Justine and the fairy of last minute ideas

justine larbalestier

Last weekend I spent a quite a bit of time at the Perth Writers Festival.

I got to host a couple of children’s/young adult sessions which are my faves because a) the books are short and I can read them quickly – especially the picture books and b) I love teenage fiction.

This year I met Leigh Hobbs (Old Tom), Carole Wilkinson (Dragonkeeper trilogy), Barry Jonsberg (The Dog that Dumped on my Doona), Justine Larbalestier (How to Ditch Your Fairy) and Tristan Bancks (Coolhunter series).

All very different in their own ways. ūüôā¬†

I liked how Leigh doesn’t draw what he says – and apparently there is a chicken in every book. ¬†Carole began writing at the age of 40 which gives me hope. ¬†Barry’s not afraid of a poo joke, Justine blogs (and you know how I like that) and Tristan seems genuinely interested in everyone he meets and I think that’s a rare thing.

They were fun sessions, and along with some of the other sessions I went to, opened my mind to new ideas and books – which is what you want right?

As always I hit the bookstore limiting myself to only three this year – hey there’s a global recession okay – not to mention a towering stack of unread and overdue library books by my bed: Justine’s “Magic or Madness”, James McBride‘s “The Color of Water”, and James Woodford’s “Real Dirt”.

In many ways an odd mix for me.

The Color of Water I picked out because I met a family friend who recommended it (interesting that family friend always refers to friends of one’s parents no? ¬†I guess family friends of your own would just be… friends) . I also saw James speak at The Moth – the live version of my second favourite podcast (and be warned one day I’m going to make my own version for this little blog). ¬†

I loved James Woodford’s book “The Secret Life of Wombats”. ¬†Have you read that? ¬†“Real Dirt” is his memoir, and while I’m not a big fan of autobiographies or biographies or non-fiction for that matter, as I loved Wombats, I thought I’d give it a go. ¬†Also I liked the first line.

So that’s two memoir/biography books!

And as I enjoyed the fairy book I thought I’d check out Justine’s Magic series… (and I read it in about two hours and will get the rest… I especially like the door that goes between Sydney and NY – I could use one).

Getting Teens to Read

I’ve been trying to expand my teens’ horizons when it comes to fiction. ¬†Dippity reads A LOT of fan fiction and re-reads her faves, Hugamuga tends to stick to his few faves and whatever the school forces him to read (not much).

My strategies in the past have included:

  • Reading the beginning of the book aloud to them and then stopping at an exciting bit… FAIL
    When I read John Marsden’s Tomorrow series to my son, I didn’t even get to the exciting bit before he asked me to stop. ¬†Years later when his mates said it was good he read it, and then ALL the series and the next.¬†
  • Getting the audio book versions out from the library and playing them in the car… FAIL
    They just get the audio books and listen to them – not reading the books – which is okay… but you need electricity.¬†
  • Renting the video/seeing the film… FAIL
    Once they know what has happened they don’t want to read the book, and I’m much the same, interesting it doesn’t happen the other way about.
  • Buying the books for myself and laughing at the good bits and then leaving them around the house… OCCASIONAL WIN
    This worked for Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series which I bought in the US and raved about the whole trip, and for Magic and Madness,¬†Randa Abdel-Fattah’s “Does My Head Look Big in This?”¬†and Cassandra Clare’s “Mortal Instruments” series, but not for others.¬†

Do you have a strategy that has worked at your place?

As Sebastian Barry said during the Writer’s Festival – Young adults are like dogs – you’ve got to let them come to you (your writing), if you approach them… they may bite. ¬†So true.

Back to the fairy thing

Anyway I was going to tell you about the fairy of last minute ideas.

Justine’s book ¬†– How to Ditch Your Fairy – tells the tale of a teenage girl who has a really lame fairy. ¬†In her world nearly everyone has a fairy, and the fairy gives you a usually fairly lame but very specific superpower.

For example her fairy is a parking fairy – wherever she goes, she finds the perfect park. ¬†Useful perhaps if you drive. ¬†She doesn’t.

