Articles for the Month of June 2010

Coup d’etat in Australia?

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Without an election, or even much drama, we have a new prime minister today. Julia Gillard, who will be Australia’s first female prime minister, took over from Kevin Rudd in a “bloodless coup“. Not as exciting as it sounds – it was actually a planned leadership vote in the Labor party, and Rudd stood down quietly to allow Gillard to take power. Not exactly a Carribean coup d’état.

It’s probably a good thing, especially for a middle class socialist like myself. Rudd was plummeting in popularity – he was ineffective in getting the Labor message out there and pretty effective at being a dickhead. And it certainly won’t hurt blokey Australia to have a woman running things for a while.

But most of all, it is good news because Gillard may be the only hope to keep this guy from taking power after the next election:

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This budgie smuggling buffoon is Tony Abbott, the bastard child of George W Bush and Sarah Palin. And the leader of the opposition Liberal Party.

“Laugh and think, this is Australia.”

It’s a shame about Rudd, but I have been impressed this week with Labour Environment Minister, and former Midnight Oil frontman, Peter Garrett. Want to know why? Check out my monthly post at The Greenists.

Images:

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One for Daddy-O

I totally forgot that yesterday was Father’s Day in much of the Northern Hemisphere* until I saw PostSecret’s “Father’s Day Secrets“. And then I got all sappy and teary-eyed. As you do.

Especially over these ones:

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That last one, in particular, got to me. I’ve noticed lately, particularly with Boy Z, this primal need for recognition from his Dad. We do swimming lessons on a Sunday morning. After the rush of pride over seeing him swim on his own for the first few times, it starts to get a bit redundant. Boy Z floundering through the water up the lane. Boy Z floundering down the lane. Sometimes, midway through the class, I reach for my iPod  for a quick game of solitaire to while the time away. But inevitably, Boy Z looks up with a smile whenever he passes me to make sure I’m watching. To make sure I’m bursting with paternal pride.

As you do.

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Because apparently, for a nearly three year old boy, paternal recognition/pride is as important as three squares a day. And it isn’t just the near three year old. These days, Not Max makes sure to make eye contact with me before he pulls plates full of food off the table. I can see that this business of raising boys is just chock full of paternal responsibilities of which I never even conceived.

So there you go. Happy belated Fathers’ Day to all you Northern Hemisphere dads who have spent countless Sunday mornings bursting with paternal pride – genuine or adequately feigned. Especially to my Dad, who has photographic evidence of his presence in the bleachers.

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Based on the relative position of ball and bat/glove in these photos, he must have gotten pretty good at feigning pride.

‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see

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I was feeding Not Max his dinner last night listening to some music, as you do, when the inimitable opening chords of “Free Bird” came on the iPod stereo. “Free Bird” is currently on my iPod because I’ve been watching the outstanding, if slightly raunchy, ‘Californication‘ lately on my commute to work. The song plays a pretty pivotal role in one of the episodes in the second season and since then I’ve had a hankering for some Skynyrd.

But when it came on last night I was reaching to skip the track, thinking that Not Max would probably not consider it the best dining music. But as Gary Rossington’s slide guitar chimed in with Roosevelt Gook’s mellotron, Not Max looked up, cocked his head, smiled and started beating on the table in apparent ecstasy.

I said to Not Max, “Really, Not Max? ‘Free Bird‘? Why?”

To which Not Max replied with more vigorous table smacking. And the longer that very long song went on, the more fervent the table beating became.

“Well, Not Max”, I said, “I guess we’ll turn it up.”

And really, the better question is: Why not ‘Free Bird’?

Fly on, Not Max.

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Solomon falls on his face in love with me

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Allie Larkin is a blogger and the co-founder of The Greenists. She’s also a friend of mine in that sort of odd, social media generation, never actually met her sort of way.

More auspiciously, however, her debut novel “STAY” is being released this week by Dutton.

I got my review copy last week but before I could get into it, Dr. O’C snatched it up and devoured it over the weekend. She declared it an ideal beach book, so good timing for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere.

Once I got my turn, I read a bit more slowly, I like to savour my books. And while Dr. O’C is right in a sense – I think there’s a lot more to it than, say, the latest Sophie Kinsella effort. (Not that I know too much about the genre. What?)

