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.


  1. Love the Wunderkammer idea. I've been doing a very similar activity called 'Provenance'. I'm at the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre doing writing workshops every day and one of the principle activities involves letting every kid pick a random object from a gold box full of oddments - magnifying glass, old medals, weird trinkets from around the world... in contemplating the 'provenance' of the object they've come up with some satisfying yarns where the object intersects with a human narrative.

  2. Anonymous11:02 AM



  3. Anonymous11:30 AM

    I can't tell you how much I envy you! Sounds great. Really fun and interesting (though I'm not understanding why they wouldn't have full novel as one of the pieces of work - I mean I kind of do, because what if you wrote one million words and so on, but all the same)

  4. Just so cool, Penni. It makes me want to do the Phd all over again, and choose something not sensible but fun and odd and always intriguing.

    Una Mousepocket is possibly the best name ever.

  5. I wish I could claim credit for the name but it comes from here (well the Mousepocket part anyway):
    And it might have to change if we think there's a conflict of interest.

    Thanks guys, handed everything in today (not without roaming all over the city, and then all over Melbourne Uni campus.

    Kirsty I wish I was in your writing workshops. Sounds fascinating.

  6. wow, good luck! that sounds amazing.

    (btw, i clicked on the allen and unwin link and saw the post about the political picture books - weird.)

    your enthusiasm to begin a phd is feeding my enthusiasm to finish...


  7. Love the ideas. have just popped in from meli's, and have been toying around with the PhD application sitting in my bag.

    I keep imagining some kind of project incorporating image and fiction plus exigesis...still thinking. I want to do it on the notion of undrowning.

    I went to the Wunderkammer in St petersburg last year. It was incredible.

    I really like your blog and plan to get hold of some of these books of yours. Lovely. Just want to make it to the end of the year alive....

  8. Oh it sounds such fun. I hope they accept it. I'll keep everything crossed for you.

    I'm about to resume mine after a 12 week 'break.' Some break, I tutored around the clock (well that's how it felt).