I thought I might hitch myself to that wagon.

Also, I just happen to have 12 novels balanced atop my bedside at the moment following a successful visit to the library and an out-of-control bookbinge at the Borders warehouse sale last weekend,* so my reading list is already sorted:
* at $1 to $5 each, it would have been a crime to leave them languishing there, wouldn't it? Even if the bookshelves chez Fantapants are about to split their sides...

October 28, 2010

No, no NaNo

Since I'm not spending too many hours at the Day Job at the moment, I had been toying with the idea of attempting NaNoWriMo again this year, even though my last attempt at it was a dismal failure. (I got to 20,000 words and realised that the plot, characters and action of the book I planned to write weren't worth pursuing. It was disappointing, but at least working at NaNoWriMo speed made the ensuing failure apparent in two weeks, instead of the two months I might have spent trying to prod and poke that dead donkey back to life if I wasn't on some sort of deadline.) If nothing else, I was attracted by the promise of getting the new Scrivener for Windows at half price if I made the word count.*

But my plans have been skittled by a new schedule for revising 'Little Sister'**, which means that most of November will be consumed with filling plotholes and tying up loose strands of back story. So, inspired by Kate and Meghan, who both used October as a quasi-NaNoWriMo for their WIPs, I now plan to celebrate Ja(nuary)Lo(cal)Ma(nuscript)Mo(nth).

To all the NaNoWriMo-ers out there preparing to do battle, I salute you and I leave you with wise observations from 2009 NaNo participant, John Green. Happy writing!

* having downloaded the beta version of Scrivener for Windows recently I reckon it's worth paying full price for, anyway. I'm considering proposing to its virtual corkboard.
** now due to be published in May 2011.

October 24, 2010

October 21, 2010

What she watched: Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham is a dramatisation of the 1968 strike by women workers at Ford's Dagenham (UK) plant which led to the Equal Pay Act. It's a heartfelt, heartwarming, Full Monty of a film which left most of the (full) cinema smiling.

The movie captures the feeling of working class England in the late 60s well. Peppered amongst the scenes of the women picketing the factory, taking their protest on the road to other Ford factories and garnering media attention for their cause are snippets from the characters' private lives - mums' run-ins with bullying teachers, husbands suffering from post-traumatic stress after WWII, the girl who aspires to be the next Twiggy. While some of these kitchen drama scenes add to the film's themes, others seem to have been included for 'awww' value (in particular, the repeated references by the women about each other's clothes really started to annoy me).

For me, the most interesting aspect of Made in Dagenham is its critical look at the union 'boys' club' at the time, particularly the men at the top and their complicity in the continued discrimination against female workers (in the interests of the greater population of male workers).* As a longtime union member, this was a side of unionism I'd not considered before, and a poignant reminder of how hard women have had to fight to realise something approaching equality, even amongst those who claim to support us.

As the movie's postscript tells us, two years after the women's dispute was resolved by MP Barbara Castle (played in true Queenie style by the lovely Mirada Richardson) the UK's Equal Pay Act was established. What isn't mentioned is the fact that, 40 years later, women are still paid less than men, which seemed like either an odd oversight by the filmmakers, or a deliberate omission so as not to interfere with the movie's happy ending...I don't know which is worse.

I leave you with some inspiration from Brother Billy

*That said, Mr Fantapants felt that dividing the men in the film into two camps - evil-doers (the union heavies, Ford management) and bumbling fools (the lead character's husband, the female MP's parliamentary secretaries) - was one of the film's weak points. In fact, the only male character who comes off with any balance is the factory's union rep (played by Bob Hoskins, natch), whose desire to see the women workers treated equally is explained by the fact that his mum was a single parent.

October 20, 2010

Sex, drugs and vampires in Sydney this November

I'm going to be on a panel discussion called 'Sex, drugs and vampires: everything you secretly wanted to know about young adult fiction but were too afraid to ask' at Surry Hills Library in Sydney on 26 November (despite the fact that Finding Freia Lockhart contains none of the titular elements, ssssh!). Also on the panel will be Georgia Blain, Laura Buzo and William Kostakis - fine company to be keeping, methinks!

Sydneysiders, I hope to see you there :)

October 4, 2010

A postcard from Seattle

Generally, the only mail to grace the Chez Fantapants letterbox is bills, so I was chuffed when the postie brought a postcard from Anna of The postcard was sent as part of Anna's Snailr Project, in which she travelled 7000 miles around the USA by train and offered to send postcards from her trip to strangers.