Allie writes with a precision and a dedication to detail that sucks the reader into her world. She’s got a gift for dialogue and bringing her characters to life. The musical references that pepper the book really add to it for me, almost like a soundtrack for the story. And if you’re a dog lover, or like me a dog lover temporarily without a dog, it’s an absolutely heart warming story. Makes me think it’s time to get another dog.

Most of all, however, it’s a ripping good yarn.

In short, if you’re looking for a great summer read then STAY would be a great place to start. It’s out Thursday, but you can pre-order by clicking the little ad over there on the right.

Allie was also kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for me, largely about the craft of writing:

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AFM: I would be willing to bet that a majority of my readers – including myself if I’m being honest – would love to be sitting where you are. First novel finished, picked up by a major publisher. So, how do you do it? How do you decide to write a book and then carry it out?

AL: The characters and the story really kept me going. STAY started as a short story, and I hadn’t originally intended to write it as a novel, but I kept wanting to know more about the characters. Not finishing the book would have been like watching half of a movie you’re completely enjoying. I needed that sense of completion to the story.

AFM: I was talking to another author friend of mine the other day about the ritual (or lack thereof) of writing. Do you have a special place where you write? Pen or computer? Music or silence?

AL: I go through phases and rotate through work stations (my desk, couch, reading chair, kitchen table, lawn chair, bed) depending on my mood. I write on a computer for the majority of what I do, although, if I’m doing writing exercises, I like to write in pencil on paper.

I set up playlists for my main characters when I write. The playlists are a combination of music my character would like, and music that somehow makes me think of the story. It’s a great way to snap into writing mode and put myself in the right mindset for my character. When I first heard the song On Your Side by Pete Yorn, it made me think of Van’s relationship with Peter, so it went on the playlist. When I worked on some of the Van/Peter scenes I would listen to the song to put things in context for me. But in the last few rounds of revisions, I couldn’t listen to anything (and neighbourhood noises drove me nuts). Even the smallest change that I made had to be carried out through the entire storyline, so it’s like doing a 300+ page word puzzle. Anything that pulled my mind away from the process was hard to manage. I wish I had a sound proof room for that stage of the game.

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AFM: For you, is blogging helpful for ‘proper’ writing or a distraction?

AL: Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are so helpful. I don’t have coworkers in the traditional sense. There’s no one to chat with in the break room. Being able to have a sense of community and a way to reach out to people on a daily basis while I’m working by myself is amazing. Of course it’s easy to procrastinate and get sucked in to spending too much time in the wrong direction, so I have to be disciplined about how I spend my time. But I think the chance to connect with people like you and the other Greenists and bloggers I’ve been following for years, adds so much to my life, and I really appreciate that connection.

AFM: One piece of advice for a fledgling author with a book in his or her head?

AL: Get your butt in the chair and start writing. Little deadlines are best. I work with a writing group. The first few drafts of STAY were written at a rate of eight pages a week that were due for my group meetings. That writing rate was a very good pace for me at that stage in the game. It was doable, even with work and other responsibilities that took up a lot of time. And I think that’s a stumbling block for a lot of writers. The blank page is scary and the idea of writing a whole entire book gets overwhelming very quickly. Don’t sit down and expect to write your book in a week. Allow yourself to outline, or write badly, or storyboard, or whatever you need to do to sketch out a first draft. Then go back and edit. Know that you will need to go through many drafts. Know that it will take you time. And make sure you like your characters enough to spend that much time with them.

BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott is an amazing book about the writing process, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to write. I read it several times while I was writing STAY, and found helpful advice at every stage of the process.

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After you have a solid, polished draft, start doing research on how to submit work and how the publishing industry works. I found AgentQuery.com particularly helpful. But don’t get ahead of yourself. You can’t submit until you have finished work anyway, so finish something before you clog your head with all that other stuff.

AFM: Who is your favourite living author? Who most inspired your writing style?

AL: Oh wow! Hard question! I have many favoured authors. And one of the coolest things for me about this whole process is the authors who have come through with advice, support, and kind words about my book. They are people I’ve admired for a long time as a reader, and I am in awe of their kindness.

I’ve always loved women’s fiction. From Willa Cather to Claire Cook, I love stories about strong women who are trying to figure out who they are and what choices they need to make in their lives. And I’ve always read those stories voraciously. I also grew up reading any Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and Pat Conroy book I could get my hands on, and I know that sense of story and a love of complex characters influences my work as well.

