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25 December 2006

I'm dreaming of a...

...White Christmas...
No, wait. Not dreaming. It actually IS white. Last week it was the hottest night on record ever for Melbourne. Today our backyard is white with hail. It's freezing!

Merry Christmas, one and all!

23 December 2006

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Colour me underwhelmed.

What is a Hallow, anyway?

Christmas Comes Early

So. Excited.

(and it's on my birthday, too!)

18 December 2006

Christmas Fun for All the Family

I stole this idea from someone else's blog, but I cannot for the life of me remember which or whose. So apologies, whoever you are, and thanks.

I had some very dear friends over for a pre-Christmas Christmas dinner on the weekend: pudding, turkey, ham, singing - the lot. And with each Christmas cracker, each friend got a little parcel full of crafty items like googly eyes, ribbon, bells and pipe-cleaners. And they had to use all these things, PLUS whatever they got in their cracker, to make their Christmas Hats. Here are the results, with apologies for some really terrible photography:

Byron, "Suspended Babies":

Canoe, "Watching Bingo":

Jelly, "Jungle Dominos":

The Munkey "Googly Altar":

Snazzalicious "Cannibal Baby Throne":

and yours truly, "House of Eliot, Kindergarten Style"
Merry Christmas!


It's not every day you meet a real live action figure. But today, we State Library staff were lucky enough for this lady to come and speak to us:

Her name is Nancy Pearl, and she is much better looking in real life. Her action figure outsells Beethoven's, Mozart's and Jesus'. Nancy is probably the most famous librarian in the world.

She talks about reading. More specifically, how to recommend books to people. The right books. This is what I learnt:

Don’t recommend books you love, just because you love them. Everyone has different taste.

So how do you know what to suggest?

Ask them this question: “tell me about a book you liked”. Don’t ask what the book is about, that’s a different question. The way that they answer will tell you a lot about what sort of thing they're looking for. Did they say "I couldn't put it down" or "I felt like I had always known the main character" or "It was like I was really there" or "it was just so beautifully written"?

Nancy says that there are 4 doors into reading: Story, Character, Setting and Language. People generally tend to enter books through one of those doors. If you enter through Story, then chances are you’ll enjoy other books that are primarily Story. Like The Da Vinci Code. Or Harry Potter. Or Stephen King.

Character readers will like Georgette Heyer, biographies, Bridget Jones.

Setting readers might like Bernard Cornwell. Or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Or William Gibson. Much fantasy falls into this category.

Language books have the smallest readership, but win the most awards. Here you’ll find A S Byatt, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Margaret Atwood. I’d also argue that you’d find Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde and PG Wodehouse here, too.

Some people might read, say, Master and Commander because they are a Character reader, and love the relationship between Aubrey and whatsisname (you know. Paul Bettany). But a Setting reader loves it because of the boats and the water and the history.

There are of course authors like Jane Austen and Tim Winton who have four equally sized doors. This is because they are awfully clever.

Try it. Write down five books you love, and figure out what door(s) you generally enter through. Here are mine.

  1. The Last Samurai (Language, Character)
  2. Alice in Wonderland (Setting)
  3. Fire and Hemlock (Character, Story)
  4. Love that Dog (Language)
  5. Skellig (Language)

(This surprises me. I would have said I was more of a Story person.)

12 December 2006

Tis the Season

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
Neither. Don’t like dairy beverages.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Is there somewhere in the world where Santa doesn’t wrap presents? I mean, I know, the trees… but really...

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
I don’t think we have mistletoe in Australia (goes off to google). It’s a parasite! Spread around by the Mistle Thrush (I shit you not). We do have it in Australia: more than 240 species of birds that nest in foliage in Australia have been recorded nesting in mistletoe, representing more than 75% of the resident avifauna. (from wikipedia). The Norse God Baldur was killed with a weapon made from mistletoe. It is also known as the “vampire plant”.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
Some time in the first week of December, and leave them up until Twelfth Night.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Everything. Turkey. Stuffing. Bread sauce. Gravy. Biodynamic organic ham. pudding on fire with rum custard. mince pies. trifle.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
Putting up the Christmas tree listening to A Disney Family Christmas on CD. I still do this every year.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I barged in on my mother in the shower, aged 7, and demanded that she had to tell me the truth. She said she couldn’t lie to me.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
Fairy lights, gold and red baubles, and lots of little bits and pieces collected over the years. Most recent additions: a Tweedledee and Tweedledum from the Sheep Shop in Oxford, and a glittery little HMS Victory from St Paul’s.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Love it. Unfortunately not much of it around in Australia in December. But I did have one beautiful white Christmas in the Japanese mountains at a hot springs resort one year… but really, I like the complete incongruity of eating pudding and roast beast when it’s 36 degrees outside…