I was even more chuffed to see that the postcard illustrated the 'types of moustache visible in gentlemen of the United States' and discovered that Mr Fantapants himself sports a (mini) 'Seattle':

Here's what the postcard said:
Interesting fact: The men of Seattle, Washington are an alarmingly over-groomed lot. I notice it first with one guy whose eyebrows have been plucked to within an inch of their lives, and whose hair looks like the painted-on helmet of a GI Joe. I assume he's an exception brought about by his equally well-manicured girlfriend; but five minutes later I spot another, hair hard and not one strand out of place, eyebrows too thin, too short, and with a constant look of startlement. And then I notice they're ALL like this. The men of Seattle have too much time (and moisturiser) on their hands. OFFICIAL.

Hehe, couldn't agree more. Thanks Anna.

September 30, 2010

Writing is like knitting...sort of

I'm knitting a pair of socks with a complicated (by my standards) lace pattern on teensy 2.25mm needles. While I was frogging* a section the other day after misreading which row of the pattern I was on, I realised that knitting is a bit like the process of writing a novel. (Well, my process, anyway.) Here's how:

1. Know what you're making
There are some right-brained, freeform knitters who can start from the merest whisp of inspiration from a yarn or a shape and grow it into whatever it becomes, but I need a clear idea of what I want to end up with. That means my knitting patterns have to come with pictures (preferably photos) of the finished product. Similarly, I'm not someone who can start a book with just a character or a theme - I need to plot before I can start writing or I'll end up with a jumper with three arms and no neckhole.

2. Make sure your materials suit the pattern
It took me a long time** to accept that the officious knitting pattern instruction to always check your gauge before you cast on was worth noting. After amassing a pile of knitwear that will never be worn because I used chunky yarn on a pattern that called for lace-weight, and viceversa, I now diligently knit a little swatch and measure it to make sure that the yarn and needle size I'm using will produce the correct proportions for the finished pattern.

Similarly, in my writing, characters are my base materials and if I don't know my characters well enough before I launch them into the plot I always end up paying for it later when they don't fit properly into the story or with the other characters.

3. Pick up dropped stitches as quickly as possible
Dropped stitches make 'ladders' in your knitting. They're easy to pick up if you notice them on the next row, a little harder but not impossible if you notice within three rows. But ten rows on and you're looking at a trip to Frogtown, which brings with it the added possibility that in unravelling your work to fix a past mistake you'll drop more stitches on  the way.

Plot holes are like dropped stitches. In the past I've tried to ignore them, telling myself I'll fix them in the revision stage because going backwards in your writing is painful when you're headed for the finish line. But every time I've done that I've ended up having to rewrite other scenes and chapters because what I've thought would be a simple, inconsequential change actually affects a lot of things I didn't see until I'd made the change.

As an example, halfway through the first draft of Little Sister I realised that the character who was driving in a few scenes wasn't old enough to have a driver's license in Australia.*** I figured that it was only a few scenes and ploughed on, carefully not having the character behind the wheel for the rest of the draft. But when I went to make the 'simple' fix in revisions, the solution meant introducing another character whose relationship with the orginal driver introduced further complications. Instead of rewriting the few scenes I had when I first realised what the problem was, I ended up rewriting about five others, and adding a few new ones!

4. The difference between a WIP and a UFO is doing a little each day
In the beginning, every project is exciting because it's fresh and new and full of possibility (and if you're like me you have your idealised pattern photo or plot outline in front of you and you think you have it all together so it's going to be easy), but once you get started that enthusiasm can quickly fade as you realise how much work is involved in making this thing.

For me, the key to stopping my work-in-progress from joining the pile of unfinished objects in my knitting basket/My Documents folder is to do a little each day and stop when I run out of concentration or momentum, knowing that I'll plug away at it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day until it's done (or until I hit point 6).

5. Block your work to make it fit properly
'Blocking' is the revision stage of knitting. Once any seams are sewn together, you wet the finished item, stretch it into shape on a flat surface and leave it to dry. Blocking is the difference between the jumper whose hems turn up at the edges whose shoulder seams sag, and the one that fits like a glove. This is another knitting lesson I took a looong time to learn because I was always so eager to a) declare the project finished and b) wear it, even if I had to tug at bits of it all day to keep them in the right place.

Luckily, I don't have the same aversion to revising manuscripts, but I know authors who absolutely hate it. It's hard to be 'finished' but not, especially if you've got a new idea (or three) brewing, new characters distracting you or you're just fatigued from the first draft. But, like blocking, revising transforms the finished-but-lumpy into the wow-I-can't-believe-you-made-that-!.

6. Know when to quit
There are some projects that just don't work, even if your gauge is spot-on and you've followed the pattern to the letter.**** Some patterns look great in the carefully styled photo but crap in real life; some novels sound fantastic in the plot outline but just don't work once you start writing. When you recognise that no amount of work can save a project don't beat yourself up over it, just frog it and move on.

