Test yourself (again)

Pop quiz

Didn’t do so well last time did you?

Never mind. That was six months ago.

Armed with a child’s size four fistful of courage and a headful of book trivia, it’s time to make your way across the troll-guarded literary knowledge bridge once more.

Here’s a chance to show your book smarts one more time and possibly redeem yourself.

There’s a saying – a picture is worth a thousand words. You may have heard of it.

So crazy thing… try to name these famous covers of well-known novels.

If you’ve got even an inkling on a summer breeze you may be correct, scroll to the bottom very, very slowly. Pass mark to be considered a professional amateur is an uber modest 1/6. Anything more, like maybe 2/6, gets you a big yahoo.

Get them all correct and you go into the draw to win a one-way ticket aboard a luxury cruise ship. See ticket below.

Titanic Ticket

But please… with all the sugar – no mobile devices allowed.

At least until you’ve tried the old-fashioned mental catalogue way first.

test

                             

                                     

                                                Answers

  1.      The Little Prince by  Antoine de Saint Exupery
  2.      Moby Dick  by Herman Melville
  3.      The 100 Year Old man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by              Jonas Jonasson
  4.      The Rosie Project  by Graeme Simsion
  5.      Life of Pi   by Yann Martel
  6.      Lord of the Flies  by William Golding

Ps. For those interested, I have now released my list of scheduled live                                    appearances for the upcoming month of October.

View them here

PPS. If you’re up for this week’s bonus read click here

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Cute, cuddly and sleeps 18 hours a day (then there’s Ariana Grande)

 

Vs

For a lot of years a prized possession of mine was a black and white photo of myself holding a koala while being held in my father’s arms. I was five or six. I don’t know what became of that faded picture but I remember it and the memories it evokes as clearly as if I still felt it in my hands now.

Fast forward forty-five years and it was time to take my own daughter to the same place that photo was taken – Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. In many ways, not much had changed. There were still the kangaroos to feed, multi-coloured and specied aviaries to walk amongst, my personal favourite the sheep dog show, an overpriced gift shop, tourists speaking any language you care to name, and of course the resident rock stars of cute and cuddly marsupials – the koalas themselves.

Of interest also was what might be referred to as a ‘wall of fame’ located inside the main cafe eating area. Here hung signed photographs of various dignitaries and celebrities who over the years had all paid a visit to the apparently internationally known Australian headquarters of the lovable herbivore. Among the framed photos were a couple of former Australian Prime Ministers, The Queen, a Pope (can’t remember which) and a few names from the world of music I hadn’t heard of in some while – Joan Jett and Gary Numan among them. When Ariana Grande played Brisbane last week as part of her sell out Australian tour she and her royal entourage preferred to make a beeline for Australia Zoo to get their dose of local koala.

Ari

Ariana Grande getting all koaled up at Australia Zoo last week.

Meanwhile, back at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary on the day I visited this week, sadly, due to factors including the length of the queue and the extortion level price-tag, the idea of replicating my own childhood keepsake and getting a picture of my daughter posing with a koala, which forty years ago was a long-standing tradition amongst Brisbane families, never actually saw the light of day.

The unexpected highlight of the visit however was when our thirst took us to an ancient looking drinks vending machine, propped up like a lone sentry next to the kangaroo paddock. What looked for all the world like some kind of faded tin relic from a long forgotten time, was, much to our astonishment, still working! We watched with dropped jaw it accept money through its rusted coin slot, and, after a series of whirring mechanical noises I’m pretty certain I last heard back in the late 70’s, spit out an ice-cold bottle (yep, bottle) of Coke to its cobweb-encrusted delivery port.

This humble drinks machine that time forgot single-handedly guaranteed that, even minus the requisite cute koala photo, our day still dished its own unique flavour and lasting memory.

Thankyou Grand Daddy bottle machine! Like some old combat veteran still standing guard on the battlefield long after the war has passed, you continue to serve with honour and a sense of never-say-die duty. With bottle in hand and miraculously correctly tended change in pocket, I salute you!

Hand

There’s retro, there’s vintage and then there’s just plain old. This walking frame ‘ol battle-axe vending machine was definitely the latter but it still served our drinks ice-cold.

 

Competitive Punning – It’s a thing!

NewWarning: severe eye-rolling is imminent since the standard of wordage that’s to follow could scarcely be any cornea.