12. Can you ice skate?
Yes, but not very well. I don’t really see much point in going round and round in circles until some fat kid barrels into you and knocks you down.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
My grandpa hand-made me an amazing dollshouse one year. Later on, my parents made me give it to my younger cousins, and they trashed it and left it out on their porch in the rain. I rescued it, and spent a large part of my last year of high school lovingly restoring it*. It now has fancy tiny wallpaper and tiny plaster ceiling roses and a fireplace that really lights up.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Food. Also family, but only if there’s food.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
Pudding. We make ours in November, and I regularly open them up and pour in more rum. They are deadly.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Making a full traditional Christmas dinner for my friends the week before Christmas, where we sing carols, drink far too much and watch The Muppet Christmas Carol.

17. What tops your tree?
A red and gold angel called Poppet Fancypants. Last year a spider crawled up her skirt and made a nest.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
Giving. I know that sounds very selfless of me, but it’s really all about me. I love the praise when I pick the perfect present. I also like wrapping things fancily.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
Favourite Carol is O Holy Night. Favourite songs are Sleigh Ride, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and One More Sleep Til Christmas.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?
I like them in theory. But they give me a tummy ache.

(I stole this meme from a number of people. You know who you are.)

*That makes me sound like I was very boring in Year 12. For the record: I also had a boyfriend, went out nearly every weekend and drank a reasonable amount of beer. See? You can be cool and interested in Craft at the same time. True story.

09 December 2006

Smoke and Sesame

There's something very unnerving about the smell of bushfire smoke. It's 37 degrees celsius today, and 170 000 hectares of Victoria are on fire. It's not a cloudy day, but you can't see the sky for smoke. It's setting off people's smoke alarms even in the inner city.

I'm trying to put the finishing touches on this last draft of my novel, but it's hard when it's so hot, and the smoke is making my eyes water.

So I thought I'd take a minute to say a few words about a documentary I watched recently, called The World According to Sesame Street.

It's about all the different versions of Sesame Street all over the world - there are 120 - and how Sesame Street tries to provide education to all kids - not just ones in privileged countries.

It was a seriously revolutionary idea, back in 1968, that TV could actually teach kids stuff. Joan Ganz Cooney had the wacky thought that you could use advertising techniques to help kids learn, "instead of selling them soda or candy, we're selling them the alphabet". She approached Jim Henson to come on board with his Muppets, and an international sensation was born. 4134 episodes (and 109 Emmys) of American Sesame Street later, it's one of the most successful, popular, critically acclaimed and long-running TV shows of all time.

It seems an incredibly un-American thing, the way that Sesame Workshop works with other countries to form a new, unique Sesame Street, tailor-made to appeal to the kids of that country. Whether it's incorporating traditional hand-puppets in the Bangladeshi Sisimpur, or introducing Kami, an HIV positive muppet in South Africa's Takalani Sesame, or exploring race relations and promoting tolerance in Kosovo's Rruga Sesam (Albanian) and Ulica Sezam (Serbian). This isn't about imposing American popular culture on the rest of the world, it's about taking a good idea and adapting it to suit each country's requirements.

"The only kids who can identify along racial lines with the Muppets have to be either green or orange."
--Jim Henson

The documentary itself wasn't fantastic. There was far too much footage of grownups in meetings, and not nearly enough of kids, and how watching Sesame Street has influenced them.

I read a great story about an Israeli/Palestinian Sesame pilot, in Jim Henson's time. They asked some Israeli children what they would do if they saw a Palestinian child in their street. The kids replied "I would throw stones at him". They showed the kids this Sesame pilot, and asked the same question. The kids replied "I would go and play with him".

It's these sorts of stories that give you hope for the future. And brilliant documentary or no, I spent most of The World According to Sesame Street with tears running down my face.

You rock, Sesame Workshop people. You are doing more for our children and their future than any politician is.

07 December 2006

Text Appeal

We held our first literary speed dating event last night, and it rocked.

50 people of all ages, temperaments, genders and sexual orientation came in and met new people, drank some wine and talked about books.

The vibe was amazing. Really amazing. It felt like we were doing a really good thing - bringing people together over their love of literature. Isn't that what it's all about, folks?

Anyway, we're tallying the responses today and hopefully we'll have some bona fide romances!

