Cultural Stereo (but really mono) types

map

Recently we had new neighbours move into (and buy) the house next door.

They are Japanese.

Or, as I should more accurately put it, they are Japanese-born Australians.

On first meeting I mentioned to them that in the early 2000’s I had lived in Tokyo for three years and had very fond memories of my time there. I added that if I could live in any other country besides Australia, it would be Japan. I cited reasons for this choice as being the politeness of the people, the feeling of being safe walking down the street and their artistic tradition that transforms the look of everyday things into objects of beauty.

The couple looked at me with the aforementioned politeness, but underneath, I’m certain I detected an ever so faint undercurrent of “Are you serious?”, with maybe a smidgen of “Take off the rose-coloured glasses why don’t you!” and perhaps even a brimming thimble-full of “Three years in the country and you think you know Japanese people?”

The conversation that followed confirmed that they too loved their country and it’s ‘national character’ but couldn’t but hold a more multi-dimensional, dare I say less ‘tourist-y’ and more ‘world-weary’ (informed) view of Japanese society and it’s people than I had just given voice to.

We have all heard vacationers come back from an exotic locale with tales of how wonderful the locals are. Often, these exclamations characterize, unhesitatingly, an entire nation: “Everyone is soooooo nice in Vietnam!” Or, “I just love Fiji , the locals are so happy and carefree!” It can be hard to argue against these impressions, particularly since the people who express them are speaking from personal experience.

new stereo yype

The impressions we form about entire groups of people based on limited interactions are very strong, and easy to generalize. I’m old enough to remember back when Queenslanders were seen as more friendly and laid-back then their southern counterparts down in Sydney and Melbourne and when this was actually true. Somewhat sadly I’m inclined to think that time may have passed and we’ve now largely caught up to our southern cousins in the impersonal and ‘left humanity for good’ stakes. I’m also of an age that allows me to recall jokes that began with the line – “An Irishman, an American and an Englishman walk into a bar..” You don’t hear many of those any more either.

Racial characteristics (both physical and to a lesser degree social) still and probably always will exist. But with the birth of the ‘global village’ (a term first coined in the 1960’s by Canadian-born Marshall McLuhan) and mass migration of people’s to and from countries from all corners of the globe, the old stereotypes seem increasingly morphed almost beyond recognition and relevance.

So has globalisation (the merging of economies and linking of trade markets across continents) made a more homogenous world? It’s a disputed fact that leading metro cities across the globe (apart from a few iconic landmarks) look pretty much the same in any country now. On the other side of the coin, historically, the establishment of new trade links has always led to an intermixing of cultures, with rather interesting results.

Mittens and Rufus

The great social experiment continues. It is, as they say,a work in progress’. For the moment though I’m gonna rest. All this serious talk has delivered me one whooping great multicultural headache! The aspirin, disprin and Panadol tablets stopped working for me years ago, so I’ll be reaching for my little pink Korean pills. They have me singing the praises of sweet diversity every time!

Capture

Ps. Did someone mention crazy relief teachers? I’ve met a few in my time but perhaps none as unashameably left of center as those featured in Matt Porter’s CRAZY RELIEF TEACHER’S novels. He’s got a new title in the series and this time the substitute is a super model. Don’t ask me what someone who wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10 000 a day would be doing reading from the travelling pedagogue’s playbook, but there you have it. Actually, just yesterday I met a relief teacher who was a former Miss Australia (true story) so the idea may not be so outlandish.

Merino

Ps. In other literary type news, click Here to find out the winner of the Queensland Book of the Year Award.

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Celebrating my 100th!

queen 2

A letter arrived.

Not your everyday run-of-the-mill-hand-it-straight-to-my-seven-year-old-daughter-on-the-way-to-the-bin type of letter but rather one from the right-royal-looking-lady- wearing-the-old-school-brooch-in-the-photograph type of letter.

I’ve been literally counting the days until I could share it with you so let me not delay a moment longer –

Dear Mr Donaldson,

It is my great joy and privilege to offer you congratulations upon the occasion of your blog SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK (the ‘Scenic’ part comes to mind whenever I look out upon the Palace gardens and to a far lesser extent the servants quarters at Balmoral castle) attracting its 100th follower.

