Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Andy Griffiths made me miss my plane.


I've spent far too long on Google trying to find out who first said 'There are but three things that writers desire: praise, praise and praise. So I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say it was Dorothy Parker. I'm sure I read it in What Fresh Hell is This?
(Best book title ever.)

It's frighteningly true, whoever said it. Writers, I have been known to opine, are the most tedious of facebook friends. Have you been included on The Vic Premier's Reading Challenge list? (Which contains close to a thousand titles anyway, and yeah, I'm there.) For god's sake put it on facebook because people really need to know just as soon as possible. And even if you are only a passing acquaintance with the aforementioned tragic writer for god's sake leave a comment or give them a 'like', or you'll be unfriended - and we know how painful that is.

Time for me to come clean. Presuming it was Dorothy Parker who said that thing about praise, I am definitely a friend of Dorothy. I can't help it. I sit in this bloody room for about eight hours a day and make up rubbish that I hope people will find mildly diverting. My original aim when I left my full-time job in TV was to have one novel per year published. Penguin thinks that is far too many. And they do have a certain standard to maintain. After all, they published a kids' book called There's Money in Toilets, so we are looking at a publisher of some taste and distinction. (The toilet book is by a colleague, Robert Greenberg who is easily offended, and as self-involved as all writers, so I should add as a sop that it's actually quite a good story based on an interesting premise, it's just got a title that tries far too hard to capture the farting arse market that Andy Griffiths has so lovingly made his very own.

Now, if I'm going to apologise to Robert, I should also apologise to Andy. I actually sat on a CBCA panel once and defended The Day My Bum Went Psycho, on the grounds that it was a satire on James Bond. Really, the idea that there is a deranged giant bum somewhere that wishes to release some sort of force that means every human on earth will lose their heads and end up with extra bums on their shoulders is worthy of the Bondian evil mastermind, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Sure, it's stupid, but so is the idea of stealing three nuclear warheads and holding the world to ransom. Why, Blofeld ? What the hell do you want? This is what Blofeld did in the Bond movie Thunderball where we first saw his lovely white long-haired cat that he kept on his knee. I always thought that was funny; that Blofeld, who only ever wears black, should have a white Persian pussycat. We used to have such a pet in this household. Not only do they tend to be stroppy and deaf, especially if their eyes are of different colours, but they shed so much white fur that, without constant hoovering, you end up with a flokati rug in the living room that you never knew you had. As for your groovy tight-leg black pants, they end up covered in a flock of white fur. So really, in that scene where we first meet Blofeld, we should see a man entirely covered in bits of white fur, trying with dignity to outline his plan for world domination while his shaggy pet cat keeps biting at his legs or digging his claws in, which is a bad look for an evil mastermind.

That scene in Spectre when we first meet Blofeld (although we only ever see his legs, for the rest of him is concealed by frosted glass and the fluffy white cat, should really be more like this:
Several numbered but unnamed spectre agents sit around a table as Blofeld, only half seen by us, conducts a board meeting. (Sorry for the dodgy layout. How wise of the Blogger people to change everything about their program, given that we've only just learned how to use it.)


 I regret to inform you all of the death of SPECTRE Number Six. Colonel Jacques Bouvar was killed by an unknown assassin. His services will be greatly missed. We will now hear the area financial reports. Number Seven? Blackmail of the double agent Matsou Fujiwa? 

 Bad Guy

Unfortunately, only a million yen. 


That's all?

Bad guy
 All the man had.
 Number Ten? Assassination of Perringe, the anti-matter specialist who went over to the Russians?
White Fluffy Cat
Ow, get your claws out of my goolies, you fluffy white monster. 
I am world-class evil mastermind Ernst Blofeld and I will not be clawed in the goolies.
Bad Guy
Sir, we got three million francs from the Quai d'Orsay. 
Another Bad Guy
 Our consultation fee for the British train robbery: was -
Fluffy white Cat
Miaow. Miaow. Miaow.
Ow. Shut up, you idiot.
Another Bad guy
 Sorry, Number One, I thought you would want to know.
 I was talking to the cat, not you, you idiot.
Bad guy
Distribution of Red China narcotics in the United States, collected by Number Nine and myself, comes to 2,300.000 dollars 