AFM: And finally, the obvious one: what’s next? Have you started working on your second book? Any hints as to what we can expect?

AL: I am working on something new with completely new characters. It’s still in the early stages, so I don’t want to say too much. I’d also love to revisit the characters from STAY some day. Van is one of my favourite imaginary people.

Allie Larkin’s debut novel STAY is out Thursday and available at a bookstore near you, or from Amazon.

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Belly was Throwing Muse Tanya Donelly’s brief solo project in the early 90’s. I had almost completely forgotten about Belly until stumbling on “Star” while browsing through eMusic a wee while back. Listening to”Star” after more than a decade was good fun. It’s not the best album of that period of time, not even the best dreamy girl rock band album of that period of time, but there are a few good tracks on “Star”. This is why I like eMusic, you can find albums that you may not want to pay iTunes or CD prices for, but would be willing to shell out a few bucks for on a whim.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

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It is winter in Australia which means that it is football season it Australia. And by football, I don’t mean steroid stuffed giants in full body armor standing around for three plus hours, nor overpaid Brazilians kicking a round ball around for an hour and a half in the quest for a nil-nil draw. No, I’m talking about that odd game that you may have seen during a spell of insomnia that involves thirty skinny Australians occasionally kicking a rugby ball in between bouts of beating the crap out of each other.

Ah, footy. For a couple of years now, I’ve been trying to develop a passion for the game with only minimal success. Why bother, you sensibly ask? A couple of good reasons. First of all, tea time conversation topics. I work for a pretty ‘blokey’ school and was advised early on in my employment to choose a team as it would make Monday morning tea conversations flow a lot more easily.

True that. Most of the words bouncing around the walls of the tea room on Monday morning are ones like ‘Crows‘, ‘Power‘, ‘Cats‘, ‘Magpies‘, and so on. Over the last couple of years I’ve been able to learn the jargon well enough to feign interest, but I still don’t care that much about who’s atop the ladder or the weekly Crows crisis.

Secondly, and more importantly, I’m on a mission to give my kids a true blue upbringing despite being the children of immigrants. They’re boys. Aussie boys like sports. Aussie sports are cricket and footy (at least in SA and Victoria). Now we’ve got no problem with cricket, I took to cricket straightaway. It’s baseball, more or less, so no problems. (No worries.)

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But this damned football, or footy as the locals call it, is just a bit too bizarre for my taste. Far too much punting. And I don’t understand why they haven’t developed the forward pass. I mean, I know Australia tends to lag a bit behind their North American and European cousins in adopting technology, but the forward pass has been around since 1906.

Whatever. We need a team. How to pick a team if you don’t really care for the game? Well, I figured it out – let the kid decide.

Now, without getting too inside footy, we’ve got a couple of AFL (major league) clubs in Adelaide – the Crows and the Power – both of whom suck. They also play in one of the worst stadiums I’ve ever seen and charge an obscene amount of money to sit in the rain and watch bad teams lose badly.

But we’ve also got the South Australian National Football League, a collection of local teams that would be kind of homologous to a AAA baseball league. They play at smaller ovals around the city, charge $10 for adults and nothing for kids and, best of all, let you go out on the pitch during the quarter breaks and kick your ball around. The latter, for a two year old, is the clincher.

A couple of weekends ago, Boy Z and I headed off to watch the Sturt Double Blues play host to the Glenelg Tigers, the two closest clubs to our house. I made the decision before we went that whoever won this game would be ‘our team’.  But while we were watching, I had a moment of genius  – ask the boy who he liked.

“Boy Z”, I said, “the blue ones are the Blues and the black ones are the Tigers. Who do we like?” Maybe an unfair question, because Boy Z knows that ‘tigers’ are fierce giant cats and ‘blue’ is just the colour of our Mazda hatchback.

“Ti-ers.”

Ti-ers it is my boy. Ti-ers it is. We’ve got ourselves a team.

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We’ve been to a handful of games now and everything is now Tigers. He wants to wear his ‘Tigers’ shirt every day. We’ve hunted down ‘Tigers’ socks, although a few sizes too big. Stupid Australian sizes. He sleeps with his ‘Tigers’ football. We have endless conversations about the next time we’re going to see ‘Tigers football’. (Answer – the next time it isn’t raining on game day).

And I’m actually starting to like the game myself.

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Image credit:

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