While I shan’t necessarily be pressing the follow button myself  anytime soon, I have recommended it to the young princes William and Harry, who may be a little more predisposed to its content than I. Let us wait and see if anything eventuates for you in that area in the future.

From myself and everyone here in the lap of luxury at the Palace, we wish you the sincerest of felicitations and look forward to congratulating you again at the time of you recording your 200th follower – which my staff inform me, based on your present rate of membership takeup, is calculated to be by the latest April 2021.

A toast to SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK and you, Mr Donaldson.

My very best and very truly yours,

Queen Elizabeth II

 

One for the trophy room, I think you’d agree.

Though I have to admit I don’t know which surprised me more – to actually receive the letter in the first place or the fact that Buckingham Palace missed such a glaring typo as that ‘in the lap of luxury’ clanger. Makes you wonder what qualifications you need to be a royal proofreader these days.

Still, with an estimated 300 million blogs posting their words up on the all-singing all- dancing blogosphere, it’s not everyone that can lay claim to having reached the milestone of 100 followers is it?  299 999 999 of them maybe, but not all! I’m therefore shamelessly taking this moment to don the party hat and streamers and celebrate the occasion.

hundred

In the midst of all the celebration though I do spare a thought for those poor soul bloggers with the 9 and 10k size followings. They must have wallpapered every wall and ceiling of every room of their house ten times over by now with all those letters from Her Majesty.

As her Royal Highness herself might say, “Poor dears”.

queen r

PS. Quote of the week goes to British writer Kozuo Ishiguro (author of seven novels, including his most famous REMAINS OF THE DAY (1989), who, upon being awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature remarked that he was ‘flabbergastingly flattered‘.

PPS. The movie BLADERUNNER 2049 opened in Brisbane yesterday. A penny for the thoughts of anyone who’s seen it or is intending on seeing it.

See the trailer here

PPPS. Back in 1986 I attended a Bob Dylan (last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) concert in Brisbane at the old Lang Park (now Suncorp Stadium). It was part of Dylan’s TRUE CONFESSIONS tour. Also on the bill was American singer/songwriter icon Tom Petty and his band The Heartbreakers.

Remember him here

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

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.

 

‘I’ll be back’ (in 3D)

 

release dates

He promised us.

And now, 26 years later, he’s delivering in glorious hi-tech, hi-spectacle Arnie style.

With great fondness, not to mention an unapolegetically nostalgic glint in my eye, and lavishing words I’m tempted to suggest only a true cinephile would ever muster, I recall, like it was only before lunch, the day back in ’91 I first beheld this movie.

Hunkered down in the 7th row in a pre-cuptray era upholstered seat, my head tilted up all the while to the big screen with five mates from my old school days alongside me, I had no idea at the time what I was about to see unfold before me would leave every previous movie I’d ever seen, to that point in my life, in its entirely gob-smacking wake.

That day, I and everyone else in that cinema, were transported to an eye-popping liquid-metal-themed dimension as we bore witness to never-before-seen moments in movie-making technique. I knew at the time what I was seeing were things no human being had ever seen in a movie theatre before. When the whole mind-shatteringly stunning shebang was over, I insisted on staying until the very last credits (and they were a longin!) simply because I was too mesmerised to move.

Arnie on Bike

James Cameron’s cinematic tour de force was the film that first introduced commercial audiences to the imagination-bending look of fully realised ‘morhping’ effects, seen later that same year in Michael Jackson’s music video ‘Black or White’. History may record the movie Willow (1988) as the film that first employed detailed digital morphing, but Terminator 2: Judgement Day was the true red-carpet unveiling. When the Oscars that year were handed out for Best Visual Effects there was this movie and shining daylight second. For back in the day, this was as flash as a Polynesian rat with a gold tooth.

Now I’ve revealed myself for the tragically devoted fan of the original movie I am (or is it more the memory of the original I’m in awe of ?) here’s what’s doing.

In a move that will no doubt bring lighthouse smiles to the faces of many that were there on the frontline back in ’91, cinemas around the country and worldwide are showing a newly put together 3D version of this sci-fi action movie treasure. In Brisbane, Event Cinemas are playing host for, as they say, “a strictly limited season”.