I used to think that I couldn't give up on a writing project because I'd put too much work into it to just let it go, but now I try to look at it more like frogging. Sure, the thing I tried to make didn't work out, but I've still got the yarn/characters/excellent scene with frollicking otters, and I'll find another use for it in the future. (Or so I tell Mr Fantapants when he questions why the storage space under the queen-size spare bed is taken up entirely by my yarn stash...)

* frogging = rippit-rippit - the sound of undoing rows of knitting to fix a mistake or start again
** seriously, about 20 years!
*** hmmm, who reads too much US-based YA?
**** case in point: the cosy capelet I knitted and re-knitted three times last month but still looked like a shapeless woollen sack no matter how many adjustments I made to the pattern 

September 21, 2010

What she made: bumper edition

So work on Book 2* has kind of stalled while I wait to find out who my new editor is, and work on Book 3 (which also has a name, but my working titles seem to be jinxed so I'm keeping it to myself for now) is coming along sloooowly because my brain is still living in Little Sister land. The upside of this suspended writing state is that it's given me some releatively guilt-free** time to spend making other things. Things like:

dumplings! (vego at the front, prawn and chive at the back, plus obligatory green veg)


golf balls!

I mean:

gnocchi! (Delicious in spite of their extreme size.)


Very Purple Person's faboo reversible bag!

I also got a bit stash-happy at the recent end-of-winter yarn sales, so everyone's getting knitted goods for Christmas this year. You have been warned!

* which I should stop calling Book 2 because it now has a name - Little Sister - and should be out next March, hurrah!
** actually, not at all guilt-free, but those are pretty good excuses, right?

September 16, 2010

Dough - a Footscray love story

If you've ever been past Footscray train station you'll instantly recognise the subject of photographer Jaime Murcia's lovely photodoco, Dough - a Footscray love story.

Watching it makes me want to nip down to Olympic Doughnuts right now and grab half a dozen of them, still warm from the fryer and oozing jam... (It also makes me want to give Mr Olympic Doughnuts a big hug - lucky for him he's protected inside his doughnut shack.)

September 13, 2010

Where she went: daffs and laffs in Kyneton

On Saturday we went to Kyneton to have a nose around and go to their monthly farmer's market. Coincidentally it was also one of the big days in Kyneton's Daffodil and Arts Festival, as we discovered when the royal family walked passed us while we were looking for parking.

The market was quite small but we got very fresh vegies*, freerange eggs, local honey and a fantastic wholemeal sourdough loaf from Red Beard Bakery. (In retrospect I should have bought some of the delicious-looking local cheeses, too.) (And some of those yummy olives.)

We also got lucky at a couple of the town's op shops. I scored a copy of Traditional Knitting with Wool, published by the Australian Wool Corporation in 1982, from which I hope to finally learn how to read a fairisle pattern so that I can whip up some squirrel mittens next winter. We came across a couple of books whose titles probably wouldn't make the cut in 2010...well, definitely not the one on the left, anyway.

* going to markets like these always reminds me with a jolt just how un-fresh the veg we buy in city supermarkets is :(

September 6, 2010

What she watched: Scott Pilgrim

Being a bit of a Michael Cera fan*, I was really looking forward to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and it didn't disappoint. I'm not usually one for 'action' flicks, especially not ones based on the premise of characters having to defeat each other,** but the fighting was so stylised and accompanied by so many great one-liners, even I was fine with it. (I especially loved the vegan police, who reminded me of myself in my most militant-vegetarian phase.)

And I love a film that assumes there are grammar nerds in the audience...

*Yes, I know he can only play one character, but it's a character I like.
** Because usually 'defeat' = violence and Aimee is an uberwuss when it comes to violence, fictional or real.

September 3, 2010

Music sins from my past

Pip's confession about the embarrassing soundtrack to her youth reminded me of some of my own aural sins. At around 13 I started to listen to what I still consider (although many may disagree) to be some pretty cool music (mainly The Smiths - because Morrissey understood my pain - and The Cure), but before then the field was wide open to some craptacular pop.

Aimee's embarrassing top 10 
(for bonus embarrassment, I paid good money to see the ones marked *)
  1. Duran Duran* (admission: I still have a soft spot for them, esp.since I found out they have a bookclub.)
  2. Hayzee Fantayzee
  3. The Human League
  4. Culture Club*
  5. Howard Jones*
  6. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
  7. Bananarama
  8. Spandau Ballet*
  9. Tears for Fears*
  10. Dr Hook
Possibly the weirdest thing about putting this list together is finding that most of these 'artists' not only still have official websites but are also still touring!

