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Blog 2017-04-09T07:15:17+00:00

The Supanova Tribe

Many years ago, I was on the bus with my husband, when a young girl tapped me on my shoulder and gushed that she absolutely loved my outfit. I blushed and glanced down to remind myself of what I was wearing. It wasn’t anything special. A white denim short dress with lots of stud buttons and knee-high leather boots. Oh, and I was carrying a frilly black and yellow parasol with a delicate, cane handle (because Chinese women are very sun-conscious).

‘Who are you meant to be?’ she asked.

I was completely thrown by her question. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my husband smirking. Then it dawned on me. It was the weekend of the Supanova convention, the bus I was riding was headed towards the convention grounds. She thought I was a cosplayer on my way to the exhibition.

I mumbled the name of a random anime character, the bus pulled over, my husband and I jumped off - to do our grocery shopping because that’s where we were headed, and I was dressed like that because that is what I normally wear.

It’s not an incident I’m likely to forget. My husband still brings it up every year when I’m cleaning out my wardrobe and I ask his advice over a particular item of clothing.

‘Remember the cosplay incident,’ he’d nod sagely and that would be enough to toss the questionable top, dress or skirt-that-could-also-work-as-a-belt in the donations pile.  

Part of me wished I had followed the band of cosplayers that day, but there was no time in my life for Supanova. I had just returned to uni to study animation and was still working as a pharmacist. I was both Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, propelling around blind corners at neck breaking speed and drawing up intricate plans to slow down.

 

Fast forward ten years.

There is still no time in my life for Supanova yet I am here. Stretching out my Rock On Kitty banner in a book stall I’d set up with two fellow writer friends Marissa Price and Emily Cooney. My picture book The Stolen Button had been released and I was here to promote it, along with my older titles. I am not in costume but if I was, I’d be Eliza Doolittle with a mouth full of marbles. 

Maleficent gives me a withering look because I compliment her horns and make a lame joke about spinning wheels but mostly because she is Hela from Thor: Ragnorak. I mistake Hufflepuffs for Slytherins (They are not as good-natured as they’re cracked up to be). I fake an impressed expression when a customer proudly shows me a signed photograph of her with a celebrity I don’t recognise. When she leaves, I ask one of my friends to identify the geriatric in the photo.

‘‘That’s Peter Capaldi.’ My face must still look blank because she adds, ‘‘From Dr Who.’

I knew these facts once upon a time, maybe not these specific details exactly. I gave up on the doctors after David Tennant. And I don’t really count Hufflepuff as a house seeing they were just the leftover kids who didn’t sort into the other houses. What I mean is that I once obsessed with intricate details about the characters and the worlds of similar tv shows and films.

Even though I sold quite a few books that weekend, I couldn’t shake the unsettled feeling that I’d lost something important along the way to adulting. I realise finally what it is when a Belle asks me what The Stolen Button is about.

‘It’s a dark fairytale set on the Silk Road. It’s about a young girl who disobeys her mother, runs away to the circus and gets lost in the mirror maze. There she meets a gypsy who offers to take her home in exchange for her belly button.’

I wait for Belle to nod politely before proceeding to flick through the pages and gush over the illustrations (because Leila Honari’s artwork is truly amazing).

‘I hate fairy tales with happy endings,’ she confides and launches into a rant about her favourite fractured version of The Little Mermaid. A lot of writers (and readers) are drawn to this tale, possibly because Disney has directly gone against Hans Christian Anderson’s original ending, leaving a lot of scope for re-interpretations. Also, as far as mythological creatures go, the mammal-fish hybrid never gets old. There are endless combinations. If the little mermaid is a top-half fish, would she eat all her children? Is morning breath not an issue because she already smells so fishy?

We’re in the middle of a lively discussion when it dawns on me. Belle will like The Stolen Button. All of the people who bought books of me today will enjoy the story. I know this as surely as I know my own tastes and sensibilities because I have found my tribe.

It does not matter that I do not know Peter Capaldi. The common ground between me, Belle, Hela/Maleficent and all the Slytherin-wanna-bes is a love of story.

You may think this is no big deal. A lot of people profess to love a certain film, book, game. But not everyone gets bedsores from spending three straight days in bed because they could not put a down a novel. And afterwards, mope about the house in a state of  mono no aware because the story has ended. Not everyone pulls a sickie because they’re binge watching a show on Netflix. Nor do they write fan fiction, draw fan art, cover their bodies in toxic paint in the name of role playing. All to enrich their experience of a particular story.