It’s time to admit that at a certain time in my life I suffered from an addiction. It was something that began as an innocent fascination when I was very young and then grew steadily to a point of unhealthy obsession whereby I was no longer in control of my impulses. I’m not ashamed now to confess that at one point many, many years ago I was addicted to doing the hokey pokey. But through effort, determination and the love of a good woman, I managed to turn myself around.

As part of my therapy I took up playing the violin, under the dedicated tutelage of my wife, who, even back then and still today, refuses to play second fiddle to me or anyone. It was around this time I decided also to become a vegetarian, which I had been warned would be a big missed steak. I checked with the doctor and unexpectantly he diagnosed me as being color-blind. Can I tell you that was a diagnosis that came completely out of the purple.

It also reminded me of the time I told my wife she drew her eyebrows too high. She seemed surprised, and to get back at me, starting telling a lot of excrutiating bird puns. I soon realized that toucan play that game and started dishing back my own insect puns. I knew that would really bug her. Finally though we ceased our marital word wars since we both knew that peace on the homefront was our shared respunsibility.

Had enough? Or did you leave mid way through to fetch some dried crackers to go with the cheese? Promise now I’ll be good. For the rest of this post, which could just have easily been titled WHEN DAD JOKES HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, I’ll refrain from overusing what many people look down upon as the most grovelling form of wit. My aim is definitely not to make you as unhoppy as a frog stuck in mud. Ooops..

Away with Words

Joe Berkowitz is the New York author who spent a year investigating the sub-culture-like world of competitive punning. The result is his newly released book AWAY WITH WORDS. It takes an indepth look at punning contests around the world including the Spoken Word Punning Championships held every year in Austin Texas. The O. Henry Pun-off is a yearly PUNDERDOME-style challenge that asks contestants to stage up and deliver a two minute pun-addled monologue before a live audience. 

The link below will take you to a performance by past winner Jerzy Gwiazdowski (that’s the guy’s name) who delivers a baseball-puns filled piece of stand up comedy gold. The best part for me however is the first sixty seconds prior to him actually speaking when he’s up on stage having to endure the overlong introduction by the guy in the American flag shirt. His expressions of forced politeness as he waits for the slightly annoying MC to finish are for me every bit as funny as the buttery corn that follows.

Click here for a taste of complete pundemonium!

For me, I reckon puns put the fun in dysfunctional. These competitively staged live wit-wars also provide an outlet for closeted punsters the world over. This is a small victory and acknowledgement for those everywhere in offices and classrooms who likely turn blue in the face from suppressing groan-worthy wordplay all day. As these good folk I’m sure would join me in attesting, a great pun is its own reword.

kleptomaniac

I protest!

Ben Jerry

With the High Court-approved postal vote to gauge public support for legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia set to go ahead next Tuesday on September 12th (people will have until November 7th to return it), now is probably as good a time as any to take a look at some of the more creative public protests that have led to laws being amended and decisions being overturned.

Back in May, American ice-cream chain Ben and Jerry’s, who operate 26 stores in Australia, instituted a rule that banned customers from ordering two scoops of the same flavour ice-cream as a form of protest against the government’s refusal to recognise the legality of same-sex marriages.

In 2012 the company renamed one of its flavours “Apple-y Ever After” and put two grooms on its packaging. Then in 2015 when the US Supreme Court ruled gay marriage constitutional, Ben & Jerry’s renamed a flavour “I Dough, I Dough”.

Regrettably, a great many public protests succeed in nothing more than letting everyone know, usually via a static-ky megaphone, how angry a certain group of people are about a particular issue. Mismanaged, violent protests don’t really capture the hearts and minds of people but more often than not simply leave those protesting looking like a bunch of single-cause, self-centred extremists who don’t have to turn up to work the next day. But throw in a pinch of creativity and a few peaceful gestures that haven’t been seen before, and the chance to connect with people on a far more meaningful level and really spotlight an issue suddenly becomes a real possibility.

As the pictures below prove, Ben and Jerry’s aren’t the only ones capable of blue-sky thinking (as opposed to ‘in the box’ thinking) when it comes to putting their point across in the name of attention-grabbing social activism.

Hats

2014 – Italian factory workers let their hats do the protesting.

China

2014 – The infamous Hong Kong ‘Middle Finger’ protest.

combined

2013 – Brazilians protest against FIFA’s World Cup with soccer balls on a beach meant to represent a cemetery. The banner in the background reads  –  “We need schools, hospitals and public security as high a quality as FIFA’S World Cup stadiums”.