September 2, 2010

Where she went: Melbourne Writers Festival 2010

I could only make it to a few events in the excellent Melbourne Writers Festival schools program* this year as I had to fit it in around (paid) work. I went to:
  • Jaclyn Moriarty and Lili Wilkinson talk about Dreaming of Amelia and Pink - two of my fave reads this year. I've been a huge fan of Jaclyn's since Feeling Sorry for Celia, so it gave me a fangirl thrill to see that she's just as lovely in person as her books led me to believe**.
  • Fading Twilight, which was promoted as a discussion of the pros and cons of the Twilight series' success but turned out to be a school-style debate that (worser and worser) pitted women fans of the books against men non-fans. The best argument of the day was that Edward wasn't a real vampire because real vampires are a) ugly, b) soulless and c) remorseless. The worst was that Bella is a compelling heroine. 'Nuff said.
  • Cath Crowley and Karen Tayleur talked about the difficulties of plotting books set in a 24-hour period, their writing processes and research. I don't know whether it was good planning or happy coincidence, but the session was really well-structured, including slideshows from each.
  • Alice Pung and Sally Rippin spoke about growing up Asian in Australia (Alice) and growing up white in Asia (Sally), but both seemed bemused by the title of their session.*** Kirsty Murray did a bang-up job of moderating and educating the audience about the White Australia Policy, as context for the discussion.

* which, IMO, is way more interesting than the 'adult' program - if I had the time I could easily have spent the better part of this week flitting between Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 at ACMI, but I didn't find a single grow-up session that I was interested enough in to spend $21 on. (I could have a little rant here about the cost of tickets putting the mainstream festival out of reach of many people...but I won't.)
** She is also, I suspect, a little bit magical, but I'm yet to prove this.
*** Chicks with Sticks - presumably as in 'chopsticks' but it seemed like the joke fell flat with the authors

August 24, 2010

What she watched: The Kids Are All Right

When we got an invitation to a secret movie screening* I was a little worried about rocking up to see whoknowswhat. Not that I'm picky about my movies in a filmbuff kinda way, but I'm very squeamish about violence, can't handle the tension of thrillers, and too wussy for horror, so my movie choices are more limited than most (normal) people's.**

Luckily for me, the screening was a sneak preview of The Kids are All Right. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are spot-on as the older gay couple whose teenage kids go looking for their sperm donor dad. There was a really natural chemistry between them (and also between them and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, who play their kids) that made the film for me. (Well, that and the pissyourpants funny bits...)

* thank you, Hopscotch Films!
** which might explain why I'm happy to watch Michael Cera play the same role over and over, I guess.

August 22, 2010

Things that cheered me up after a disappointing election (non)result

1. Baking bread - my first foray into both fresh yeast and wholemeal flour. Not sure how it's going to turn out (it's currently proving atop the gas heater) but pretending the dough was a certain politician's smug face during kneading certainly helped to relieve some of the stress brought on by thinking about what Australia will be like for the next few years if said smug politician manages to form a government.

2. John Green's latest vlog, which also made me really, really want to catalogue my library (aka the tiny bookshelf piled two deep, currently catalogued using the timeless if-you-can-cram-it-into-this-space-that's-where-it-lives technique).

3. Homemade dumplings for lunch - officially my favourite comfort food.

4. Walking in the sunshine - yes, it really is sunny in Melbourne today!

5. Knitting a pair of Susan's Opalicious Uni-solid Lace Socks using softsoft Crystal Palace bamboo soy yarn in a zappy green called 'wasabi'.

Off now to:
6. Knock the air out of risen dough while pretending it is a certain smug politician's face.

I have a feeling there may be a lot of baking chez Fantapants over the next week or so...

August 16, 2010

Headline of the week

Scrabble champ wins with vowel movements

I can almost hear the subeditor boom-tishing themself as they typed it. (Mind you, that would be the same person who included as a 'story highlight': "Knowing the dictionary well is helpful"...)

August 9, 2010

What she likes this week

Because other people are way more productive/creative/interesting than I've been feeling lately:
  • Alien Onion's illustrated guide to the book cover design process (I can definitely relate to Step 7)
  • Rhett and Link's squirrel copyright song struck a chord, although I'd like to think that posing for photos with me is my reward for being the tourist whose handbag is never without a stash of natural almonds
  • Anma's pointers on character names to avoid - point 6 will stay with me for ever
  • Pip's quest to cook her way through the Australian Woman's Weekly recipe box makes me want to do a "project", but given how rubbish I've been lately about getting the have-tos done, the want-tos are not looking like an option...

