Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Handing Stuff In

So all of a sudden I realised that if I wanted to qualify for a scholarship I had to get my PhD application done now now now now now in order to get people to approve it and so forth. So I had to stop rewriting Little Bird* (sorry guys) and suddenly cook up a thesis proposal. I've had several half-baked ideas swimming around my skull for a while - something about adolescent sexuality in YA and Bill Henson's photographs, something to do with indigenous spirituality and Australian fantasy and the problem of investing magic in a sacred landscape, a novel about a mother's group with a Kristevan bent. This last one was my favourite if I'd been applying for a PhD at a university that lets you to write a whole novel and then an exegesis. But the Melbourne Uni model is 50/50, that is about 40000 words critical and the same creative. Which meant, for me, it needed to be a whole short novel, because writing half a novel? That would just be annoying.

Anyway finally I went back to this question: which novel am I ready to write next (after Little Bird and Only Ever Always)? The answer I came up with was Ida Sparrow**, my faux Edwardian fairytale. Ida Sparrow is a thumbelina type girl, teeny tiny, with a human sized sister, Florence. Their mother tells them cautionary tales of The Collector, who, given the whisker of a chance, would take Ida Sparrow and put her in a display case. But one day it is Florence who disappears. Ida Sparrow, knowing The Collector has come for her sister, sets off an expedition to find her (accompanied by morally ambiguous insects: a cockroach perhaps and a butterfly). In terms of publishing, I think this novel will set well with Only Ever Always. I also think, being a fairytale, it's multidisciplinary and transcends traditional notions of audience (well that's what I said in my PhD application anyway). Anywho, so I'd been trying to come up with a critical component and it came to my via a slightly odd path.

This story kind of consitutes an aside, but it does have a point. I've been going into schools a lot more this year and developing a kitbag of exercises to do with kids, and thinking about a possible Artist in Schools grant as well (I've got an ace idea with some great outcomes for the school if any teachers in Victoria read this and want to collaborate for next year), and as part of all this I began to think about Wunderkammer as a writing trigger***. I love Wunderkammer. I love the whole idea of this odd, disjointed narrative of random objects clumped together by enthusiastic amateurs. Sounds like blogging right? Yeah, well that's what I thought. So anyway, once Wunderkammer sprung into my head it became the perfect way to connect up the critical and the creative.

So my proposal is this: My critical essay will be on blogging as Wunderkammer and in particularly the representation of objects online as opposed to books (for example, objects online are different from objects in books because you can often buy them). But also looking at hyperlinks as artifacts, the way information sits side by side on a blog (for example I could link to this right now and incorporate into my narrative, even though its presence here verges on surreal). I might look at 'real' objects with a narrative too, like Patrick Hall's work.

And my creative (this is a doozy) will be a digital novel. Yes, I'm going to write Ida Sparrow to be a digital novel (ahem people, I'd quite like it to be a book as well.) Because that will be sooo easy given I'm not an artist or a computer whizz.

Look, I just figured that, assuming I get the scholarship, when else am I going to be funded and supported to do something so outside my comfort zone, with teachers and resources to help me? And in part this desire comes from the fact that the future of the book SCARES me. I don't like game narratives, I find them static and limited, no matter how far ranging the world is. Ebooks trying to resemble a real book experience are just going to always be a synthetic version of the real thing - like nutrasweet. But I also dream of a sustainable world, where millions of books aren't spat out and pulped, where the books will become a precious artifact sit alongside other aesthetic models for reading. For me the closest thing so far to a really satisfying online reading experience is blogging. So I'm going to make a digital book that incorporates some of the things I love about blogging.

This is assuming I get funding. And also assuming I hand my application in. And if I don't go now (first to Clayton to pick up a copy of my transcript, then to Melbourne Uni to hand in all the bits and pieces to various people) it will never happen since I'm back up to Bendigo tomorrow to workshop with 7s and 8s. Good kids those Bendigoans. And then back on Friday to (fingers crossed) finish Little Bird. Ah Spence. You miserable cad.

*The novel formerly known as Sunday Girl, formerly known as Ruby-lee
**No you're not mad if you've read this before, the title has changed.
***For example, getting them to describe or draw a collection of objects, then getting them to either pick an object and write from its point of view, or connect two objects together with a story, or write about the person who has collected all these things, or write from an alien archaeologist's point of view and what they would make of the collection.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

So what do you know?

a) a recession
b) not a recession
c) a recession
d) not a recession

Stocks are
a) up
b) down
c) up
d) down
(tip - answer this one quickly before everything changes again)

It's the worst day on the stockmarket since:
a) 1929
b) 1987
c) stocks were invented
d) the day before yesterday which was the worst day since Friday

It's all the fault of
a) fatcat executives with their overblown salaries
b) subprime mortgages
c) single mothers, teenagers, ethnic minorities, people who vote green and families with more than two less than two no children
d) George Bush (pick me! pick me!)