For the interested, here is the list of what books everyone brought:

Housekeeping by M Robinson
Everyday Zen by C Joko Beck
Archy's Life of Mehitabel by Don Marquis
Third Reich by R J Evans
Magician by R Feist
Story of O by P Reage (yeah, someone really brought it)
Michael Palin: Diaries
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by J S Foer
Norwegian Wood by H Murakami
Give the Anarchist a Cigarette by M Farren
On the Ceiling by E Chevillard
The Family of Man by E Steichen
The Rattle Bag by T Hughes
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
A Merry Dance Around the Work by Eric Newby
The Time Traveller's Wife by A Niffenegger
Daywalks around Melbourne
Metamorphosis by F Kafka
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelley
On Beauty by Z Smith
Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
About a Boy by Nick Hornby
The Kinky Friedman Crime Club by K Friedman
The Accidental by A Smith
Slaughterhouse 5 by K Vonnegut
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
The Plague by Albert Camus
Venetian Stories by J T Rylands
The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo
Bravemouth by P Stevenson
The Broken Shore by P Temple
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
Every Day a New Beginning by S Dowrick
My Brother Jack by G Johnston
THUD by T Pratchett
The Little Prince by A Saint-Exupery
Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith
The Hero and the Crown by R McKinley
The Passion by J Winterson
The Inheritance of Loss by K Desai
The Telling by U LeGuin
Momo by Michael Ende

04 December 2006

Stella Gibbons's novel Cold Comfort Farm is a masterpiece

That's the opening line of this article in the Guardian.

And it is so very, very true.

Cold Comfort Farm is one of my very most favouritest books. I have no idea why it isn't on my books interests thing for this blog. I must rectify that.

If you have seen the film, but not read the book: forget about the film. The film is a light, insubstantial piece of cinematic fluff. The book is a hilarious, biting satire that really, really is a masterpiece.

I was first introduced to CCF via a radio play which my Mum bought me on cassette. It was very funny, so I bought the book.

The thing that neither radio play nor film mention, is that CCF is set in the future. Except it was written in 1932, but set maybe in the 40s. Stella predicted video-phones (but only in public phone boxes, and mostly people still send telegrams), air-taxis (but most people still travel by horse-and-buggy or car), and World War Two (but only in a brief mention). It's quite confusing, because everything else about the novel is very vintagely 30s. It's also fascinating and hilarous.

So go read it. Please. And if possible, read it out loud to a friend. With funny voices.

(some favourite moments)

'It is quite unneccesary for a young woman to resemble St Francis of Assisi. And in your case it would be downright suicidal.'

Aunt Ada Doom: I saw something nasty in the woodshed!
Mr Neck: Did it see you?

Flora: I think if I find that I have any cousins called Seth or Rueben, I shall decide not to go.
Mary: Why?
Flora: Because highly sexed young men living on farms are nearly always called Seth or Rueben. And it would be such a nuisance!

02 December 2006

How to Edit Your Novel

8am: get out of bed, eat breakfast, shower, read some book (not mine).

9am: sit down in front of computer.

9:01: check email

9:05: bid on camper boots on ebay

9:08: check bloglines

9:30 check work email

9:31 open word document containing novel

9:32 get on research tangent involving wikipedia

10:00 morning tea. read book (not mine).

10:30 discuss colour of skirting boards with father

10:35 play with puppy

10:45 sit down in front of computer

10:46 check email, bloglines, work email and ebay items again

11:05 check christmas music in iTunes - create playlist

11:15 look at novel. feel sick.

11:17 do word count. feel better.

11:19 talk to mother about how many mince pies will need to be made this year

11:30 clean bedroom

12:30 lunch. read book (not mine).

1:00 think about decorating new flat. pull out things to be framed.

1:30 go to framing shop to discuss framing

2:30 go and look in bookshop. don't have my book. scowl at innocent shop assistant.

3:00 inspect skirting boards at new flat. approve of new colour.

3:15 back home, afternoon tea (cake). read book (not mine).

3:30 check email, bloglines, work email. have won ebay item. do paypal thing.

3:45 get christmas tree down from shed annexe.

4:00 put up christmas tree. listen to frank sinatra and disney christmas mix.

5:00 sit down at computer. open novel. check that all chapter headings are formatted the same.

5:30 decide to make timeline. look around for biro.

5:45 find biro.

6:00 write "timeline" at top of blank sheet of paper.

6:03 chew biro

6:04 fill mouth with ink.

6:20 emerge from bathroom, tasting listerine.

6:21 mother announces dinner is ready.

7:00 watch abc news.

7:30 play with puppy.

8:00 write stupid blog post.

8:15 ??? we shall see...