August 5, 2010

The need to knead

I think it was watching an episode of The Good Life that triggered my sudden desire to bake bread. Usually I leave any yeast-based adventures to Mr Fantapants (who makes a mean pizza base), but for the past few months I've found myself dithering in the bread-flour section of the supermarket every time we shop, with visions of golden brown loaves, fresh from the oven. Then I'd think about the kneading and the fickleness of yeast and the general mess of it all and put the flour down and pick up our usual sliced loaf. But on Saturday we made a pilgrimage to the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick to stock up on a few essential pantry items*, and when I saw the bread flour I knew that the time had come to conquer my fear.

A few encouraging words from a Baking Friend who's been baking her own for a year now, the simplest recipe I could find (as recommended by Baking Friend) and a few hours later, this emerged:

And now I think I'm hooked...

* squid in ink, calasparra rice, a bunch of dried oregano, lemon-stuffed olives for Mr F's martinis...all the essentails

July 26, 2010

E-books: not so scary after all

You know how something suddenly comes under your radar and then you begin to notice it everywhere you look? That's been me and ebooks over the last week.

It started when Mr Fantapants and I were wasting time in Borders as an alternative to being unfashionably early getting to a friend's place for dinner. At the front of the store was a desk, set up with stations where you could download ebooks to your reader. There weren't any customers at the desk, but it was there. Waiting. Ready.

Then, Nathan Bransford posted the Top 10 myths about our ebook future, and (as always) he made so much sense that it really got me thinking about how ebooks aren't the scary-thing-that's-going-to-take-over-from-my-favourite-bookstore, they're just another way of spreading the reading love.

THEN, I read Seth Godin's take on why the paperless publishing future is better for both consumers and prducers (if only producers would stop being so scared), not to mention the environment.

AND FINALLY, a good friend came to stay and brought her e-reader with her. It was about the size of a B-format paperback (the medium size paperback), it weighed about as much as an average novel, the screen was clear and crisp (even to my rubbish eyesight). And she had 78 books to choose from, depending on her mood.

Now I wants one!

July 19, 2010

Ace things that other people have made (while my making mojo is on hiatus)

It's not been a terribly producticve week chez Fantapants. There's a half-finished dress that's been sitting next to the sewing machine since last Wednesday; a half-finished scarf on my knitting needles, and a half-finished chapter of book3 that's been going nowhere for longer than I care to remember.

I don't know if it's the weather, or the lack of a deadline for any of these projects, or the number of hours I've spent snoozing on the couch with a certain (elderly) kitten, but I just can't seem to summon up the energy to finish anything at the moment. Thankfully, others have not been suffering from the same inertia...

Amna made a hilarious YA version of Post Secret.

Julie made a date for the election.

Vulture made an ace choose-your-own-adevnture guide to casting sensitive geeks (no surprise that I got Michael Cera - he'd be great for the geekguy in book2).

And finally, Kittens...inspired by Kittens (thanks Pip, I hadn't seen it yet either).

July 16, 2010

There's more to life than books...but not much more

For years I've avoided Etsy, fearing that it would be a slippery slope from treating myself to cute Scrabble-tile jewelry to deciding that what's missing in my life is some really fabulous handmade shoes. But when I saw this on Polka Dot Rabbit: Things I like today, I could resist no longer. Damn you and your excellent taste, Cate!

July 14, 2010

In defence of teenage boys

Thank you Lili Wilkinson for expressing with your usual panache what I've struggled with over many drafts of this post since reading Alexandra Adornetto's opinion piece in The Age, Why teenage boys suck more than vampires.

Aside from the issues I have with a controlling/obsessive/abusive character being held up as a romantic ideal, as commentors on the Age site pointed out - if a guy had written an equivalent piece, it wouldn't have been published. So what makes it okay to belittle teenage boys in the media?

July 12, 2010

Why books aren't the best bit of bookclub (even when the book's your own)

On Saturday I was lucky enough to be invited to a meeting of the Younger Sun's bookclub, whose members had been reading Finding Freia as their book o' the month*. It was so much fun! The amazing Kate baked Freia's brownies and we talked about who Skeletor is** and how to pronounce Siouxsie** and (being a very polite group) everyone said nice things about the book.

But - like all good bookclubs - the most-fun parts of the afternoon weren't about the book. They were the tangents about spotting Johnny Depp lookalikes, and whether sports high schools punish the uncoordinated by making them do extra maths, and dressing up as Colombia for a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and which YA characters would make good boyfriends. Sigh...I miss being in a bookclub.

*allow me to pause in awesome wonder that people read my book...okay, done...for now
** the baddie in Masters of the Universe
*** Soo-zee -  named after Siouxsie Sioux

June 29, 2010

More makin'

The weather in Melbourne has gone from brrrr to it's-too-cold-to-leave-the-house in the last week, so more woollies were in order.