In what is seen by some as a move to tide film-goers over until the release of Cameron’s Avatar 2 (rumoured to be using 3D filming technology that won’t require audiences to wear glasses), it definitely puts the Cameron brand back on display in the interim. The original Avatar (2009) for me was like death by a thousand cuts (ie. it was dissapointing to the point of painful) so this new incarnation of Arnie at his peak will possibly be my gift to myself. That is if I decide to chance tarnishing the memory of the original by actually going along to see it.

 

Cartoon

Ps. A special thought for the King of Comedy Jerry Lewis, who passed away this week, aged 91. His film WHICH WAY TO THE FRONT (1970) is still my all-time favourite comedy. R.I.P. Jerry Lewis.

Remember him here

And here

 

The Ins and Outs of Beauty

rose

Last week, the words that follow down further below appeared as a guest post on Matt Pavowski’s primo blog ACCIDENTALLY INSPIRED. (See it here) 

Acc

Matt’s a sassy word-slinger of the highest order based in Atlanta USA. Up until last year he worked  as a high school classroom teacher. He’s since transitioned to high school drama teacher. Matt’s also penned a couple of novel’s he’s currently seeking representation for. He’s a person on the cusp of great things. And one of the great mysteries of the world, apart the identity of Jack the Ripper and why dentists attempt to carry on conversation when you’ve got a mouthful of medical instruments, is why his blog has ‘only’ 490 followers. It deserves easily in excess of ten times that number. 

Answers to brain-stumpers such as these will no doubt be provided in the fullness of time, but in the meantime…

Wanna hear a confession?

When given the choice between inner beauty and mere surface beauty, on a great many occasions I’ve opted to wade, frolic and generally amuse myself in the decidedly shallow end of the pool.

It happened only yesterday.

Hungry, I made a selection from my kitchen-benchtop fruitbowl, heading straight for the banana direct from central casting whose high-beam yellow color coating was so gloriously perfect it seemed to come with its own ready-made promotional line – “People will stare: why not make it worth their while?”

banana

Sitting right alongside nature’s gift to banana-hood, lay a black-sheep relative – another banana, far less endowed with the outer beauty gene and painted with a very different pallet – this one showcasing small-pox patterned black spots. I didn’t trouble ‘it’ for even a second look. I fully knew that beneath that blemished exterior, the quality and taste of the fruit would have in all likelihood been the equal of its more air-brushed companion.  I even made the effort to remind myself it wasn’t the skin I’d be eating (unlike Kevin Spacey’s mental patient character in the 2001 movie K-PAX).

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So what’s the takeaway? Probably something as intuitive as why settle for the singular experience of just inner beauty when you can have the synergistic one on the not overly common occasions when outer beauty gets thrown in as well.

To cite another example: a few days before the fruitbowl decision’, I’d entered a bicycle shop with an eye to buying what these days goes by the name of a ‘road bike’. With a budget of just $500, the backward-baseball-cap–wearing shop guy presented me with just two entry-level options –

The “Aquila” for $300 or for $150 more, the large, broad-winged and soaring sounding “Condor”.

To my unschooled, ‘babe in the woods’ eyes, the working parts on both machines were identical  – same chains, same rims, same brake levers, same cranksets, same gear systems, same peddles with the strap-in racing holsters. Same… everything!  The added expense of one bike over the other as far as I could reason was down to one thing – looks.

The Condor resembled a black-olive Ferrari – coated from head to toe in that non-reflective matt finish most commonly associated with Stealth Fighter Jets. The less expensive Aquila, by comparison, looked like… well, a speckled banana, splash-decorated by a herd of over-excited, under-coordinated pre-schoolers. So what did I end up riding out of the store on? My very own little black Stealth Fighter Jet of course.

To visibly dilute the opening line of this thought-piece regarding a ‘confession’, I will say I am not ashamed to admit a liking for package deals that combine the charms of both inner and outer beauty. Like an alchemist’s dream, when both elements are brought together, an entity both exquisite and sublime is what can very often result; rare and true beauty as dazzling and affecting as fireworks, as comforting as a lullaby and as fulfilling as an eight course banquet.

Breathtaking when it happens.

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Author Interview – Matt Porter

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Matt Porter is a Victorian based children’s author who is also a currently serving full-time Primary School teacher. His CRAZY RELIEF TEACHER series of books are hugely popular and well known. Matt spoke to me recently about his dual careers as writer and teacher.