Her friend has a much more useful Clothes fairy and always finds perfectly fitted clothes at huge discounts – how I wish I had THAT fairy.

So when Justine asked me what my fairy did I had to think.

In the end I think I’ve got the fairy of last minute ideas because I’m quite good at coming up with good ideas at the very last minute.

It would of course be MUCH more useful if the good ideas came at the start of a project so that I had time to really do some good with them but hey… I’ll take what I’ve got.

Justine didn’t disclose what her fairy might do, but given her bad luck run when it comes to sporting injuries, I’d say she definitely had a writing fairy – a jealous writing fairy that was determined she wasn’t going to be distracted.

I wonder what your fairy might be?

PS:  If you missed the festival, some of the sessions are podcast here:  http://www.abc.net.au/perth/features/writersfestival/

Nostalgic for manners

nostalgiaI went to see Nostalgia. A Japanese production which opened last night along with the Perth International Arts Festival.

It was in a space created within the Perth Convention Centre and it is an excellent production.

It is not the easiest of theatre experiences.  It is all in Japanese Рapart from the titles to the various sections which are in English.

And it is quite long.

Nostalgia tells the little-known story of the migration of thousands of Japanese workers to Brazil in the early 20th century. Follow the 40-year wanderings of a Japanese family as they search for a better future through the turmoil of revolution in South America.

The company, Inshinha, rarely performs outside of Japan. ¬†More…

There’s a large cast of singers/dancers/actors and the music is beautiful especially supplemented as it is with the rythmic chanting of the cast and their sharp movements.

The sets are extraordinary, and the visual feast is enhanced with a large screen which adds yet another dimension.

Even though I knew only the bare bones of the storyline (tip:  read the program notes), I was drawn along with the story and intrigued to find out more.

Some of the sections could have been a shorter and still made sense – it was a lot of theatre without a break – nearly two and a half hours – but Feline and I loved it.

There was even a giant puppet, which we argued over as to it’s symbolism, so I’d be interested in what you think.

So why am I “nostalgic for manners”?

Well here’s the thing.¬† About an hour into the production the ushers were still letting people into their seats.

An hour!

I can understand being 5 minutes late, reprehensible though it is, I live in a glass house on this one, but an hour?!

And it wasn’t as if you could sneak in the back.¬† You had to clamber up a pitch black metal staircase from the front.

Stomp stomp stomp.

Perth Festival – you need to get tough.

And then there were the early leavers.

It was a long time to go without a pee and maybe they found it too hard, but I was disappointed to see people leaving part way through.

It was really distracting for the rest of us.

I think if you’re going to make a commitment to see a festival production you need to stick with it.¬† Reading the notes in the guide you would be able to tell it wasn’t going to be a Broadway musical.

So there’s my rant.

After the show we went to the Festival club at Becks Music Box which was lovely – such a great venue.

So far we’ve had three city Festival clubs after the Undercroft at UWA… there was the set up outside the Art Gallery, the Verandah at the Perth Concert Hall and now the Music Box in the front of the city.

Which do you prefer?  And where could it go next??

Writers and Illustrators – a discussion

Photo by John AndersonAt this year’s writers’ festival I was privileged to witness a discussion between childrens’ book authors and illustrators. Two had worked together on a number of books – pictured in John Anderson’s photo to the right – Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble. You might have heard or read to your children their popular Tashi series, and just recently I reviewed Horrendo’s Curse (charming).

As well, Bruce Atherton author of The Billycart Ride and Sally Heinrich author and illustrator of The Most Beautiful Lantern were part of the discussion. (I couldn’t find a link to Bruce but I did find that of one of the illustrators of his latest book “Tough Old Teddy”.)

So many interesting stories were told…

Bruce told of how precious his first book was – The Billycart Ride – it had been 12 years in the writing and he found it hard to let it go. He spent two years choosing the illustrator (unheard of – thought Kim – for a first time author but it turns out that Bruce knew Bryce Courtney – and he holds some sway!) and eventually set his sights on Keith McEwen who had illustrated Paul Jennings books – yes I think it was a singenpoo illustration he saw.