Finding my tribe fills me with a sense of contentment. Adulting remains the biggest, time drain of my life. Paying off the mortgage and raising children may be the responsible thing to do, but it comes with side effect of growing up. Curtailing activities that seem frivolous, extravagant and immature. I watch a five year old Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles giggle as he sneaks up on a fellow doppelganger. Bowser pretends to cower as a random Mario mocks stomping him. A cute husband and wife pair dressed in matching Ghostbusters outfits tell me that in preparing for Supanova, people had insisted the wife’s costume adhered to the 2016 film… because there were no female ghostbusters before this time. Riiight. Time to start planning my Supanova costume for next year.


Read this! Quickly!

Good news everyone. You know how your life is incredibly busy and you don’t have time to do the things you know are good for you? Things like doing your tax return, going to the gym, reading a book. While I can’t help out with the first two problems, I’ve solved the third by compiling a list of quick reads. You won’t find shorter stories unless you’re into haikus or twitterverses. I’m talking of course about picture books, stories ostensibly for kids, but hidden in this form are sooooo many literary gems for adults. Incidentally I discovered all five books on this list at the Brisbane City Council library… although if you read it and love it, consider ordering a copy from your local book shop because they would make fabulous Christmas presents.

First on my list… I Want My Hat Back by John Klaasen. A bear loses his hat and wants it back. Sounds simple right? But as the bear goes around questioning the other animals, his dead eyes bore into you and the minimalistic dialogue becomes deliberately and hilarious. My one year old son didn’t agree with me so while I was rolling around on the floor cackling, he wandered off in search for quality literature (Grug) (PFfttttt!)

Another gorgeous find is They All Saw The Cat by Brendan Wenzel. This is probably the cleverest picture book I’ve read in a long time. By ‘read’ I mean the reading of images as well as words. With one simple, lyrical phrase ‘The cat walked through the world with its whiskers, ears and paws…’ Wenzel illustrates beautifully how perspectives shape what we see.

The third book on my list is actually one that my son and I enjoyed together. That’s not a hippopotamus by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis is definitely a picture book for little ones but I think it brings out the animator in me. The illustrations appear to move on the page. Davis’ cast of school kids have weight and rhythm as they dash around around a zoo looking for the missing hippopotamus. And the rhyme is playful and addictive.

‘I’ve got him, Miss! A lot amiss! A missing hippopotamus!’

I was chanting the rhyme in my head hours after putting down the book.

The White Cat and the Monk is a retelling of an old Irish poem. This is more of a graphic novel than a picture book in terms of its layout, but like the other books on this list, the words are poignant for all it is sparingly applied. It tells the story of a Monk and his cat as they go about their day; the former studies while the latter catch mice and explore the abby.

And the fifth book is not actually one book, but general recommendations of picture books for adults, If you like this type of work, Oliver Jeffers is an author/ illustrator to check out. His books are a little too syrupy for my liking but he has definitely got the charm factor. The Boss Baby by Maria Frazee (the book came out before the movie!) is a clever, tongue-in-cheek story that every new parent should read. Pretty much anything by Maurice Sendak and Shaun Tan needs to be 

consumed immediately. I’m excluding Go The Fuck To Sleep by Adam Mansbach from my list just because it is already on every single list of ‘picture books for adults. I’m also excluding picture books with higher word counts (such as the fairytale works of Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell). While I do enjoy picture books for older readers with more complex language, this list is all about quick reads, the art of being sparing with words but still convey powerful messages.


Carry On (Book review)

Fanception by Valeria Bogado Cravero

Every once in awhile comes a novel that stops my life. When you’re a Reader, all books are pretty exciting but there is a special subset of stories that drags you inside their world and releases you three days later into a paler reality. It happened to me after the seventh Harry Potter book (I walked, I talked, I went to work but I was dead on the inside). It happens every time I read a Patrick Ness book. And it happened recently when I read Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On.

 

Carry On is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy about Simon Snow, the ‘worse Chosen One that has ever been chosen.’ So says his evil, vampire roommate Baz who is constantly plotting his demise. Fortunately, Simon has on his side the competent Penelope Bunce, who does a lot of the magickal, heavy lifting when it comes to defeating his ultimate nemesis - the magick sucking villain, the Insidious Humdrum.

 

If these characters sound eerily familiar, then you’ve probably read (or at least heard of) the popular Harry Potter-Malfoy pairing in fanfiction. Carry On is a divisive novel. Some critics pan it as subpar Harry Potter fanfiction. Rowell stated that the idea for the Simon Snow/ Baz romance came from attending a Comic Con event about ‘Drarry’ fanfiction.