These snuggly scarves, knitted in luscious hand-spun, hand-dyed wool given to me a very generous knitty friend, should do the trick if I have to face the elements. 
The green one's based on  Duet from Knitty (I'm going to have to leave the house to get some buttons for it).

I also decided that some bright orange was in order this winter, to combat the blah-black of my warmest clothes. This bag (from a pattern I made myself) combines orange corduroy and a gorgeous, heavy-weight cotton from Ikea.

Orange corduroy - I feel warmer just looking at it!

June 25, 2010

You know you're a Melburnian when...

...your first thought at the annoucement of the new PM is that you and the leader of your country barrack for the same football team.

Other things Julia and I have in common:
  • we're lefties
  • we're atheists
  • we're westies (sheesh, we're almost neighbours!)
  • we're unmarried
  • we're unchilded
  • we love rangas (well, presumably she loves being one, and I'm in love with one, so close enough).
Although I'd rather see Australia elect a female PM than have one voted in by a party caucus, I'm still pretty chuffed to have a chica in the top job. I just hope JG doesn't feel the need to become a female Tony Abbott to win what have become the all-important opinion polls.

One thing that has disappointed me is the inevitable focus on Julia's looks, that male politicians (unless they insist on parading around in their budgie smugglers) aren't subjected to. On The Circle this morning (don't judge me - it was background noise to my physio exercises...mainly) one of the presenters said in almost the same breath how fantastic it was to have a woman leading the country and that she was pleased to note JG's nice nails, and another commented that JG's skin looks good 'for her age'. Not. Helpful. To. The. Cause. Sisters.

June 21, 2010

'Forever' for ever

Like so many others, Judy Blume's Forever was my first taste of writing about sex and young people. I borrowed it from our local library (where, I'm pleased to say, it was shelved in the children's library, right next to Are you there, God... and Superfudge*) after my older sister had read it. I was 9.

Of course, the first thing I did was to flick through searching for the promised 'dirty bits' and read them. And re-read them. And read them again. I did at some point in the library loan period read the entire novel, but I must admit my interest in Katherine and Michael's love story was secondary to my interest in Ralph and the mysterious goings on between the sheets (and on the rug by the fire).

By the time I borrwed the book again (the same copy, bearing the dog-ears of many fascinated young readers after me), the story meant more to me. I was probably 12 by then, and eager to meet the boy of my dreams** and fall in love. I longed to meet a Michael of my own; cursed parents who didn't understand the power of first love; and wanted someone to pledge themself to me forever, preferably via engraved jewellery.

Re-reading Forever 28(!) years later, I was still struck by the sexual frankness***, but this time I was also transported back to when I first fell in love at age 16, and how overwhelming those feelings (both emotional and physical) were. Forever was first published in 1975 and, from what I can tell, has been in print constantly since. Its accessories may have dated (hooked rugs, hand-embroidered flares, fondue parties and vinyl records), but its messages haven't.

Thank you Judy Blume, for writing "a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die".

* But the librarian did raise an eyebrow and ask me how old I was - I said 12, which seemed a very mature age at the time, and was also probably the oldest I could have gotten away with.
** At 12 I didn't know any actual boys (thank you all-girls school), but the posters on my walls were of the non-threatening variety of pin-up: Rupert Everett, Lloyd Cole and Howard Jones.
*** Which, along with talking about contraception and abortion placed Forever on the banned  and challenged books lists of the past two decades: #8 for 1990-1999 and #16 for 2000-2009

June 15, 2010

What she made: socks and squares and bunnies, oh my

Lili Wilkinson's post today on making stuff reminded me that I've had knitting pics on my camera for ages, waiting to show off. The WIP is for a friend, so no photographic evidence until it's handed over, but recent projects have included:

Joan McGowan-Michael's Diamond Lace Socks from Vogue Knitting's Ultimate Sock Book*

Mitred squares for a wee blanky - I thought this self-striping cotton would be an easy way to bring out the mitred-ness of the squares, but now I'm concerned that they look a bit naff, so they might be frogged...

Snuggly bunnies for some of the many small, newish people who've arrived lately.

Knitting's my daily crafty activity, especially since I love to watch bad telly but can't bear to sit and do nothing but watch telly. I'll admit to being a fairly unadventurous (read: lazy) knitter - part of the meditative bliss of it for me is not having to keep track of rows and complicated stitch patterns, hence my love of the self-patterning sock yarn.

Sewing is something I think about all-the-freaking-time but don't get to do that much of, partly because it involves a lot more equipment, planning and back strain, and partly because it can only be done at the dining room table. If Mr Fantapants and I ever win the lottery**, a crafty-study type space is definitely on my Big House of My Dreams Wishlist.