Kevin Rudd is:
a) saying 'oh bother'
b) giving out free money
c) Santy Claus

The Australian dollar is worth
a) .66 US Dollars
b) .383 British Pound Sterling
c) a handful of seashells

We're all going to
a) spiral towards oblivion, crashing and burning in the environmental and social disaster that is capitalism
b) live in tent cities eating bootlace soup
c) keep spending money like there's no tomorrow, but only on essentials like plasma tvs and Queensland holidays
d) get bloody sick of being manipulated by the media
e) plug in our ipods, put on our pretty sequined blinkers, and plant a few more veggies in the garden

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chapter Books

Frederique has always really really loved being read to, and has always engaged with the world through literature (my favourite example of this is at 14 months on our first night in a new house she woke up at 3am and wanted us to read Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten over and over again, which begins with Rose moving into a new house, more recently, while we were away she chose a Ladybird book called Topsy and Tim go in an Aeroplane and was terribly soothed by it's fairly functional story of going in a plane).

Until recently her preference was far and away picture books. I love the way she engages with illustrated texts and we haven't pushed a progression to extended texts because I think this engagement is actually a great precursor to independent reading. We had read longer books, like when she was too sick to sit up and look at pictures I read Teddy Robinson to her, and last year in Queensland we worked our way through the The Big Book of Tashi (which are an absolutely inspired intermediate step between picture book and chapter book, since they have illustrations on every page and the stories are actually quite short and manageable) and she's also shown interest in another good intermediary, Martine Murray's Henrietta books. But mostly she was restless with the idea of pictureless books (I'd tried Wizard of Oz and Little House on the Prairie without success - she was very distracted by wanting to skip ahead to the pictures and then losing touch with the narrative).

Still as our OS trip loomed I began to feel a bit fidgety about taking a pile of picture books with us. Luckily about a month before we went away I spent a rainy afternoon reading Ramona the Pest to Fred and she was hooked. We've since read Enid Blyton's The Enchanted Wood, The Folk of the Faraway Tree, Ramona about three more times and Teddy Robinson several times over, we're now reading Martin's mum's copy of the The Wishing Chair. Something I've really noticed is that these extended stories have really entered her playlife in a way picture books haven't so much. Together we played the Faraway Tree all round England, Ramona in France, and Teddy Robinson in Helsinki. We also acquired some picture books on the trip - at the moment Fred is equally happy with both, which is a nice stage and something I'd like to continue to promote - I feel I am not as image literate as I would like to be, and Fred seems to be very visual and really enjoy the tension between illustration, design and text.

Anyway, is there something you observe about the above list? Yes, these are all books from my childhood, in fact all published before I was born. What's more, none of them are Australian. I've blogged about my struggle to find books in this market before and got heaps of responses.

So I've been trawling the net looking for books for Fred to put on her Christmas list. And here is my list so far (with a * next to Aussie books). Most of these books, by the way, are Allen&Unwin books, which is not just because I have love those Alien Onion folk. It's also because, as I've just discovered, A&U have a kickarse website, the only publisher I've found so far who lets you search for books by age (or even, in any respectable way, by category):

*The Bonnie and Sam books by Alison Lester, illustrated by Roland Harvey. (Alison Lester is a brilliant illustrator, but if someone else is going to draw all over her books, then who better than Roland Harvey?)
*Frankel Mouse by Odo Hirsch (it has the Aussie star because he's from here and he's an A&U author, but worth noting that Frankel Mouse is set in the London Underground.)
The Quigleys by Simon Mason
*The True Story of Mary who wanted to stand on her head by Jane Godwin
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (actually I 'm not sure what age this is written for, I just want this for me, there's a movie coming out of this too - yay! I heart Kate DiC so much I want to meet her and frighten her with intense adoration)
*Thora by Gillian Johnson

Okay, so she might not get all of these, and some others might leap out before then. And there are still some old faves that I'd like to pick up for her, like Amelia Jane, and The Naughtiest Girl books and My Naughty Little Sister and the Gobbolino books and Little Grey Rabbit and...etc

Well, she did ask for a million books for Christmas.

Anyone else got any suggestions? Questions, comments?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Photos of the trip

Fred at the Princess Diana Memorial in Kensington Gardens. It was an interesting experience for both of us and I could tell Fred was really thinking about what it all meant. I don't know what sort of counter-narrative it was though, in some ways the tragic true story of Princess Diana reinforces all those terrible Princess myths - no happy ever after, but look what happens to you if you break the mould and divorce your 'rescuer' prince. Later I discovered Fred actually things getting married and being rescued are the same thing, she says 'but did you and Daddy get merried?' and when I say yes (she's seen the photos) she says 'well, he rescued you then'. Her voice had an edge of nervous uncertainty, the way she sounds when she's suddenly not sure she's right.