Personally I love Carry On, even more for its heavy Harry Potter references. There are some obvious parallels in characterisation - Simon Snow’s humility and goodness makes him one of the duller characters of the ensemble (much like Harry Potter compared to richer characters like Snape and Dumbledore). Penelope Bunce’s intelligence and loyalty sets her up as  the ‘Hermione’ of the group. But these similarities are necessary to set up the link between her book and the series, in order to subvert the fantasy tropes, something that Rowell does extremely well.

For instance, the magic system in Carry On relies on the power of words. ‘There’s nothing in our world more powerful than nursery rhymes- the poems that people learn as kids, then get stuck in their brains forever. A powerful mage can turn back an army with Humpty Dumpty.’

Now that is a magic system that makes sense, not faux-latin Expecto Patronum chants. Where is the power in a dead language that only few understand?

 

Surprisingly, I loved the romance between Simon and Baz. I don’t usually read romance genre. I was bored by Outlander (both book and TV series). But this is Rainbow Rowell , master craftswoman. She worked that sexy nemesis trope and I bought every word. I swooned, I sighed, I thought illogical thoughts (There’s nothing dreamier than a brooding, vampire wizard) (I seriously hate brooders).

If there is one fault with the story, it is that it doesn’t execute the hero’s quest  in the masterful way of other fantasy writers.The mystery of how to defeat the Insidious Humdrum is a little underwhelming. The Chosen One spends more time mooning about Baz than trying to save the world. The book struggles in places to balance the adventure and romance elements.

Regardless, Carry On gets five stars from me. After exhausting my loan at the public library, I promptly popped down to my local Dymocks to purchase my own copy. (Finding room for it on my bookshelf is a problem for another day).

I have now recovered sufficiently to endeavor to read a new novel. What shiny new books are you reading at the moment? Is it a hit, miss or bookmark for another day?


Limerence, PhD and the Qld Literary Awards Shortlist

Once upon a time, I completed a PhD in transmedia writing. Those were halcyon days – the earnest-to-the-point-of-wanking, intellectual discussions with academics (first year), swanning around in coffee shops thinking passionately about my research (second year), taking up writing fan fiction and trying to convince my husband that this was a valid career pathway (the end is nigh) and then finally sitting down in front of the computer and pumping out my thesis (final six months) (A good motivation technique I learnt is to get pregnant as the extra weight really makes sitting down appealing).

In the aftermath, I was gutted (quite literally as I had a caesarean). I couldn’t much process what my PhD meant, how I felt about it, and where to from here. I didn’t think much about my work until last week when I found out it had been shortlisted for the QUT Digital Literature Award.

https://www.qldliteraryawards.org.au/about/shortlists

My PhD is a practice-based research project, meaning it consists of a studio component as well as a thesis. The studio component (the part that has been shortlisted for a Queensland Literary Award) is a story application designed for the tablet called Limerence. It is way more experimental than anything I have ever done. Limerence is a fragmented story about love, friendship, and social connections in cyberspace. The story application is designed for the tablet and is a commentary on the way our culture digests media—the way that media has been embedded into our daily lives, our guilty, voyeuristic pleasure, and our addiction to being online.

The story application is available for free here: httpss://appsto.re/au/ctjKdb.i

It is compatible with iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, iPad Mini 2 and iPad Pro.

 

Both Limerence and the accompanying thesis investigated how writers should approach interactivity when designing digital literature. I basically came up with a new framework called the ‘transmedia triangle’ which showed that there are three types of interaction: gaming, filmic and reading.

Most interactive narrative works borrow heavily from gaming types of interactivity but for readers, we should be designing towards ‘readerly’ interactivity. I won’t focus on any details here but anyone interested can read my 58,000 word thesis which is now online:

httpss://www120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/items/25e4fa82-4805-4755-9400-544c530ea805/1/

 

The winners of the Queensland Literary Awards will be announced in early October. Needless to say, I am super pleased to be included among such talented digital writers as Mez Breeze, Jason Nelson, Pascalle Burton, David Wright, Karen Lowry and Julia Lane.

And as always, a big thank you to my superstars James Warr (my rock!) and Andi Spark (my diamond!)

 


The Stolen Button Update

Thank you everyone who pledged, shared and supported our Kickstarter campaign for the Stolen Button. Leila and I were blown away by all the encouragement, especially the messages of support which came from strangers around the world. We’d never thought our project would have such a wide reach.

I’ve been pretty quiet for the past couple of months – recovering from running the campaign but mostly from working on the layout. Which I’ve finally sent to the printers! The expected date of arrival for the books is mid-October. I will be busy in the coming weeks getting the rest of the rewards ready.