* The book's title is apt - one of the very few knitting books I've forked over cold hard cash for and worth its weight in gold if you're sockily inclined.
** not that likely, since we rarelyrarely get around to entering, but Mr F did dream our 'lucky' numbers about 10 years ago, so hopefully his hitherto undiscovered pyschic abilities will be revealed soon.

June 9, 2010

What she read: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

For the past month blogging has taken a back seat to more pressing things, like finishing Book2 (now in the hands of my editor) and the &!%*&! neverending saga of painting the kitchen floor. After such a long pause it's hard to know where to pick up without doing a (boring) inventory of the past 4 weeks, so I'm just going to talk about one Very Good Thing: 'Will Grayson, Will Grayson'.

David Levithan and John Green's co-authored book has had enough written about it without me adding my two cents' worth - suffice to say I loveloveloved it. As so many others have said, John Green's Will Grayson is very much like his other protagonists*, which can never be a bad thing, IMO.

David Levithan's will grayson has been less warmly received, but for me that was because the character was so well written - David's wg doesn't like himself enough to make others like him.** wg's every-day pain was raw and real, and his anger at life struck a chord with me.

Much of the book's humour lies in WG's best friend, the gayer-than-gay Tiny Cooper, and the musical tribute to his life (and to love) that the book culminates in. As a writer, it was really interesting to see how each author approached Tiny's character and used him to develop their Will Grayson's story. (As a reader, I found Tiny infuriating and loveable by turn - I'd love to chat with him at a party but I don't think I'd have the patience/energy to deal with him every day.***)

My 'Will Grayson, Will Grayson' experience was topped off by this video of David Levithan being interviewed musical-style by Leanne Hall at Readings recently. (My fave number: 'That John Green', featuring the immortal lines 'I heard he likes to eat kittens/And he carries a Glock'.)

*smart, slightly nerdy guys who overthink, all of whom I have some degree of an age-inappropriate reader-crush on
** at the risk of coming over all Dr Phil on you
*** and the fact that I've just analysed my fictional relationship with a fictional character makes me think he had even more of an impact on me than I realised!

June 6, 2010

What she watched: Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging

I'm usually a bit disappointed by YA book-to-film adaptations*, so I wasn't expecting much from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging,** but I was more than pleasantly surprised.

What's to like:
  • Angus the cat (played by Benny AND Jimmy) is fabbityfafab and made me want to dress Big Orange Cat in a wee cowboy outfit
  • Georgia Groome makes a pretty good Georgia Nicolson and it's great to see a female lead who's on the normal side of slim, esp. in a teen movie
  • the parents, played by Alan Davies and Karen Taylor, were almost exactly like I imagined them
  • it's directed by Gurinda Chadha, who directed Bend it Like Beckham, and without being sexist/racist/any other bad -ist, is all the better for having a British woman at the helm***
  • the screenplay retains a lot of the voice of the books.
What's not to like:
  • it's such a small, pedantic point, but it bothered me that Tom and Robbie were suddenly twins
  • Jas (IMHO) was way more glamorous and worldly than in the books...and less likeable
  • Stalag 14 (aka Georgia's school) was suddenly co-ed and barely featured - understandable since the movie focused on the romance side of things, but many of my fave scenes in the books feature Slim and Herr Kaymer and the Ace Gang's school antics, so disappointing that almost all of that was lost.

*Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and The Princess Diaries, I'm looking at YOU
**especially since they changed the 'full frontal snogging' in the book title to 'perfect snogging', which made me fear it would be devoid of any of the cheeky red bottomosity that makes the Georgia Nicolson books
***which is not to say that men and people of all other nationalities don't make good movies, but Louise Rennison's books are particularly a) girly and b) Brit-y, so in this case, I think it's true

May 12, 2010

Highs and lows

Last week had its highs and lows. The lowest point was definitely the 72 hours after I spilt water on my laptop and had to leave it switched off with my fingers crossed that it would come back to life after drying out. Thankfully (especially since I hadn't saved any of the revisions I'd been working on for book2) it did.

The high point was a belated birthday celebration with friends on Sunday for which Mr Fantapants contructed this:

A squirrel cake! How lucky am I?? The cake was a feat of engineering, carefully constructed from vanilla sponge, strawberry jam and spaghetti (raw spaghetti, that is, which ran through the middle of it, to keep everything upright), all held together with royal icing.

By the time we'd all had seconds and thirds, all that was left was this:

Thanks Mr F!

May 3, 2010

No words

I don't have the words to express how amazingly, fantastically, mindblowingly chuffed I am to be even vaguely connected to this.