Anyway, Keith was going through some stuff and it took him four years to do the illustrations and the first ones to come back he’d made the billy cart as big as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! Well that wasn’t what Bruce had in mind… He thinks Keith tried to show him what that felt like by suggesting some words to him! In hindsight, Bruce reckons he would have trusted Keith more and he’s definitely held back with his later books. And if you look on one of the illustrations – Keith has written Atherton on one of the bottles of wine!

Interestingly Anna had the opposite experience with one of her books. It was a story about a little boy, Harold, whose mum was a scientist and he’d been taught to test everything. So one day he heard the phrase a cat has nine lives… he found a rough old cat called Balthazar, and proceeded to test his theory… in the end he comes to his senses having grown fond of the old cat and saves him from certain death.

The last page, the text says that now he’s called Balthazar and he’s Harold’s cat and he sleeps on the bed and he has anchovies and milk for dinner. Harold says that he obviously loves the cat and how could he have done that? Obviously it’s more important to love the cat than to experiment on it.

Anna thought the story would resonate really well in schools because it brought up so many discussion points but it relied on the cat being battle scarred and tough. Things didn’t go to plan:

They were lovely drawings, but the cat was the most vulnerable, winsome little thing and of course he looked like he wouldn’t survive someone breathing on him let alone throwing him out of a plane. So it was reviewed, “What does Anna Fienberg think she’s doing,” and “Don’t stock this in your library or you’ll have everybody catching cats and tying them up.”

Sally Heinrich was really interesting too. She writes and illustrates her own work and being an artist first the story ideas come to her as an image in her mind first. For The Most Beautiful Lantern she painted all the pages first and then looked about for a writer. She was living with a copywriter at the time and thought he’d be the obvious choice but it turns out he wasn’t so engaged in the project and so after realising that she was spending a lot of energy on nagging him, she decided to write it herself.

Now it seems she can’t stop. I’ve just read Hungry Ghosts which is a novel for early teens I guess on making friends and cross-cultural assimilation. Not bad for a painter huh? (my review? – an interesting story – a little bit preachy toward the end but overall entertaining)

Kim Gamble who illustrates it seems all of Anna’s work now plus quite a few others told of one brief he really struggled with. He’d just split up with his wife and he was asked to illustrate a story called Dear Fred about a family split apart between the USA and Australia. He just couldn’t do it, it was too close to what he was going through, until his publisher suggested he change the family into mice.

It was fascinating to hear these behind-the-scenes stories and inspiring too. (you never know… maybe one day…)

And it leads me on to a special plug for Miscellaneous Mum who is in the midst of having her first book published. W00t!

The Turning

The TurningI’m always keen to see at least one original commission for the Perth International Arts Festival, and this year’s re-imagining of Tim Winton’s collection of short stories – The Turning – did not disappoint.

I’m not a huge Tim Winton fan it must be said. Cloudstreet was okay, The Riders woeful IMHO – I just hated the ending, and you might have read what I thought of Dirt Music – the one I’ve liked most so far. Short stories don’t generally hold my attention so I haven’t read The Turning and can’t comment how faithful Bill McCluskey’s rendition of it is but I think it must be pretty close because all the way through I’m thinking “oooh this is very Tim Winton.”

Last year I went to see The Drovers’ Wives and I don’t know whether you caught this production – it was a dance piece reflecting Henry Lawson’s work and it used film to project the setting of the outback.

Likewise The Turning uses video and film to carry some of the story and set the scenes – very effectively. In a few of the scenes a woman films herself as she’s talking and that image is flashed up on one of the screens. Cleverly done. In fact the use of the film really does take the production to another level and I was intrigued by how well it captured the mood of the scene – important I suppose when you have a short scene and need to tell so much.

All they need to add is some of the smells – the bushland, the forest, the sea – to really take us there. That will be next I suppose.

The scenes though mostly dark and menacing are leavened by some almost Kath&Kim portrayals of West Australian characters. Ern, Cleo and Nan provided some much needed levity – with some classic lines:

It’s not a fucking truck, it’s a Landrover.