Two million three?  Our expectations were considerably higher, Number Eleven.
Fluffy White Cat
Miaooooow Hisss!
 You have upset my cat. Kindly explain.
Bad Guy
Well, sir, fluffy white cats are notoriously cantankerous.
I was talking about the two million three hundred thousand dollars, inbecile. Why the shortfall?
Bad guy
 Competition from Latin America. Prices are down. 
 We anticipated that factor. Oh, bugger! That really hurt, you stupid cat. 
 You have caused me to use inappropriate language for a Bond movie.
Bad guy
 We can't say 'bugger'?
No. We can put people in decompression chambers and blow them up, 
we can kill people and torture them in a thousand ingenious ways,
we can even have Jame Bond strapped with his legs apart to a table while a laser beam advances slowly on his goolies,
but we can't say Bugger! 
Bad guy.
 But Number One, you keep saying it.
That is because this stupid white cat thinks that my groin is a scratching post.
Bad guy
Do these meetings really excite you that much, Number One?
 Enough about the cat and your rude schoolboy jokes. 
Are you sure all monies have been accounted for by yourself and Number Nine?                
Bad Guy
To the penny, Number One.
On the contrary.
The seat on which the embezzling bad guy is sitting starts to glow and become radioactive.

Bad Guy in chair.
Oh bum! I should have realised this was the naughty-chair 
when you insisted I sit in it, also when you made me wear  that seatbelt.
The naughty-chair explodes or something similar and the man who sits on it is burned to a crisp.
Let that be a warning to you all. Don't sit in that chair.
Fluffy White Cat
Shut up, or I'll put you in the naughty-chair, Mr Bigglesworth. Oh god, do I have to call the cat that?
Bad Guy
 That's what Ian Flemyng wrote, Number One. So the cat has to be called Mr Bigglesworth.
 (Narrows eyes) You command me? The evil mastermind of the universe,
even with these stupid scratched-up pants?
Move to another chair, you insolent dog. That one by the window.
Bad Guy
(nervously) Er, that isn't a chair. That's a lawn mower that's been tipped upside down.
Ah, I see you are too observant for me. I have a more ingenious punishment.
Bring some sticky tape and help me to get this stupid white fur off my pants.
I cannot dominate the world even with three stolen nuclear warheads if I have white fluffy pants, it is not dignified.
James Bond enters
James Bond
 (smiles at camera) Ah, sorry I’m late for the board meeting.
 Mr Bond, you shouldn't be in this scene!
James Bond
 I couldn't resist making one of my fiendishly clever double entendre jokes.
Yes, but you only do that when you've killed someone -
 and anyway, your jokes are always shithouse.
James Bond
 This one's a beauty. (CLEARS THROAT) "You should see a doctor,Blofeld. You seem to be having trouble with your pussy."
That's it?
James Bond
Don't talk, they're still laughing in the cinema.
You risked your life, killed a whole bunch of people climbed a mountain in the sea then crawled
through ten miles of ventilation shafts just to say that?
James Bond
I had to, Blofeld. Now the future of seventies English comedy is safe.
So you see, I'm all for someone who takes the mickey out of James Bond. It's like old-fashioned Doctor Who -  
you just have to accept that it can be a bit silly at times, and go along for the ride.
So, even though I said very positive things about Andy Griffiths' books, I lied a bit. 
To be honest, I'm not sure they're helping us that much. Anyway, we had both been speaking at a lovely conference in Launcestion,
 where I apparently disgraced myself on a panel about … oh, who remembers? Except James Moloney told me I was crap, but in a nice way, for he's a nice man.
I was driven to Launceston airport, which is really more like a bus shelter, to catch my plane back to Melbourne.
I should point out that Launceston airport has just two departure gates,
so if you're actually in the departure terminal in plenty of time, you'd have to be pretty stupid to miss your flight, 
especially if you have no luggage loaded. Reader, I missed my flight. 
And it happened because Andy started talking to me and saying nice things.
He'd actually read my books, which puts him up there with about sixteen other Australians.
And then he told me what he liked about them! Praise, praise, praise. It seemed I had made a new and unlikely friend.
So, we talked about music and agreed that the best Bowie album is Hunky Dory and that Alice Cooper Goes to Hell
 is definitely underrated. So the conversation continued, with compliments spewing forth from Andy.
And not a single bum amongst them. God, I loved this guy. So articulate. So misjudged. So observant.
Sadly, I wasn't observant enough to realise that my plane home was being boarded and indeed taxiing to the runway.
By the time I realised I had missed my flight, I was awash with Andy Griffiths' compliments,
like Mr Bigglesworth's stray white fur. Then of course I had to stump up for a second air ticket.
It really wasn't that much - probably the amount I was paid for speaking at the conference - but it was worth it.
Because I got praise praise praise, as I’m sure that Dorothy Parker once said, so I apologise
to all those guys that post on Facebook and that I have been lambasting because they're so self-involved.
 (Come on, Michael, you did post a photo of yourself standing in a multi-mirrored lift,
 so what we saw was you from  every possible angle. 
Okay, so the lift was in Dubai, and you were being paid squllions to teach your books there,
 but that didn't stop it from being a crap picture of you in a lift with a camera,
 and enough reflections of you to last a lifetime.
But guess what? I forgive you all. I am you. Writers are horrendously self-involved.
I swear, a writer could actually be on fire but if you asked them how their latest book
was going they'd probably stand still for about ten minutes to tell you.
And that's why I'm going back to Facebook. I won't link to Goodreads reviews (or any reviews), 
but I'll probably post the occasional picture of me (probably not in an infinitely reflective lift) 
and have the odd gripe about things like missing the ELR/PLR deadline for The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher 
(my only reasonable seller) because I was in sodding stroke rehab. (Apparently this argument is not a valid one,
not just because of the inappropriate language. They've already done the survey,
 because of course Penguin submitted the correct publisher form, so they know how much money
I should have been paid, but I'm not going to get that money because I was selfish enough
to be swanning around a hospital with an impaired brain.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tara Moss did NOT fart at me in the shuttle bus