I understand your current job within the Victorian Education Department is as a mobile library teacher in rural schools. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I am a MARC (mobile library) teacher in the Hamilton area (about 90 mins drive from Ballarat, outside of Melbourne) I visit 8 schools on a fortnightly basis and teach 4 hours of library a day. My biggest school has 105 students while the smallest one has 7! My lessons teach literacy skills but my main aim is to instil a love of reading and books in students. We do fun activities such as trying to break the records from the Guinness World Records books or creating theme parks based on the Dewey System with each section of the park based on a Dewey section. I drive a Sprinter van to the schools which is full of books that the students borrow. It’s a Department of Education job with the same conditions as everyone, it’s just I teach at 8 schools instead of 1. I teach Prep through to Year 6, sometimes all at the same time. My job is also great as there are no staff meetings, yard duty or reports!

The job is great for me as I get to work with books all day and I find I’m able to keep my head in the ‘book/writing space’ whereas when I was teaching in a classroom it was hard to then switch into a writing frame of mind at night. My principal is very supportive of my writing. I am able to take leave each year to run writing workshops in schools as an author. I’ve been lucky enough to head to Queensland for Book Week for a few years and enjoy your beautiful weather! I currently work .9 and use my day off to visit schools or write. I have the first 4 weeks of next term off to visit schools. I really enjoy these times as I can share my passion for writing with new students. I try to make the sessions interactive so the workshop based on my character Mr Jackpot sees the students playing gameshows that teach writing skills.

Your first teaching post was at Bannockburn Primary (near Geelong) on a 3/4 class. Would you give us a brief rundown of your teaching career to date.

I attended Ballarat University from 1999-2002. My first teaching job was at Bannockburn and I was there until mid-way through 2010. During my time at Banno I taught grades 2/3, 3/4 and 5/6. In 2010 our first child was due (we now have 3 kids) so we moved back to the area where my wife and I grew up, Port Fairy. I taught at Merrivale Primary School in Warrnambool from 2010-2015. I taught grades 3/4, 5/6 and PE. Merrivale had a lot of staff who worked 4 days a week (including me) and for one year I was the ‘floater’ who didn’t have their own class and taught in each teachers’ classroom on their day off. I enjoy working with students and the teamwork aspect of teaching.

The idea for my Crazy Relief Teachers series came into my head while teaching at Banno. The teacher next door was absent and the relief teacher called himself Mr Midnight and dressed as a cowboy. He sang cowboy songs for most of the day. Another relief teacher, who we called The Puzzler, spent two hours teaching the students how to solve a Rubik’s Cube on another day. Those two made me think it would be a good idea for a series of books where a school gets a procession of Crazy Relief Teachers.

 

Your first commercial publishing success came seven years back with the books PICTURE PERFECT and MY COUNTRY. Please share with us the story of those early days as a burgeoning writer.

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When I started teaching in 2003 (I feel old saying that!) I read the books of Roald Dahl, Andy Griffiths and Paul Jennings to the students. The students’ reactions were priceless and I loved how they hung on every word and laughed loudly throughout. I have always loved writing and thought if I could get even a fraction of the reaction those brilliant writers got then I would be over the moon. It took me two weeks to write a 10,000 word story that I hoped would be published … I was very wrong. I got plenty of rejection letters from publishers, however there was some positive feedback in that my ideas were funny (but my writing was terrible). I then did three things:

  1. I enrolled in writing classes. These were online and involved reading, completing various writing tasks and then submitting stories to a tutor.
  2. I wrote on weekends, after work and any opportunity I got.
  3. The best thing I did was research authors and find the ones who didn’t have teachers’ notes/activities on their websites. I emailed these authors and offered to make activities for their books for free and in return I asked if they could mentor me. Several authors helped me in this way, in particular DC Green who has been a huge help and mentor for me.