It is a truck and all we do is fuck in it!

Note:¬† If you are offended by “strong language” – don’t go.

Groover’s fave was:

Cut me off at the knees and call me tripod.

Some parts were so Western Australian, I cringed, and wondered how the production might travel – even to other parts of the country.

The music – like The Drovers Wives was by Iain Grandage – and it was lovely. Setting the scene without intruding. And the acting was fantastic. Especially Nick Simpson-Deeks who plays Vic and Alison Van Reeken who plays Gail/Jackie. Jai Courtney was also impressive as Boner. In fact the whole cast was good.

A couple of things annoyed me though. I don’t know why he bothered to rename Albany, Angeles. I really don’t. Every other town is named and really – how many other towns have had a whaling station on the South Coast? Irritating.

Also (and this was just me – Groover worked it out) I got confused because one actress played two of the main parts and I thought she was playing the younger her grown up. For those who have seen it – the Gail/Jackie actress is the one I’m talking about.

And finally it’s just too long. 3 hours and 10 mins plus a 20 minute interval. Way too long. Was it Rogers and Hammerstein who insisted on cutting their shows to end no later than 11.00 so that people could catch the train home. Well we drove but the sentiment is a fine one. Cut it back by at least half an hour (though not sure what you would cut) and it would be perfect.
In summary, it’s ambitious, completely Australian and entertaining. And if you get a chance to see it I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Will I read the book? Maybe.

Other reviews: Australian Stage Online, Guera

Review: Horrendo’s Curse

horrendo's curseThis little book by Anna Fienberg is charming. Aimed at 6-10 year olds I guess it has illustrations by the same guy that drew for the Tashi books – Kim Gamble.

The book is set in a village which is raided each year by pirates. They take boys aged 12 who endure two years of misery as slaves to the pirates. To help them survive the village school teaches them how to cuss and curse, how to fight, how to raise perilous pets.

The hero of our story – Horrendo – though is cursed with a Charming spell which leaves him unable to fight or swear or cuss.

If someone stole his lunch, Horrendo would say. “Oh dear, how hungry yuo must be! Why don’t you take my chocolate cake as well?” Or if a person happened to race by and kick him in the shins, he would call after them, “So sorry, aren’t I always in the way? Hope you didn’t hurt your foot on my shin!”

I love the concept and I’m sure kids would too – in fact I’m hoping one of mine will read it too to give us their expert opinion.

*Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble are featured in the PIAF Writer’s Festival on Saturday afternoon.

A little game
Another review

Meow Meow

If you’re in Perth and can get tickets for Meow Meow… do:

International singing sensation, sequinned sex bomb and masterful comedienne Meow Meow has prowled, preened and stunned from Paris to Berlin and Vegas to New York.

Blazing her way through a beguiling blend of 30s Shanghai show tunes, 60s French pop and Brechtian drama, Meow’s razor-sharp shows lurch between mischief and melancholia.

With her distinctive brand of kamikaze cabaret, this classical dancer and opera singer dazed and amazed audiences at David Bowie’s Highline Festival. Get ready Perth – Meow is poised to pounce.

Special guest pianist Iain Grandage

meow meow - beyond glamourWe didn’t quite know what to expect. I saw the words comedienne and caberet and thought okay I’ll give this a go – could be interesting. So last night, a balmy evening with barely a breath of air we sat in our sleeveless dresses at the Music Box with Feline and her new bloke (lovely to meet you).

The show started with Meow entering from the back of the theatre, dischevelled glamour, carrying several bags – immediately engaging hapless members of the audience to help her out “just take it to the stage darling…” as she explained that she really didn’t feel up to a performance tonight after a tragic break up “I know I know”…

It was a fabulous show. Funny. “Where am I? What city?” Terrifying (don’t sit on the aisles if you’re shy). “Just hold me and love me.” Musical – the girl can sing and is ably accompanied by festival favourite Iain Grandage.

A festival highlight for me.