(Sorry about the italics and the enormous point. It's Blogger's wonderful new interface at work.)

I feel it necessary to clear the air in regard to a certain incident that occurred at the Somerset Celebration of Literature on the Gold Coast back in 2007. This particular festival of literature is one of the most prestigious on the literary calendar. Some writers (Hi, Sofie Laguna!) have even suggested that they would do this festival for free, and one can certainly see why. At the first one I attended, the writers were accommodated at a seafront hotel, which gave me the opportunity to have long romantic walks along the beach with my fellow authors. One of these involved a wonderful walk and talk with Erica Wagner, everyone's favourite publisher. She had just read I'm Being Stalked by a Moonshadow and told me how much she enjoyed it. (She was the first person to tell me that, possibly the last.) It was a truly beautiful moment until Erica got tangled up in some sort of drift-net that had found its way onto the beach. Erica's dextrous partner, Craig Smith, managed to untangle her. This is my lasting memory of the first Somerset Celebration I attended. I got invited back the following year, which is unusual because it really is the Rolls Royce of festivals, but I think I got the callback because they wanted a celebrity guest to deliver a speech on the night of the official launch dinner. I suggested Wendy Harmer, then begged her to do the gig, and Wendy accepted happily. The organisers felt they owed me for my effort (which was minimal, given that Wendy is not shy about public speaking, or indeed being accommodated in five star hotels on the Gold Coast). And this is the festival where that Tara Moss thing happened and I really feel I must apologise to Tara if I offended her.