I had a few near misses from 2005-2009 and I kept trying and didn’t let myself get too discouraged every time a rejection letter came. After a while I started getting personalised rejection letters (rather than the standard ones I usually got) and these contained feedback, suggestions for improvements and the offer of re-submitting the manuscript once it had been improved. This gave me encouragement to continue. I then had two stories accepted for publication in Challenge Magazine (Pearson Education): Australia’s Funniest Gnome Videos and The Best Friend Test. This gave me something to put on my Writing CV (other than ‘World Record Holder for Most Rejection Letters Received’) when submitting to publishers. I was thrilled when Picture Perfect and My Country were accepted by Blake Education as readers. Not too long after that I received two offers for the first Crazy Relief Teacher book: Mr Sergeant and the Dodgeballs of Doom. One was for more money but the book would be published as a one-off, while Celapene Press offered to sign up for a series. I’m very happy I went with Celapene Press and now there are 4 books in the series. I’ve now got a 5th book coming out with them. I’ve also written the first book in a new series that I can’t say too much about other than it’s a sporty series and the first book comes out in January. That series will be published by Ford Street.

all 4 booksYour ‘Crazy Relief Teachers’ book series currently boasts four titles. Are you working on another one and if so can you give us a sneak peak regarding the plot and main character?

I’m very excited that the 5th book in the series will be released in late September! It’s called Ms Runway and Australia’s Next Top Merino. When Jennifer Runway, host of the famous TV show Australia’s Next To Model, takes control of the class she initiates a modelling competition to boost student numbers at the rural school. However complications arise when Pete enters his pet sheep, Delta Goodram.

Where I teach there are a lot of sheep farmers and a sheep festival called Sheepvention.Woolly West Fest is part of Sheepvention and it’s a literacy festival for kids. Each year they go into schools and run literacy activities with sheep and wool as the focus. I was teaching lessons for this where the students had to change the title and cover of a famous book so it would have a sheep as the main character (hence James and the Giant Sheep and Zombie Rams from Ewe-ranus). As an example to the class I changed the Top Model TV show to Top Merino. I then thought it would make a good idea for my next book. At the same time one of my schools had lost a number of students so its enrolment was quite low. I combined the two ideas and the students in the school have a Top Model competition to attract more students. Here’s a sneak peak of the cover.

NewAny thoughts on Mr Schneebly, the archetypal crazy relief teacher portrayed by Jack Black in the epochal 2003 movie SCHOOL OF ROCK?

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I love that movie! He’s so over-the-top as a character and it’s a great story. I once read a quote by Roald Dahl that said to exaggerate your characters, if they’re going to be mean, make them really mean. If they’re nice, make them really nice. I guess I’ve attempted that with my Crazy Relief Teachers. Mr Sergeant, the army officer, makes the students ‘drop and do twenty’ if they get an answer wrong and he treats dodgeball like it’s a war. Mr Jackpot, a gameshow host, is over-the-top and an exaggerated version of the gameshow hosts I grew up watching in the 80’s/90’s. I was a big fan of Jack Black and the early Adam Sandler films. However my favourite movies now are the ones made by Simon Pegg, especially Shaun of the Dead.

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Are you familiar with any of the books of British author Mike Carey? He penned the zombie apocalypse novel THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS back in 2014 that sold in excess of 500 000 copies and was later adapted into the 2016 film of the same name starring Glenn Close. He’s someone who’s joined the long list (which includes Dan Brown and J.K.Rowling) of former school teachers who became champion writers.

I’m not familiar with Mike Carey’s work. I do read a lot of children’s fiction for work and also because it’s a great way to improve as a writer by reading the work of great authors. I read a lot of non-fiction in my spare time and Bill Bryson is a favourite of mine. His A Short History of Nearly Everything is my favourite book. I also read a lot of biographies and am currently half-way through a book on Jim Henson. I love reading about people who have led interesting lives. I also like humorous books such as Freakonomics, or people who have done zany things such as Join Me and the book on the Australian Sudoku Team. One day I’d love to do something like that.

While I’m not familiar with Mike Carey, I do know of lots of teachers who have become authors. I believe Andy Griffiths was a high school English teacher and Paul Jennings has a teaching background. Michael Gerard Bauer was a teacher and is John Marsden a principal?

And just finally Matt, in the course of your involvment with school students how many times have you encountered the situation depicted in this cartoon?

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Can’t say I ever have Glen.

Thanks Matt and I know I join with the readers of this blog in wishing you all the best with your future careers in both writing and teaching.

Want more? Click here to check out Matt’s website

Books