EU

2012 – Brussels dairy farmers used a milk cannon against police in their protest against plummeting milk prices.

Time Travel

Clever!

As I’m quite certain you’ll agree, living in a democracy is rarely dull. Indeed it often comes with solid gold entertaining moments as a bonus.

Ps. Click here if you’re up for this week’s bonus read

PPs. And just lastly from the newsdesk… that celebrated idea thunderdome they call The Brisbane Writer’s Festival (now in it’s 55th year) continues until this Sunday.

Author Interview – David Cohen

Meet The Author

Interesting settings for novels?

While it’s a pretty large field to choose from, a number have distinguished themselves and set like amber in the reading public’s collective memory over the years.

David Antrim’s THE VERIFICATIONIST (2000) cast the action for his story solely within a 24 hour pancake manor. U.S writer Nicholson Baker’s debut novel THE MEZZANINE (1988) dealt with a man’s lunchtime trip up an escalator. LIFE OF PI (2001) by Canadian author Yann Martel, which sold in excess of ten million copies after being initially rejected by at least five major publishing houses, unfolded its events within a solitary lifeboat bobbing on the Pacific Ocean. And HORORSTOR (2014), a book I read only last year, let its characters loose amid the confines of a haunted Ikea Store.

Now we have Brisbane writer David Cohen’s DISAPPEARING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH (2017), a story set amongst the sometimes comical, sometimes dark but definitely always tier-one-weird world of commercial storage units.

I spoke to David this week about his new novel and the writing life.

 

You work as a creative writing tutor at the University of Queensland. Could you tell us a little bit about your duties there?

I’ve done sessional teaching on and off over the last six years, although this semester I’m not doing any due to other work commitments unrelated to writing. I’ve tutored in various writing subjects, ‘creative’ and otherwise, but the subject I’ve taught most frequently is a first-year unit which is essentially an introduction to short fiction. We look at diverse short stories—mostly by well-known practitioners like Chekhov, Carver, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, and Jennifer Egan—and analyse the different approaches and techniques they use in relation to structure, characterisation, dialogue, and so on. The students do a number of short writing exercises so they have an opportunity to experiment with these various aspects of fiction writing. The aim is to acquire an understanding of the form, to apply the fiction-writing skills they’ve developed, and to start to learn how to critique other students’ work and give editorial feedback. The main assignment is a 1000-word story. Some of these are very good. What I find is interesting is that a lot of the students who enrol in creative-writing subjects don’t seem to read much creative writing, or they’re not very adventurous in their reading. I sometimes get the impression that everyone wants to write books, but not that many people actually want to read them, even though reading—and reading widely—is the best way to learn how to write.

use this

Your second published novel DISAPPEARING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH is set amidst the comings and goings of a commercial storage facility. There’s been some unique uses for rented storage units by people over the years, including using them as meth labs, love hotels and places to keep pet snakes. There was even the story of one woman in Victoria who used hers to collect and keep every daily edition of the Geelong Advertiser newspaper for the last 10 years in the hope that one day a particular edition might become valuable. In the course of your research for the novel, did you come upon any interesting stories of rented storage spaces being put to unusual uses?

One could write a whole book about weird or unexpected things found in abandoned storage units: human body parts, weapons stockpiles, stuff belonging to celebrities—apparently Aretha Franklin used to store a lot of her wardrobe in a facility in Michigan, but she stopped paying rent at some point; the unit was auctioned, some lucky bidder picked them up for a bargain price and is now presumably walking around in Aretha Franklin’s clothes, or maybe setting up an Aretha Franklin museum. I’ve come across at least two cases where someone’s deceased mother was found in a storage unit—in each case for a different reason. I read another story about a guy who while in the process of robbing a storage unit somehow got his head lodged in between the ceiling and the wall and was choked to death. Potential thieves, take note!

Self Storage cartoon

This is a transcript of an actual conversation that took place between a customer who was renting a 10 X 10 storage unit and the manager of the facility.

Customer: “I don’t want to pay for my whole unit; I’m not using it all.”

Manager: “OK, I have smaller units avail—”

Customer: *interrupts* “NO!  I don’t want to get a truck to move, but I don’t want to pay the full amount. I just want to pay for what I’m using.”