This is how it happened. There was a shuttle bus that carried authors from their luxury accommodation to Somerset College, where the actual celebration took place. On my first ride on the bus I was accompanied by about twelve other writers, all being rowdy and excited and silly. I sat next to Phil Kettle, the writer who sounds like the start of a recipe. It was a jolly ride, and we all arrived in tip-top shape ready to speak to the kids about our work. Tara Moss was on this trip. It's kind of hard not to notice someone as tall and attractive as Tara Moss, especially when you're sitting next to Phil Kettle. I wanted to introduce myself to her, but I never got a chance to, because she was on her phone most of the time and Jack Heath kept fainting all over her (I think this was probably by mutual arrangement). Still determined to say hello to Tara, I stalked her round the Celebration, where she was either on the phone, being orbited by Jack, or sipping from a bucket of coffee, which was her constant companion. I don't know where she got it from, but she was never without it. Now, when I caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel, the only other passenger was Tara! We'd both done our sessions and were keen to get back to the lap of luxury in which we were cocooned. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor, this is just too embarrassing to worry about such things). Tara continued to talk on that scallop phone (she was meeting friends at The Versace Hotel - naturally) and to slurp from that enormous bucket of coffee. The bus crossed a bridge over what looked like an estuary. Tara finished her call. And I was just about to introduce myself when something extraordinary happened. The air in the shuttle bus was redolent with a potent fart smell. Since I wasn't responsible, and the driver was separated from us by a Perspex wall, I figured it had to be Tara. And I became so obsessed with the fact that Tara Moss had farted at me (this is an exaggeration, I have no reason to believe she actually aimed) that it became very difficult for me to engage her in conversation. My adult self kept reminding me that farting was a perfectly normal human function, especially if you're going to guzzle buckets of coffee all day, and just because Tara was overwhelmingly beautiful it didn't make her immune to the rigours of flatulence. But my schoolboy self just wanted to giggle and crack open a window. (Although my window was already open - a clue, readers.) Now, of course, a story like this only becomes funny when you tell it to someone else. And I just had to. I forget who I told, but never take an author into your confidence because they just can't help themselves. They're as discreet as The News of the World. By the end of the day, quite a few people had sympathised with me about my experience of having Austrtalia's most attractive crime writer fart at me. (The story wouldn't have spread if the farting writer had been Phil Kettle, I'm sure.) And I kept seeing Tara giving me dark looks. There was no way I could talk to her now. Someone had told her my tale. The next day on the shuttle bus I was with Dave Hackett and Jack Heath. We crossed that same bridge over the estuary and - I shudder to write this - the bus filled with fart smell again. Jack, Dave and I are smutty boys who would happily own up to being the perpetrator, but I think it was Dave who pointed out the piles of seaweed rotting under the bridge. I live in St Kilda. Every summer, sea kelp washes up on the beach and cooks in the sun. The whole town ends up smelling like a fart, becase the smell of the rotting seaweed really is that sulphurous and awful. But did I recognise it when  first smelled it on that bus? No. Did I think the fart smell in the bus might possibly have come from those piles of rotting seaeweed under the bridge? No. Instead I decided to blame the most glamorous writer in Australia. Tara, I'm really sorry, because I know someone told you that I had accused you of farting at me, when you were totally innocent of said crime. If I have another stroke I'll probably die, so it really is time for me to right some past wrongs. I would like to state, categorically, that Tara Moss did not fart at me in the shuttle bus at Somerset.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


This is nothing to do with the post but hands up who hates the new Blogger interface?