Review – LABJACD with DJ Dexter

Tonight was the Opening Night of the Perth International Arts Festival’s contemporary music program, this year at Beck’s Music Box on the Esplanade. The venue was great. Bigger than last year’s Verandah at the Perth Concert Hall – or at least it felt bigger. I did like the intimate atmosphere of the Verandah, but sitting back in the balmy night, the city lights of Perth twinkling overhead, under the stars in a music charged atmosphere of hip-hop salsa – I couldn’t fault the new venue.


Yes it was a bit of a fag to walk around the venue to the front over the grass in my killer heels, and you need to get there early to secure a perch on the soft comfy couches – the food is a little ordinary – hotdogs and chips – okay so upmarket versions – but all in all – a pretty good place to be on a Saturday night.

Musicians from Melbourne’s best salsa, jazz, funk and Cuban big bands come together in LABJACD – a dynamic nine-piece band who mix up hip-hop, Cuban salsa, jazz and Andean folk music.

Combining extensive musical expertise with their Chilean heritage, LABJACD are equally at home alongside Australia’s premier hip-hop groups as among some of the best world music artists from around the globe.

LABJACD were pumping. I’m not the hugest fan of hip-hop but loved the salsa twist and even appreciated the record sliding groove of DJ Dexter. There were lots of beautiful people shimmying and sashaying on the dance floor and Groover and I got up for a song or two. I felt quite hip and groovy. With it even. Here’s a taste:

And then I started to feel a bit old…


We’ll be back. Monday night for Meow Meow.


If you can beg borrow or steal tickets to Keating! on at the Octagon as part of the Perth International Arts Festival – go and see it.

Clever, outrageously pro-Keating, hilarious, naughty – the singing is fantastic, the music varied, the atmosphere great. I loved it. Here’s what they say:

Share in the heady rise, tempestuous reign and tragic fall of the Placido Domingo of Australian politics. GASP! as Hawke ignores the Kirribilli agreement! THRILL! as Prime Minister Keating sticks it to the drones opposite! CHEER! as he wins the sweetest victory of all! HISS! as the evil Howard betrays his colleagues in his thirst for power! SCOFF! at the blatant historical revisionism!

I’m not sure what Alexander Downer thought, but I thought it was great.

The musical took us from Paul Keating’s first leadership challenge of Bob Hawke through to his last election and included songs capturing things like his Redfern Speech of 1983, the Mabo decision, the 1983 Election featuring Kerry O’Brien… not to mention a tender love duet between Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans. Sigh.

Would you have loved Keating if you were a staunch Liberal voter? I was sitting next to one and he said yes.

The shame of it is that it will never travel overseas – maybe they could do a musical about someone more universally known like… Clinton! They’d have some material to work with there!

Wild Cursive

I took A to see Wild Cursive last night – the world-renowned dance company Cloudgate from Taiwan.


I have to admit to not enjoying it.¬† There, I’ve said it.¬† I know, I know it is high art and very good but it was too avant garde for me.¬† Give me a pretty costume or at the very least music.

The theme I understand was supposedly the way Chinese Calligraphy moves but to be honest I didn’t really see that.¬† I thought at one point they were going through the Earth, Wind, Fire and Water elements (those were the noises I heard in what passed for a soundtrack), ending with the sea, but apparently (according to the program) not.

Technically the dancers are very skilled but I’m afraid the performance left me cold and watching the time.

The Tiger Lillies

We went to see the Tiger Lillies on Monday night at The Verandah.

It was truly “out there”.

Groover was expecting three scantily clad women (I had wondered why he was so keen to go…) I didn’t really know what to expect.

We met up with Mr Smartrider and his lovely wife Miss Lithuania and sat down in the somewhat chilly conditions of this outdoor venue.

It was dark, it was ribald, it was offensive, it was funny, it was tragic, it was bizarre. Did I love it? I’m not sure. I didn’t hate it.

I was waiting for people to leave – especially when they did a song about banging the nails into Jesus – I thought that might have crossed the line for some but I guess if you can handle “Sex with Flies”, blasphemy is small bikkies.

They were very clever in their music and the main singer had the most fantastic Edna-esque falsetto and some of their songs had me laughing – somewhat hysterically – but laughing. I was glad I went.