Manager: “I apologize, but that’s not how it works. Because we can’t rent out the rest of that space, you have to pay the full rent or move to a smaller unit.”

Customer: “Fine, I’m moving everything out into another facility.”

Manager: “You’re going to move everything out to a new facility, but not into a unit just six metres down from the building where you currently are?”

Customer: “Yeah, because you’re a bedwetter and I’ve got better things to do then stand here debating the issue with you, bloody wombat!”

The way dialogue is written is obviously one pivotal way characters are able to come alive in reader’s minds. How important was crafting dialogue when it came to your central characters Ken (manager) and Bruce (assistant) in DISAPPEARING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH.

That’s a classic—no arguing with that customer’s logic! I get the feeling that a lot of those colourful Australian turns of phrase are disappearing; the language seems so bland now—how many times can you hear the expression ‘game changer’ without wanting to kill someone? But I do enjoy using meaningless and annoying expressions—whatever their origin—in fiction. With Ken and Bruce, I wanted to capture the feel of everyday banter you hear between two co-workers: exchanges that you can tell they’ve been habitually using for ages—expressions, jokes and so forth that have been repeated so often they’ve lost all their meaning. I tried to bring out the tension between this commonplace, often banal-sounding dialogue, and the strange things going on in the background. The very expression ‘disappear off the face of the earth’, which has become a catchphrase for Ken and Bruce, is one we use a lot without giving it much thought, but in the context of the story it takes on a sinister meaning. I like giving characters their own catchphrases, usually ones that other characters are irritated or offended by for whatever reason. Bruce, in particular, has a bunch of expressions he habitually uses—throwaway ones like ‘We had a little chat’ to describe his encounters with clients. At first those expressions might sound irritating—particularly to Ken—but fairly innocent; but they seem less so the more you get to know Bruce.

Brisbane

Sales-wise, has DISAPPEARING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH been disappearing off the shelves? Being the book business is one of most overcrowded, over-saturated markets there are, what are your expectations and the expectations of the publishing company (Victoria based “Transit Lounge”) regarding volume traffic for this novel?

I probably won’t know the actual sales figures for another couple of months, but my expectations are fairly modest. As you say, it’s tough to make your book stand out in the marketplace, unless you happen to be Peter Carey. From what I’ve heard to date, it’s selling quite well. Transit Lounge puts a lot of work into publicising their books, and I think the fact that mine has been classified by various retailers and reviewers as a ‘crime’ novel—even though it’s not a crime novel as such—has induced more people to buy it than might have been the case had it simply been regarded as ‘literary fiction’ or whatever. The reviews have been favourable overall, but I don’t know to what extent that translates into sales. I’m appearing at the Brisbane Writers Festival in September, and at a couple of bookshops—Avid Reader in September and Dymocks in October—so that should help sell more copies. Apologies for the shameless self-promotion, but business is business.

New Yes

 

In the book, the character of Ken reveals a liking for the English rock band YES. A month or so ago I compiled a list of my all-time favourite Top 50 songs and a remix version of YES’s 1983 hit Owner of a Lonely Heart came out on top. Have you heard the remix version by Canadian-based DJ Max Graham?

It’s pretty good, but it makes me feel very old because I was in high school when the original came out! And even then I didn’t like it as much as the earlier Yes songs I was familiar with—admittedly there were only two at that point: “Roundabout” and “Your Move”. I was a music snob even as a teenager. My favourite Yes albums—Time and a Word, Fragile, and so forth—date back to the early seventies.

Any ideas taking shape yet for your next writing project?

I’m writing another novel, but I’m still figuring it all out so I don’t like to talk about it too much. It’s set entirely in Brisbane, the main character is an archivist, and buses play an important role in the story. Make of that what you will. I also have a short-story collection, entitled The Hunter, which Transit Lounge plans to publish in 2018.

On The Buses

Ps. Congratulations everyone on surviving another ‘near miss’ from an asteroid collision today. Asteroid 1981ET3, nicknamed ‘Florence’ by astronomers, was, at roughly the same size as the suburb of Forest Lake (4.8kms in diameter), the largest Earth-bound asteroid observed since NASA first began keeping records. And just to temporarily flood your comfort zone with pepper spray, know that scientists have calculated any space rock wider than 0.9 kilometres could entirely extinguish life on this planet as we know it. Good thing it hurtled past us just before 4pm Brisbane time at a hair’s breadth distance away of a mere seven million kilometres.