I once attended a writers' panel at the Whitsunday Voices Writers Festival. Somebody asked what was the best thing about writing, and Alison Lester, I think, replied 'Finishing'. It's an excellent answer, even if it was meant half-jokingly. Today I finished the sequel to The life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, after making all sorts of excuses for not doing it. I completed a questionnaire from one of the book blog sites recently where I was asked if I was a 'pantser' or a 'plotter'. In other words, did I start writing a novel with no real plan, in the hope that it might somehow fall into place, or did I plot carefully? I answered that I'm a mixture of both. This time, because I already had my cast of characters, along with the world they inhabit, I did less plotting than I would normally do. People who don't plot need to be tremendously lucky. They also need very good memories to realise what they have already included (or omitted to include). In the old days, when people wrote in longhand, it was absolutely necessary to plot thoroughly, but now a computer makes it possible for you to fix up many messes you might have made early on, when you didn't properly introduce a character who has magically grown in importance, or plant some vital clues that are satisfyingly revised or paid off later in the novel. h, and you akso have to tell a mildly diverting tale. You also don't need to search the shelves for a dictionary to make sure when the word 'towhead' was first used. My computer tells me that. It even tells me how to pronounce it. No wonder so many people are writing books.
A very good example of a towhead. Okay, I know it's Chord Overstreet from Glee, I don't own him  and I'll probably get asked to take him down, even though towhead is actually a nice word.
I started writing the sequel knowing what I wanted my characters to do and determined to visit someplace other than England, to give myself a sort of holiday from smog and squalor. I also wanted to write a book that stood alone and did not depend on the reading having read volume one. I think most authors strive for that, though it doesn't seem to happen very often.  think the best trilogy  have read is The Tripods by John Christopher, even if it does rip off HG Well just slightly, with the Tripods looking very much like the Martian war machines. But Wells himself was not against a little literary pilfering, so John Christopher is forgiven. This trio seemed to get more and more suspenseful as it flew along. In fact, I rather suspect that Christopher wrote all three novels as one big story, then elegantly trisected them.

 I don't own this Tripod either.

I sound like a broken record (or whatever the digital equivalent is) but I'm still trying to get over that bloody stroke I had last year, which makes it very difficult to type (even informal little chats like this) and most of the time I resort to hunting and pecking with my right hand while the left does a lousy job of changing the cases for me. So, The Teamen, which is the name of the sequel to The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher was a bugger to type. My voice recognition software, Dragon, didn't work for writing novels because I spend so long jumping back and forth through the text.

 Sorry, I don't know who you are, but you look like how I feel and my Photobooth isn't working.

Now, it's the jumping back and forth thing that caused a nightmare from which I have only just emerged. I wrote one chapter at a time and saved them as I went along, but when I stuck all the chapters together I realised that many events or runs of dialogue appeared twice. I really do blame the stroke for that. My short-term memory is crap, so I kept writing stuff I didn't need to write. In the end I had a novel full of time loops; incredibly difficult to negotiate if your memory isn’t razor-sharp.Some runs of dialogue appeared three times. Characters who had died kept turning up again - and to make matters even more confusing, the real plot does feature a few non-biblical characters who actually do that. Horrors that have been vanquished reappear all of sudden, looking surprisingly healthy. I'm a great believer in giving my characters dull, easily typed names so that I can later do a search-and-replace and thus give them more interesting ones. Only, because the book was in bits, not all of my characters had their new names. My brain felt like it was about to explode all over again. The manuscript really needed a fresh set of eyes to go through it and excise all the stuff that didn't need to be there or that made no sense. What a horrible job. My long-suffering but immensely supportive partner did it.

So I now have a sequel! The first time I've ever done a sequel to anything. And because of the stroke business, the whole 60,000 words were typed with one finger. I swear that the index finger on my right hand is now smaller than the one on my left.

What have I learned from this? The best part of writing is indeed finishing, although I know that today I will have to start work on a quirky crime script featuring my colleague and hero (can you have a colleague who's a hero?) Shaun Micallef. (Listen to the ABC talking book version of Leon Stumble's Book of Stupid Fairytales and see how funny we can be together.

Shaun Micallef, fresh from his role as Sue Sylvester's love interest in Glee.

Penguin hasn't said yes to the sequel yet. Perhaps foolishly, they want to read it before making a commitment. It will be a curious experience for me if it goes ahead as I will not be working with my usual editor, Dmetri Kakmi, who butchers my work thoroughly and always makes me look elegant. I will miss working with him. And if the book is published it won't appear until 2014, because all the slots are full next year.

But who cares? I finished. My right index finger hurts like hell and I have a massive head-ache. It is probably the last time I will write a novel so soon after a stroke, but it was something I felt I had to do, since I become even more unbearable to live with when I'm not writing. I really hope you enjoy it and that those who asked for a sequel don't mind having to wait so long before they can read it.