What she did: the birthday edition

Yesterday was my birthday. I must admit, I've reached an age* when birthdays come around with such alarming regularity** that it's a bit hard to get excited about them any more, but this year my birthday weekend was so, so lovely, that it made up for the fact that I'm a year older.

For starters, even though we've lived in Melbourne for almost four years, this was my first birthday at home***. Also, my mum was visiting, and she and Mr Fantapants made a big fuss of me and took me for a delicious dinner and made delicious birthday breakfast and took me to the Ian Potter Centre to see the Rupert Bunny exhibition and VCE Top Arts****. And, of course, there were some very lovely and spoilsome presents waiting for me*****.

But some of my best presents were Freia related:
  • Skip made Freia's brownies (possibly the best looking batch yet) and posted photos to the Facebook group
  • I finally got my hands on a copy of this month's Good Reading Magazine, to read their full review
  • the M/C Reviews website also gave Freia the thumbs up (including the font it's typeset in, which I found strangely touching).
I don't think birthdays get much better than that. Thank you to everyone who made it so special.

*37 - I know, oldoldold, look away, pretend you never saw!
** as opposed to when I was young and wanted to be Older and my birthday felt like it only came every 2 years
*** in 2008 we were in Napier, NZ, which was heaven, but last year we were on a plane back from the States, which - take my word for it - is quite the worst way to spend your birthday
**** an annual exhibition of the best art from the previous year's VCE, always chockers with interesting ideas and works of a ridonkulously high standard
***** some wrapped in personalised 'Aimee' paper - too, too special!

April 27, 2010

What she did last week

We used the long weekend to get the kitchen into shape, finishing the painting and finally putting all the pots and crockery and food away, after living with it all dumped in green shopping bags dotted around the house for the past few weeks. We still need to finish the finer details and do something about the floor, but for the first time since restumping started we have a proper kitchen again. Yay! 
In between painting and polishing and scrubbing things down with toothbrushes, I:
  • got up in the dark for the Anzac Day dawn service at Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance. Being a history nerd with a special interest in World War 1*, Mr F had been to many dawn services in Sydney in the past, but it was his first in Melbourne and a complete first for me.
  • watched Anvil! The story of Anvil and had to keep re-reading the back of the DVD to convince ourselves it wasn’t a mockumentary. If it was fiction, I think we would have been able to enjoy it more, but knowing that these poor guys actually went through the cancelled gigs, tiny audiences and record company rejections was a bit heartbreaking
  • read The Boyfriend List by E Lockhart (faboo, I can’t wait to get started on the Boy Book, which is also in my to-read pile)
  • started reading Surfache by Gerry Bobsien, which is making me think about taking up both surfing and ballet**
  • booked a trip to Sydney for late May – my first proper*** visit to my hometown since Christmas 2008!
  • began knitting little gifties to take on aforementioned trip.
Speaking of knitted goodies, today is the first time it’s been cold enough to break out the airy pink legwarmers and I must say they’re working a treat. I momentarily considered taking a photo as evidence of their a) pinkness and b) lairiness, but one adjective that definitely can’t be used to describe them is ‘flattering’. Every time I walk into the room, Big Orange Cat looks at them with a slightly alarmed expression, as if trying to decide whether they are friend or foe.

* as evidenced by the fact that a third of our last trip to Europe was spent visiting the battlefields and war cemeteries of northern France. Yes, really.
** a bit like when the gymnastics is on TV and I watch those tiny, weightless girls flipping all over the place and think, “That looks like fun, maybe I’ll give it a go”, and about as likely to happen, but still, surfing and dancing vicariously, yay!
*** read: longer than 1 day

April 21, 2010

YA Community Thanksgiving

YA Community Thanksgiving is another great idea* from Adele at Persnickety Snark. Although I don't consider myself a YA blogger because I don't review YA books beyond saying what I'm reading, I am incredibly thankful to the YA blogging community that does.**

The photo below is of the current haul on my bedside, mostly courtesy of the Amazon gift voucher my very (very!) generous ex-colleagues gave me. As far as I know, most of these books haven't been published in Australia yet (one of my criteria for buying them from Amazon rather than a local independent bookstore*** - support your LIB!), so all I had to go on when I was choosing (and yes, it took HOURS) was blog reviews. For the reviews that helped me narrow my selection, my special thanks go to:
Thanks YA community!

* see also: vicarious paper cranes and Top 100 YA Novels
** of course, the YA community does much more than just review books, but in the interests of minimising today's already excessive blog procrastination time, I'm sticking to just giving thanks for one of the things I love about it
*** at this point, I feel compelled to mention that I did indeed purchase Surf Ache at my LIB