I have so many photos of Fred darting away from the camera or just generally running about, but the colours in this delight me. This spontaneous walk in the woods ended well when we discovered that we'd emerged not far from our hotel in the Lake District.

Fred carried this basket all over Paris much to the delight of everyone who saw us. This was taken at the Musee Carnavalet, devoted to the history of Paris.

We bought this crown in Helsinki and Fred wore it for ages. She walked with such poise, giving out gracious smiles, and all who saw her beamed. She had people craning their necks watching her progress until she was out of sight. I walked some way behind her, snapping photographs, like her entourage.

Architecture in Helsinki - ha ha. They were redoing the facades of an old apartment building - that's newspaper, like giant papier mache. In the late afternoon autumn light the buildings looked amazing.

Photos from the trip here and some more here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Playing with PIMPAMPUM

The writing above is too teeny tiny to read on my computer, so if you have the same problem go look here:
Fairies in the Garden by Penni

Link found via The Digital Narrative.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sweet Valley High Obsession

When I was in grade six at Mount Nelson Primary School in 1986 (see the pattern? It was always so easy to remember what year it was/what grade I was in. Lucky me. I really feel for all those people who wander around school in a daze not knowing cause the numbers are different) I had what one might call a minor SVH obsession. My friend Lisa Donahoe (shout out if you're googling yourself) who lived across the road from the school owned all of them. Zoe and I would borrow three each at a time, take them home, read them with the energy of the fanatic IN ONE NIGHT and then swap the next day. I still sneakily read them right up until my early twenties, I think I've even read them since Martin and I got together (cough *research* cough), because the first SVH Senior year wasn't published till 1999 and I know I've read a few of those (Jessica Wakefield gets called a slut. I KNOW!)

Anyway, I stumbled across the Best. Site. Ever. last night and I had to come and share it with my lovely Cake readers because I KNOW some of you are closet Jessizabeth fans. Warning this site contains totally addictive and hilarious recaps of the SVH series. I never knew there were so many of them - Junior High, Middle School, Sweet Valley Kids (is that primary school??), as well as of course Sweet Valley High (which was the first), Sweet Valley Seniors, Sweet Valley University and then some series called Elizabeth which is apparently about her going to England and being a servant or something to some rich Duke dude - oh you funny Americans with your weird arse anglophilia. Then there are the specials and the thrillers...what a franchise. The community has a few different contributors, all of them funny, all of them sharing the same passion for the pure, unadulterated, beautiful crappiness of the series.

But wait, there's more. Apparently Francine Pascal, creator of the series (who lives in France, hated high school and never went to her own prom), is creating a new series - oh yes oh yes - called Sweet Valley Heights Confidential about the SVH clan living in a gated community in their late 20s/early 30s - omigod. How do I sign on to be a ghostwriter for that? Who do I send my resume to? I'd do it just for art's sake, you don't even have to pay me. She's been waving this tantalising idea around for a few years (since about 2005, when it was called Sweet Valley Heights) and the most recent mention I found online was from April '08, which sported the name change to Confidential. No sign of it on Amazon yet. Which is weird because the idea is so HOT I would have thought the books would practically write themselves.

Monday, October 06, 2008

I know a girl from a lonely street

My new novel (due out next July) finally has a title. It's working title for ages has been Ruby-lee, which is the main character's name, but I always knew this wasn't what was going to be on the front cover. There's something weird about having a book with no name, especially when you're onto the two and a halfth draft. But as of today it is called something.

Sunday Girl.

K-nick-ered from a Blondie song.

"I know a girl from a lonely street
Cold as ice cream but still as sweet
Dry your eyes Sunday girl"

Heh heh heh. I just pasted the French bit of the song into a translator.

Hey, I saw your guy with another girl
It seemed in another world
Cacher Sunday Chorus girl goes to you
When I saw again you to the summer I decided
If your love was similar to Mien
I can remain Sunday chorus girl
Hurry up
Dispatch you and wait
All week absentee and however I waits*
I am down in the dumps, I ask you come to see
What your love represents for me
Hurry up, dispatch you and wait
All week absentee and however I waits
I am down in the dumps, I took it to you come to see
What your love represents

*sounds lolcattish

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Una has a birthday

It's been go go go since we came back from overseas. I've got more overseas photos to put up on Flickr and I'll cross-post a couple here. But life doesn't pause for a moment and days after we returned it was Una's birthday.

Wearing a dress Freddy has outgrown, the same dress, in fact, that Frederique wore on her third birthday, looking so grown up...

Waiting for friends to arrive
Fred celebrated joyfully, including a squeeze for a brand new cousin, Owen Ferguson T, born while we were away...
And 0f course cake, with marshmallow fluff icing...so many levels of wrong.

A few days after this and I was down in Tassie, touring school groups with James Roy, Lili Wilkinson and Kirsty Murray and it was heaps of fun, and heaps exhausting too.